Define: Mini-Break (noun) – A two or three-day jaunt to an inspiring destination. A weekend of bliss, adventure or cultural immersion. A temporary cure to wanderlust. The time-poor travellers’ secret weapon.
The mini-break is my hobby, my passion and my addiction
I love nothing more than sneaking off for a weekend away, whether it be alone, with my partner or friends. Like many of my fellow full-time working comrades, most of my annual leave is already allocated as soon as the new financial year starts. Leaving free weekends as my only chance for a last-minute escape. Mini-Breaks are also medicinal. The perfect cure to the post-holiday blues and an antidote to fernweh, that familiar feeling of longing for far off places.
I squeeze in at least four of these sensational little trips a year. But of course, dragging your suitcase into the office or rushing through a busy airport at an un-godly hour of the morning may not be everyone’s cup of tea. So here is my chance to convince you with 8 tips for mastering and making the most of the mini-break.
1. Get planning
Formulating a vague plan for your weekend is the best advice I can give. If you only have two or three days away, you want to be sure that you see, do and experience the best of what the destination has on offer. There is always space of spontaneity or “happy accidents” but planning makes sure you don’t miss out. Also planning adds to the anticipation of your trip, which helps to extend the pleasure of the whole experience.
I recommend doing some research, reading guidebooks, blogs and review websites. My favourite resource is 36hrs by the New York Times. It is the mini-breakers bible with achievable itineraries and specific editions focusing on Europe and North America. I also love the websites Atlas Obscura, Spotted by Locals and Culture Trip for local and more unique suggestions and of course Lonely Planet.
What to Plan
Choose at least two great restaurants to sample the best of the local cuisine, two great bars to try the local tipple and have a clear idea of what sights or museums you want to see. It is extremely unlikely that you can see everything at your destination during a mini-break (unless maybe that destination is Slough) but be sure to schedule in a few that really resonate with you.
2. Avoid the “Lions” if they don’t interest you
“Lions” are what the Victorian traveller described as those must-see sights that are essential to tick off when visiting a destination. An example may be the Louvre or Notre-Dame in Paris. But if you have absolutely no interest in art or you couldn’t give two-hoots about the fictitious home of Quasimodo then don’t go. Avoid the Lions and check out the Penguins instead. Only see what really interest you. It’s is your weekend, your time and your money. Go where you want to go.
3.Be sensible about flight times
I am always tempted by those £20 flights from Stansted at 5.30am in the morning. That desperation to save a few quid is so enticing… but be realistic. Can you actually make it to the airport at that time without sleeping on the cold floor of departures or spending a bomb on a taxi? If the answer is no, then spend a few extra pounds on a flight that suits you. Always factor in the time it takes you to get to the airport.
4. Accommodation is all about location
You don’t want to waste your precious time on public transport zig-zagging your way through suburbia to get to the centre of town. That is why the location of your accommodation is so important. Personally, I map out all the restaurants, bars and sights I want to see on google maps. Then pick accommodation which is somewhere right in the middle, preferably walking distance to where I want to go. These hotels, hostels or AirBnB’s may be a touch pricier than their residential counterparts but the money you save on public transport and taxis as well as the time you save and the convenience you gain make it all worthwhile.
5. The free walking tours
I am sure you have all stumbled across a free walking tour during your travels. But for those who don’t know, they are city tours run by locals that usually last 2-3 hours and only cost the amount you want to pay (so not technically free). I swear by them. I usually jump on one on the first day of the mini-break. They provide a great opportunity to orientate you to the city as well as learn a little about the culture and history of a place. They are fab if you are travelling solo as you get to meet fellow, like minded travellers. My favourite so far have been in Bratislava and Budapest!
6. Book restaurants and tickets ahead of time
The last thing you want is to be so excited about eating at the trendy, must-go new restaurant but discover that when you get there it is fully booked (as I did in Lisbon). So, this is where your planning pays off. Book ahead. And if you get invited to an eat somewhere better at the last minute, then just phone to cancel the booking. No problem. The same goes with museums or galleries. You don’t want to spend half your day in the queue, just book ahead. That way you can coast straight past the fools in the massive line up.
7. Save some cash
The price of a mini-break can add up. Especially if you take them regularly, like I do. In an effort to save a little money, especially is those more expensive destinations like Scandinavia or Switzerland I try to save in little ways. I buy breakfast (or evening aperitivo) from the supermarket to enjoy at my AirBnB or Hostel and hunt down free or cheap attractions. I am also a big fan of the picnic. There is nothing more fun than visiting a local market, picking up some tasty treats and having lunch on the lawn while gazing at a beautiful view.
8. Extend the pleasure
Although the mini-break is just that…mini, there are many ways to extend the pleasure of your trip into your everyday life. Maybe read a book or watch a film set in the place you just visited. Send others or even yourself a postcard. Cook recipes of dishes you had during your travels. Buy some local sweets to share with your colleagues and friends or order your newly discovered, cocktail in your local cocktail bar. All these things help to keep up that post-holiday glow.
Mini-Breaks are the holy grail of time-poor travel
So far I have visited Bordeaux, Bratislava,Bremen, Basel, Nuremberg, Lisbon, Liverpool and many more destinations just for the weekend and enjoyed every single of them. They are the perfect way to achieve your travel dreams bit by bit, even if you are short on time.