How to successfully pull off day trips abroad — escaping England for a day

There are predominantly two types of of holiday makers: the two weeker cruise/trip-to-beach-resort for food, cocktails and chill but tend to only do this once a year, or the cram-in-as-many-countries-as-humanly-possible-checklist type people. I’m definitely the latter. It leaves me exhausted and I’ve had multiple friends tell me I’m silly for going on holiday and then not actually relaxing whatsoever. I can see their point, but it’s just the way I am.

2017, for me, is the year of the day trip. Usually my getaways consist of two nights somewhere, over a weekend, and I’m back at work on Monday before anyone even knows I’m gone. All of this changed in January when I read a friend’s blog who took a day trip to Norway.

It inspired me. My brain started whirring. Could I successfully pull off day trips to a completely different country? It would require a lot of planning to make the most of my time and it’d be completely hectic, but I could immediately see the benefit of pulling off such a stunt.

I’m not rich by any means. Anyone who looks at my Instagram account probably thinks I don’t work and spend my life on holiday. Well, I do work. Last year I was a freelancer struggling for cash, and now I have a secure job that’s a 9-5. The stability helps with funding my trips, but now I find myself with less flexibility to take them. Hence my desire to take in as much of a new city as possible, in the shortest amount of time.

Hotels are expensive. Even AirBnB is becoming more expensive than it was 5 years ago when I first used it. Food is expensive. Breakfast, lunch and dinner for a whole weekend amounts to more than my disposable income in any given month. A day trip, whereby I’d eat my homemade breakfast on the flight out and skip dinner to eat late when I got home, seemed incredibly appealing, and my day would consist of cheaper local street-food bites rather than sit down dinners.

What would I be missing out on?

  • Actually getting a chance to chill – whether in a coffee shop, over a meal or in a pretty park
  • Experiencing more than a one or two different kinds of foods
  • Having to prioritise my to-do list and miss out on some key sightseeing opportunities due to lack of time
  • The moral part of it – staying in a new city for several days means you’re contributing more to their local economy
  • Sleep

What would I gain?

  • It would be much cheaper than staying overnight
  • I’d be able to ‘check out’ a city for a short period of time to help me decide if I wanted to go back for longer in the future
  • If I went back in the future, I’d have instantly a better idea of what to do and how to navigate the public transport and what’s the best way to transfer from the airport
  • I would be able to visit more cities, more often
  • A day away from my job or housework where I completely lose reality and really just focus on exactly where I am – the work phone gets left at home and everything! A real escape, sometimes midweek, even if just for a day
  • New knowledge of a new city!
  • ….and a new blogging opportunity

Trial 1 

My first day trip of the year was Copenhagen (you can read more about this beautiful city here). It was cultural and all-round amazing. Do I regret only going for a day? Absolutely. I truly do. It was a hauntingly beautiful place and yet so vibrant. Plus the food was to die for. But all is not lost – I now know I 100% want to return, and this time take the Yank with me, as I think he’d appreciate the cuisine (especially the pastries!), the beer and the wonderful history. I now know roughly where would be a good place to stay (I do absolutely have my eye on the Radisson Blu and its wonderful views…). I know what food places to definitely go to, and also the ones I missed and therefore still need to try. I know I definitely want to take a boat trip. And now I know roughly how much money to take with me too.

What’s more, I know now I want to go in winter. Spring was amazing don’t get me wrong – it was nice to walk around in a tshirt. But the Danish do hygge really, really well. This art of cosiness, belonging and comfort would be so appealing in the winter months. I can’t wait to be sat inside one of their teeny pubs in front of a warming fire, candlelight in front of me, reading a book, sitting over a stew or soup. I want to wrap up in hoodies and scarves and wander their Christmas markets with mulled wine and roasted chestnuts.

So, the day trip was a hit.

Trial 2 

My second day trip of the year was to Venice. In summer. On the opposite end of the spectrum to Copenhagen, which was peaceful and welcoming and untouristy, Venice was incredibly touristy. Packed, throngs of people moving quickly through the streets, pulling clunky luggage over hardened cobbles and shouting.

I’ve read many articles lately about tourists ruining Venice (check out this one). It’s such a shame, as it’s such a beauty hotspot. The streets are charming. Narrow winding oranges and reds interspersed with greenery and flowers. Such a shame they’re adorned with packed floating heads mosaying their way through, stopping here and there to take selfies. In the dead of winter, this place would probably be far more enjoyable.

