Our proximity to new countries and cities has reinvigorated our interest in the humble weekend getaway.  What is interesting is that despite our comfort and experience as travellers, we have had quite varied experiences, from amazing to disappointing.

After our most recent weekend in Copenhagen, which we both agreed is our favourite so far, we started thinking about how we can improve our chances of a great weekend so that our future weekends away don’t suffer from our lack of planning or attention.I would argue that some things like weather can really help or hurt a particular weekend.  But those things aside, here are a few things that are firmly under your control:

Proximity Rules

Capital cities in Europe are generally big and sprawling with a very concentrated city centre.  For the most part, we have looked for hotels in the centre, assuming that this is the primary place to spend time as a brief visitor.  Similarly, when we have a specific interest outside of the centre, it’s worth looking into accommodations closer to where you will be spending your evenings specifically, when you’re least likely to want to deal with a long subway ride or walk.

In Copenhagen, we had two dinner reservations in a neighbourhood called Fredericksburg.  The metro doesn’t cover the city well like it does in London, so we decided to pick a hotel in that neighbourhood instead of the city centre.  Excellent choice.  The 15 minute walk back to our hotel after a filling dinner was so easy!

Don’t Forget Breakfast!

Just like in other parts of the world, hotels in Europe have a mix of breakfast options.  Some have attached restaurants that offer a breakfast for a charge, others include breakfasts for all guests automatically and others don’t offer anything.  We hate paying for the usually overpriced breakfast options (15 euros each?  Um, no thank you!) but when we do include breakfast it is usually worth it.  In Brussels, where we chose to NOT add breakfast to our room, we had to deal each morning with having to out and search for breakfast.  Sunday mornings in particular are not the easiest for these lonely walks around town, and one day we had to resort to McDonalds.  Blech.

Do a Little Research

For a big week-long holiday, we sometimes get carried away, spending months researching our plan to conquer a city.  We make lists, and will even book day trips and performance tickets ahead of time.  On a weekend, it’s easy to just show up.  A little too easy.  We just showed up in Cologne only to realize that all museums were closed for our entire visit.  We just showed up in Bratislava assuming that the city would have enough museums and exhibits to fill up several days.  No Bueno.  For our 36 hours in Denmark, we had two things we wanted to do – visit a brewery and take a free walking tour.  That was it.  Nothing too ambitious but literally having those two items ‘on the list’ helped us structure our time much more easily.

Plans for Food

Have you ever been in a new place, and after a long day of walking around you’re hungry and tired but every restaurant you pass is either cute and full or empty and scary and you walk on and on, just getting more and more hungry and angry (or ‘hangry,’ as I like to call it) as you go?  Plus, when you’re in a place for just two nights, those meals become a critical and central part to your overall experience, which just increases the stress and pressure as you walk down yet another empty block hoping that you’ll stumble upon a little oasis of food any second. (That never happens by the way.  Literally never.)

We may care more about this than other people, but we never, ever show up in a new city without at least doing some preliminary restaurant research.  I don’t need to go to the fanciest or most expensive or highest rated Michelin-starred place in town.  But a nice meal at the end of a long day is always appreciated and I never regret having at least thought about it in advance.  If we find a restaurant that has an online booking system we will sometimes just go ahead and make a reservation.

Travel in the Morning

I am a big fan of flying in the morning.  Flights are more on time, and I never sleep well the night before I know I need to get up early to travel.  On the way TO a destination, I like arriving with the bulk of a day in front of me.  On the way HOME, I like walking in the door at 2pm with time left in the day to go grocery shopping and relax before the start of a new week.  Arriving home at 10pm on a Sunday night is my personal form of torture and should be avoided at all costs.

Take Breaks and Eat/Drink Often

This is basic but on a weekend getaway, it is easy to judge every passing hour as one less hour you have and imustmakethemostofeverysecond!  If you plan on an aggressive couple days of sightseeing, I would plan on stopping for a break every 2 hours.  Mix it up – coffee, lunch, snack, wine, bookstore, etc.  Sit down for at least 30 minutes.  I always forget to sit down and by the time I get back to the hotel, my feet hurt and I don’t want to put my shoes back on.

It’s all about pacing yourself.  And not getting hangry (see note above).  Even when you say, ‘I’m not really hungry now, I can wait an hour or so’ – just go ahead and eat something now.  You’ll go to a museum, and the hour passes and all of a sudden you’re starving and your friend doesn’t want to leave yet and the only food available is a nasty sandwich from a museum vending machine.  It happens all the time.

Now I just need to learn to take my own advice before our next weekend away to Paris where the queues are long, the city sprawling and the urge to just keep walking to find the next cute restaurant down the block is a recipe for ‘hangry Julie’ – one of the world’s most unpleasant people.