With family all around the UK, I find myself taking a trips around the country more often than most. I've been away twice in five weeks, and they were very, very different weekend breaks! After the first trip to Northern Ireland, I felt so frazzled I could have done with another holiday. But having just returned from a second trip, this time to London, I'm feeling a lot more relaxed.
In my quest to do more "little and often" travelling, it's important to nail this balance. So what did I do differently, to feel so much more chilled out this month?
Pace your weekend breaks
For the first trip, we stayed three nights in three different places! We saw the rugby with friends in Belfast on the Friday night, followed by a night out drinking. We took a hungover drive to meet some family on Saturday, where I had time for a quick nap before visiting even more family, then heading out to the local curry house and no less than four local pubs. On Sunday, we left ourselves no time to stop and relax on the drive to Ballycastle, where we had a fantastic Sunday roast.
We were up early on the Monday to drive to the boat home, grab the week's shopping and I was back at my desk on Tuesday at 9am - then back in my bed by 9.30pm! The hectic and boozy weekend contributed to the worst flu I've had in a while, and I ended up off work for three days. I had a lovely weekend, but I definitely did too much and ran myself down.
In contrast, last weekend in London was a much more chilled out affair. We still saw the rugby, and met up with some more family, but we also planned in plenty of time to just chill out. This leads us nicely to my next tip...
Plan time to relax
Instead of hoping for a gap between less relaxing activities, we made an effort to actually schedule relaxation. This can mean many things to many people. For me, it means making sure we get time to ourselves, which we didn't do in Belfast. In London, we arrived a day before we were to meet family, and took the time to have a relaxed dinner and enjoy a bottle of wine together. As we sat in the armchairs in the hotel room and popped the cork, I felt all stress disintegrate. No electronics, no music, no people - just ourselves for company.
Find home comforts
While some might be out exporing, I was reading and napping. At home, I always find time at the weekend to disappear for an hour with a book or my phone, away from people, and I have a luxurious nap. It's something that I often skip on a weekend away - but why? If anything, when I'm so busy, I value that time out even more. I also find that I'm way sleepier than most people, so a wee nap in the afternoon makes sure I can keep up when we get to the pub in the evening!
Another thing I always look for is a good cuppa. I'm writing this at 10am and I'm contemplating my third cup of tea already - it's my life force. Cheap tea and UHT milk doesn't do it for me, so I take my own teabags and ask for fresh milk at the hotel (or bring my own). It's the little things.
Find the best accommodation
For some people, where they stay might be driven entirely by price. For me, I go for location and quality.
You might be able to find a load of hotels that cost buttons, but, there is a reason for this. They will likely be nowhere near anything at all, and they will be the very strictest definition of lodging. These bum me out for two reasons. If they're not near anything, then how will I do and see things? I like to be near the attractions and going-ons. That way I can spend my time looking at what I want to do, rather than how I'm going to get there.
Secondly, I like to be comfortable and low-stressed (hence the name of this article) If you're staying at a run down hotel that barely passes human right entitlements, then you are going to be neither comfortable nor low-stressed.
We stayed at The Hoxton hotel in Holburn which is very close to the west end, and was just generally terrific! A very unique hotel, which really fit in with my want of home-comforts and relaxation - and was affordable. Ten out of ten would visit again - particularly the bar. I REALLY liked the bar.
Treat yourself to late check out
I cannot stress enough the value of a late check out. Why wouldn't you? On Sunday, we booked breakfast, plus a late check out and brunch. This caused a storm of confusion when we were checking in - apparently the norm is breakfast OR brunch. Madness.
In the end, we were glad we booked both. We woke up early and hungover, and in need of feeding. I managed a bowl of Coco Pops, a single sausage and a hash brown, but honestly, they saved me. After steam/nap time, we were ready to enjoy something a bit fancier from the brunch menu before checking out at 2pm for the long drive back to Glasgow. Ideal.
Take a day to decompress
I value my annual leave, and have been known to arrive home from a trip on a Sunday night and be back at work on Monday morning. That day saved could be used for the next trip, right?
But this time around, I booked the Monday off too. It was initially to allow us more flexibility to get home, but we ended up coming home on the Sunday anyway. I was glad we did.
Sometimes, no matter how much time you've had to relax while you're away, you just need time to decompress in your own space before getting back to the grind of real life. I took the time to do some of my washing, pop to the shops, and have a nap and loads of tea (obviously). For you, it might be an hour at the gym, or a day in your pants with Netflix. Whatever you do, that extra day just makes sure that you're back at work fresh - and ready to plan the next weekend away!