Did I have fun? Yes. We hired a gondola, which was really exciting as we hadn’t planned for it (we said we’d skip dinner to be able to afford it in the end). As it was much later on in the day, but before the night crowd got out, the canals were far quieter. Down some ‘streets’, we heard no noise whatsoever apart from the gentle boomffphh of the gondolier’s oar meeting the water bed. We could sit back and chill, staring up at the tiny balconies of the people who lived here. Or perhaps they were BnBs and were empty.

Whilst there we ate some great food and had some amazing gelato. It was a great place to see, and I’m glad I ticked it off my bucket list. However, as I did my planning before we went and wrote down a list of things to do and see, I crossed things out and sacked them off, thinking we wouldn’t have time. Actually, we ended up having plenty of time. We even returned to our coach to the airport far too early. To me, a day was plenty in Venice. Would I go back? Sure, but again it wouldn’t be for very long, and it definitely wouldn’t be summer. I think I’d prefer winter when the streets would be bare and the waters in the canals wouldn’t smell in the beating sun.

Is it doable? 

Looking at cost and logistics, for Copenhagen my flight out was 7.45am arriving at 9.45am. I was out of security by 10, and it was a 20 minute journey to the city centre via train. I was eating my first Danish pastry by half 10. My return flight was 8.15pm. With no luggage to check I was able to rock up to the airport an hour beforehand with time to spare. I landed back home just after 10pm and was home by midnight, exhausted but happy (particularly since I snuck home some more pastries). I had a solid 8 hours in central Copenhagen, and 45 minutes of that was spent in the outskirts exploring. In that time I successfully ticked off a lot of major tourist hotspots and eaten a lot of food. I did this trip solo, so no faffing, just straightforward. And I had a great time. My flight cost less than £35 in total.

Venice was slightly more complicated. A longer flight, we managed to get a 6.20am journey out, landing 8.20am local time. Unfortunately when we flew, Marco Polo wasn’t open, so our only option was Treviso. This was a 45 minute bus journey from the city, after a 40 minute wait for said bus in the first place (and it was still a 25 walk from the bus station to get to anything major – we could have taken a water taxi but felt like walking to find food). Our flight back was 9.15pm, landing just before midnight. We weren’t in bed until gone 2am and I felt like death the next day at work (only The Yank had been smart enough to book the following day off too!). We had approximately 7 hours of wandering around the central Venice which was still plenty. It would have been nice to have explored more islands, such as the Lido and Burano, the colourful island, and if we return these are on our list. The flight was around £45 per person.

Cost savings? For just me in Copenhagen, I probably saved £250 from not eating out three proper meals a day and staying for two nights. Plus the potential drinking/cocktails and any other entertainment I would’ve had to find. For Venice, I’d imagine we’d have easily spent £600 between us, as the food was extravagant, and there was reason to keep purchasing 4 Euro gelatos every two hours. Accommodation wasn’t cheap and neither was the transport. I was totally happy having saved all of this money but still managing to get out to two different new countries and cities.

Where next?

Planning day trips abroad isn’t easy. First of all you have to take into account flight time. There’s no point travelling 3 hours each way (e.g. London to Croatia or Greece) just for a day – especially when you take into account the transfer time from the airport to the city centre. Venice was the maximum on the do-able rating I’d say, at 2.5 hours. Ideally, you need to find places that don’t take more than 2hrs to fly to. From London, ideal destinations are Paris, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and Dublin.

The next important step is actually looking at the flight times airlines have. For busy destinations such as Berlin and Dublin from London there are multiple flights a day. Some destinations however only have one flight out, and can be totally awkward like 5pm in the evening.

One of my favourite airlines, to many people’s disgust, is actually Ryanair. I am a huge advocate. For starters, they LOVE their early flights. And I love early flights. When booking a trip, there is nothing more depressing than having to choose a 7pm departure, arriving at your destination late into the evening when it’s dark and you can’t see a thing and you’ve lost a whole day of your trip. I love setting off early and arriving with the full day ahead of me – and this is especially good for day trips. Lots of Ryanair flights out of London leave around 6am which is perfect, although (depending on where you live) can mean a 3am start…

[Update: With the recent news of Ryanair flight cancellations, has my opinion of them changed? Well, no, not really. What they’ve done is really poor with even poorer communications to customers. I know I would’ve been terribly upset if I was flying my way out for a trip, or worse flying out to visit the Yank if I hadn’t seen him for over a month, and had a flight cancelled on me with 24 hours notice. However, you do have to take into account they are probably the cheapest airline locally, and with that you really can’t expect good customer service nor decent communication. I know I take a risk every time I fly with them – sucks, but it has also provided me with so many opportunities). 

