I love a mini break. We rarely go over weekends, it’s usually me taking N away for a few days mid-week in school holidays. But just a few days is enough to see a few places, have a bit of a relax and some time away. It’s just enough time. Plus shorter breaks means we can fit more in across the year.
The only downside is that the way we do it, going on whatever day we fancy means we’re restricted. Holiday parks or places like Center Parcs and Forest Holidays only do set options for dates. Usually Friday to Sunday/Monday, Monday to Friday or Saturday to Saturday. I prefer flexibility which means usually less sitting in traffic and being able to fit breaks around the odd playdate or tennis camp day. We get more days to do things when we want.
Mini breaks can be expensive (especially if like me you tend to book really last minute and find only expensive places left if you’re looking for specific requirements). So I’ve pulled together some tips on how to keep costs down before and while you’re away.
Tips on getting the most value from mini breaks
Before you go away
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1, Book hotels via cashback sites or direct
Make sure you compare prices (like for like), ensure you’ve ticked boxes to include breakfast, and think whether you need to allow for free cancellation. Cashback sites are great for clicking through to hotel website comparison sites, and some hotels themselves are on them as well. You get the money back afterwards, so if you’re saving up for Christmas or other holiday money, cashback is a long term saving option.
Booking direct with hotels sometimes mean you get better deals and more choice of rooms. But make sure you’re getting the room you want (not a general room rather than a twin room you book like I struggled with at the York Marriott), or follow up with a call or email to confirm any special requirements.
2, Look for places with free parking onsite or reduced rate parking
Staying in city centres usually means a lack of parking or paying a premium – with many charging up to £25 a night. We tend to park a bit further out and bus in (or look for park and rides rather than paying city centre parking costs for days out. An alternative is to book the hotel, but book separate parking through a rent a parking spot website where people often rent out spaces (usually to commuters but you might get lucky). This is handy if like us you just want somewhere to dump the car while you’re there and you’ll walk or bus everywhere while on your break.
3, Go by train and travel light
Book 12 weeks in advance for the best deals or look at coach journeys although these will take a lot of time off your stay.
4, Download travel mobile apps to keep bus ticket prices down
We like to walk into towns where possible but sometimes it’s too hot, too far to do both ways to the hotel. So we use the bus – often hotels have bus stops not far away. But bus tickets can add up. Some cities have day or week passes but unless you know you’re going to be doing several journeys a day it might not be that cheap.
But nowadays, many bus companies have payment by app and with that, prices can be cheaper. So download the app to your phone before each mini break and compare app vs cash or card payments.
5, Look into buying local attraction passes
Check out city attraction passes. Some cities have passes on sale for different number of attractions or days, which offer discounts on entry. Make sure you work out which places you want to visit, whether they’ll be included, and whether you’ll fit in enough to make a pass worthwhile. Bear in mind some attractions offer online discounts paying in advance anyway (even up to the evening before). Other locations let children in for free, so there’s lots to think about before buying city passes.
While you’re away
6, Pick up local leaflets which might have discounts in
On arrival at our hotel we always look out for tourist leaflets. Or head to tourist information centres to pick them up and ask for advice. Some regional tourist leaflets have discount vouchers in for attractions and/or restaurants. Just don’t forget to use them.
Bus tour tickets will often get you discounts as well. And don’t forget some attraction tickets let you return for 24 hours, or even up to a year. So keep any ‘annual pass’ entry tickets in an envelope or folder and look them out before you go away on your mini break the next time.
7, Teach children to lie
Well, not to lie, but just to agree with entrance staff or bus drivers who state ‘oh yes you’re 5 aren’t you?’, when they ask how old the child is. Of course it’s not easy because most children are indignant and point out that actually they’re 8, but if a bus tour driver is being nice and offering a discount, teach them to take it on that occasion. (And then explain afterwards why it’s ok on that occasion).
8, DIY lunches
We like to take snacks with us, especially fruit. Because whenever we eat out on holiday we rarely seem to eat as much fruit and veg as we do at home. However not all hotels have fridges in rooms anymore, so check in advance to avoid taking and wasting food. If you have a fridge, or are staying in an apartment take your lunch out with you to save spending lots of money in cafes, and have picnics instead.
9, Eat out in independents
While it’s not always easy when N wants to eat at PIzza Express all the time, it’s often cheaper to eat in independents, and you get a friendly welcome. Try restaurants on the outskirts rather than busy city centre places where you might have to wait for a table.
Wherever you’re eating, check apps like Vouchercloud for local discounts.
10, Go north in the UK
For us the south is often quicker (and more reliable on good weather), but going north can be so much cheaper for travel while we’re there (car parking and buses), as well as being cheaper for hotel stays. So it’s worth being open about trying new places to explore.
Do you enjoy mini breaks? Where are some you’d recommend and what do you try to save money on them?
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