Compared to the U.S., European countries are small. Traveling from one country to the other, even just for a weekend, is as simple as going from one state to another back home. Still, planning a trip abroad can be a difficult task. But planning a weekend trip abroad can seem impossible. You may be asking yourself, “Where do I start?” or “What’s next?” Luckily, you’ve come to the right place to ease your worries. Whether you’re traveling alone, with family or friends, follow these five steps to get the best out of your weekend getaway.
Step 1: Pick a destination
Do you want to spend your trip viewing the Eiffel Tower or hiking the 15,000-foot Swiss Alps? The location you choose will determine your activities, and consequently, what you’ll need to pack. Even picking the country will help you determine whether or not to bring your new floral bathing suit or knee-length winter coat. Be specific when choosing a destination to grasp an idea of prices in the area and attractions to visit. Whether you plan a trip to a city or to the mountains, choose a place you can see yourself having the time of your life.
Step 2: Book and Plan early
Early planning cannot be stressed enough. There are two main reasons you should plan early — avoid stress and save money.
Booking the flight:
When it comes to booking a flight, the earlier the better. Start analyzing ticket prices months in advance as opposed to a week or a few days before your trip. (Trust me, waiting until last minute will make booking difficult and keep you from getting a good deal).
Flight prices fluctuate on a daily basis so be sure to check often. And keep in mind, the earlier you book your flight the happier your wallet will be.
Similar to your flight, try to book a place to stay earlier rather than later to avoid high prices. But first, you’ll want to decide on the type of accommodation. Are you looking for a hotel with complimentary breakfast, an Airbnb for a homier feel, a hostel to meet fellow travelers? Your budget might help sway your decision, but before choosing a 12-person-coed hostel you’re nervous about, keep in mind how many of you there are making the trip. You’d be surprised to find that splitting the price for a hotel or Airbnb may actually be around the same price or even cheaper than a hostel.
Planning the transportation:
Have an idea how you’ll get around the area for the weekend. If you plan to use public transportation, you’ll need to purchase a transit pass. This can be done at the airport or at a metro station. Know the type of transportation covered by the transit pass you purchase.
Some transit passes include the metro, bus and tram, while others might only include one form of transportation. Some even include entrance fees to the major attractions. Since you’ll be staying for a weekend, make sure you choose at least a 48-hour pass.
Now what do you do if you need to get to the airport at 4:30 a.m. but public transportation does not open until 5:30 a.m.? This is when you have to do your research. Most major cities offer shuttle services, taxis or even Uber. For example, Budapest has an airport shuttle service known as miniBUD, which runs 24 hours. If you’re flying, take a look at your your departure and arrival time to guarantee accurate transportation plans to and from the airport.
Step 3: Create a rough itinerary
For those of you with type-A personalities, the thought of making an itinerary may sound intriguing but remember this is a rough itinerary. There’s no need to plan out every detail, but it’s wise to have an idea of what you’ll do when you get to your destination so you don’t aimlessly wander and lose time. Make a list of the places you’d like to visit — the Eiffel Tower, Musée d’Orsay and Champs-Élysées for example. With this list of places, you can then investigate their distances from each other to ensure you visit them in an efficient order and make the most of your time. Not everything will go according as planned but that’s ok. Adventure lies in spontaneity.
Step 4: Pack light
Since your trip will last a mere two days, try your best to travel with one bag, preferably a lightweight. If you’re flying, packing light will save you from paying for luggage. Double check the weight allowed for carry-on items so you don’t accidentally have to pay extra to check a bag. Most international flights allow an 18-pound carry-on bag and a small purse.
Not only can you save money by packing light but it also allows you to travel more comfortably.
There’s a chance you may not be able to settle down once you arrive at your destination, considering many accommodations start check-in at 3 p.m. If this is the case, you’ll thank yourself for packing light when you’re traveling around with a small bag instead of heavy luggage.
My main tip for packing light is if you think twice about packing a certain item, don’t bring it. And you can always share some items with your fellow travelers.
Step 5: Prepare financially, culturally and mentally
Find out the currency in the country you’re planning to visit and get that currency at a good exchange rate. You may want to research exchange rates prior to your trip to have a better understanding of what is or isn’t reasonable. Getting another currency can sometimes pose as a hassle, but it’s important to note that some services don’t accept credit cards. You don’t have to take out all the money in your bank account, but having at least some money in the foreign country’s currency is a smart move when traveling.
Additionally, it’s always beneficial to know various cultural aspects of the destination’s country. Take time to learn some of the basics of the language such as the words for “restroom” and “help.” (You never know when you may need to use them). An alternative could be to install an app such as Worldcue Translator, which has a list of words and phrases used in 100 countries. The free app even includes both voice and image translators.
Apart from language, it can be helpful to know other cultural characteristics of the country such as dining etiquette. In some countries it isn’t accustomed to tip (such as Spain) and in others, waiters/waitresses don’t split checks (Czech Republic).
Lastly, it’s important to be prepared mentally. This is your weekend getaway. Now that you have all the steps you need, set aside your distractions and worries. Let go and embrace your adventure!