The concept of a weekend citybreak in Europe was an exciting and foreign one to us Aussies. At a stretch we may ‘long weekend’ in New Zealand or a Pacific Island, but it is near impossible to travel any further than Australia within the confines of a weekend.
Due to conflicting holiday schedules (me, the teacher have 13 weeks a year, and the husband, a consultant having 4 weeks a year), weekend citybreaks were not only going to be exciting, but a necessary way for us to travel during our time in the UK.
Whilst we had grandiose ideas of flitting off every weekend we learned some rules early on to ensure that we could weekend away without being completely ruined come Monday morning.
Read on and I will share them with you.
GET THE MOST OUT OF A WEEKEND AWAY
1. Travel out of the airport closest to you, even if it isn’t the cheapest
Stanstead and Luton (north of London) by far have the cheapest flights. I often opened emails promising tickets for as little as £19.99 only to find out they’re from Stanstead. Conversely the tickets out of my closest airport, Gatwick, were more like £59.99.
Whilst those cheap fares may seem appealing now they come at a cost. It is time consuming and tiring to catch the train for 3 hours to get to the airport on a Friday after work. Then you’ll need to do this again on your way home Sunday night. A weekend citybreak should be spent exploring not commuting!
In addition to that, train fares are EXPENSIVE! If you do skip this word of advice and decide to depart from an airport a little further away, check the cost to get there first. You may find that ground transport to the airport costs a lot more than you are saving.
2. Don’t always book the budget airline
Budget airlines might be slightly cheaper. It seems appealing now, but inflight entertainment and a small meal onboard is welcome on a Friday night. Dinner at the airport will set you back at least £10 (if you’re lucky) That money could be put towards a more comfortable flight.
Bonus points if you are a frequent flyer. Reciprocal rights such as those between QANTAS and BA could mean lounge access prior to your flight. Nothing shouts weekend in Europe like a pre departure bubbly in the lounge.
3. Stay close to the airport
“Everything in Europe is so close!” proclaimed the unwitting Australian. By air yes, but when on the ground, not always. Cities like Rome are around 40 minutes from the airport. Additionally that isn’t factoring in the time it will take you to work out how to buy a ticket in a foreign language or waiting time until the next shuttle.
In some cities, you’ll be lucky enough to be a short taxi ride from the airport. In this case a late arrival isn’t too much of an issue. After a long week at work, a midnight arrival and trek to a hotel will be the last thing you feel like.
Book a hotel either at your departing end and fly early Saturday morning. Alternatively book a hotel airport on arrival. That way you will have had a great night’s sleep and be ready to start your weekend city break full of energy. Not sleepy and grumpy with your travel mate/s.
4. A carry on wheelie case or backpack is your new BFF
No one checks luggage on short flights anymore. Especially on weekend citybreaks. If it doesn’t fit in a carry on sized bag, then you don’t need it. A safe size is 56 x 45 x 25 cm. It’s worth noting that many of the airlines only restrict the size of your bag and not the weight. Pack smart. The best options are a light wheelie case with 4 wheels or a great carry on backpack.
Travelling carry on saves the hassle of waiting at the luggage carousel. Remember however, you will be going through security. Make sure that all of your aerosols and liquids are packed in a regulation clear plastic bag and are the allowable size. Purchase some small refillable bottles like these, or be prepared to keep buying travel size.
Lastly, be warned. If you are travelling a budget airline like Easy Jet, it isn’t worth your life to try and sneak a bigger bag on. You might be lucky, or you might find yourself in an argument at the gate. It’s not uncommon to have to pay around £25 on the day for them to check your oversized bag. Embrace your inner minimalist and pack smart when travelling to Europe. Wear bulky items like coats on to the plane.
5. Don’t burn the candle at both ends
On occasion this may be inevitable, but long term booking a late flight on a Friday night and a late flight on a Sunday night will have worn out. If you have to travel late, make it on the Friday night. Arriving a little late into a new destination isn’t such a big deal, but when you are arriving late on a Sunday and have to work the next day, then things get a little stressful.
In our experience, Sunday night flights, particularly those on budget carriers, are running late. A little like an an evening doctor’s appointment, your flight has been hit with small delays all day. These small delays cumulate into a big delay. By 9pm at night flights can be several hours late. Our most recently delay was in Copenhagen when our 9pm departure left at 1am. This meant we didn’t arrive home until nearly 4am in the morning.
Good news is, if you are willing to cut it fine and you are delayed more than 3 hours due to a fault the airline should have foreseen (i.e. mechanical issues and not the weather) then you can apply for compensation. Luckily this was the case for us coming home from Copenhagen. This penalty fee has covered the costs of flights for weekends away Ireland and Italy in the coming months.