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The $199 Weekend Getaway - 7 Simple Strategies

Sometimes you just need to get away... but with decent hotels going for at least $125 -$150 per night, even a modest two day weekend trip can easily cost $500. As someone that works from a home office, I often need a change of scenery. A weekend getaway is a great way to recharge my batteries. A weekend away can also give you a chance to enjoy some wonderful one on one time with your spouse (or you can bring the kids for a 'family' experience). When Ann and I go on a weekend, we always return with the feeling that we were gone for much longer. It is an amazing trick on your brain - just two days away can give you the mental recharge of a much longer trip. This all sounds great, but who has the extra money to take several weekend trips throughout the year?

This Weekend Ann and I Are In Tarpon Springs Florida
Seeing The World Famous Sponge Docks

Spongedock

1. Selecting The Destination For Your Weekend Getaway

In order to employ my strategy, you will need to select a destination that is within a three to four hour drive of your home (ideally one tank of gas, roundtrip). You probably already have a lot of ideas in mind. If you need more, consider checking out some travel books from the library for your region of the country. Oddly enough, even though I have lived in Florida for more than twenty years, I still regularly 'discover' new places to visit that I have never been before. I have also found a lot of travel guides available with ideas for day trips and weekend getaways in Florida. Grab a couple of these books and keep them out on the coffee table in your living room and page through them from time to time while you are watching TV or relaxing. Many people overlook vacation spots near where they live, you will likely find dozens of great options you never considered. (Note: Generally I consider destinations with a distance of less than 100 miles to be day trips, but in some cases you might want to include these on your list of 'weekend trip options' if you want to spend more time there).

2. Don't Pay For A Friday Night Hotel Stay

It is Friday evening and you and your spouse get home from work absolutely exhausted. You quickly pack your weekend bag and jump into the car. No matter how well you plan things out, you probably won't be on the road before 6:30 or 7:00 pm. If your destination is a three hour drive, you arrive at around 10:00 pm. You stumble into your room, unpack, and fall asleep.  You will pay for a full day at the hotel, even though you were there for just a few hours sleeping. A better idea is to come home on Friday night, pack your stuff and get to bed by 9. Get an early start on Saturday morning - maybe as early as 6 am. Leaving very early is a big key to my strategy. Getting up so early is no fun, but you will get a full day of activities at your destination (many people that wait to leave on a Saturday morning, do so at around 9 or 10. A late start leaves you with only a half day to work with, and it makes your 'weekend' more of a day trip with a high price tag). I love to listen to audiobooks while driving - a great way to productively use the time.

With a three hour drive, you will arrive at your destination around 9 am. Of course, you won't be able to check in at the hotel yet, so plan for that. Schedule your Saturday just as if you stayed in town on Friday night. You will likely be getting about the same start to your day just as if you had arrived the night before. Once at your destination, go directly to your first site of interest. Take that museum tour, go to the art festival, shop in town, hit the aquarium, and make the most of your day until check-in (usually around 2 to 3 pm). 

3. Get An Early Check-In And A Late Checkout

Most hotel chains offer late checkouts (and sometimes early check-ins if you ask). Hotel loyalty/rewards clubs usually include a late checkout benefit (2 to 3 pm is about the average). With 11 am checkouts becoming more and more common, a late checkout is fantastic. Loyalty clubs are free to join, and you can quickly sign up online (even the same day of your arrival). These clubs offer other perks too (free daily newspaper, free hotel nights as you reach points milestones, etc...). The early check-in is a roll of the dice - you may or may not get that (especially on a Saturday). The late checkout on a Sunday will almost always be granted. Again, make your plans accordingly. I like the idea of using Saturday for activities and sightseeing and then sleeping late on Sunday. I will then take advantage of the hotel amenities (pool, fitness center, etc...) before leaving for home later that afternoon. Hang out at the hotel until 3 or even 4 pm if they let you. After you check out, take one last walk on the beach or run back into town to grab that souvenir that caught your eye.  Even if you linger in town until around 6 or 7 PM, you will still get home at a reasonable hour.

4.  Do Stay At A Nice Hotel - But Never Pay Full Price

No motels, no dumps, your weekend should include a decent brand name hotel with at least a pool and a fitness center (free breakfast is great too). There are tons of big name hotel booking engines. There are also those 'deals' sites like Priceline and others. If you want to really get confused, just go to Google and type in 'discounted hotels.' You will just about lose your mind with all of the options that appear on your screen. After many years of playing the Internet travel deal game, I have settled on two sites I use 90 percent of the time. First, as a member of AAA I have found that their member travel site is almost impossible to beat. Also, most of the hotel deals on their site do not require you to pay in advance and give you the option to cancel if you find a better deal (and this is huge, as I will explain in No. 4 below). It is also a good idea to check reviews on the hotel you are considering on at least two or three review sites. Having the AAA Card also gives you discounts on just about everything on your trip (always ask for a AAA discount at restaurants, souvenir shops, and attractions - most businesses in tourist areas participate).

