Travel

How to Take a Last-Minute Trip Without Spending Way Too Much Money

Last-minute beach trip > your couch | eleonora galli/Getty Images
Last-minute beach trip > your couch | eleonora galli/Getty Images

How far in advance did you start planning the last big trip you took? Two months? Six? Did it produce all these anxieties like, will I still be dating this person in April? What if I switch to a new job by next year? What if my industry implodes before then and no one’s even around to ask about whether they’ll pay out my PTO, which they won’t? Valid questions.

Planning for the future is slippery stuff even in the best of times, which are not the times we live in. We deal with a lot of instability in our schedules and uncertainty about our finances. Spontaneous trips can often be the most realistic trips to actually take -- if you can keep them affordable. Fortunately, there are certain steps you can take to better your odds.

Let someone else find you the cheap flights

The only people who have time to constantly trawl the internet for discounted flights are the people who can afford to pay full price. Download Hopper, one of the handiest travel apps you could ask for, and set some notifications for cities you’d like to visit and some of the near-ish-future dates when you’d conceivably be able to pull the trigger at the last minute. The app will ping you when the relevant flight prices drop as low as they’re expected to go, which means that if you’re gonna buy, that’s the time to buy. You can also sign up for notifications from sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights, which will send you email alerts about the cheapest flights coming soon to an airport near you.
MORE: Here are the 20 destinations where flight prices will drop the most next month

Look for stopover deals

The key here is to be flexible about your destination. If you’re of an open mind, you can base your trip planning on wherever the most attractive* (*affordable) flight-hotel package deal lies. Numerous major airlines offer stopover deals, which bundle accommodations in with your airfare -- often at a surprisingly steep discount.
MORE: How to get free hotel rooms through stopover deals

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Know where to look for deals on last-minute hotels and Airbnbs

Technically, the whole concept of a ‘getaway’ has much less to do with going to any specific destination than it does just being any place that is not your home. The best destination for a spontaneous getaway, then, is not necessarily the one that’s the greatest physical distance from you, but rather the one you can reach as soon as possible. To that end, your hopes for a last-minute trip shouldn’t live and die by cheap flights -- skip the jet lag and look for destinations you can get to in a few hours by car/bus/train/riverboat/what have you. HotelTonight is the go-to for booking a hotel room, well, tonight,  and as of earlier this year you can book boutique hotels through Airbnb, too. Flights are cool for international trips and all, but don’t forget about the unexplored wonders of your own backyard. There are likely delightful mountain towns within driving distance. National parks you’ve never heard of just a bus ride away.
MORE: You can now book Airbnbs at the very last minute

Make sure you’re getting all the vacation days you could possibly get

About to get a job offer? Don’t just ask for more money -- also ask for more PTO. Meeting with your employer about a promotion? Ask for more PTO. Unionizing your workplace? Nice. Guarantee yourself some increased PTO.
MORE:How to negotiate for more vacation days

Don’t go it alone

Self-evident, but bears repeating: If you bring someone else, you spend half as much. Download Splitwise, find the person you hate the least, and politely request that they cancel any plans they might’ve had this weekend. Or midweek, if you’re traveling by plane -- that’s when the least-expensive flights depart. Use a little of your shiny new PTO.
MORE:Solo travel is overrated

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Kastalia Medrano is Thrillist's Travel Writer. You can send her travel tips at kmedrano@thrillist.com, and Venmo tips at @kastaliamedrano.