Many families across the nation take engage in the hallowed tradition of a family vacation when school isn't in session (i.e. Christmas & summer). Well, for those of us that need a little change of scenery during those other months, we take “mini-vacation” during the off-season when everybody else is working or at school.
What is a Mini-Vacation?
A mini-vacation is quite simply a quick getaway that might only be 3 or 4 days, instead of an entire week, because you lack the time and money for your regular full-fledged vacation.
This is perfect because you might not be able to take more than one or two days off from work or school (time) & do not have the money to afford a full vacation, but, you don't want to spend another perfect weekend at home planting grass seed or decluttering.
Who Can Take A Mini-Vacation?
Conventional thinking might be that you only “go on vacation” when you can leave for a week at a time to maximize your vacation days and it might be the only sufficient way to rent a cabin in the mountains, visit Disney, or drive across the country to visit relatives.
With a mini-vacation, you just take an additional day of your normal routine and do something you wouldn't normally take the time to do otherwise.
Where do you go for a mini-vacation?
It depends how many days you plan to be away, but, anywhere within driving distance. This is because it's often cheaper to drive than fly for most people. Especially if you have a small family.
For us, we recently took a 3-day weekend to Hilton Head Island, SC which is a 5-hour drive from our house. Which was a good compromise of the drive time (10 hours total) to how much time we were able to relax on the beach and see the sites (2.5 days).
If we were only going to spend one night, we would have opted for something closer within a 2 or 3 hour drive so we didn't have to leave the moment we arrived.
Why Travel In The Off-Season?
It's cheaper, the weather might be better, and it's less-crowded.
Using our Hilton Head trip as an example, we stayed at a Holiday Inn Express motel that's within walking distance of the beach. The nightly rate in February was $76 per night. Those same rooms in the summer peak season, were easily $110+ per night.
Sure, the water was too cold to swim in, but, with the unseasonably warm temperatures (80 degrees on Saturday & 70 on Sunday), it was the perfect weather to ride bikes and allow our 19-month old to play in the sand. Plus, we basically had the beach to ourselves as it is shoulder-to-shoulder in the summer.
You Need To Be Flexible With Your Travel Plans
Admittedly, we waited until the last minute to book. Off-season travel is usually cheaper for a reason beyond most families are in school during the non-summer months. With the beach, February and March can easily be cool & rainy, meaning you are stuck indoors. We waited until the last-minute to book to ensure the weather forecast remained optimistic (it did).
It's like going to a ski resort in the summer, chances are you won't be doing much skiing, although the scenery is nice to look at.
So, if you look to comb through the Southwest fun fares on a Thursday afternoon to see where you can fly on Friday, you probably already have this whole flexibility thing down pat.
How To Save Additional Money in Off-Season Travel
As prices are already discounted, it might be hard to save some additional money in taking a long weekend, but, it is possible to stretch your dollar through some smart money moves.
#1: Make a List of Possible Destinations
First, make a list of possible destinations. My wife & I made a list of possible destinations within a day's drive that we were interested in going to.
After looking at the weather, we were set on a beach location because it was going to be in the 70s during the day & the 50s at night. Back home & nearby, the daytime high was in the 50s & it even got down to 23 degrees one night.
The prospect of warm sunshine made the decision easy.
#2: Compare Prices For Lodging
Assuming it costs about the same in gas to drive anywhere, you largest expense will be lodging. We compared hotel prices for several different coastal towns & this was the best price for proximity to the beach within our spending budget.
There were similar or better deals elsewhere, but, we would have spent more time driving to get to where we needed to go as we couldn't bike or walk.
#3: Book a Reservation With A Cashback Portal
We booked our hotel room by first going through a cashback portal. For this trip I accessed the IHG website (Holiday Inn Express's parent company) through Giving Assistant because they had a 3% rebate and I got $8 back.
It's not a large reward, but, I was going to spend the money anyhow and that rebate helped offset the high lodging taxes that every community likes to charge its visitors.
Plus, who doesn't like getting cash back on large purchases?
#4: Use a rewards credit card (responsibly)
If you have a credit card, use one that will give you the most rewards to defray the cost even more. One reason we opted to stay at a Holiday Inn Express is because our primary credit card is the IHG Rewards credit card that gives us 5 points for every $1 spent on IHG hotel reservations.
In addition to the one anniversary night we get each year, we earn enough points through the year from all our purchases to earn another free night. We use these nights in the coming year for our future travels.
The second credit card I have pays 5% cashback on gas. In fact, it's the only reason I keep this card because it no longer offers rewards on anything else (plus there's no annual fee). As we always put gas in our gas to drive to work, school, or vacation these rewards add up as well.
Plan Your Next Getaway
If you have been wanting to take your own mini-vacation, now is the time to plan for your next 3-day weekend when your children have off from school. Or, if you don't have children, you might be strategically planning to travel when school is still in session to avoid the crowds.
Travel doesn't have to be expensive, if you time it right and are willing to stay close to home.
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.