When Budget Travel asked whether it would be worth flying six hours to a destination if you only had four nights to spend there, we were surprised when the majority of you said yes! So the next question is: How do you make the most of a short break? We consulted travel experts and real travelers to get their tips for making a long weekend holiday just as much fun—and just as satisfying—as a weeklong vacation. The surprising thing? Our go-to advice for saving on hotels and airfare when on vacation could actually ruin your short trip.
Mistake #1: Booking a hotel too far from the action
“I think this is the biggest mistake [that travelers make when planning short getaways],” says travel expert John E. DiScala of JohnnyJet.com, “It generally takes time to get to and from a city when you stay farther out, and you’re going to have to pay more for transport, too.” If you’re going to Disneyland for a short visit for example, he says, it’s worth paying extra to stay at a hotel right near the attractions. The same goes for short city visits, too. “You could possibly save money by staying in Hoboken [New Jersey] if you go to New York and public transport into the city is not expensive,” he says, “But it will take more time—you have to factor that in and figure out if it’s worth it.” So while, yes, saving money by staying a bit outside of town is usually smart advice, on short trips it’s a bad idea. After you do the math, chances are that even paying $50 more per night for a more centrally located hotel can end up being worth it for the time you’ll save.
Mistake #2: Checking a bag
Nothing is worse than arriving in Manchester, New Hampshire, and finding out that your bag is on its way to Manchester, England. It could take four days to get it back-meaning you’ll have it just in time to check it for your flight home. With all the savvy packing tips out there, there’s usually no reason why you should check a suitcase for a short break. “If it’s a warmer climate, it’s fairly easy to pack light,” says Mike Cooney of the Florida-based travel agency Cooney World Adventures. “But for colder climates you have the option of dressing in layers so you don’t have to pack as much in the actual bag itself.” If you have sports equipment that must be checked (skis, a surfboard), consider shipping it ahead of time or, better yet, opt for rental gear instead. And checking a bag usually requires more time at the airport-instead you can spend more time seeing the sights and then head straight to security on the way home.
Mistake #3: Trying to make the most of every second
Instead of rushing between Chelsea and Midtown—two neighborhoods in opposite parts of town—to see five different art exhibitions during a short trip to New York City, your time might better be spent really delving into just one or two spots during your stay. Figure out your goals for the trip ahead of time, says DiScala, and then schedule your activities accordingly. “Some people want to see it all, and others will go to Paris for a weekend and just want to hang at one café and soak in the culture,” he says. And be realistic about what you can actually see in just a couple days. In the end it all comes down to personal preference—think about what you’re looking to get out of your getaway and what you and your travel partners can sanely handle. After all, the last thing you want is to come back from your vacation feeling like you need a vacation.
Mistake #4: Booking a flight with multiple connections
The flights that float to the top when you’re looking for cheap airfare on sites like Orbitz or Expedia are usually the ones that involve switching planes at an airline’s hub. It’s a fine way to save some dollars—until you find yourself spending extra hours on layovers and facing potential delays. “It’s worth it to pay extra to get the nonstop option, especially when you have a short amount of time in a place,” says DiScala, who logs more than 150,000 air miles per year, “If there’s a cancellation or weather delays in a hub city, there goes your vacation.” It’s also worth avoiding destinations that require various forms of transportation to reach, such as islands only accessible by an infrequent ferry or resorts that require a private shuttle ride (especially one that doesn’t depart until other passengers have arrived).