Today is #BlueMonday here in the UK; officially the most depressing day of the year. Hoo-ray! Here’s a picture of a gorgeous Portuguese beach to help cheer you up / make you even more depressed!
So if you’re sat in the office with a sad mug of lukewarm coffee, a ruck load of un-read emails and you’re still poor from Christmas (Uh, February? Where are you already!?) and you’re dreaming of far off lands, here’s some tips to get you thinking that travel doesn’t have to mean splurging and how to make the most of your time away.
So when you finally can afford to look at flights again, you’ll be prepared.
Always download an offline map before you travel. I’d recommend downloading Ulmon (CityMaps2Go) which is a single app, within which you can store all your offline city maps. Depending on the location it will sometimes include a good chunk of the surrounding area which is handy for any day trips you might take. Try and download your map at least a few weeks before you go, and then when you are researching places to see or find any good bars / restaurants you can ‘star’ each destination and start planning your itinerary around this. You can also add your own photos or notes to the starred location to help you remember why you wanted to go there in the first place. I find it super easy to use, and wouldn’t know where I’d be without it!
Getting to grips with the offline map and understanding the shape of the city before you go will shave off hours of faffing about trying to get your bearings. If you’ve only got a few days in a city, you need to maximise the time you have.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a never ending list of places you want to tick off that bucket list, so when it comes to deciding where to go next, I tend to leave it down to affordability. Skyscanner is great for this; if you’re not fussed where you want to end up next, you can search specific dates or whole months and it’ll tell you where’s cheap to fly to. The toggle function to select flight times is also really easy to use if you want to fly out early morning and come back late at night to make sure you get the most out of your time away.
Those awful 6am flights tend to be the best value, so be prepared to set the alarm for silly o’clock and pack your travel pillow to catch a few zed’s on the plane.
Book it Right
All hotel comparison sites are pretty good, but this is the one I use the most. I find it really simple to use, and by using the search toggles on the left hand side, I can find a place to sleep within budget and not too far from the main sights. If this fails me I try my hand with…
A recent convert of Airbnb, I’m still singing its praises! Airbnb has let me travel to two destinations where I felt there was a lack of choice or priced out of conventional accommodations. Airbnb offers more unique spaces at some seriously good prices and if you get a fabulous host, they’ll offer you a local’s perspective on the city and get you started with where’s best to go.
If you’re giving it a try for the first time, look to book up the rooms with lots of positive reviews and make sure you stay in touch with your host to let them know when you’ll be arriving and what your plans are.
You might have bagged that bargain holiday, but it’s easy to forget that you need to book airport parking, which can be steep. In my experience, the earlier you book the better and I always use Holiday Extras who tend to get me the best deal available. It’s a really easy booking process, they sent you a handy text confirmation and when I needed to make a change to my parking, customer services were able to sort it in under 5 mins.
If you live further away from the airport and you have a horrible AM flight, think about grabbing a hotel and parking deal which also can be booked through Holiday Extras. Sometimes you only need to fork out a extra £20 between yourselves to bag yourself a better nights sleep and peace of mind that you’ll be on time for check in.
Money, Money, Money…
Stick to your budget!
Do some research beforehand and find out roughly how much you think you’d spend. What’s the focus of this destination; is this a budget-break or a blow-out binge fest, are you there to sightsee and soak up the culture or is it all about treating yourself and buying yourself a bit of luxury whilst you’re there?
Other travel blogs are great for this sort of thing, so start with looking at what other people are saying and attribute a maximum amount for each meal, and then add a bit more for snacks and drinks. Google each attraction you want to visit and find out if there is an entrance fee; if you can purchase tickets online first to save a couple of pennies – even better! Then finally figure out how much a travel card is (remembering to factor in the cost to and from the airport) or if you want to go on any day trips.
I then tend to add another £20 or so to the budget, just in case (there will be something you haven’t thought of!).
If you find you want to alter your budget when you get there, look at where you can save; breakfast can be from local bakeries, lunches could be grabbing a bits from the supermarket and taking a picnic in one of the parks (stuff like this doesn’t even have to feel like a compromise – I love looking around foreign supermarkets – they always have the best bits!), you might find out you’ve packed a bit too much into the schedule and don’t have time to fit in a couple of the museums, or just opt buy a bottle of water instead of sitting in for an expensive coffee and cake combo – then you might be able to afford the interesting restaurant you’ve got your eye on or that incredible once-in-a-lifetime excursion.
Google is your Friend
Do your research
I find first-hand accounts are easily the most reliable thing when searching out what to add or what to drop from the itinerary. Obviously, you’re not going to see eye to eye with every single blogger out there so don’t be put off by that one damning account of that hotel-from-hell.
