If you don’t have a lot of time to travel (and I get it), don’t let that stop you from packing a bag, even if it’s just for the weekend! I absolutely adore the short mini-vacations, where you know you’ll have to come back by Monday for work, but you’ll still get away for a little bit to clear your head and enjoy the journey. Added bonus? You save some money by adventuring quickly, and you won’t get bogged down by lack of enough vacation days. And, you’re still on vacation! Win-win.
I compiled this short and dirty guide to traveling on a budget for a weekend, because I feel like this is where most of us lie, vacation-wise these days. We don’t often have enough time or honestly, enough budgeting money, and while I love trips that take you far and wide, I also believe there are gorgeously hidden gems right here (and they’re not as far as you think!). My recent trip, and the one I’m basing this guide on, was to the wonderfully sunny state of California. So, keep reading and maybe start packing while you’re at it….
Pick your weekend
We think we don’t have time, but we have enough to make do. When I was booking my flight, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take many days off of work. I work in a busy office with lots of people who seem to lose their head when I am gone; and precisely for that reason, I wanted to get away! So, I looked at my weekends: utilize every minute of your time that you have. If you can take off at least one day, you’re golden. By whatever corporate magic, Fridays seem to be the days that are easiest to take off. Many employees can wrap up their work by that day or make arrangements to finish by Monday, making Friday your ideal ditch-work-day-and-travel.
When it comes time to book your flight, look at finding flights that leave Thursday evening or Friday morning (my own flight was the first one out at 5:30am!). I arrived at the airport with no one else there but me and the cleaning ladies, but I landed at LAX at 8:36am, which is ideal vacation time! This way, you’re using every moment of your weekend, and by the time you land at your destination, you’ll still have a good chunk of your Friday to settle in.
As far as planning your return, do the opposite of what you did with your departure: look for later flights! This doesn’t necessarily mean finding flights that bring you back at midnight on Sunday, because rolling into work that next day is going to feel horrible. However, finding flights that are a bit later on Sunday Funday will ensure that you still use that day for fun/relaxation, instead of packing up.
When you pick your weekend, lay it out on the table and look at your white space. This is all the time you have in your weekend for YOU time: relaxation, fun, adventure, going out, family/friends unite….whatever! Remember – use every minute that you have and you’ll feel like you’ve been gone for weeks!
Save money at the airport
It’s actually crazy to think about it, but we probably spend more money at the airport for food, drinks, and flight necessities than we do when we reach our destination. Here’s how you can save!
First, forget buying water or drinks at the airport. It’s way too costly, and if the only thing you were going to buy anyway was water, guess what? Water is free at your home! Just bring along a friendly water bottle, empty the contents before you go through the TSA line (they frown upon liquids), and fill up your empty bottle when you reach your gate. Most airports have gotten behind the idea of having water dispensers available, but if you can’t find one, ask one of the employees at the many shops and/or restaurants. There! You just saved $5-7.
If you’re not super famished, consider packing some food at home instead of grabbing snacks at the airport. Just like drinks, food is not cheap, and rightfully so. Shops can charge higher prices because they know people are locked into the walls of the airport, probably hungry or bored…or both. You are allowed to bring food through the TSA line, but do check with your respective airport beforehand, just to make sure. Small snacks go a long way! For my California trip, I packed some fruit and granola bars, as I wasn’t really hungry at 5:30am, but pack what feels right for you. There again! You just saved a lot more than $5.
As for flight necessities, instead of buying books or magazines at the shops, bring something to read from home. I’m sure there are countless books that you’ve been meaning to get to, but never had time. Funny what a 5-hour flight will do in terms of reading time! Also, if you’re like me and get cold the minute we reach altitude, bring a blanket. I stuffed one of my smaller ones into my carry-on and pulled that bad boy out the minute the temperature dropped. It also serves as a wonderful and FREE pillow!
Pick a few things that YOU want to do
What excites you about your destination? Why did you pick to go there? It’s easy to get distracted by the needs of the group, or get pulled to do things friends or family wish for when it really doesn’t mean a whole lot to you. I’m going to sound a bit harsh here, but hear me out: do what you want to do! It’s your weekend. You paid money to go on your trip, and you should get to do what excites or relaxes you, period. With that said, start to narrow down a list of things you want to do or places you want to visit. I, for one, wanted nothing more than to take surfing lessons; but seeing as how the weather was a bit cold and the lesson schedule wouldn’t work with my own, I decided to venture out on the beach and watch some surfers in their natural habitat! I even crossed off a Bucket List item: swim in the Pacific Ocean. It was absolutely frigid, but also absolutely worth it.
I was lucky enough to be with a friend who wanted to ride a bike down Venice Beach, and I say lucky enough because I hadn’t been on a bike in a decade (no joke!) and I probably wouldn’t have chosen this on my own. But as good fortune has it, most adventures are better with friends, so off we went! I have to admit, it was the most fun I’d had on a beach, just cruising down Venice, admiring all of the hippy art and reggae coming from street performers and surf shops. If you’re ever in the area, check out Bike Curious Rentals on Windward Avenue. The hunched-over owner with an awesome accent I can’t place is super sweet, and the shop often posts deals online for discounted rides.
From Venice Beach, you can walk or ride down to the Santa Monica Pier. It’s a beautiful spot from which to shop, get some food, or just pose for some amazing pictures with the Pacific as your backdrop. I am a huge ferris wheel fan, so naturally I sniffed one out, right on the Pier. If you’re not afraid of heights (like my friend who told me only when we got to the top!), the ride gives you beautiful outlooks over the entire Pier and beach below.
Also, make sure you get your picture taken by the infamous Route 66 sign! Santa Monica Pier is the end of that trail.
Now, if you’re following your weekend right, you’ll still have time for a couple more sights, pending any late-day sleep-ins or hangover cures from going out (not that I’m judging…). Malibu is often overlooked, but it is an absolutely gorgeous location to get some lunch or hang out on the beach. If you’re driving down or coming down from Los Angeles, the drive in along the coast is breathtaking! Once in Malibu, I highly recommend the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe. Whether you’re sitting inside or enjoying the outside air and beach, the food is amazing and the service is great. The portions do run large, so come hungry and be prepared to eat. I inhaled a bucket of seafood for $20-ish, and then chased it down with an obligatory coconut drink. You may be thinking that’s too much for an entree, but did I mention it was a bucket of food?! And when you split it with friends, the cost is appropriate.
The beach right around the restaurant entrance is quite lovely, great for those selfies we’re dying for (or maybe that’s just me…). Also, if you miss your chance for surfing lessons like I did, taking a picture by a few is also very much acceptable.
As you drive back from Malibu to wherever you’re going (I was returning to Los Angeles), enjoy the ride back along the coast again. The houses that are right on the line of asphalt to beach cliff are out of this world and truly eye candy for those real estate dreams we’ve all been having.
Whatever you chose to do, choose it with the time and excitement that you have for wherever you are. Naturally, a weekend is far too short to see all of the wonderful things we want to see, and California was no exception. However, just because we get away for a day or two to recharge our batteries does not mean we will never make our way back, perhaps longer this time.
Go. Explore. Get back to yourself, even if it’s just for the weekend. Your body, mind, and spirit (and wallet!) will thank you.
Until next time, California. Hippy, out!