Are Cheap Weekend Escapes and European Getaways from the United States even possible?
I know, I would think the same thing. Seriously, if you had told me a year ago that I would be posting about affordable European getaways and cheap weekend escapes from New York, I would have called you a liar and told you that you were a dirty rotten scoundrel right to your face (Actually that’s an exaggeration. I would just think you’re nuts and say nothing because I am pretty non-confrontational).
But guess what? It’s not a fantasy. It’s a reality. And I should know because I did it and had an amazing time. Plus, it wasn’t that complicated. I didn’t have to jump through any hoops, attend a sales presentation, or even sign away the birth rights to my future (maybe) first born. All I had to do was make a few smart decisions based on my research.
Okay, so now I bet you want to believe me because a weekend in Europe sounds pretty sweet, especially if you live in the United States because to us, Europe is exotic and far away. However, I bet you’re still skeptical because it sounds WAY too good to be true. You may think that you’ll have to give me your social security number or phone number to sign up for some “deal” that is basically just me stealing all your money. Well, the short answer is no. I do not need anything from you. The only thing that you may want to do is sit back, relax, and read this post. I’ve done all the groundwork for you, so all you need to do is read through the 10 things I do to plan an affordable European weekend getaway.
1. Pick the right date (And I don’t mean a romantic one but one from the calendar. Miss Congeniality anyone? No? Okay, I’ll stop)
So to do this, your flight doesn’t need to be in off season (I found a cheap flight to Edinburgh in July), but you do need four consecutive days off if you want to make the long flight worth your while. Any time frame shorter than this and you are basically getting off the plane just to get right back on it. Not to mention the added misery of jet-lag if that’s an issue for you (Thank God I really don’t get jet-lag when traveling to Europe).
I did this over July 4th weekend (Independence day here) when I had Saturday through Tuesday off from work. However, if you don’t have a four day weekend, plan your affordable European weekend getaway around a holiday where you have a Monday or Friday off. Then, take either that Tuesday or Thursday off so that you have four consecutive vacation days. This way, you only need to take one day off as opposed to two (I do this because I work full time and want to save as many vacation days as possible).
2. Pick the right Flight Times
This is critical. You need a flight that leaves after work, the night before your first day off (So a Friday night flight if your first vacation day is a Saturday). You also need a flight that leaves later in the day on your last day of vacation (so a flight that leaves on Tuesday night if this is your last day of vacation).
These flight times are important for two reasons. First of all, they maximize the little time that you have in Europe by giving you as much vacation time as possible. Plus, if you depart on a Friday night, you can sleep on the plane and then wake up refreshed and ready to go when you arrive in Europe on Saturday.
Secondly, they provide you with the most vacation time, without having to take any additional time off work, just for travel. I mean, its the worst when you have to waste a vacation day because you have a departing flight at 6:00 pm.
Lastly, the flight has to be direct. Any layovers will just eat away at the little time you have for your vacation.
***Typically, I like my Tuesday night flight to leave around 6 or 7 pm since I do have to work the next day. But if there is a later flight home, (like Tim Gunn says) I “make it work”.
3. Pick the right Airport
Guess what? Not all airports are created equally. Some airports offer much cheaper flights than others. Therefore, it may be worth your while to see if a discount airline provides service from a smaller international airport.
Now in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll give you an example. I am from New York, so typically I fly out of LaGuardia, JFK, or Newark. Those are the three airports that most New Yorkers use, if they live near the City.
However, instead of looking at flights departing from these airports, I expanded my search and researched flights from Stewart International Airport (a small International airport in Newburgh, New York). This airport is still a convenient location for me since its only an hour and ten minutes from my house (The same as JFK pretty much, with traffic). Plus, they provide on site parking for only $10 a day (which maxes out at $60). So not only is it relatively close, but I can drive myself there since parking is so inexpensive (Talk about a win win. I no longer have to beg for rides when I go away). To my complete and utter shock, in my search I found direct, Norwegian Airlines flights, from Stewart, to Europe, for $300 round trip. I mean, at prices like this, how could I not book an awesome and affordable European weekend getaway (And no, the price doesn’t magically jump up once you try and book the flight. Plus, if you’re a traveler like me, wasting a flight deal like this is basically criminal right? Maybe? Humor me)?
But even if you don’t have access to smaller, regional airports (like if you live in New York City), never fear because some larger airports also offer fantastic flight deals. Just familiarize yourself with the budget airline carriers that offer service to airports near you, and you can still fly to Europe for a weekend (I found a direct flight from JFK to Paris for $300 round trip, and airports don’t get much bigger than JFK).
***When you choose a discount airline like Norwegian Air, be warned that nothing is included. You will pay extra for food, drinks, checked luggage, reserved seats, and basically anything else you can think of. So stock up on snacks and drinks before you board the plane. Also be warned that the seats on the plane do not have individual TVs. Therefore, you may want to download as many Netflix shows as humanly possible, before your flight. Remember, it’s discount for a reason and if you don’t pay attention to these small fees, they could add up and totally negate all your savings.
***When booking a flight for your European getaways or cheap weekend escapes, I book directly from the airline website since it tends to be cheaper. I also try to stick with one airline carrier so that I can rack up my airline rewards points (to book your flight now click here.
A note about Stewart International Airport for the New Yorkers in the audience (everyone else can skip this)
Stewart International Airport, in Newburgh New York, is a small airport that is about an hour and a half North of New York City. The great thing about Stewart is that it’s small, the people are friendly, it is convenient to get in and out of, parking is cheap, traffic is minimal, and they have great flight deals through Norwegian Airlines.
