woman packing suitcase

Traveling with only a carry-on bag makes weekend trips a breeze. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

Carry-On Only: 10 Ways to Maximize a Weekend Break in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

Whether you want to recharge your batteries, spend quality time with your loved ones, soak up new scenery or just escape the daily grind, a weekend break is the perfect way to get a quick travel fix, but how do you get the best out of your (oh, so precious!) 48 hours away?

From picking that perfect destination to traveling with your taste buds, here are 10 top tips.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

1. Ditch the heavy suitcase.

With only two days to play you need to ditch that heavy suitcase and pack neutral layers — think black pants and flats — that will suit any kind of outfit. Wear the bulkiest items instead of packing them, invest in a pair of comfortable-but-chic loafers and don’t forget to pack a stylish shawl — ideal for keeping warm in cooler countries like Switzerland or covering up in hot countries like Abu Dhabi.

2. Get yourself a SIM card.

The best kind of break should include a digital detox, but if you can’t afford to completely disconnect, bring an unlocked phone and buy a local SIM card to get online: In some countries you can also buy a cheap disposable phone, known as a burner, with a SIM card already inside. If you prefer to keep your smartphone, connect to wifi when possible (at hotels or cafes, for example) so you can text, get online and enable wifi calling.

Don’t expect worry-free wifi everywhere you travel, however: In destinations like South Africa you might be bugged by speed restrictions and download caps.

elevated train in city
Plan to master public transportation for efficiency in cities. (Photo: Getty Images)

3. Prepare to travel smart.

When you only have 48 hours to enjoy Dubai’s superlative shopping delights or Paris’ world-class museums, you won’t want to waste time getting around. Public transportation in the UAE — which includes metro, tram, buses and water buses — is super efficient, while most European cities have good rail, metro and bus networks.

In the European countryside, where transportation can be more of a challenge, you’ll want to plan ahead and rent a car for more flexibility.

4. Pack for your activities.

Packing appropriately is another way to slim down your suitcase. Heading out for a beach stay at Ibiza’s ritzy Hotel Riomar, Ibiza, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel or the boho-chic W Ibiza? Be sure to pack some stylish swimwear.

Setting out on safari? Bring long-sleeved shirts and a good sunhat. Planning a hill-walking weekend in Switzerland? Don’t forget those hiking shoes.

bedouin tea ceremony
Learn local traditions. (Photo: Getty Images)

5. Learn local etiquette.

Those 48 hours will flash by, but you can still take a deep dive into local culture by learning some of the customs.

In the Middle East, for example, you’ll be considered impolite if you eat with your left hand, while pointing at something or someone with an index finger in some African countries will be taken as an insult.

6. Travel with your taste buds.

Dazzle your taste buds, too, by eating the local specialities. In the UAE order luscious lashings of the wheat-and-meat stew called al harees or the rice-stuffed zucchini dish, kousa mahshi. Succulent South African must-tries include chunky boerewors beef sausages and bunny chow, spicy-curry-stuffed bread.

In Europe there are dozens of dazzling dishes to tempt you. Standout classics include French custard dessert creme brulee and Germany’s iconic grilled sausage, bratwurst.

view of eiffel tower and parisian buildings
When selecting a hotel, consider its location so you’re conveniently located. (Photo: Getty Images)

7. Consider your hotel’s location.

When you only have two days to enjoy your break, location is vital.

For an exclusive retreat just seconds from the beach, The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain will float your boat, but if you prefer to be within strolling distance of some of the world’s top stores, the Prince de Galles, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Paris will be a better fit.

Want to just kick back and relax in style? Consider the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh, a cozy haven with a decadent spa set across multiple floors with a breathtaking rooftop infinity pool overlooking the city’s storied castle.

kefalonia greece coast with flowers
Choosing the right season to travel is one key to a successful trip. (Photo: Getty Images)

8. Pick the right season.

Weather can make or break a mini-vacation, so make sure you do some research ahead of your trip. The dry season period from June though October might be the best time to spot wild game in Africa, but if you’re planning to go on a hiking vacation in Greece, you might prefer the cooler days of spring and fall.

For those cozy getaways, you can’t do better than a hip northern city like Stockholm or Bucharest in the heart of winter.

9. Do your research.

To optimize your time away — and avoid spending your precious time running between sights — decide what you really want to see and do before you leave and then use an app like Google Maps to plan out your itinerary.

Whether you want to visit those super-cool wineries in Bordeaux, check out Budapest’s storied sights or sup on Michelin-starred food in that stunning Spanish restaurant, you’ll be glad you did your research and booked experiences well in advance.

venice canal
Do your research and book ahead before you go. (Photo: Getty Images)

10. Consider a staycation.

What could be more refreshing than discovering your own neighborhood with fresh eyes? From uncovering another side to Dubai while enjoying a cruise in a traditional abra boat to enjoying Venice’s unique skyline views from a private island resort or seeing another side of Liverpool on a Manchester ship canal visit, you can maximize your break — without even having to travel far.