How to sneak in a mini break pre-Christmas
Mark and I are currently on a bit of a city break mission. A quick weekend away, where you only have to take maybe a Friday off of work – or possibly no days at all if the flights match up – is such a time efficient way to go on a mini adventure which still manages to feel like a proper holiday. Now I have to add a disclaimer that our close proximity to an airport that offers cheap flights to a whole host of destinations across Europe is also a big factor in this, but we’ve been enjoying upping our city break game, especially in the second half of this year. Copenhagen here we come!
Here’s the other thing – they really don’t have to cost the earth. With some clever budgeting and pre-planning of flights and accommodation, there are some serious deals to be had. The bigger the group of you that go, usually knocks some dosh off when it comes to transfers and accommodation – so invite your mates! Get a group together! Do a family thing! Or if you just fancy heading away with your significant other, here’s how we plan our city breaks, from start to finish…
STEP ONE: Time Off. The first thing we do before we even begin to think about where we want to go (although we have a list of our dream destinations that we’re slowly working through), is to look at our calendars and find the slots where it’s possible to take time off. For Mark he has a certain amount of holiday days he can take, so back in the summer we sat down and worked out how best to scatter them throughout the rest of the year to break things up, and what weekends we could stick days off onto so that we could get in some city breaks. Once we made sure that they wouldn’t clash with any work deadlines that I had or half-term dates (let’s avoid the hoiked up flight prices whilst we still can!), he booked them off and voilà – the perfect windows of time to add some city breaks to are there just ready and waiting to be filled. Need some inspiration for the next step? Here are my city guides for Athens, Stockholm, New York, Madrid, Barcelona, Brighton and Amsterdam.
STEP TWO: Book Your Flights. When you have the dates booked off, get those flights booked ASAP. There is always going to be some kind of accommodation available – although it might not be your preferred choice – until the day you arrive, however flights are hot-commodities. There are only a certain number to each destination each day with a certain number of free seats, so get on Skyscanner as soon as you can. To get the price down further opt for non-refundable flights if that’s a risk you’re willing to take, avoid paying extra for a checked bag (I have a post coming next week about my cabin bag-only beauty essentials if you’re worried about packing it all in!) and don’t pay extra to pick your seat (just make sure you check in early to avoid the ones at the back by the loos *shivers*).
STEP THREE: Accommodation. Here’s where the price of things can shoot through the roof. Really before you get down to any of this planning malarkey, it’s a good idea to have a rough budget that you’d like to hit so that things don’t get too out of control. Depending on the city and the amount of people who are staying with you, often I find Airbnb the best option. We’ve had some seriously great ones over the years (I always link up where we stay in the city guides) and I enjoy the fact that you get a kitchen included as it means you can always keep the costs down even further by getting in breakfast and prepping it yourself, saving your meals out for lunchtime and dinner. Sometimes a hotel room is just a fraction more (we found that hotel prices in Copenhagen weren’t a million miles away from the Airbnb rates for example), and it might make sense to go for that instead; especially if you’re arriving at your destination really late (super speedy check-in and no fumbling around for a key box in the dark), or if your flight home is past check-out time on your last day as the hotel will keep your bags safe you and you don’t have to lug them all over town. I often ask friends and family for recommendations and combine with a bit of research on good ol’ TripAdvisor and Telegraph Travel too.
STEP FOUR: So Boring, But So Essential – Transfers. WHY DO WE ALL FORGET THIS BIT!? I have definitely been guilty of arriving at a new place that I’ve never visited before and not having the foggiest idea about what to do next. In fact I remember Lily and I arriving in Milan one time and spending at least 30 minutes working out the best option as neither of our phones were working – #HANDY. Save yourself the stress and pre-plan not only how you’re going to get to the airport on this end, but also how you’re going to find your way from the airport to your accommodation at the other. CityMapper is such a handy tool for this as it allows you to see all the public transport options at a glance. If it’s quick, cheap and easy then go for that; however if you arrive late at night I find it best to jump in a taxi, which often isn’t the most budget-friendly option but can save you some serious time and means that you get more sleep in for your first day of sight seeing the following morning. €20 well spent.
STEP FIVE: When You’re There. Here’s the fun bit! What to do when you’re actually there. Now I have an unfair advantage here because you guys are basically the best version of TripAdvisor ever. To thank you for that I add all my Instagram Stories from each trip as a highlight on my Instagram profile and always try to do a city guide when we’re back to share the love. But if you don’t have an amazing network of readers to arm you with the best advice for cities all across the globe, I still have some recommendations. Friends and family are obviously the best to ask – throw something out on Instagram or Facebook and see what comes back. TripAdvisor is obviously a good choice too, but I find The Culture Trip best for suggesting places that are a little off the beaten track. When it comes to planning, we don’t tend to have an itinerary per se – it depends on what we fancy and what the weather is doing on each day. I do like to have some suggestions written down though and try to make sure I have few places that I’ve looked into for each of the following categories: areas to just have a wander around, good places for breakfast/lunch/dinner/drinks, museums and shops. Three or four recommendations for each is usually a good shout depending on how long you’re going for – your very own travel guide, just for you.
Photos by Mark, taken on a Canon EOS 33
*Sign up to my monthly newsletter ‘An Edited Life’ here*