The down side is that Stewart can be a bit of a drive if you live around New York City and don’t own a car. Additionally, because the airport is so small, they offer a limited number of departures that arrive in a limited number of destinations.
Therefore, the majority of deals you’ll find here are direct flights from New York to Edinburgh, Belfast, Oslo, and Dublin. There may be other available flight destinations but these cities are primarily where most Norwegian Airlines flights land. So while Stewart Airport is a great option for discount flights, do your research and make sure that this airport and these destinations work for you.
4. Choose the Right Destination
So if you’re flying from the United States to Europe, obviously you want to focus on the European countries that are the closest to you. Typically I try and book flights that are no more than 8 hours. I don’t want to waste my precious vacation time flying when I could be exploring a new country.
Therefore, you probably won’t be able to go to Athens, Rome, or Vienna for the weekend. Instead, I would focus on European destinations that are closer to New York like Dublin, Lisbon, London, Edinburgh, Reykjavik, and Oslo. That’s why you need to figure out how long the flight is and if the travel time is doable for a weekend getaway.
5. Use a Carry On
So some people out there have the propensity to overpack. Well don’t. LoL. At least not for this trip. You are only going for a
couple of days (so I think you can leave that Gucci dress at home. While you’re at it the hair dryer too), so you don’t need that much and should be able to fit all your clothes in your carry on. Plus, if you do forget anything, just buy it when you get there. I mean it’s Europe so they’ll either have the item or a different version of it. I mean, you’re not traveling to a mud hut in the middle of nowhere so you can pack light. Plus, do you really want to waste your precious time waiting for your luggage at baggage claim? I thought so. No one likes waiting around at baggage claim because you always think that your bag is next and it never is. Or, someone has the same black bag with a pink ribbon and you just can’t seem to figure out which bag is yours (My fear is that I would leave the airport with the wrong bag). Or they just lose your luggage all together. Grr. I’m getting riled up just thinking about it. Yeah, best to just pack a carry on on.
6. Bring Protein Bars and a Water Bottle
Look, if you’re traveling for three nights and four days, just bring two protein bars for the plane and 1 for every morning that you’re there. This way you can save some money on breakfast.
Also remember to bring your water bottle because you can save a ton of money just by drinking tap water instead of bottled water. And its Europe so generally speaking, the water quality is pretty.
***If you need to stretch your budget further, bring more protein bars since they are relatively healthy. You can also shop at the grocery store and eat out less. Some of my favorite protein bars and water bottles are listed below.
7. Utilize as many free attractions as possible
If your time and budget are limited, research where you want to go and when ahead of time so that you don’t waste time wandering around and searching for the things you want to see and do. This is also helpful because you can find out which attractions are popular and need to be booked in advance.
Also, since some European getaways can be expensive, I would research the various free attractions that your destination offers and utilize those (Also bring a student card for discounts if this applies to you). Remember that just because something is free, doesn’t mean it sucks. Also, a lot of museums offer free admission during some days or nights, so do a little research and figure out when is the best time to visit so you can save the most money.
8. Book an AirBnB for Cheap Weekend Escapes
So some people are adverse to this because you are basically staying in a stranger’s house. I mean you have no idea who they are and for all you know, they could chop you up into little pieces like Hannibal Lector (Silence of the Lambs is some crazy you know what). Yup, I totally feel the fear.
But the great thing about AirBnB, besides it being way cheaper than a hotel, (Yes, you can find rooms for $30-$40 a night), is that house guests review their hosts. Therefore, if you stick with someone who has a significant number of positive reviews (If they get a ton of 5 star reviews then they become a super host and that’s who you want to rent from), chances are that the room has a good location and that the host is more than hospitable. Truly a great way to save money and meet a local . This way, you can pick their brain about where to go and what to do so you can travel like the locals.
***I usually travel solo so the fees I quoted are for a single person renting a room. If you want to rent out an entire apartment, the cost may be more than $40 a night. But also remember that you are splitting the cost between two people (to book your AirBnB stay, click here.
9. Research Public Transportation for your European Getaways
Nothing eats up more time than getting lost, so check out public transportation options before you arrive and know how to get to the places you want to go. Also try and decide what is more important to you, time or money? If you’re concerned about maximizing your time, then taking taxis everywhere may be the most efficient way to travel. However, if you have a tight budget, then traveling on the subway or bus might be the best option (I generally stick to the subway since buses get caught in traffic). Just know where your priorities lie and you should be fine.
10. Minimize Travel Once you Reach your Destination
Look, you have a limited amount of time for this weekend getaway. Do you really want to spend anymore time in transit? I mean I feel flying to and from Europe over four days is kind of enough travel.
That’s why when I head to Europe for cheap weekend escapes or European getaways, I generally stay in one city and try not to travel throughout the region or country. I mean sure, while in Edinburgh I could have done a day trip to the highlands, but I didn’t want to waste my precious time sitting on a bus. I’d rather use this time to explore a new city than look out a bus window.
See, I told you European Getaways and Cheap Weekend Escapes are Real (if you doubted me its okay because I would doubt me too)
So I swear, this isn’t some weird gimmick or some crazy bait and click title. These are just all the steps I take to create fun and cheap weekend escapes or European getaways.
I hope you can use these tips to travel more, just like I do. I mean, contrary to popular belief, I don’t sell illegal goods of any kind, I have no trust fund, I have no sugar daddy, and I didn’t win the lottery (when you travel a lot everyone assumes you must be a millionaire. If that was true then I’d be flying first class on a private jet). I just stay as budget conscious as possible and save on all the little things I can because eventually, those little things will add up to big savings and way more money to travel with (And if you’re reading this, you probably want a little more travel in your life).