Taking a vacation is a dream, but planning it can often be a nightmare—figuring out where you want to go, how long you want to go for (do I have enough vacation days?), and how to do it on a budget (the most crucial part for many travelers). The easiest solution: book a weekend getaway.
A quick two- or three-day trip is a great opportunity for a nice change of scenery, delicious new food, exploring hidden gems, and unwinding without missing too many days of work (or any at all). For those of you who can't plan super-far in advance, and for whom the idea of a last-minute overpriced flight and hotel seems daunting, know that it is possible to plan a spontaneous, affordable vacation.
Here, Corinne Hogge, marketing manager of Pack Up + Go (opens in new tab)—a surprise travel agency that plans three-day weekend trips across the U.S. based off of travelers' budgets—shares her tips for planning an affordable weekend out of town, and how to "make it more of a hobby than a task."
1) Pick a non-holiday weekend and avoid very budget airlines.
"The first questions we usually ask travelers are: Where are you traveling out of, and when are you planning on traveling? Because if there’s any flexibility in that, we’ll try to direct them towards a non-holiday weekend, so they’ll have more money to do activities and not spend it all on airfare."
"Try to steer away from some of those very budget airlines because they tend to cancel a little bit more than some of the mainstream airlines. You don't want to have to spend the whole time waiting on standby for another flight, especially when you only have a few days away."
2) Look for transportation first, then accommodations.
"Unless it’s a hotel on your bucket list and you read a million things about it, I would start with the transportation first. You’re going to have more options when it comes to your accommodations than the flight—especially if you have a specific weekend in mind that you want to go."
3) Focus on what you want out of the vacation and do your research.
"At Pack Up + Go, we don't even necessarily start with the budgeting portion of it—we really focus on the traveler's interests. We find out places they have been, places they’re planning on going, and then we have a section where they can tell us any other information that’s really pertinent like, 'I go to Philadelphia all the time for work' or 'I really love doughnuts,' which will help us cater their trip to their specific interests. Then we make a small list of where they would have the most fun doing those activities and try to make that place work based on what they can afford."
"The trend we’re seeing in our travelers is looking for those hidden gems, those really unique experiences. A lot of those unique experiences come from small businesses that don’t have a ton of online presence, so they’re sometimes difficult to find. Our agents have found that utilizing the individual cities’ visitors bureau is key. Activities like visiting craft breweries—which are popping up all over—is an affordable way to explore the culture of a new city."
4) Book it a month in advance—the three-month rule is a myth.
"Aiming to book your flight and accommodations at least a month out puts you in a good place. Sometimes if you book further out, while you might get a deal, the airlines—even the bigger brand airlines—will change their flights, and that’s irritating to people who are trying to make a plan. That four-week stretch is a good mark to aim for. If you're an active traveler and have the ability to use credit cards responsibly, find a credit card where you can redeem points for any travel-related expense. The Bank of America travel rewards card (opens in new tab) is a great option."
5) Be open-minded about the destination.
"The best way to travel on a budget would be to not have a specific destination in mind and use Google Flights or CheapOair (opens in new tab) to see what your cheapest options are. (Google Flights is a wonderful free resource and CheapOair will send you alerts about really good, inexpensive flights.) There might be a crazy deal—there’s no rhyme or reason to it, just a $30 flight to, say, Chicago. Try to change your mindset to 'I want to look for deals regularly'—that's going to be the best way to find deals that somebody else missed."
Get a head start and book your next vacation with these affordable Airbnbs:
Miami Beach, Florida
Airbnb, $121 per night
Spend the entire weekend eating and drinking on South Beach, while staying in the heart of downtown Miami in a high-rise studio apartment. Receive the same luxury amenities you would in a hotel, except this spot is cheaper and completely private.
Airbnb, $110 per night
Rent an apartment steps away from the Capitol, Washington Monument, Smithsonian, National Portrait Museum (opens in new tab), and more historical sites in Washington, D.C. They're mostly free to explore, so the only money you would have to spend is on a flight (or gas if you're driving), accommodations, and great food. Bonus if you're able to visit during Cherry Blossom season in March and April.
Airbnb, $79 per night
You can't beat this cozy Airbnb in Nashville, Tennessee—the perfect city to visit for the best live music (read: the Grand Ole Opry), pub crawls, and tours of the Lane Motor Museum (opens in new tab) for my classic car-lovers out there. If you have some leftover money, you can also head to the Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey distillery.
WHERE TO GO
Rachel Epstein is an editor at Marie Claire, where she writes and edits culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also manages the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game, finding a new coffee shop, or analyzing your cousin's birth chart—in no particular order.
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