I’m afraid, something really bad is going to happen soon. I think the sun and the moon and Earth have joined up and are planning a terrible coup: the end of summer. As the last rays of sunlight kiss my face, slowly making space for the icy winds of northern winter nights, I remember the adventures this summer has brought me. I want to go back to South Tyrol and hike, or hang out with the other Travelettes in Croatia – it’s holiday blues at its best. Unfortunately, I have neither time nor money at disposal for an escaping journey to the southern hemisphere or some random exotic destination at the moment; but luckily, winter is not quite here yet.

Autumn in its entire beauty, from the orange-tinted Indian summer to the mystical, foggy days of November, has its own appeal and is one of my favourite times for (spontaneous) city trips. To get the most out of it though, there is a lot to consider. Here are some tips and tricks.

travelettes guide to city trips / kathi kamleitner

1) Plan your Budget carefully

In Europe, cities are connected by a wide network of affordable flights provided by budget airlines (like EasyJet or RyanAir) but also through special offers of usually pricier airlines (like Red Ticket by Austrian Airlines). Many charge extra for checked luggage, but a carry-on suitcase is generally enough for a couple of days in the city anyways.

travelettes guide to city trips / kathi kamleitner

BUT BEWARE: Although flight connections can be ridiculously cheap sometimes – you might find a flight to Oslo for as little as €20 – there are many hidden costs. Here are a few questions to ask yourself that can help uncovering them:

  • How far is are the airport away from the city center, and how expensive is the transport to and from the airport? Falling for the cheap flight trap to Oslo might not pay off on a low-budget trip, as the airport bus also costs about €20 one-way.
  • What kind of accommodation is available? Some cities are infamous for their expensive (or particularly low-budget) possibilities – try to choose the latter (duh #1). If you are an avid CouchSurfer, are there any trustworthy hosts registered? Could any major events cause hotels and hostels to be fully booked? Nothing is more annoying than finding a great bargain flight, but then struggling to find affordable accommodation.

bearpit karaoke berlin mauerpark

  • What can you do in this city? Are there many free activities? Enough options if it rains? Is there public transport? Do you want to stay in the city only or do you see some of the surrounding landscape? Last Christmas I almost booked a (very) cheap last-minute flight to Faro, Portugal, but decided against it as I found out that a) the city is empty during the holidays, and b) the strong winds make sitting on the beach impossible. In this case research saved me money and effort.
  • Which investment can make your trip better? If you’re visiting Berlin for example, and want to experience its unique vibe rent a bicycle, bring a nice picnic to the popular closed down airfield in Tempelhof and do it like Berliners. Museums are your thing? Try to find out about special passes (like the 3-day museum pass for €24 in Berlin), discounts and free museums.

Considering all these things will help you to get an overview of how much of a bargain a cheap flight really is, how much money you will need, and which things you want to spend them on. With all that in mind, go ahead and book your flight!

travelguides

2) Do your research

Once transport to and accommodation in the city are sorted, it is time to start researching on what there is to do and see. The most obvious sources are travel guides, which come in all forms and colors. Have a look at our comprehensive guide on travel guides to find the most suitable one for you. The best city travel guide in general is recent, as in not from 2004, and specific, so a Madrid guide rather that a comprehensive Spain edition.

To avoid schlepping heavy paperbacks around a city, search for e-book editions, foldable travel guide-map combinations and travel-themed smart phone applications. The latter came into use when I explored the HafenCity in Hamburg last summer – a travel guide app, which is free to download and easy to navigate with. The only disadvantage is that they often need 3G to work.

katja iphone

Next up is a thorough online research. My first place to go to is Travelettes.net (duh #2) to search for Travelettes Guides or other insider tips. If I can’t find anything here, I start googling (must do’s in…, best things to do in…, bohemian guide to…, free things to do in…) but quickly give up again. Most hits lead me to major and mainstream magazines and websites that list only touristy things. Then I remember, that travel blogs are so much better and click through a couple of my favourite ones to see if they have content on the city. This list is also very useful. Another great source are blogs collecting local voices, like Spotted by Locals or Slow Travel platforms.

