Why bother with the Lake District when you could have Iceland, Dubai or Hong Kong. By Jeremy Atiyah
Watching the snake-charmers in the deep heat of Djemaa El Fna in downtown Marrakesh, it is hard to imagine that you are only taking a day and a half off work to be there. But with a direct flying-time of just four hours from the UK you could leave work on Thursday lunchtime, for a late afternoon flight, and be in Marrakesh by bedtime. You can then enjoy two full days in the city before flying back for a relaxing Sunday evening at home.

Just how far is it possible to go for a long weekend? For exotic destinations, the whole of the Middle East and Africa is certainly within reach, including Istanbul (only three hours), Beirut, Tel Aviv and Cairo. Heading north on the other hand, you can be in Iceland in just two-and-a-half hours. To judge by statistics, a six or seven hour flight is not too far for a weekend break: Crystal Holidays (0181-241 5040), who specialise in short city breaks, report that New York and Toronto are both high on the list of most popular destinations.

The difficulty with travelling on an east-west trajectory of course is jet lag, and the danger is that your expensive shopping weekend in New York will be wasted because of fatigue. If you are planning to stick to GMT on your trip you will find yourself waking around 3am and retiring to bed at 6 or 7pm - a little disappointing for nightlife (and the west coast would be even worse). It can only be assumed that people willing to slaughter their bodies by taking two long-haul flights in three days have enough adrenalin to see them through.

Flying eastwards is rather less demanding on the system. Heading the same distance to New York - but in the opposite direction - will bring you within range of exotic destinations such as Dubai on the Arabian Gulf, or Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Not only is the time difference between Britain and Dubai only three hours (in winter), but also the time change works in your favour. While locals are dropping, you will still be wide awake to enjoy those Arabian nights.

How far east could you possibly go? If people are mad enough to fly to Dubai for a weekend, they can probably get as far as Beijing (a 10-hour flight) or even Hong Kong (12 hours). This would be the absolute limit for a short break - and even then, only if you were immune to jetlag. Leaving at, say, Thursday noon you would arrive in Hong Kong at 8am on Friday morning local time; returning on Sunday mid-morning, you could then be back in the UK just in time for work on Monday. Excited yes; refreshed no.

One way to completely avoid complications with jet-lag is simply to head due south from the UK. Along with Morocco, all of West Africa is on GMT, and most of the rest of Africa is no more than two hours ahead. If you are able to sleep while flying - or if you are travelling in BA's first class, where your seat opens into a flat bed - this means you can set off on Thursday evening for somewhere like South Africa or Namibia, and arrive on Friday morning without feeling the slightest bit disoriented. Such breaks are in fact occasionally available as packages; Sunvil Discovery (0181-232 9777) is currently offering one to Namibia.

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