Weekend getaways allow you a chance to escape from the hustle and bustle of life at a fraction of the cost of a more extended vacation. And with some planning, you can take several cheap weekend getaways throughout the year and scratch your travel itch for very little money.
From distance from home to cost and activities you’re looking forward to, here are all you need to consider when planning cheap weekend getaways.
The first thing you need to consider when planning cheap weekend getaways is where you live.
We’ve already mentioned that Las Vegas and Atlanta are two frequent additions to lists of weekend travel destinations, but there’s a problem. Las Vegas and Atlanta are almost 2,000 miles apart, so while one might be relatively close to you, the other is not.
Thus, the first thing you need to consider when planning a weekend trip is your location and what’s relatively close to you. Traveling across the country for the weekend doesn’t make sense!
Expanding on the point above, you’ll need to consider your location and how far you’re willing to travel.
Thus, the distance to your getaway will be a significant factor in planning your trip, especially when it’s just for the weekend.
Before you look too much into potential destinations, we recommend you decide whether you’ll be driving, flying, or using another mode of transportation and how many hours you’re willing to spend on travel for each.
Driving will often be the cheapest option for getting to a weekend getaway. The only transportation expense will be gas instead of paying for transportation tickets, public transportation, or possibly a car rental.
The downside is that driving will also typically limit you the most regarding how far you can travel for the weekend.
If driving, we suggest a location not more than 3 hours away. The reason is that most people leave for weekend getaways after work on Friday and come back Sunday afternoon/evening.
Suppose you leave after 5 pm (most people’s clock out time) on a Friday and then drive 3 hours that puts you at an 8 pm arrival. Now, put in a few stops for restrooms, stretching, and a meal, and realistically you’ll be arriving more around 9 pm. Similarly, the trip back on Sunday will take you 3 hours of drive time plus an hour buffer for stops.
Altogether, a 3-hour destination will cost you 6 hours of driving and roughly an additional 2 hours for stops. That’s 8 hours out of your trip just spent on travel time.
Thus, if you push your weekend getaway destination to longer than 3 hours, you’re cutting into your time away and will spend almost as much time driving as you will enjoying your stay.
The same idea applies to flying.
The benefit of flying is that you’ll expand your possible weekend destinations, while the downside is flying will likely cost you more.
However, if you have points or travel rewards that significantly reduce the cost of flying, it may be a great option when planning your cheap weekend getaways.
We recommend keeping your flights to no more than 2 hours one way for weekend trips.
As with driving, you must factor in time other than just the travel time from point A to point B. Air travel, in particular, takes a lot of time. You should be going through security at least an hour before your flight. That means you should be at the airport for about an hour and a half before your flight.
An hour and a half at the airport plus 2 hours of flight time, plus an hour or so for getting out of the airport and traveling to your hotel means you’ll be spending roughly 4.5 hours traveling to your destination.
That’s 9 hours out of your weekend getaway, which is probably about the most you’d want to spend on travel time.
While less typical travel options, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention other modes of traveling for a weekend getaway.
You may also travel by train or bus, depending on your location and where you could go using those methods. It is also relatively cheap to travel by train or bus and might be a good option for those without a car.
Again, we recommend not traveling further than about 3 hours by train or bus for your getaway. While you’re not the one driving and free to do other things by train or bus, you’re still not enjoying your getaway as long as you’re still driving.
We thought we’d wrap up this section by summarizing the different modes of transportation you could choose and the pros/cons of each.
|cheap, simple, always have transportation, just you and companions can stop as needed
|more destinations can relax while traveling
|cheap, can relax while traveling
|More limited destinations must drive
|more expensive, takes more time, with others
|More limited destinations, with others, on a busy schedule
|Recommended Max Distance
Long story short, you’ll need to consider whether the destination is worth the travel time getting there, no matter how you travel.
How Long You Have
Another thing you need to consider when planning cheap weekend getaways is how long you have.
