“Do you ever work?!”
Sadly, I do. But despite having the obligations of a corporate life, this is still a question I get. A lot.
It probably has something to do with my Instagram, with its heavy bias for snaps from foreign locations. Looking over it now, ok, perhaps I can see that it really does look like I never work.
But the reality is quite different. The real reason it appears like I’m always on holiday is that I’m a big believer in the weekend getaway. Done right, it can be a great way to experience somewhere new without having to take any (or minimal) leave. And if you don’t take leave, it’s not really a “holiday”. Right?
While 48 hours might not seem like much time, with a little preparation it’s possible to turn a weekend break into a reinvigorating getaway. Like many antipodeans, I have a number of tricks to maximise a weekend away. Here are eight things I (try to) do to get the most out of 48 hours. If you have any other tips, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
1. Book a restaurant (or two) in advance
When you only have 48 hours, there’s little that’s more frustrating than circling the streets trying to find a decent place to eat. Whether it’s because the good restaurants are booked out, or your group can’t agree on the night, or you’ve just got the local meal times totally wrong (it happens), having to risk salmonella at a tourist trap because there’s no other option can seriously derail your trip.
So do some research and book at least one restaurant you want to try before you leave home. When researching restaurants, I lean on travel guides from newspapers or bloggers I trust, and then cross-reference the recommendations with TripAdviser to make sure they’re still current.
And for those inevitable times when you do get desperate, download an app that lets you book nearby restaurants directly from your smartphone. Handy for those too scared to attempt a foreign language over the phone. (Me!) I use The Fork in Europe and OpenTable in the UK (and also Europe), but there are lots of other options.
2. Keep travel time to under three hours
I find travel time of up to two hours is ideal for a weekend away, three at a stretch (I’m not including travel time to the airport/train station here). Travelling any more than that puts a serious dent in the weekend, particularly when there are different timezones involved.
And if you’re flying, take direct flights only. If there are any delays it can have a knock-on effect that puts your whole weekend in jeopardy.
3. Embrace hand-luggage only airfares
As tempting as it is to take that extra pair of shoes, don’t waste time waiting to collect luggage at airports. Time is of the essence and waiting at the carousel can add up to an extra half an hour to your journey at some airports – particularly painful when returning home late on a Sunday night.
And when it comes to hand luggage, I avoid cabin suitcases on weekend trips and opt for soft luggage like holdalls or duffle bags. In these days of hand luggage-only fares, cabin storage goes quickly. And when it does, cabin suitcases are always first to be confiscated and put into the hold.
4. Consider purchasing a seat when flying
I hate endorsing this exorbitant practice – but it’s here to stay, so you may as well make it work for you. Reserving a seat on low-cost airlines often comes with a number of other benefits. Take EasyJet for example; reserving a seat will give you priority boarding (so you can rest assured you’ll have room to store your hand luggage), an additional small item of hand luggage, plus you can be one of the first off the plane (particularly handy when you don’t want to be at the back of a passport control line).
5. Get familiar with what Sundays are like
Living in London, I take it for granted that I can get or do whatever I want, pretty much any day of the week. So it always come as a bit of a shock when I travel somewhere to find things are closed on a Sunday. Before you travel, research what Sundays will be like. If things are generally closed, prioritize your must do’s for the Friday night and Saturday, and save things like parks and galleries (or recovery) for the Sunday before you head home.
6. Know what you’ll do with your luggage when you check-out
If you’re staying in a hotel, you’re fine; you’ll be able to leave your luggage there until you’re ready to head home. However if you’re in an AirBnb or other apartment rental, you might run into problems storing your luggage after check-out.
Contact the host in advance to see if they will let you store your luggage at the property, or if not, whether they can suggest left-luggage facilities nearby. Most towns have left-luggage facilities but not all, so it’s a good idea to check this out before you travel. Worst case scenario, I’ve found luggage also doubles as a handy beach pillow…
7. Don’t try and do too much
I’ll admit, I’m guilty of ignoring my own advice on this one. I’m the kind of person that likes to see and do as much as possible when I’m away. But practically speaking, seeing everything just isn’t possible on a weekend getaway. And without fail, constantly stressing about what’s next on the agenda leaves me a little exhausted and not really living in the moment.
So by all means, plan a couple of things to do each day, but leave time to go with the flow. That’s nearly always when the very best travel experiences happen.
8. Check-off the essentials
It could just be me, but setting off for a weekend away often feels much more stressful than for a longer trip, probably because I’m focused on getting my work done before racing to the airport or train station at the very last minute. As a result, it’s all too often that I forget something I’m actually going to need (and then waste time and money buying a replacement).
Make a checklist of the essentials and then, importantly, make sure you take a minute to check them off before you walk out the door. Have you packed your phone charger? Power adapter? Wallet/Purse? Socks? Toiletries? Passport? Coffee? Go! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Ok, so in truth I’m yet to actually do this one. But now that I have a drawer full of excess iPhone chargers and power adaptors, it’s high time I got into the habit!