So, you want to go somewhere over the weekend but don’t want to spend a lot of money. Is it possible? As someone who has done a lot of weekend trips over the past few years (and was the sole provider for two until recently), I can tell you that it is! In fact, sometimes I even make it a game of how cheap I can make these trips when planning.
The first thing to understand about this short, budgeted travel is that the destination has to be just a drive away. Even your cheapest flights will cost more than the gas it takes to drive 2-5 hours. But from there, it’s all up to you on how much you want to spend. For example, you might care more about one aspect of your trip than another and pay more for it. (That would typically be food for me!)
Let's go over the three main areas in which you can cut costs so that you don't break the bank when going away for the weekend.
Where I’m staying is usually the lowest on my priority list. And since accommodations can be one of the pricier points when traveling, I try to pay as little as possible for where I sleep. To do this, consider these options:
• Stay with someone you know for free. It’s self-explanatory, but if you know someone in the area you’re going to, just ask! It can be a lot of fun and more comfortable to stay with a person you know, and they often offer insight as a local. (They also might be a great companion for your explorations!) If you're worried that it could seem like you’re "using" your friends/family, simply communicate and let them know that it’s not what you’re going for! They can always say "turn you away" if they’re uncomfortable.
• Leave early Saturday morning rather than Friday evening. If you haven’t taken off work on Friday, don't drive to your destination that evening. Instead, leave on Saturday morning. (Sometimes I leave as early as 5 a.m.!) Getting to your destination Friday evening means that you’re spending money on accommodations for two days rather than one. And, if you leave Friday, you’ll likely just be going to bed. So, save some money and plan on leaving as early as you’re able on Saturday so that your trip is just as long, though most museums/activities won't open until 10 a.m. or later anyway.
• Book cheap Airbnb rooms. The least expensive Airbnbs are going to be those in which you only get a room and a bathroom (or a shared bathroom) and a common area. It might be uncomfortable at first, but staying at these places rather than Airbnbs that offer an entire house or apartment is cheaper. And, if you're worried about safety, these shared houses include locks on the doors. Seriously, you can stay somewhere for less than $50 a night, even with tax and other fees.
Activities And Experiences
This is the area in which there is a wide range of options and prices. It will all depend on what you're budgeting for and what you enjoy. Here are some steps to get started:
• Look for free activities. Most places worth visiting have a lot of free things to do, and it's definitely not true that all free/cheaper experiences are bad! In fact, I love these activities because I often learn something new (free/cheaper museums are usually pretty niche) or simply enjoy myself (there are so many nature spots to visit!). Additionally, check for things that are free to look at, like landmarks and monuments.
• Research deals. Search the city’s tourism site. Sometimes you can find deals for visitors. For example, OKC offered quite a few coupons for the museums and restaurants on its site at the time I moved there. Also, take a look at each activity’s website for any deals. On our recent trip to Dallas, I discovered that many of the experiences were free or cheaper on the first and third Saturdays of the month. If you're a student, a senior or in the military, you'll also likely get a discount at most places.
• Prioritize. Go through the list of activities that will cost money and decide which ones are top on your list. If you can afford those, do them, (along with the free experiences you've chosen) and save the others for another time. Or, if you prefer to do more rather than spend money on only a few experiences, find out which activities are the cheapest and do as many as your trip's budget will allow.
Food can be expensive as well. I typically eat out when I do a weekend trip since I rarely eat out when I’m at home and am a big foodie. But there are always some ways to cut down on meal costs:
• Bring food from home. Maybe it’s easy for you to pack some breakfast food or even sandwiches for lunch and dinner. But you also don’t have to bring every meal. Perhaps you eat out once a day and eat food that you packed the rest of the time. Oh, and ALWAYS bring snacks from home.
• Find a hotel room that includes a continental breakfast. If your stay is important to you and you really want a hotel room, search for one that includes breakfast. This will eliminate one extra meal cost.
• Eat street food. Food trucks can be tasty and cheaper than other restaurants. They’re also quick so that you can continue exploring throughout the day. As another type of “street food,” events with free food can be another way to experience a city while filling your stomach.
• Have lunch instead of dinner at a fancy restaurant. Perhaps you want to dress up and go to at least one nice restaurant while on your trip. Instead of having a nice dinner, change your fancy meal to a lunch! The prices are cheaper, and the restaurants still typically offer the same type of meals, though sometimes in smaller portions.
My biggest overall piece of advice for planning a cheap weekend trip is to do your research. Deciding what you're going to do or where you're going to eat when you're already in a place is a recipe for disaster if you're looking to travel on a budget.
And, obviously, a weekend trip on a strict budget means you might not do everything you want to do in that particular city, but you'll still have a great time — while feeling good about your finances. And that's what we all want, isn't it?