After Enjoying An Authentic Greek Dinner, One Last Walk Past The Sponge
Docks 
As The Final Boats Come Back In. You Can See All The Sponges 
Hanging Off The Side Of This Boat (Sorry SpongeBob).

Boat

5. Book A Reservation That Can Be Canceled

For last minute deals, I use a free App called 'Hotel Tonight.' Since it is a mobile app, it can only be used on your smartphone. This is a same day booking app and it is an incredible tool. Starting at 9 AM, you can open the app on your smartphone and start reviewing the deals for that day. I am writing this article from a weekend trip I am on right now in Clearwater, Florida. We spent the day on Saturday exploring the Tarpon Springs historic district and sponge docks. I had a cancelable hotel reservation for $99 through the AAA site. On the drive over, I had Ann monitoring the Hotel Tonight deals. Tip: although the deals start appearing at around 9 am, many deals don't get listed until closer to 10. Using the app we found a beautiful hotel with a fitness center, pool, jacuzzi, and it was a brand new property (very nice!), The grand total price - only $56 on Labor Day weekend (yes, included all taxes and fees as well). Before locking in our deal, we canceled our AAA booking. To be sure I won't get charged for the first hotel (the one I canceled), I always take a screenshot of my cancellation confirmation and make sure I save the e mail confirming the cancellation. Of course, if you don't find a good deal that makes sense on Hotel Tonight, you go with your plan A reservation option.

6. Use Deal Sites For 50% Discounts On Your Tours, Attractions, And Meals

I usually stick with Groupon, but there is Living Social and quite a few others. I have had situations where I was unable to use a Groupon deal on a trip and they refunded my money with no questions asked. This does not happen often, but sometimes a tour operator may be overbooked, an attraction may not be operating due to weather, etc... Groupon, Living Social, and other 'deals' sites are typically linked to the locale where you live. Most people don't think about using these sites when they are traveling. It is very easy to log in and change the location to your weekend destination and grab your deals. Be careful to read the fine print to be sure the deal is good for the dates you are going to be in town. I would also recommend that you immediately contact the tour operator, restaurant, etc... to confirm the availability of the deal for the dates of your trip. In some cases, a reservation may be required. Get that all taken care of ASAP so you don't run into trouble on your weekend getaway. 

7. Save Money By Bringing Your Own Food

Pack a cooler with beverages, bottled water, sandwiches, and fruit. Find out if your hotel room will have a refrigerator and/or microwave. You can even bring some frozen dinners along (if a microwave is provided). Many hotels now include a free breakfast. In the AAA booking engine you can select 'free breakfast' as an option in your search. I am not a big breakfast eater and like to pack a a few protein bars in my cooler for breakfast and snacks. I have also found that if you limit your search to only hotels offering free breakfast, you will miss out on some great deals.  

When we go on a weekend trip, we always make it a point to take in a nice restaurant on Saturday night. This, for us, is many times the high point of the trip. Last night we enjoyed dinner at Hellas in Tarpon Springs. The restaurant has been there since 1970 and is the place to go for amazing and authentic Greek Cuisine. Skip the appetizers and dessert, limit the alcohol, and be practical with what you order (also call ahead and ask about early bird menu pricing and other specials). Consider grabbing a Restaurant.com coupon if they are available for that city (be sure and read the fine print to confirm that you can use it on the dates of your trip). By saving your 'food money' for that one nice dinner, you can splurge without going over budget.

Conclusion

You don't have to take in every attraction at your weekend destination.  Take a walk through town or on the beach, visit the local famer's market - there are usually many great activities that won't cost you a dime. Check out the website for the chamber of commerce and office of tourism. You will likely find coupons and a list of low cost and free options. Do a search for travel blog articles on your destination, these will include a lot of area-specfic ideas for saving money and attraction and hotel reviews.  

Minimal Weekend Getaway Budget 

$100 Hotel

$50 Gas

$40 to $50 Food/Miscellaneous*

  *Add $100 more for tours/activities/souvenirs if your budget allows for it (still only $300 for a great getaway).

How much did we spend on our weekend trip? We just added it all up- $170 for everything!

As Glen Campbell put it in his 1968 hit, 'Wichita Lineman' - "I know I need a small vacation, but it don't look like rain..." I hope this article helps you get your own 'small vacation' - even if your budget is just as small.

Helping you make the most of God’s money!  

James L. Paris 
Editor-In-Chief ChristianMoney.com 
Follow Me on Twitter Twitter.com/jameslparis
Christian Financial Advice 
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