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.
"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.
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.
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.
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).
On a recent girls getaway with four friends to Miami Beach, Janet Malin of Tampa, FL, found herself wishing she'd figured out her group's dining logistics ahead of time. "We got to the hotel and had a few drinks by the pool, and next thing we knew it was time to go out for dinner," she recalls, "But we hadn't booked a table anywhere and couldn't decide on a place we all wanted to hit." The group ended up wandering aimlessly around South Beach before settling on a random place. Sure, it's hard to predict weeks in advance if you (and your traveling companions) will be in the mood for Italian or if you'd rather have tapas on any given night, but reservations aren't usually set in stone. Research dining options ahead of time, or call your hotel's concierge for recommendations after you book your room.
Unlike some of the other tips on this list, the advice for dealing with jet lag on short vacations is the same as on longer getaways. "Anywhere you go, do everything possible to maintain the new time schedule you're on," advises Cooney. "If I'm flying to say San Francisco from the east coast, I would immediately go out after arriving at the hotel, walk around the city, have dinner, have a cup of coffee… the objective is to try and get on the new time zone as soon as possible." If it's already nighttime in your destination when you step on the plane, pass on the in-flight meal and movie and pop in the earplugs for a snooze instead—that way you'll be waking up with the locals, instead of feeling like it's time to sleep when you touch down. Plan lots of outdoor activities for your first day in a different time zone, too—the sunlight and fresh air will keep you energized. If there's no avoiding a snooze, try to limit yourself to a 20-minute power nap.
Does anyone still wear fanny packs and those zip-off cargo pants anymore? We hope not. When your time is limited, avoid dressing like a tourist on urban exploration, which most likely requires heading back to the hotel to change for the evening. The key is smart layering. For both men and women, a thin T-shirt with a cardigan or blazer is a good way to go in temperate climates. And for footwear, opt for comfortable leather shoes instead of the sneakers from your gym bag. Plus, choosing clothes that you can wear all day and into the night makes packing a breeze, and diminishes the chance that you will have to check a bag (remember Mistake #2?).
Unless you're fine with just seeing where the wind blows you—and hey, we're all for spontaneous travel at times—you'll lose a lot of time on the ground if you don't have at least an idea of the layout of your destination before you arrive. If you are going international, grab cash from the ATM at the airport so you don't have to search out a bank hear your hotel. And make like grade school and do your homework: Study maps before you leave and figure out the best route to take from your hotel to the attractions and restaurants you plan to visit. Pre-planning extends to knowing the physical location of the airport you fly into, too, as it relates to the city center, says Malin, who's made the mistake of choosing a cheaper flight into a satellite airport that required more transit time to reach the city center.