Walter Jackson in Mykonos Greece

7 tips for a lekker low-cost weekend break from the UK

Having visited nearly every European country on a South African passport, I think it’s safe to say I know how to travel on a budget!

Walter Jackson in Mykonos Greece

I started my journey around the world from humble beginnings in a small village called Great Chesterford, just outside Cambridge in the UK. From here, I managed to visit 47 European countries in seven years.

I used the tricks I learned along the way to squeeze every drop of adventure out of my limited budget. Here are some of the tips from these 50 odd weekend trips.

1. Plan ahead to maximise your budget

The most important part of planning a weekend break is deciding beforehand what your goals are for each adventure. Do you want to see new places, take a romantic getaway, or are you seeking an adrenaline rush? You rarely get everything in one trip and I find that it’s better to select fewer things on your ‘to do’ list, than run around all weekend, rushing from one site to the next. Quality over quantity always wins on a short trip.

Set your expectations before you leave and you will get much more enjoyment from getting away. You ostensibly want to take a break from the humdrum of your normal existence and running around like a crazed tourist with 50 places to see in Seville before you die, will leave you exhausted and exasperated.

Bratislava – Slovakia

2. Book everything yourself

Travel agents have a role to play in planning a holiday, but for a weekend break it is better to book everything yourself. You don’t need to add their margin onto the cost of your weekend and half the fun is the mystery of not knowing exactly what to expect.

You can get ‘free’ nights  when you use hotel booking sites, but I find its normally cheaper to find a hotel and then contact them directly. Much of the enjoyment comes from the research you put in online to see where to go next. But don’t over plan your weekend. Leave room for roaming about aimlessly around the local sites. It will help you relax – trust me.

Zagreb - Croatia
Zagreb – Croatia

3. Low-cost airlines

There is much to complain about when travelling on low-cost airlines, but you have to learn to accept these as part of the journey. It’s only a means to an end and remember; if you plan ahead, you can get from Stansted to Bratislava for less than you paid for your Vindaloo and pint from last night. Just suck it up and get there.

Ryanair brought out a special one cold January, where you got one free flight for everyone you booked that month. I randomly selected eight countries I had never visited and booked them all at once. All these flights, spread over four months cost me only £30, for two people. If you are continuously looking for specials, you will be amazed at what is out there. Plan ahead and use deals wherever you can.

I hardly recall any flights I’ve been on, but I remember every weekend away with fondness. Take some water and snacks with you for the flight and it will save you even more cash for the weekend.

The low-cost airlines usually drop you off miles away from the place you are trying to visit. I normally see if there is a major hotel group with a bus into town. I just tell them I want to stay there in order to get a lift into the city. From there it’s usually much cheaper to get to your actual hotel.

Riga – Latvia

4. Where to stay

It is always the same story with accommodation. Hotels are much cheaper far away from the attractions and many people are tempted to pay less and get transport to where they want to go. For a weekend trip, this just doesn’t make sense. I always book a hotel that is central, but on the lower side of the three-star range.

There are plenty of reviews online, so find something within your price range, but close to the action. The last thing you want to do is spend a couple of hours commuting back and forth. It’s the only thing I would spend more money on. You probably won’t know how the public transport system works, so you might actually spend more money commuting than you saved on the remote hotel.

Remember that you are not flying to Barcelona or Bologna to see the inside of the hotel. If you want to get away for less than £100, then this might be the only option, but ask the front desk/concierge for the local bus schedule. Renting a car is an option only when you are going into the countryside. For city breaks, stick to buses, trains and subways.

5. Don’t over pack

You can easily get through a weekend with only a small backpack that carries less than 7 kilograms. The airlines normally charge you extra to check in bags, so you can save even more money with just carry-on luggage. You don’t need the hassle of arriving at your destination to find your baggage has gone to Minsk without you. It also saves a bit of time, which is another plus on a short weekend trip.

Short ski trip in Norway

6. Avoid the peak season

I have always preferred to take several short breaks as opposed to one long yearly holiday. It breaks the monotony of everyday life and you get to see much more of the countries around you. I would normally extend every weekend by one day, to get cheaper flights than just on the weekend, as well as get you that extra day in the new region you are exploring.

If you can avoid the peak seasons, you could easily cut the cost of your weekend trip in half, as well as the number of people cramming to take a selfie with Manneken pis or the statue of Alexander the Great. I have often jested that when you drive down a deserted street somewhere it’s because all the people have gone to Venice in the summer. Keep well clear of these places in peak season and save some cash in the process.

Bilbao – Spain

7. Unknown doesn’t mean terrible

Be prepared to venture further away from just the normal destinations. You can obviously have a great time in Paris or Rome over a long weekend, but places like Tallinn, Biarritz, Podgorica, Gdansk and Brno have been some of the most outstanding places I have ever visited, anywhere in the world.

There is a wealth of countries in Europe to explore (50 in fact), so make the most of the excellent transport links that the UK offers, but most of all, get out there and enjoy it.