advice

Top tips for a mini-break

Gaby Doman’s guide to making the most of a short trip

16:53 February 11, 2016
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Zurich might not say ‘impromptu European mini-break’ to everyone, but that’s what I did last weekend. And it was amazing because, not to blow my own trumpet, but I’m somewhat of a pro at mini breaks.

Zurich is eye-wateringly expensive and probably a less popular spot for a jaunt than, say, Paris, Rome, Barcelona or Prague, but I had a great time because of my mini-break skills.

Ok, so I had friends in the city who knew where the best fondue is, where to head to for a spot of tobogganing and the coolest rooftop thermal bath with views of the city and the snow-capped mountains beyond (and, as a bonus, a full rainbow over the city), but, I really think the best mini-breaks are those that are a little bit unplanned. In fact, I see so many people having terrible holidays that I feel like it’s my duty to pass on my tips.

1. Don’t plan too much.

Sure, there are some sights that are a bit of an essential in every city — I mean, I guess you can’t go to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower — but, keeping the plans to a minimum gives you the chance to stumble on a great cafe and spend a few hours indulging in coffee by the canal, or some such. A little bit of serendipity is a lot more memorable and, let’s face it, more romantic than strict itineraries. Most of the tourist trap places are overpriced and hold no surprises anyway.

2. Stop being a tourist

It’s pretty hard to not look like a tourist when you are. Especially if you look the polar opposite of the locals (my white blonde hair usually identifies me as Not Local. But if you see tourists flock into a restaurant in the main square of the city, walk the other way. Find a quiet side street and slip in to where the locals are catching a break from the selfie sticks and backpacks beyond. The food will probably be better and cheaper and you get to indulge in a little smugness that you’re ‘living like a local’. Smugness is always fun.

3. Hire a bike

Walking or biking is, depending on the city you’re in, the best way to see a city. Obviously that would be crazy in Dubai because you’d pass out and die from heatstroke halfway down Shaikh Zayed Road — that’s if you managed to avoid those maniac cab drivers we’re all so fond of. But assuming it’s not a city that’s hostile to pedestrians, bikes are the best way to stumble upon those cafes and boutiques that’ll probably be the highlight of your trip.

4. Don’t convert money

This one is simple. Converting money for things that are essential to buy (food, hotels, travel, etc.) will only make you sad. Live in blissful denial. I just got back from Zurich and discovered I spent Dh270 on a salad. I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time or I wouldn’t have eaten in Zurich.

5. Travel often

The best way to become a pro at mini-breaks is to do them really regularly. If you’re struggling to let go of the mindset that you need to visit all top 10 attractions in a city, you’ll soon reconsider when you’re in yet another queue surrounded by jostling tourists determined to stand on your feet and raise your blood pressure. No thanks. You’ll find me chilling out in the thermal baths or tumbling down a snowy mountain instead.

So, I’ve come back from Zurich black and blue with bruises (tobogganing is hard), broke and fat — but so refreshed and with plenty of stories to tell. I think I could get used to living in Europe.