Secrets to planning short breaks without breaking the bank

It seems there is never a moment in my life now where I’m not planning for a trip.

Am I complaining? Hell no!

I was my goal in 2016 to try to live the life that any wide-eyed naive Australian hopes for when they move to London – to spend every weekend jet-setting to somewhere in Europe! Well okay, I knew every weekend wasn’t possible; every Aussie that lands here quickly has that illusion shattered when they see the housing rental prices. But I’d hoped to at least travel somewhere around once a month so that I could make the most of my time living in one of the travel epicentres of the world.

So 2016 was the year I was going to start ‘living the dream’. I managed to stick quite close to my plan, visiting a grand total of 8 destinations in 12 months!  Getting away frequently and keeping to a strict budget was a little harder than expected but was a huge learning experience and definitely worthwhile!

January - Paris, France

January – Paris, France

February - Ghent & Brussels, Belgium

February – Ghent & Brussels, Belgium

May - Iceland

May – Iceland

July - Copenhagen, Denmark

July – Copenhagen, Denmark

 

 

 

 

 

 

August - Isle of Sky, Scotland

August – Isle of Sky, Scotland

September - Northern Ireland

September – Northern Ireland

October - Sicily, Italy

October – Sicily, Italy

December - Amsterdam, Netherlands

December – Amsterdam, Netherlands

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re in London like me, are not super-rich but want to break out of the monotony and live the life of the constant traveller, you can! Be ready to become your own travel agent with my top tips on researching where to go, what to do, and where to stay when creating your own small adventures on a budget.

Choosing where to go

I’ve already posted some tips I learned last year on how to beat the airlines tricks in order to get cheap flights online. These are useful for when you know what you want and are ready to buy. However if you’re still in the research phase and are just snooping around to get some ideas of where and how much, I found Skyscanner is really handy for this.

If you don’t know yet where you want to go, just literally type in ‘everywhere’ as your destination when you search on Skyscanner. Put in any date and see what comes up. It will usually provide you with a list of the top flight deals to a variety of countries with the estimated lowest prices to each city. When you select one of these destinations, it will not only provide the prices for the dates, you selected but also the cheapest times to travel over the next 3 months!

Using the 'everywhere' search, I found a destination and it shows the best prices over the next 3 months

Using the ‘everywhere’ search, I found a destination and it shows the best prices over the next 3 months

If you know where to go but want the cheapest dates to fly, input your destination and then click the calendar when choosing dates. Here there is an option to view the average prices for all dates so you can see at a glance when the most expensive times will be. You can scan a few months into the future. This way you can get a sense of which month and what time of the week will be the cheapest to fly, and select dates from here.

If you are flexible with dates, you can use the calendar to see the average prices over time

If you are flexible with dates, you can use the calendar to see the average prices over time

Just remember that airlines will generally increase prices closer to the departure dates and the best time to look for prices is on a Tuesday. Read more about this in my previous post on how to get cheap flights online.

Deciding what to see

So now you’ve booked a random destination that had cheap flights but have little knowledge of what to do or where to go when you get there, let alone where to stay.   

It’s usually at this point I would dramatically drape on a glittery cape, adopt my best wonder woman power pose and cry, “To the Internets!”.

I found the best way to start investigating what a destination has to offer was to look up the itineraries of popular tour companies that operate in the area. Doing this, you can get a sense of what the big tourist draws are and then find out more about the ones that interest you the most. I’m not one who usually likes to be amongst the busloads of group tourists, so I would do this just to whittle down a short-list of key attractions which probably would be worth trying to fight the crowds to see because I might regret not doing so. The red-light district in Amsterdam is one example of a crowded tourist spot, but kinda something you just have to see while you’re there.

I’d then go hunting for the lesser known gems that would actually be worth seeing or exploring. These usually turn out to be the most memorable parts of my travels. For this I want to hear what other people accidently discovered when they went there, so I’d hit up Tripadvisor forums and skim travel blogs. I’d even take a peek at Lonely Planet to see if they have something to add on lesser-known quirky attractions. This is how I found out about about the sea organ in the little known seaside town of Zadar in Croatia, and the out-of-the-way De Dulle Griet pub in Ghent where I traded my shoe in exchange for a massive 1.2 litre coachman’s glass of Max beer. Both amazing fun experiences that I still tell stories about today.

This is the coachman’s glass of MAX beer that you get in exchange for one of your shoes at De Dulle Griet, Ghent. If you finish, you get your shoe back!

By doing this, you should have a decent list of interesting and exciting things to get you started when you arrive. Prioritise this list though, as you may not get to do everything, and don’t underestimate the value of local advice to supplement and re-prioritise this list when you get there.  

Planning where to stay

AirBnB is my first choice when looking for accomodation on my travels, especially for short stays on a budget. Hostels are still a good option if you’re travelling solo and want to meet new people but are more limited in location. Don’t assume it will cheaper though because frankly, it’s likely cost you about the same!

So be more adventurous and live with the city’s residents in the suburbs. They are a great source of local information, and you can learn a lot about a culture by the way they live, how the housing is set up, what they typically have for breakfast, by how they decorate, and getting about on local transport.

Our Scandinavian AirBnB accommodations in Iceland

Our Scandinavian AirBnB accommodations in Iceland

If you choose to rent a room, it’s usually best to make sure the host actually lives there too. Quite a few listings are now posted by BnB businesses so you are in fact in a house of tourists, which is not quite as authentic. It’s well worth scanning the reviews. Our hosts have always been such wonderful characters, and it’s always added value to our trip to get to meet these people.

Alternatively you can rent a whole place to yourself, and the host will usually greet you upon arrival to show you around and then leave you to it. In Copenhagen I rented a small flat which had amazing Scandinavian furniture, and had the shower in the kitchen which I discovered was commonplace and definitely not as awful as it sounds! It’s also wonderful to explore the local eateries and bakeries away from the city where I could observe Danish people going about their lives and interacting in their natural way.

With your starting list of things to you want to see and do, you can work out which AirBnB listings are near most of the things you want to see, or at least accessible to good public transport to get you around. The other great thing is the variety of unique neighbourhoods to can stay in and experience. But you got to do your research to make sure you don’t end up in the ‘dodgy’ part of town. A quick Google search on some of the suggested neighbourhood names which pop-up on AirBnB will usually bring up some local tourism websites and blogs with pointers on the ‘personalities’ of different areas. Read all the reviews of your preferred listings and pay attention to the pictures, and in the end go with your gut feeling of the place and the host. I have yet to regret a AirBnB stay!

 

I’m looking forward to another year of short budget adventures into Europe in 2017 and meeting more lovely local hosts along the way, and I hope these tips help you get out there creating your own adventures too!

 

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