Getting out of town used to require lots of planning, details, and maybe even a travel agent — but today, we can show you how to plan a last-minute vacation in minutes. Trust us, these days, you can leave now — like, right now — and pop up in a different city, if not a different continent, with little hassle. The rub is that without some advance planning and research, you could be dropping significant cash to support your last-minute itch. Instead, use technology as well as smart strategy to get on the road while keeping your wallet intact as you learn how to plan the perfect last-minute vacation.
Go During the Off-Season
You can get to destinations much faster and cheaper if everyone else isn’t trying to get there at the same time! It may mean traveling to Paris in winter rather than springtime, or to Seattle during the rainy season instead of the summertime. You’ll beat the scramble, easily see the usually-crowded sights and, of course, save serious money by doing so.
Here’s the big question to ask yourself: What can you do at these hotspots during the off-season? Paris offers incredible museums and food culture, neither of which require beautiful weather to experience, for example, and Seattle rains most of the year, so the entire city is built to be enjoyed year-round despite cloudy skies.
Use Points and Awards
Last-minute trips can get super expensive because airlines, trains, hotels and other travel companies price trips based on how many options you have. Booking a ticket a year in advance means you have months to check out competitors. Scheduling one a few days in advance means having to pay whatever they are charging.
This is where frequent traveler points come in handy. Unlike cash, the points required to grab a specific seat or room rarely fluctuate as the date of travel gets closer. You will likely pay, say, 25,000 points for the same seat whether you’re looking at booking it for next year or next week. The big caveat is that often only a certain number of seats or rooms are reserved for points purchasers – which means once they are gone, you’ll have to pay out of pocket.
Grab Last-Minute Discounts
Planning your hotel at the last minute can be a huge asset, especially if you start using smart technology. Hotels don’t get paid for an empty room, and, similar to cheap Broadway theatre tickets that are available at the last minute (pro tip: check various apps and websites for discounts), companies are often quick to give you a bargain to get some money in-hand.
Apps like Hotel Tonight let you book as late as the night of your stay, as do well-known travel portals like Travelocity. Leveraging these tools is key in learning how to plan a last-minute vacation just right. Sign up for notifications to make sure you’re aware of any short-notice deals. Hotel chains themselves have become more savvy, too, offering cheaper prices to traveler points members as well as users of their proprietary apps.
Need to leave town for a little bit? Focus on the price and a few key experiences you’d like to have. If you’re flexible on where you’re headed and when you can travel, it may be possible to hit the same highlights, like laying on the beach in Long Beach as you could in Miami Beach, at a fraction of the price and hassle to get there.
Decide on your intentions and then take your time to narrow down your destination choices. The more you focus on the desired experience, the more options you’ll have based on your resources.
Damon helps entrepreneurs make their mark without sacrificing themselves. He co-founded the #1 app Cuddlr and led it to acquisition while being caretaker of his first baby. Damon is an Inc. columnist and author of the best-selling The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur series . Get your free productivity guide at http://bit.ly/JoinDamon