Of course, as airlines update routes and change things around, flight times change. I could easily do my research right now, staying awake until 1am to find all of the day-trippable destinations for you to go to – but chances are within a month it’ll be out of date. And most people reading this probably won’t even fly out of my closest departure point, Stansted. I’m pretty sure Berlin, Dublin Cologne and Stockholm still have day-trippable routes – go check it out. Book it early enough in advance too and you’ll probably spend around £35 for your outgoing and return flight collectively.

Now, since I’m super nice, I’m going to provide (as at 19 September 2017) several day trippable destinations going out of London (but beware, these will expire quickly!):

Easyjet London Stansted to Amsterdam – now it looks like only on Mondays and Fridays you can get a super late flight back. So ~ outgoing depart 0700 (land 0910), return depart 2155 (land 2200). I was looking at 23 October for these times. This is for ~£110. Whilst this is absolutely the higher end of what I’d pay for flights, it is really hard to find much cheaper to Amsterdam – for some reason I’ve never been able to find flights for less than £100 return.

Ryanair London Stansted to Dublin – 0630 depart (land 0755), returning 2155 (land 2315). Looking at 10 November. Currently £40.

Easyjet London Stansted to Edinburgh – 0900 flight (land 1015), returning 1935 (land 2055). That’s for 28 September, and ~£70. It looks like after September ends, there will no longer be 0900 flights out to Edinburgh, so get in quickly.

Easyjet London Luton to Geneva – departing 0700 (land 0945), returning 2130 (land 2210) – for £40. I looked at 18 October.

Ryanair London Stansted to Prague – departing 0840 (land 1135), return 2035 (land 2145). £50 and that’s for 4 November.

Sorry for those of you not living near London. However please check flights from your local airport monthly as new flight times are frequently introduced!

Now you’ve done the hard part and found your flights, from here this should be the easy part. As long as you don’t leave it to the last minute, like me. Whilst you’ll want to cram in as much as possible, a city break day trip should not be a chore. You just have to be realistic. Here’s how I plan:

  1. For research, I utilise TripAdvisor, various Instagram hashtag searches relevant to location, and relevant blog posts – such as ‘how to spend a day in Berlin’ (for example). I asked friends, family and colleagues that have spent time in my planned destination
  2. I write a list of everything I want to do. All museums, sightseeing things, castles, all restaurants to eat at, cake shops to try, good coffee shops – EVERYTHING
  3. Split my list into two for sightseeing and foodie stops  – after all, sightseeing items can be eliminated, but you need food!
  4. If possible, I print out a map and put stars on the map where everything is
  5. Cross referencing locations, I group together places within a few miles’ radius – it’s best to focus on these things as it isn’t as much exertion to get from A to B to C if they’re close by – as opposed to constantly trekking half an hour to the next stop and barely getting to see anything
  6. Prioritise groups of things to do – the top items I will head to first and squeeze in no matter what, and the bottom items will be there ‘just in case’ I still have time – you never know, sometimes things you think will take an hour will take 15 minutes
  7. I finish by writing up a complete guide, usually on my phone so I can easily bring it up and copy and paste addresses for Google Maps. I screenshot things I need to know such as transport times. I download offline routes on Google Maps, just in case the country I’m in isn’t a Three Feel At Home country.

 

Voila! Your list for your day trip. Just to note – if you plan on going to take lots of photos, for either your portfolio or just your Instagram, make sure you add on at least 20 minutes to each of your things to do so you have plenty of time for snapping!

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@citybreaksandcakes

P.S.

Just to mention now that I think about it, 2017 isn’t actually my first year of abroad day trip experience. Up until the age of 18, I never had my own passport. I went abroad to Tenerife twice when I was far younger, travelling on my mum’s passport, and nowhere else. At 18, I decided it was time for my first holiday without my folks, and I applied for my passport. Well, it arrived one Friday morning, and I immediately booked a ferry to Calais (no car!) for Saturday morning. It was a 2am start to get a cheap ferry, and I had to park the car at Dover and get on the ferry on foot as it was ££hundreds more expensive to take the car. Obviously in Calais I realised there’s very little to do, but I did manage to find a beach. I ate a lazy lunch nearby and wandered around some streets. I had taken my new camera and snapped some arty photos of an abandoned railway line (hm I wonder where those photos are!). The ferry back was ridiculously early in the day, maybe 4pm, but it was my first ever experience using my own passport, and my first abroad trip that I can actually remember – and it was a day trip. At the time, I felt totally like the world was my oyster.

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