While most weekend getaways go from Friday evening to Sunday evening, you might also have a 3-day weekend or even a 4-day weekend if you can take an extra day off.
We won’t spend too much time on this topic except that if you have more extended time than the typical weekend, you may consider traveling further or scheduling more activities. For instance, a long weekend may turn what would have been a driving trip into a flight to another state.
More time opens up more possibilities.
Do you have travel rewards or points available? That will also influence your choices for cheap weekend getaways.
For example, if you have points and the Southwest Companion Pass, you could fly a friend/partner for free and pay for your flight with points. The flight cost would then be whatever the fuel surcharges are (typically $22 roundtrip on Southwest for domestic flights).
Even if you don’t have a companion fare, there are plenty of options to find cheap flights, with or without points.
Similarly, if you have hotel points or flexible points (like Chase Ultimate Rewards), you could get your hotel for free (don’t forget resort fees in places like Las Vegas).
Combining airline and hotel points/rewards, you might be able to fly away for a cheap weekend getaway for just the cost of incidentals (there is no such thing as a free trip, after all).
Even when driving, points that can get a weekend hotel stay for free go a long way towards making your cheap weekend getaways genuinely affordable.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about with any of the above, I’d recommend checking out this beginner’s guide to travel hacking to get you started.
Purpose of the Getaway
You’ve considered the distance, travel time, how long you have, and what travel rewards you have at your disposal.
Now, it’s time to consider the purpose of your getaway.
Have you ever heard the phrase “I need a vacation for my vacation”? Depending on what you do and how active you are, you might feel drained after a vacation, which is fine, depending on why you want to get away.
So, before narrowing down your options, first, consider what you want to accomplish. Is this a getaway to relax, sightsee, be outdoors, visit family, or for a special occasion (romance)?
The goal of your getaway will heavily influence where you go and what you plan to do during your trip. Those looking to relax or for a special occasion may want to stay in a nicer hotel with a pool and amenities. Those looking to get outdoors might stay in a cheap hotel near a National Park. Sightseers may choose a location with a lot of history and impressive architecture.
Whatever you prefer, establish the why before deciding on the where.
The last major thing to consider while planning cheap weekend getaways is what discounts you can get.
We’ve already covered points and other travel rewards, which will significantly cut the costs of a trip, but you should also consider different ways to save money.
For instance, do you have a National Park Pass? If so, you’ll save on activities by heading to a National or State Park location. Maybe you’ve seen a discount on activities in the Entertainment Book, Groupon, or another discount site?
Maybe a particular state or city offers travel discounts to draw more tourism?
Hint: Most major cities offer a discount book that you can find on their tourism site.
Another option to consider is whether you belong to a group that makes you eligible for discounts. For instance, senior discounts are prevalent, but so are military and student discounts.
While these discounts aren’t guaranteed, it’s always a good idea to bring your work or military ID just in case it could save you a few bucks.
Overall, plan to go where the discounts are if you’re looking to cut costs on your getaway.
Making It as Cheap as Possible
Now that we’ve covered all the essential things to consider when planning your cheap weekend getaways let’s talk about how to save as much as possible.
Stay for Free
One of the best ways to cut costs on a weekend getaway is to choose a location where you can stay for free.
We’ve already discussed this a bit, but the best way to get free hotel stays is to earn points. You can also get free night awards with certain credit cards, such as the Marriott Bonvoy card, which has a free night award every year.
It’s also a good idea to join hotel loyalty programs. They’re free to join and give you the best access to exclusive deals, giveaways, and the ability to earn rewards like higher member status (which provides you with more perks on your stays).
Other programs, such as Hotels.com, offer the ability to earn a free night after completing a certain number of stays booked through the program.
If you don’t have points at your disposal, you can still stay for free the old-fashioned way by visiting family and friends.
Check All Your Options
Even if you can’t stay entirely for free, it’s a good idea to check all your options and look for the best deal.