Check out a few travel blogs from the same destinations to get a more rounded view of what to expect and then if you still feel a bit undecided, don’t be scared to engage with the writers; leave them a comment, ask them for their thoughts. This way you’re not going to be surprised when you get there; you haven’t got wild expectations for something that the huge majority of people find a bit so-so, and when you’ve got a few days to discover the best this place has to offer, you’re not wasting your time travelling half way across the city for a restaurant/bar/attraction that sounds great in your head but 90% of the blogging world has warned you against… and then when you get there it’s just as terrible as they all say it is and you’re left feeling a bit rubbishy about your holiday. And you’ve wasted half a day when you could have being doing something else. Plan smart.
TripAdvisor is another good place to find out a bit more about a hotel or attraction. Yes, there are a lot of crazies out there that will find the worst in everything and anything but this is where you use your filter – skim through the most recent ones and see if there’s a common theme. Have a look at the negative reviews too; if people are marking it down to 1 or 2 stars purely because the pool was ‘bit chilly’, there ‘wasn’t a lot room around the bed’ or they ‘weren’t a fan of design on the shampoo miniatures’… you haven’t got much to worry about.
With a bit of practice, you’ll soon be able to tell straight away which type of reviewers to trust and which ones are just in it for a good rant.
Here’s a few TripAdvisor funnies from the Telegraph of people reviewing attractions across the world:
‘Grand Canyon’ it’s nothing special…
Think before you ‘IG’
Nothing’s worse than being slapped with a huge phone bill a few weeks after coming back. Those Instagram snaps of you on the top of the Eiffel tower don’t look so ‘essential’ now… eek! Remember to turn of Mobile Data and Data Roaming as soon as you land and seek out free wi-fi spots instead.
If you can’t live without your 4G talk to your provider, they probably have some sort of bolt on which gives you discounted rates for using your phone abroad. I have Eurotraveller with Vodafone which means I pay only £3 a day to use my data when travelling in certain countries.
Follow me at @michaelamanning
Packing; short trip essentials.
I almost always travel on long weekends, that’s just three or four days in a city. That means on half the days you’ll be there you’ll have some sort of luggage with you, either waiting to check-in on the first day and then checking out on the last day. But this shouldn’t mean your holiday should stop there.
I always travel with a small rucksack, it has a finite amount of space, which means I can’t take a second pair of shoes, my cumbersome laptop or the kitchen sink. This does mean I have to pack smart.
Remember – if you opt for hold luggage over just a carry-on, this means longer at the airport waiting for your baggage on the carousel. Not ideal.
And if you are taking a carry-on make sure you stick to the airlines requirements, all too often I witness people trying to argue their way on board with a bag the size of a small child… It’s not going to happen. It’s going in the hold.
Anyway… starting with the basics; pack for the weather and your itinerary. If you’re outdoors a lot and you’ve got a lot of walking, just bring one good pair of shoes. If you’re a budget traveller, most likely you won’t be eating at the high end town so what do you need you best pair for? They’re uncomfortable and just not needed here, so put them back in the cupboard.
Will it be a bit chilly? Always think layers and take easy-care clothes you can wear twice, trust me you won’t wear half of the stuff you think you will, so look at what you want to bring and halve it and pack that. Wear you heaviest stuff onto the plane, you can always take it off when you are seated.
Final rule; remember that you’re there to make memories and see fantastic places, you need to feel good and be comfortable. You don’t need to be wearing your best gear, especially if this means you’ll be sporting blisters on both heels and you’ll likely be frozen to the bone, limping from place to place, generally not having a good time and wishing you were back at home.
Remember to leave space for all your tech bits. If you’re anything like me, I love the opportunity to take hundreds photos to remind you of your time here. I always pack my DSLR, phone and iPad. And chargers for everything, of course. The iPad isn’t essential but it’s so slim and light, it doesn’t take up much room and can be super handy when the iPhone screen gets a bit small and fiddly.
Toiletries – as little as possible. Most places will provide some shampoo and shower gel, so you can sometimes get away with not packing these. But as a rule I’d take, tooth brush, tooth paste, shampoo, shower gel, foundation, deodorant, one pack of pain relief (you don’t want to be caught trying to navigate a foreign pharmacy!) and sun cream if it’s sunny. That is all you need. Don’t take half of Superdrug with you, it’s just not going to be used. I promise. Don’t bring your straighteners or hairdryer either, it’s just a waste of space, girls (and guys…) suck it up and deal with wavy hair for a few days. It won’t be the end of the world. 🙂
Travel Pillow. This is a recent investment of mine, and although it take up about a third of my bag it’s so worth it. I’ve never been able to sleep on a plane until I started bringing this little bean-filled cushion of magic! It’s fantastic! And now when I arrive back into Stansted at gone midnight and I’ve got to face passport control, knowing that in 6 hours I’ll have to be up for work, I’d have least have got a couple of hours kip on the return flight.
Packing light has saved me from more than one aching back or trying to deal with those wheel-along suitcases. You’ll feel every cobble stone and kerb, a wheel will get jammed, you’ll trip up another tourist (drama!), and the handle will probably fall off.
Get a backpack, have fun and enjoy your holiday! 🙂
What are you handy tips for long weekend / short stay travel… how do you stay within your budget?