17 Tips On Booking A Spontaneous Summer Trip (Even If You're Broke)
Don't let your budget get you down.
August is always a bittersweet month because it signals the last call for summer. September is right around the corner with its gold leaves and pumpkin spice everything, so these last four weeks can feel a little fleeting. It’s your last chance to get your hands sticky with ice cream cones, to get your shoulders tan-lined, to get outdoorsy and stretch out on patios with your favorite strawberry margaritas. And it’s your last chance to get out of the city and somewhere new.
But what if you just don’t have the funds at the moment? What with rent and groceries and girls’ night outs, the wallet can feel like it’s been pulled a little tight. But I’m here to let you know that you don’t need to be sitting on a plump bank account to go outside of your city and poke around the world. Below are budget-friendly tips on how to book your last spontaneous trip of the summer—even if your wallet doesn’t think you can.
1. Try flying standby.
Don’t really care where you go, just as long as you go somewhere? Pack a small bag and go camp out at the airport, waiting till a standby ticket opens up. Maybe you’ll go to Cincinnati, or maybe you’ll go to Paris. As long as you’re ready to go with the flow, you’ll get yourself a weekend trip for dirt cheap.
Alternative: Not really into spending a whole afternoon waiting for a ticket that may or may not come? Go the digital route and instead type “everywhere” as the destination city in Skyscanner, yielding the cheapest flights all over the world. Long weekend in Budapest, anyone?
2. Book in advance.
It’s no secret that if you try to buy plane tickets a week in advance, they’re significantly more expensive than if you would have purchased them further ahead of time. Research shows that for domestic flights, the cheapest option is to book 47 days in advance-- and the most expensive is booking between two weeks and under in advance. For international flights, it's best to book 15 to 255 days ahead, with the sweet spot being 171 days.
3. Book your flight on a Tuesday afternoon.
Airlines drop prices on Tuesdays and then raise them throughout the week. According to research, the best time to buy them is 3:00 PM EST.
4. Create alerts.
Can you wait a few weeks til you fly out? If so, create price alerts that will email you when ticket prices drop. Three great sites that you can do this on are Hopper and Skyscanner, and Airfarewatchdog.
5. Don’t pack a suitcase.
Girl, fight the temptation. Don’t even look at your suitcase; it’s not an option. Airlines charge anywhere from $50-$80 per check-in, so you can save yourself some hefty money going on with just a carry-on. Pack only things that could be mixed and matched between each other and squeeze it into a miniature suitcase or backpack. You can do it, I have faith in you.
6. Research how to get from the airport.
Once you do book your ticket, research how to get from the airport to the city. A $40 cab ride could usually turn into a $2.50 train ride if you just hop over to wikitravel and take the time to read four sentences under the "Get In" sub-head.
Road Trips, Anyone?
1. Instead of flying, try a road trip instead.
From Chicago, a plane ticket to Montreal is $639 if I booked today, but a car rental for four days is $138. Rope in a few girlfriends, buy an impressive amount of chips and beef jerky, and pile yourselves into the car for a spontaneous roadtrip. It’ll be a fraction of the cost, and more adventurous!
2. Free parking.
But now the issue of where to leave your car comes up. That's an easy fix: Just Google and see where there is free parking around the area you'll be staying. Sometimes all you have to do is look through TripAdvisor reviews of attractions/ restaurants in the area and helpful tourists will leave specific street intersections where it’s free to leave your car all day and all night. Money in the bank!
Where To Sleep
1. Save on hotels.
Don't just check one booking site to find your hotel — sometimes different sites quote different prices for the same rooms. Use a resource like Hotelscombined to find where you could nab the lowest price.
2. Stay further away from the city center.
Book your hotels/airbnb’s in further out neighborhoods. There are a ton of trendy and interesting districts that aren’t right next to the city center, which means they’ll be a fraction of the cost. Before heading out on your trip, do a little research and see which areas are packed with restaurants and personality, but are a few miles out from downtown. You’ll get to explore a non-touristy section of the city you probably wouldn’t have, soak in the local character, and then can take a train into downtown whenever you’d like.
3. Arriving at night?
This might sound risky, but if you’re arriving at night book your room once you land, and not before. If you go through Airbnb, for example, I can guarantee your room will be half the cost. I’ve done this a few times, and without issues, so I know first-hand. If you’re going to a hotel or hostel, you can haggle the cost since you’ll only be staying the night. Keep in mind these are business people—in the end they would rather have a room filled for a fraction of the cost than it staying completely empty.
4. Try hostels instead of hotels.
Really on a budget? Try staying at a hostel instead of a hotel. Before you scrunch up your nose, keep in mind you don’t have to do dorm style! You can book a private room between you and your friend, which means you have your own locks and your own bathrooms. It might not have pretty pictures of sailboats or cable tv, but you will be paying 75% less than the boutique hotel room down the street.
5. Book at places that serve free breakfast.
Whether a hostel, bed and breakfast, or hotel, try to find a place that offers free breakfast in the morning. That right there could easily save you $20/day.
Save On Sightseeing
1. Head to Groupon.
In your new city? Scour Groupon and see what deals you can get in the area. Before booking any tours, museum tickets, dinner reservations, or show tickets, flick through the site and see if anything matches up. There are always tons of deals for restaurants and tourist attractions, so it shouldn’t be hard to find somewhere to save. That and it’ll introduce you to hidden gems, little-known eateries, and quirky activities you wouldn’t have heard of in your Lonely Planet book!
2. Get comfortable with public transport.
What’s the fastest way to blow your budget out of the water? Hopping into taxi cabs. Instead of hailing the little yellow cab every single time you want to get across town, get comfortable with the public transport in your area. Whether it’s buses, trolleys, or trains, they’ll always be a fraction of the cost and will get you there just as quickly. How do you find the routes? Do it the old fashioned way and get a map, or head over to your city's wikitravel and read the "Get Around" section.
3. Look up free tourist attractions.
Every city has an impressive rolodex of free tourist attractions for you to poke around in. Whether it’s parks, festivals, free museum days, plazas, beautiful buildings, or famous and bustling streets, there should be a ton for you to sightsee without spending a dime. How do you find them, though? Pinterest is lousy with articles and lists, travel bloggers dedicate time to put them together, and city online magazines always have an article or two of what to see and do in their downtown.
4. Go where the locals do!
Sure, you should definitely check out that one famous bar all the travel books tell you about. Every trip needs a little splurge day. But for the rest of your meals/festivities, look up where the locals hang out. Every trendy neighborhood has its local haunts—it’s not like the people living in those blocks drop $40 a meal every time they go out on a Wednesday. How do you find these? Check out the “budget” section of your city’s wikitravel, look up local bloggers and see their recommendations, or head to Google and see what articles pop up. If you have a list of cheaper places you’d like to check out whether or not you’re hangry at that moment, you’ll save lots of dough!