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Last Updated on 23/12/2020
Taking a winter mini-break during the festive season feels like an impossible task among the last-minute Christmas shopping, events, and eating far too much food than is necessary. It’s an insanely busy time of year and the last thing anyone wants is to spend more money. But it’s is all the more reason why you should go.
Because if done right, travelling during the winter is one of the cheapest times of the year. There are fewer crowds to contend with, and you get the best pick of accommodation.
Most importantly, it’s a chance to take a short break from the busy holiday, to do something for yourself and get in the festive spirit.
If you’re thinking about taking a short winter getaway, have a look at my tips below to help you have the best time without breaking the bank:
1. Book your transport in advance
Photo credit: Nico Benedickt
Travelling during the festive season can be hit and miss in terms of price. On the one hand, you have the annual migration of people heading to their respective families and loved ones, and on the other, it’s tourism’s low season.
Even if you’re planning to take a mini-break to a country nearby, I recommend booking your tickets are early as possible to avoid the skyrocketing prices. They can go up as much as £3 to £4 a day throughout November, and it’s higher if you’re thinking of flying during a weekend.
It requires a bit of planning but booking your winter mini-break in advance is the best way to save money. If anything, it feels like more of a treat for yourself when the time comes (and that’s not because you nearly forget all about it!).
No matter where you want to go, figure your dates out early before it becomes too expensive to even leave your house!
Want to know how to offset your flights? You can learn more about it here.
2. Find accommodation last-minute
Photo credit: Ilya Orehov
Unlike transport, you can afford to be a little lax when booking accommodation for your weekend away. In fact, you can wait as long as early December to save money depending on where you’re travelling to.
Many hostels and hotels are understandably quiet over the festive period so you won’t have any trouble finding somewhere to stay at an affordable price. You only really need to be aware of the days leading up to the New Year if you want a cheap break in the city. As I’m sure you can imagine, that’s the time when more people venture out to celebrate in style.
Booking accommodation during the winter months does have its advantages over the summer. It may be a little colder, but you’re more likely to get more choice when it comes to finding cheaper deals. The winter season is one of those rare times where finding affordable accommodation last-minute actually works out in your favour.
3. Plan your itinerary
Photo credit: Ibrahim Rifath
If you’re going away for a long weekend, I advise planning your itinerary in advance. The trip may only be a few days to organise, but it means you just get a snapshot of the destination, so you want to make every moment count.
Start doing some research a couple of weeks before you go and find two or three activities that inspire you. Don’t feel obliged to completely overload your itinerary just because you’re only there for a few days. There’s no way you can do it all and the last thing you want is to spend your precious few days tearing about the place trying to squeeze everything in.
Only select the activities you think will be doable and allow some time for aimless wandering because that’s the moment when you see your destination at its best. It’s also worth noting that, despite being the low season, European countries, in particular, are packed with festive events and Christmas markets so keep an eye out.
There’s nothing quite like a German Christmas market to get me in the festive spirit. Who can resist those warm cosy stalls wafting smells of roasting nuts, mulled wine and gingerbread? Delicious!
4. Be flexible with your dates
Photo credit: Micaela Parente
As you plan your itinerary, it’s worth being aware that some attractions will be closed for the holidays and lack of tourists. Opening times may also differ due to the cold weather and shorter days.
As you research your activities, make sure you plan and prioritise your schedule accordingly to avoid disappointment. If you’re heading somewhere particularly wintery and you’re a keen hiker, you might find that many walks will be closed due to unpredictable weather.
I found this out when I visited New Zealand during their winter months. A lot of the major mountainous walks were either too treacherous to consider or you had to wait several weeks for the weather to clear up.
Even then it was best to go with an experienced guide. Don’t worry though, if you can’t find a good hike to occupy your time, there are plenty of festivities and events to get involved with.
5. The low season means fewer crowds but also chilly weather
Photo credit: Marina Khrapova
One of the best reasons to go on a weekend break during the winter is that the tourist attractions will be a lot less busy. Sightseeing at this time of year is easier, cheaper, and you won’t have to deal with heavy crowds.
The only downside is, of course, the cold, and it makes commuting to each attraction more of a challenge. Nothing puts me off going outside more than the thought of freezing fingers and toes. It saps the enjoyment out of any activity.
Mix up your itinerary with some indoor activities to get some respite from the cold and pack a lot of layers so you don’t feel like hiding in your hostel when you arrive. The good news is that your luggage should be very light as you will be wrapped in most of its contents.
6. Don’t go off the beaten track in case you get stranded
Photo credit: Dino Reichmuth
If you’re planning a mini-break during the winter, consider making it easier for yourself and head to a town or city rather than somewhere completely remote. The last thing you want on a short holiday is to spend half of it getting to the destination and limit the precious amount of time you have to enjoy it.
Travelling to more rural areas leaves you more vulnerable to having your plans ruined by bad weather. You definitely don’t want to get caught out in a blizzard in the middle of nowhere!
Aim for destinations that are easier to get to and have fewer connecting flights. If one part of your transport schedule is cancelled (which is a lot more likely in winter) you might find yourself staying somewhere a lot longer than you originally intended. Or worse still you might not even get to go on your trip after all.
7. Avoid temptation and pack light
Photo credit: Austin Scherbarth
Winter makes you want to pack every jumper you own but, although it’s tempting, you actually want to pack as light as possible if you’re only going for a few days. Ideally, a rucksack is a lot easier than a wheelie suitcase, especially if you’re likely to come across snow and ice.
If you remember to take a padlock, you can leave your suitcase at your accommodation and bring a day bag out with you. Try to layer up rather than filling your suitcase, and don’t forget your hat, scarf, and gloves even if you think you might be fine.
I made that mistake when I went on a winter trip to Amsterdam a couple of years ago and I was so, unbelievably cold. It takes the fun out of travel when all you want to do is curl up next to a radiator… So layer up rather than overpack. You will be glad of that extra space when you come across some festive souvenirs anyway!
8. Treat yourself
Travelling in winter is a completely different experience than the summer months. Yes, there’s a chill in the air but popular tourist destinations tend to be a lot quieter and cheaper.
During the festive season, you get the opportunity to witness how other cultures celebrate the holidays. It provides you with a rare slice of indulgence among the stress of last-minute shopping, cooking, and dashing to see relatives.
On a mini-break, you get a few days to play by your own rules, do something a little different, or even escape from Christmas altogether! The choice is yours.
If you have a weekend free over the holidays and you’re itching to do something different, consider going on a winter mini-break away. It’ll be absolutely worth it, trust me.
Need some inspiration for where to go? Check out this guide by Lonely Planet.