The only thing better than finding personal recommendations online, is getting them from your peers and friends, who actually know who you are and what you are into. If you know someone, who has already been to the city, ask them for their favourite places – that is how I often find the best lunch and dinner spots abroad. If you aren’t sure if any of your friends has actually been, shout out on Facebook or Twitter – I have found help from the most unexpected connections before!

hamburg breakfast

Finally, I rely heavily on Pinterest – to find out what the city looks like at all, but also to find relevant travel blogs I normally wouldn’t have found. We started posting our travel guides on Pinterest as well – so they are even easier to find.

3) How and What will you Pack?

I choose my luggage depending on the length of the trip and the means of transportation (duh #3) – usually a carry on suitcase or weekender bag plus a cross-body bag or city backpack big enough for my camera, a water bottle and a spare jumper.

travelettes guide to city tripping / kathi kamleitner

I pack according to these rules:

  • Bring versatile basic pieces that you can easily combine to various outfits. Choose a palette of colours and patterns to mix and match.
  • Hiking trousers are for hiking trips. Comfortable shoes are necessary to walk around all day (wedges anyone?), but why stand out as a tourist? Bring the same clothes as you would wear at home.
  • Don’t fold, but ROLL your clothes. This saves space in your suitcase (- it really does!).
  • Store heavy items like shoes at the bottom of your bag, lighter things on top so they don’t get crushed.
  • Toiletry solutions: 1) Wanna save the environment? Bring travel size toiletries you can refill for every trip, 2) Staying at a hotel? There will probably be complimentary soap and shampoo (no toothpaste however…), 3) You like exotic souvenirs? Leave your toiletries at home and buy them at your destination. I have toothpaste from Spain, body lotion from Italy and a hair brush from Croatia.

travelettes guide to city trips / kathi kamleitner

4) What to do in the city?

I go by the rule “Research a lot, but don’t plan every second.” I like to know my choices and decide spontaneously. My most important ressource for local recommendations is ALWAYS CouchSurfing. Before you protest, because you don’t want to stay with strangers but prefer hotels/hostels: CouchSurfing is not restricted to accommodation. Many people have profiles although they don’t offer their couch. Like on Facebook there are groups, characterised by location and/or common interests. Anyone can join in on the discussions there and it is a great place to get advice for locals (even find someone to show you around). If you feel comfortable with it, chat up some cool local people in cafés or bars – they will most likely be able to tell you a thing or two about their city.

I love getting lost in the city, but also having a map with me for emergencies. Knowing some basics of the local language will help you get by, but also show the locals that you are truly interested in their city. They will appreciate your effort and give you a warmer welcome.

travelettes guide to city trips - maps / kathi kamleitner

Here are a few more things to keep in mind:

  • Walking tours are a good way to get an overview of the city. Often they are free or cheap, they are usually run by cool locals who you can ask for advice beyond the tourist basics. I usually try to find bicycle or street art tours to get a different perspective.
  • Find out about different ways of transportation. As I love bikes I try to find local rental companies, or – even better – sign up for public bicycle programmes. Many cities have “citybikes” installed by the city council, which can also be used by tourists.

Girl on Bike Amsterdam

  • Are there any universities in the city? Often the bohemian areas are not far from there.

5) What’s in my bag?

City trips can be exhausting and optimising the load you have to carry around with you can make or break a day on the go – especially if your accommodation is not super central. How often have you retreated to a cafe, or back to the hotel because your bag became to heavy? Instead you should be exploring and discovering, right?

travelettes guide to city trips / kathi kamleitner

You already know which 5 things we never travel without in general, but what’s in my bag when I explore a city? (other than my phone, purse and hotel key)

  • a city map
  • a pen and a notebook with addresses, names of cool areas, some vocabulary and plenty of space to write down spontaneous recommendations and to keep a journal
  • a bottle of water that I can refill at public water fountains
  • healthy snacks to keep up the energy: (dried) fruit, nuts, musli bars
  • a jumper or scarf to cover up if necessary
  • a lighter to quickstart conversations with strangers
  • sunglasses (fingers crossed) and a small umbrella (at least theoretically)
  • my phone charger (with the WiFi and the camera on all the time the battery dies quicker than you think)
  • my camera (duh #6)

polaroid polawalk

So, before you despair – winter is still a while away. Make the most of the upcoming season and book that flight (after doing your research of course).

Do you have any city trips planned soon? Would you like some more tips on this topic?

 

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner, Marie Colinet and Katja Hentschel.