Just a few years ago, I would have answered this question easily and unequivocally: no. Fly all the way to Europe for just a couple days?! No way. I’d read about people’s whirlwind long weekend trips, and it just seemed insane, both for cost and travel time reasons, among others. It would definitely not be worth visiting Europe for a long weekend.
Our first summer vacation as a couple followed a one-long-trip theme. Back in 2015, my wife and I spent a month in Europe, flying economy in both directions. Our points stash wasn’t as flush as it is now, and I’d focused on hotel points so that we were out only a few hundred dollars in lodging for our full month abroad.
A Gradual Shift in Perspective
But things change. I’ve not gone on a trip over two weeks in quite some time, and most these days are just 4-5 days. Our points stash is also significantly greater, allowing more comfortable travel and the ability to maximize the time on the ground. While I’ve done multiple short domestic vacations with the kids, I’m fine mixing things up and traveling internationally for just a few days, even to other continents.
When you only have a handful of days to work with at a time, waiting until you can take a “big” trip will just mean you end up waiting a long time before going anywhere. And if you have the points and miles to make a short trip free and fun? Maybe it could be worth visiting Europe for a long weekend. You just gotta set your expectations appropriately and know what you’re getting yourself into.
Easy Hop from the East Coast
For those based on the eastern seaboard, visiting Europe for a long weekend really isn’t all that big of a hurdle. You’re looking at a flight that is only 1-2 hours longer than nonstops to the West Coast, and flights are actually shorter than if you traveled to Hawaii. Why visit Hawaii when you can be on the beaches of Barcelona sooner? I know. Such totally different experiences. But it’s a point, no?
Sure, there is that nasty time change, but that isn’t as bad from the east coast, either. Most of western Europe is 5-6 hours ahead, which is a pain, but more manageable than the 8-9 hours from California.
If you’re NYC-based, you can often find rock-bottom fares as well. Most excursion fares to Europe require a week stay (which is not a bad timeframe for a visit, either), but you can also find 3-4 days turns that are $400 to $500, sometimes less. You can be flying across an ocean for just 30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards, the same that you might spend on a couple nights of hotel. Not bad at all.
Does This Still Hold True from the West Coast?
If you live on the West Coast, like I do, the trek to Europe is a bigger endeavor. The time difference ranges from 8 to 10 hours, which makes jet lag brutal. You’re also flying a minimum of 9 to 10 hours each way nonstop, which is enough to really take a toll on you.
The travel time also eats into the available time you have at destination. Suppose you fly out of the Bay Area on Thursday evening to London. You’ll arrive midday Friday, with hopefully enough time to do a tiny bit of sightseeing to keep you going before crashing at your hotel that night.
You’ll then have all of Saturday and Sunday to explore, then fly home Monday morning, arriving that afternoon or evening. All said and done, you spent 20 hours in the air for at most 2.5 days on the ground. Worth it? Probably depends on the person.
About That Jet Lag
I actually took a quick solo trip to Helsinki a couple weeks ago. It was a whirlwind 48 hours in the Finnish capital, but entirely enjoyable. If I didn’t have long connections on either end, I could have accomplished a similar trip in just 4 days.
The 48 hours were intense. I love simply walking a new city, exploring parks, hitting up a couple museums, and finding a great cafe or two to enjoy some local foods. This was essentially how I spent my time exploring Helsinki. It was a blast, and I was going pretty much nonstop all day both days.
But man, the jet lag was brutal. I managed to sleep well only 3-4 hours per night, and the jet lag hit like a wall around 10:00 AM, lasting into the early afternoon. I find that if you just push through, things are fine. After two full days, I was exhausted. On the other hand, a trip that short meant that my body reset extremely fast when I did return home.
Depending on the cost (i.e. if you can bring the flights and hotel to close to zero), I’d be willing to say it’s worth visiting Europe for a long weekend. Part of the experience for me is the flying, though, and I was flying a business class error fare on the return, which I was giddy about. This is definitely a factor for me.
So Is It Worth Visiting Europe for a Long Weekend?
Enjoying the flight experience itself likely makes me a bit biased. Not everyone shares a love of flying. If you enjoy the destination, but not the transit, short trips with long flights are likely not for you. For me, jetting across the world to explore solo or with my family, even for just a few days (like my son and I did in Taiwan), is the epitome of fun for me.
So is it worth visiting Europe for a long weekend? I say yes. Others may say no. What do you say?