The first part of this equation is to closely watch the calendar for weekends that are free – or relatively free – of scheduling conflicts. These sorts of getaway work best for us within the late fall and also the early spring, for instance, because those weekends rarely have any kind of conflict happening, or if they do have a conflict, it is minor.
If I am really planning for a specific weekend, I will toss stuff on our shared calendar to indicate that the weekend is busy. I will usually structure some reason for it, but the goal is to keep the weekend locked down while I plan the various details of the trip. Here’s what you would need to do: Choose a couple of upcoming weekends that may work for a getaway, but do not peg all of your hopes on one particular weekend. Do not over plan and make it essential that you find a deal for one of those particular dates.
There are some major steps you should consider when you want to go for a surprise vacation.
Consider vacation spots within driving distance
Before you progress with your plans, consider whether or not there are any weekend getaway locations that are within driving distance of your home. This is often the most frugal option for a weekend getaway.
If I am considering driving for a weekend getaway, I will start looking out for options within five hours of home, because we will need to drive for only five hours on a Friday evening so as to enjoy an easily reachable for a quick getaway.
This is where price comes first. Check for an inexpensive flight that departs in the evening on Thursday or Friday (depending on the specifics of the weekend) and arrives back home on Sunday or Monday (again, depending on the specifics of the weekend). Most of the time, I am looking for a late Friday outward flight and a mid-day Sunday return flight, but this will vary if there is a special weekend arising in terms of our personal schedule.
Believe it or not, if I am careful with my hunting, I can often find eleventh-hour flights well below $200.
In terms of customizing flights, include all airports that you simply could reasonably use for a weekend getaway, not just the one that is closest to you. For example, I know that Plattsburgh NY flights are cheaper for us but logistically a bit harder to get to, while Montreal flights are going to cost a little more but will be logistically easier. I will watch for deals from both airports, though.
Look for cheap accommodation at your destination
As soon as an inexpensive flight pops up or you have selected doing a more local getaway by car, immediately start trying to find cheap weekend lodgings in the area. I usually aim to make sure for love or money that the low cost doesn’t have disastrous reviews related to it – in other words, I want the most cost-effective price I can find on a hotel or Airbnb that doesn’t have reports of bedbugs or other significant problems.
Yes, sometimes I will find that everything in a neighborhood is booked up or the few rooms that are available are super expensive. Guess what? I just do not go to those destinations that weekend, and it is okay. A big part of all of this is often flexibility, which means dropping plans if they do not match up with your overall requirements.
This process actually does not take very long in the least once I have a destination or two in mind. Since I’m usually doing this just a week or two beforehand (or sometimes just a week), I usually find that either a neighborhood seems to be fully booked up, or alternatively, a minimum of a couple of lodging options are offering really cheap rates for the weekend. If everything is booked up, I move on; if not, then I have got a good deal on a cheap hotel.
If you discover a bunch of great deals, check out the additional benefits offered by each of the lodging options.
Another option, of course, is to think about camping as a weekend getaway, but this likely reduces your range of travel as you are going to need to be ready to set up camp at your destination in the dark if you travel too far. This might not be a problem for some, but could be a deal-breaker for others.
Research the area you are going to and figure out what you are going to do once you get there
This is the time to start researching the area you are planning to visit. There are many different tools for this, starting with finding a tour guide for the area.
When you are doing this, prioritize the things that are free or extremely low cost, especially if they are irregular events that are happening once in a while. Maybe there are some free concerts or free arts festivals happening within the area during that weekend that you can take a look at. Maybe there is a special exhibit at an art museum or something like that, or perhaps there’s a limited-time art installation in a park. Look for things that you would both be interested in that fall into this category.
What I have found is that if I find two or three such events, that is good enough. Those things serve wonderfully as a centerpiece for a nice weekend getaway. The rest of the time, you can trust in serendipity. Go there, get up without an idea aside from visiting a specific park at a particular time or something, then wander to your heart’s content.
One fun challenge on such a trip is sampling the local food. What we usually do is splash out on one or perhaps two cool restaurants within the area and then go super cheap on the remainder of our eating. I really like hotels with continental breakfasts, as we’ll often eat them fairly late in the morning and treat them as a brunch. We’ll also put a couple of fruits in our bag that we can eat later, and maybe have one small treat from a street vendor during the day, then eat at somewhere cool for dinner.
Scour travel guides for low cost or free cool things to try within your chosen area, particularly ones that are only happening that weekend. Let most other things happen by serendipity, but check out restaurant deal websites for a minimum of one pre-planned meal at a reduced price.
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