I need you to do me a favor, ok ?
In the next ten minutes or so of your time I will go through some basic steps that I take to book the perfect weekend getaway to anywhere in the world. I ask that you accept the challenge and book your own weekend getaway (at least one time!) – and come back to me with your feedback, negative or positive, in the comments of this post or to my email.
Set a date.
Here is what I usually do: the ideal [long] weekend trip for me is Friday-Monday or Friday-Sunday. Long flight times are definitely something you need to get used to, but it is a common misconception that a long flight means that you lose precious time. The ideal outbound flight is one that leaves on a Thursday night and arrives at your destination on Friday morning or early afternoon. The ideal return flight is on a Monday afternoon or even night. This way even if you fly for 6+ hours, it’s not as bad because you are flying through the night.
Certainly flexibility is a fabulous thing (in every sense of the word). Being flexible with dates of travel can definitely save you the big bucks on prices. For reasons like the latter, I love Skyscanner. Skyscanner allows you to pick the entire month when you look for a specific destination, to see how the prices fluctuate on different date combinations. It also allows you to search the entire year for the cheapest dates to travel to your destination of choice. Keep in mind that if weekend trips are not your thing, flying out between weekdays like Monday – Thursday can drastically decrease your cost of travel! If you don’t have Skyscanner yet, you can download it here.
Location, location, location.
There are over 4,000 cities in the world, and trust me the ones that you can come up with off the top of you head are not the only ones that you’ll enjoy ! One of the most important things about booking short trips (especially those that are relatively affordable) is having an open mind. There are many cities that I want to see that are simply not affordable to me right now, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t see anything else. First, check if your dream city is affordable on your travel dates here. If flights to your dream destination are out of your price range, be open to the option of putting “everywhere” as your destination and see what pops up. You will be pleasantly surprised to see all the places that you can travel to at unbeatable prices. If you need some inspiration, check out my bucket list.
When it comes to preliminary research, I strongly recommend reading what travel bloggers have to say. Unlike popular websites such as Tripadvisor, travel bloggers typically offer solid advice on various destinations through personal stories, experiences and pictures. You are also more likely to find cool things off the beaten path. The more research you do, the more comfortable you will be in such a short time period. And don’t be scared of the word “research” ok ? It’s not that bad. Keep reading and I will show you.
Now that we have some dates in mind and a portal to search for destinations – let’s find the best deal ! I typically compare three portals to see how the prices vary: Skyscanner, Jetradar, and Google Flights. If you are not confident in booking, set up price alerts so that you know when the price on your flight drops or increases. Also, sign up for services such as Scott Keyes to get automatic emails about great flight deals and error fares. Comparing the prices should give you a better understanding of what price ballpark you are in. But before booking … lets talk about hotels.
Where will I live ?
Before you commit to any flight, it’s good to get a feel for the prices of hotels and apartments. The way I think about this is that at the end of the day virtually any destination I choose to visit will have affordable options available to live in. They might not be the best of quality but at least I will not be left on the street. With that said, prior to booking my flight I like to see hotel prices and hotel prices when booked with flights. I use three websites to see deals on hotels and hotels+flights booked together: Expedia, Tripmasters.com, & Kayak.com. It is important to look at deals on hotels booked separately from flights AND hotel+flight combinations. Sometimes you will find that booking a full package on one of these three websites is actually cheaper than splitting the cost of flight and hotel. Hotel Tonight is a fabulous app that allows you to book hotels last minute. I use it religiously because it cuts hotel prices sometimes as much as in half . The only catch is that you have to book last minute (up to a week in advance). Feel free to use my referral code: EKARAFIN for $25 off your first booking.
I booked my flight … but not my hotel.
This happens to me all the time. As a matter of fact, this is perfectly normal especially if you find a great flight deal. Flights are more likely to surpass the cost of your housing so if you find a great deal, I suggest you buy it and think later. Crazy, you might think. Remember what I said earlier, it is highly unlikely that you won’t find a place to live. Use the three websites from above to look at prices and if you’re 7 days within flight time, check out Hotel Tonight for last minute deals.
What will I do ?
Before making any concrete plans, it’s important to create a comprehensive budget. Did I scare you away yet ? Below is a screenshot of an example itinerary I created for my trip to Abu Dhabi. I created a table for each day and I also included Plans B and C (just in case). While it may seem complicated, it is actually very easy to make. I gather information about the places I want to see by using google and looking on different bloggers’ websites. I research basic things like transportation: is the public system easy to use? Is there Uber or Lyft ? I look at the city map to get a feel for where the landmark sights are located. All of this helps you determine what you want to see and do in the same day. You don’t want to create an itinerary with sight’s on opposite sides of the city when you can be in one neighborhood on one day and another neighborhood on the next day. This is a good time to see when certain places open and when they close and how much it costs to go there (if anything). All of this information is readily available to you on the internet – you just need to plug it in !
Vacation vs. Traveling
Your time is limited therefore you have to treat it with the utmost respect. Long weekend traveling is not like long weekend vacationing. You’re not flying halfway across the world to sleep in until 1 PM. Right ? From the very start you need to get into the right mindset and the mindset is that you have a lot to see and do – even if this means sacrificing some sleep time in the morning or changing outfits during the day. The latter is definitely something that requires practice but once you get the hang out you’ll realize how much you can get done in a short period of time. And hey, it’s ok if you are jet lagged on the first day and want to go to bed early … make up for that time by waking up earlier the next day.
I am not a huge fan of guided tours, but you might be. Make sure to fit that into your budget/schedule. Some people spend hours in museums – I like to talk to locals and walk around sightseeing. One thing that I love is the Hop On Hop Off Tour (or similar). This is arguably one of the best ways to see the city that you are in ! For a reasonable price you can tour all the famous sights on either a boat or a bus with the ability to get off and get back on whenever you want throughout the day. This is such a bang for your buck especially when you have a limited amount of time in one place.
The great thing about long weekends is that you don’t need to bring a lot of stuff. Bring ONLY your carry on. This will save you a ton of time at the airport. Check in to your flight as soon as check-in opens (have email alerts and check in typically opens 24 hours prior to departure). If you are checked in and have a carry on, you can go straight to security check in the airport. This means you don’t have to be in the airport two hours in advance either !
The Bottom Line
This might not be your thing and that’s ok. But you should try it at least once. The things covered in this article should help you plan your next trip – whether it is for a weekend or for two weeks. My goal is not to help anyone travel on a budget – but I can help you find cheaper flights and accommodation and offer some advice on traveling as a whole. Of course, you can’t see everything in three-five days … but you can see a lot ! Seeing and experiencing NOW is so important – because if you dont do it now, are you sure that you’ll do it later? Follow the rules above and book your trip now – most importantly, let me know how it goes ! Check out some goodies below too. Happy Travels 🙂