Not a day goes by when I’m not planning my next trip. I love travelling and seeing new places and am always looking for flights and deciding where to go and what to do next. This year, though, with an 18 day trip (11 working days) to New Zealand already booked, I need to be a little more frugal when planning some other adventures. Not only financially but also when it comes to making the most of my limited annual leave entitlement (I get the UK statutory minimum of 20 days from my current employer and 3 of those get automatically allocated for the days between Christmas and New Year’s).
I travel as often as I can and try to visit new places every year. Whilst it would be nice to be able to take 18 day holidays to the other side of the world every year, most of my trips just get me out of the UK for a few days here and there. As such, I’ve become pretty clued up about planning fabulous mini-breaks packed full of enjoyable and amazing things to do, see, and eat!
My main objective for a mini-break is: to have the best time for the least amount of money. It’s important to have think about why you’re taking a break and maybe your objective will be different from mine. Maybe you just want a change of scenery, maybe you want a change in weather, maybe you want to do as little as possible, maybe you want to learn about history or experience a different culture.
Whatever your objective, the key to planning a fabulous mini-break is flexibility (in location and in dates).
Now, I’m always up for visiting somewhere different so flexibility in location is easy. If your objective is more focused then make a list of places that would tick the box and start from there.
Flexibility in dates isn’t always so simple due to work and other commitments but I make a full list of date options so that I can then choose the one that comes up at the best price.
Rarely have I found a package mini-break deal that was a better price than booking flights and accommodation separately – I always double-check though and advise you too as well, just in case.
I always start my mini-break search on Skyscanner. I love that you don’t have to include a specific destination in your search, that you can search best prices across whole months and that the search results don’t just stick to return flights with the same airline – flying out with one provider and back with another can often save money and give you better flexibility in flight times.
Time is limited on a mini-break so to maximise what’s available to actually be on holiday, I make sure the airport I’m flying into has good, frequent transport links and is less than an hour from my accommodation. If the destination airport I’m considering doesn’t meet these criteria then I shelve that option and move on to considering another destination.
For me, mini-breaks are all about experiencing as much as possible of my destination so I don’t need a smart, shiny, fully-equipped hotel as I’m really not planning on spending a lot of time there.
Air bnb has hugely increased the amazing (and reasonably priced) options for accommodation and I’ve stayed in some really cool places in superb locations (on my own and when travelling with another person).
I’m also quite a fan of hostels – something I never thought I’d be. Yes, some can be pretty grim but if you’re selective and use review sites and personal recommendations then you’ll find some real gems at a really great cost. You’ll often get to meet loads of new people as well.
Things to do
When I have limited time in a destination, one of my favourite things to do is go on a sightseeing bus. My go-to option is the City Sightseeing hop on/hop off buses. I’ve used this company in cities across the world and have never been let down. If this company isn’t available though, there will be other similar tour operators. The reason I love to take a sightseeing bus is because they cover areas you probably couldn’t reach on foot (and I spend hours walking every day when I’m on a mini-break), they show you all the main tourist highlights, and they often give you a voucher book which gets you free or discounted entry to lots of attractions.
As mentioned, I always walk a lot on a mini-break. I love seeing new places on foot and the exercise and fresh air can’t hurt either! I love to pick up a local map as I mark off the roads I’ve walked but the offline function for Google Maps is really excellent to have too. Through the Google Maps app on your phone, you can select a pretty large city area to be available offline. You then don’t need wifi (or expensive international data charges) to use the map when you’re out and about.
All cities have free or discounted activities so I try to decide on one or two paid attractions to visit each day and then supplement those by visiting ones which don’t cost as much or at all. Sometimes the less touristy activities – the ones which aren’t costly and packed full of other tourists – are the ones which surprise you and become firm favourites. Always check museum schedules online as some will have a particular day that they open for free and look outside the top 10 Things To Do on TripAdvisor as I’ve often found that the best things to do sit further down the ratings lists. The Catacombs in Paris which are one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world rank 56th compared to a generic room escape game which ranks 19th and is probably the same as most other escape games which have popped up in recent years – round of applause for a good marketing team but not so much for it’s actual experience value.
Food & Drink
For breakfast and lunch, I look for local bakeries, cafes or supermarkets and keep it simple, inexpensive and tasty.
For dinner, I don’t mind splurging a bit but I always try and eat local – no international chains please! I look for recommendations online, speak to people I know who have visited the destination before and always ask local people (Air bnb host, staff at the hostel, people working in shops) for their suggestions too. I love food and experiencing amazing, local cuisines are some of my fondest memories of my travels.
With a bit of flexibility and planning, it’s easy for anyone to turn a few days into a fabulous mini-break. I would love to hear your recommendations for places I can consider for 2017. And, if you could spend 3 days anywhere in the world doing whatever you wanted, where would you go and what would you do?