Maybe you can pay for some of the nights with points or other rewards and pay out of pocket for the rest. It also might be worth checking out a site like Hotels.com or Trivago to see what deals are out there.
Especially if you’re traveling with a group or meeting up with others, Airbnb or Vrbo could be great options for saving money.
If you can’t stay for free, make sure you do your due diligence and find the best affordable option for you. Your destination may even be dictated by where you can find a cheap stay.
Saving on Food
Food is one of the highest incidental travel costs, so I always try to stay somewhere that offers a complimentary breakfast. Some hotels even offer free evening hors d’ oeuvres or a happy hour special.
In addition to a free breakfast, you should always try to stay in a place with at least a mini-fridge and a microwave to store and heat leftovers and simple meals. Believe it or not, many hotels skip these items to try and force you to eat out more.
Another way to save on food is to stay at a place that offers a small kitchen so that you can cook your meals.
If all else fails, check out these tips to save money when eating out to try and keep your food bill as low as possible.
Find Free or Cheap Activities
Aside from transportation, hotels, and food, the next biggest cost of travel is activities.
The discount section mentioned tips for saving money on activities using The Entertainment Book, Groupon, city tourism books, and service-related discounts, which are still good options.
However, the cheapest activities are those that don’t cost a thing.
Sightseeing by walking around town or exploring historical places and buildings doesn’t cost a dime. One of my favorite activities in a new city is exploring cathedrals. They are often the most beautiful and interesting buildings and are free for anyone. Capitol buildings are another favorite of mine.
Sightseeing was one of the ways my friend and I were able to keep costs down while touring western Montana last year.
Outdoor activities such as hiking are also a great way to reduce the costs of activities. Many natural areas are free, while State Parks and National Parks will cost a small fee to access (usually $5 for State and $25 for National).
Although we went through several transportation options above, the cheapest option for a weekend getaway will almost always be driving.
Even if you paid for your flight with points, you’d still need to pay for fuel surcharges and to get around once you reach your destination. You’ll also likely spend more on food and other items traveling through airports.
While you will pay for gas when driving yourself, that’s the only transportation cost, and you gain a lot of added convenience.
Travel During the Offseason and Avoid Popular Spots
Last but not least, to save the most when planning your cheap weekend getaways, you’ll want to avoid popular spots and travel as much as possible during the offseason.
You’ll already be paying more for traveling during the weekend, so if you’re going on the cheap, it’s important to not compound those costs by traveling during peak times or to the most popular destinations.
The caveat here is that if you can get a free stay, it’s not as big of an issue when or where you choose to travel. Just know that you’ll also pay a premium in points during peak times or for popular destinations.
If you want your dollar (or points) to stretch as far as they can, go during the offseason and avoid hot spots.
Cheap Weekend Getaways: Putting It All Together
You’ll be able to plan cheap weekend getaways using the tips and considerations above, and often, savings in one area will allow you to splurge in others.
But, for those who may not have the luxury of being able to splurge or who want to make their dollar stretch the farthest, here’s how to plan the cheapest weekend getaways:
- Drive to your destination and stay relatively close to home
- Stay for free using either points or staying with friends/family
- Utilize free breakfast and/or make your meals
- Keep your activities to those that are free or cheap
- Utilize discounts wherever you can
- Travel to offseason or less popular spots
We all need to get away once in a while. Weekend getaways are a great way to unplug for much less than a typical vacation. And if you can save even more by going on the cheap, then even better.
Now that you have all the tools to plan cheap weekend getaways, where will you go?
Robin Edwards, often hailed as "The Penny Hunter" by her close circle, is not just a financial writer; she's a financial educator committed to helping people understand the value of every penny. With a background in finance and a knack for simplifying complex financial concepts, Robin has become a go-to resource for those looking to take control of their financial destiny. With her zero-based budgeting method, she's changing the way we think about money, one dollar at a time.