The concept of weekending in Europe was an exciting and foreign one to us Aussies. At a stretch we may 'long weekend' in New Zealand or a Pacific Island, but it is near impossible to travel any further than Australia within the confines of a weekend.
Due to conflicting holiday schedules (me, the teacher have 13 weeks a year, and the husband, a consultant having 4 weeks a year), weekending in Europe was not only going to be exciting, but a necessary way for us to travel during our time in the UK.
Whilst we had grandiose ideas of flitting off every weekend (and believe me in the first year we hit the travel hard!) we learned some rules early on to ensure that we could weekend away without being completely ruined come Monday morning.
Read on and I will share them with you.
1. Travel out of the airport closest to you, even if it isn't the cheapest
Stanstead and Luton (north of London) by far have the cheapest flights. I often open specials emails promising tickets to an exotic foreign land for as little as £19.99 only to find out they're from Stanstead and that the tickets out of my closest airport, Gatwick, are more like £59.99.
Whilst those bargain basement fares may seem appealing now, when you're on the train for 3 hours to get to the airport on a Friday after work, and then hauling your way home Sunday night, you won't be as excited as you were when making the booking.
In addition to that, train fares are EXPENSIVE! If you do skip this word of advice and decide to depart from an airport a little further away, check the cost to get there first. You may find that ground transport to the airport costs a lot more than you are saving.
2. Don't always book the budget airline
So the budget airline is slightly cheaper. It seems appealing now, but sometimes inflight entertainment and a small meal onboard is welcome on a Friday night. Dinner at the airport will set you back at least £10 (if you're lucky) and that could be money put towards a more comfortable flight.
Bonus points if you are a frequent flyer, reciprocal rights such as those between QANTAS and BA could mean lounge access prior to your flight. Nothing shouts weekend in Europe like a pre departure bubbly in the lounge.
3. Stay close to the airport
"Everything in Europe is so close!" proclaimed the unwitting Australian. By air yes, but when on the ground, not always. Cities like Rome are around 40 minutes from the airport, and that isn't factoring in the time it will take you to work out how to buy a ticket in a foreign language or waiting time until the next shuttle.
In some cities, you'll be lucky enough to be a short taxi ride from the airport, and a late arrival isn't too much of an issue. After a long week at work, a midnight arrival and trek to a hotel will be the last thing you feel like.
Book a hotel either at your departing end and fly early Saturday morning, or book a hotel airport on arrival. That way you will have had a great night's sleep and be ready to explore your new surrounds full of energy, not sleepy and grumpy with your travel mate/s.
4. A carry on wheelie case is your new BFF
No one checks luggage on short flights anymore. If it doesn't fit in a carry on sized bag, then you don't need it. A safe size is 56 x 45 x 25 cm, and many of the airlines only restrict the size of your bag and not the weight.
Travelling carry on saves the hassle of waiting at the luggage carousel, but remember you will be going through security, so make sure that all of your aerosols and liquids are packed in a regulation clear plastic bag and are the allowable size. I've spent at least £25 pounds replacing full sized face wash bottles my husband continually leaves in his wet back. There's no real way of getting around it. Get some small refillable bottles like these, or be prepared to keep buying travel size.
Lastly, be warned. If you are travelling a budget airline like Easy Jet, it isn't worth your life to try and sneak a bigger bag on. You might be lucky, or you might find yourself in an argument at the gate, forking out around £25 on the day for them to check your oversized bag. Embrace your inner minimalist and pack smart when travelling to Europe. Wear bulky items like coats on to the plane.
5. Don't burn the candle at both ends
On occasion this may be inevitable, but long term booking a late flight on a Friday night and a late flight on a Sunday night will have you craving a weekend on the couch in your pjs. If you have to travel late, make it on the Friday night. Arriving a little late into a new destination isn't such a big deal, but when you are arriving late on a Sunday and have to work the next day, then things get a little stressful.
In our experience, Sunday night flights, particularly those on budget carriers, are running late. A little like an an evening doctor's appointment, your flight has been hit with small delays all day, that will quite often cumulate into a big delay by 9pm at night. Our most recently delay was in Copenhagen when our 9pm departure left at 1am, meaning we didn't arrive home until nearly 4 in the morning.
Good news is, if you are willing to cut it fine and you are delayed more than 3 hours due to a fault the airline should have foreseen (i.e. mechanical issues and not the weather) then you can apply for compensation. Luckily this was the case for us coming home from Copenhagen as I had to take an unpaid day off work. It has also covered the costs of flights for cheeky weekends away in Ireland and Italy in the coming months.
Should you be delayed and need a bit of humorous relief. Download our 'Lazy Jet' Bingo cards, full of choice phrases your airline will most probably announce to explain the delay away.
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