29 July 2015

How to Plan a Last-Minute Weekend Getaway

Long weekends and national holidays always seem to creep up on us (just like the one coming up this weekend!). We often talk about where we want to go months in advance, but before you know it we are a week or so out and we realize we haven't made any concrete plans.

Suffice it to say, we've become somewhat pros at making spontaneous last-minute trips that not only happen, but that also exceed our expectations.

And while we still learn something new every time we travel, here are some of our top tips to getting the most out of a last-minute holiday:

"The essence of pleasure is spontaneity." Germaine Greer

1. Figure out where you want to go
On the road again
It's kind of an obvious first place to start, but you can lose a lot of time discussing where you want to go without actually getting anywhere. For weekend trips, we try to keep the travel times and distances to a minimum so we can fit in as much visiting as possible (although we have pulled off some pretty awesome trips to places that were a ten-hour drive away...).

We have two methods of choosing our destination. One is to pull up Google maps and select cities, towns or regions within a reasonable distance and then image search the areas to see what comes up. The other way, which saves a lot of research time is to keep a list of places you want to go to, so you can just scroll down the list and pick one that you've already decided you want to visit. We try to jot down neat places we hear about throughout the year and refer to that list when we have a long weekend on the horizon. 


2. Decide how you're going to get there
Train Travel
For last-minute weekend trips, we usually choose a destination that is within driving range. Not only do we like traveling by car because we enjoy going at our own pace and having the ability to stop when and where we please, but also because prices for other modes of transportation (busses, trains and planes) tend to increase closer to the date of departure. 

Keep in mind though that sometimes driving into a new city can be stressful, in which case you may opt to take a bus or a train, and flights are a good time-saving option for destinations that are further away. But in general, driving has worked out well for us, and who doesn't love a mini road trip!

3. Sort out accommodations
Banff Springs Hotel
More than once when we've tried to plan a last-minute long weekend getaway, we've run into the problem of everything being booked or hotel prices being at their peak.

We've had great luck finding places to stay through bed and breakfast networks, like bbcanada.com, as well as through Airbnb. Not only have we found awesome deals price-wise, but we've also stayed in really neat places and met some interesting people.

On busier weekends, we usually contact several different places. If a hotel or bed and breakfast is full, they are often able to recommend another place nearby that may still have availability. Another option, which can also save you some money,  is to look in smaller towns or nice neighbourhoods outside the main area you want to visit. 

4. Get an early start
Misty Roads

Weekends are short enough as they are. You don't want to spend the better part of your day off getting to your destination. We try to leave reasonably early so we can have a full first day. 

When we are at our destination, we also try to get up early to make the most of our trip. Not ridiculously early (it's still a holiday!), but we try to get going around 8am. Without the benefit of meticulous planning and scheduling, it may take longer than you think to get from one location to another or you may need some time in between activities to figure out what to do next. 

5. Squeeze in some research when you have time
Driving through the Rockies
While we are en route to our destination, we use some of this time to research and start making a list of what we want to see and do. This gets us organized so we don't lose any time once we arrive. Another great time for research and planning is right before bed.

We refer to Google image searches, blogs, trip advisor, yelp and local tourism websites and event listings.

We usually only make a rough plan, because we often discover other stuff along the way and we like to have lots of time to just wander and experience our new surroundings. 


6. Ask the locals for recommendations
Bagels and Bacon
A great way to cut down on research time is asking locals for restaurant, event or attraction recommendations. We've gotten some great suggestions for places to eat and things to do from bed and breakfast owners. More often than not, they are happy to share tips on things to do and places to avoid. Don't be shy to ask your barista or your restaurant server for suggestions either. 

7. Expect to spend a little bit more
The Big Nickel
When we go on one of these last-minute trips, we know we probably aren't going to get the best deals. We are probably going to pay a little bit more for our accommodation, we won't have time to suss out all the free parking and we definitely missed out on those 50% off the local attraction groupons that were featured a month ago. Going in with the expectation that you might spend a bit more than others on the same getaway reduces the sticker shock. Also, when you wind up getting a great deal on something, you appreciate it much more!

8. Go with the flow
Nairn Falls

Without the benefit of planning, you aren't going to be able to squeeze everything in and you may miss a lot of cool things. For instance, the museum you really wanted to see isn't open on the day you're in town. Appreciate the experiences you have and jot down ideas for your next visit.

Like with any trip, planned or spontaneous, things may not turn out how you thought they would. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. We've encountered everything from snow storms with whiteout driving conditions to 8-hour highway closures in an area with one highway. We've also been extremely fortunate in some cases and had unseasonably warm weather and taken wrong turns that lead us through some pretty neat places. 

The best thing to do is to just go with the flow and make the most of whatever comes your way. 

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Now we want to hear from you...

Are you a meticulous planner or a spontaneous traveller? What are your tips for last-minute getaways? 

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