Britons just can't get enough of the quick getaway

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The Independent Online

The British are taking more weekend "city breaks" abroad than ever before, says the latest research.

The British are taking more weekend "city breaks" abroad than ever before, says the latest research.

With the value of the pound at its highest since the mid-1980s, the number of foreign holidays taken by Britons has risen by 17 per cent in the past five years, and the number of short breaks has rocketed by 76 per cent in the same period. As well as a fortnight in the summer, many will also squeeze in a whistlestop few days in Paris or a whirlwind weekend in Madrid.

The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) says employees are building long weekend breaks by attaching additional days off to bank holidays. This weekend, for instance, people might have taken yesterday and Tuesday off, giving themselves a five-day break. The luckier ones joined the Easter break to the May Day weekend.

International Passenger Survey figures published by the Government show the increased popularity of short breaks has meant that theaverage length of holidays has fallen over the past 20 years. The average length of a visit by a Briton to Italy for instance was 13.6 days in 1982 and only nine now; and stays in the United States fell from 23.1 days to 15.2.

We also spend more time at work than the continentals. Our working week is about 44 hours, compared with an average for the European Union of 40.5. Portugal comes second with an average 41 hours. People in the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark all work fewer than 40 hours a week. France enjoys the shortest working week of all European countries at 35 hours and the French are second only to the Germans in the number of holidays they take: 27 per cent go away more than once a year.

Most British companies refuse to part with their staff for longer than two weeks at a time and an increasing number of employees are loath to ask for longer for fear of coming back to find their desk filled by a rival employee.

While the French and Italians enjoy annual leave of six weeks or more, most of the British have to make do with four weeks, with the luckier ones enjoying five weeks. The tiny minority of employees who have been entitled to six weeks' holiday have been under pressure from employers to agree to take less.

While holiday expenditure this year is forecast to reach £24.3bn, growth is slowing.

People are becoming more adventurous when they are taking mini-breaks, according to a spokeswoman at Abta. While short holidays to the Continent are the norm, an increasing number of people are taking long weekends in such places as New York and Minneapolis. They will still take two-week breaks in the summer, but the average length of holidays has come down, the spokeswoman said.

Increasingly we are trying to beat the price of packages. According to research group Mintel, some 50 per cent of holidays are now "self-planned".