Even if you don’t work in the travel industry like I do, you never know when a great flight deal or work trip might pop-up. Sometimes the situation arises when you have to plan a last minute trip somewhere in the US – and it can be stressful!
With my husband’s job in IT, he gets lot of domestic trips that come up within a few days of when he needs to travel. For example with this recent trip to Raleigh that I tagged along with, he found out he needed to go there on Wednesday Feb. 4th, and left for the trip a week later. That’s only 7 days to coordinate everything and research what to do in our free time.
Finding flights & hotels only a few days before when you’re going can be limited or not your first choice. If you don’t know anything about the place you’re going, you might be asking yourself “What am I going to do with 3 days in X place?”. But no fear, planning last minute trips can be less stressful if you have a checklist to work off of ahead of time!
Here is my check list for planning a last-minute domestic trip!
Book the Important Things First – Flights & Accommodation
Once you get confirmation that you’re going to be going to a place, make sure you book flights ASAP. You might be surprised to learn that last minute flights can occasionally be much cheaper than booking them ahead of times. This is especially the case when flying to more obscure destinations, because the airlines are just looking to fill the seats on the plane. If you call the airlines directly to book, they may even offer you more of a discount.
If you’re booking a last minute flight deal you found online, make sure to secure the ticket for that first prior to booking a hotel. Sometimes those deals are time sensitive or limited quantity and you’d hate to book a hotel only to find out that the flight was fully booked and no longer available at the discounted rate.
Once your flight date is locked in, that’s when you’ll want to start working on accommodation. Typically when you’re booking a hotel last minute, you’ll want to book it somewhere in a central area where there tend to be more options and activities. Occasionally this won’t work if there is a sporting event or conference in town, but for the most part, it’s possible!
I tend to find last-minute accommodation is usually available on AirBnb. But there are also some great websites – HotWire, RoomsTonite or HotelTonight – that cater specifically to last minute hotel bookings. You can also find some good deals on Expedia or Kayak, both of which have “Last Minute” landing pages.
Crowdsource Travel Advice
You might be amazed to find out how much collective knowledge your extended network of friends & family will have. I think this is one of the fastest ways to get good recommendations because it doesn’t require active research on your part – you can just post the question on social media and see the responses you get. I did this for our recent Raleigh trip and I was pleasantly surprised with how many people gave me great tips! Plus, it allows you to reconnect with people you maybe haven’t talked to in a while. One of your friends might even offer you free accommodation if they happen to live there!
Connect with the Local Tourism Board on Social Media
Nearly every moderate to large city in the US has a tourism board, so it’s worth looking into. They typically have a “Best of Our City” or “What to Do in XXX” that they can easily share with you (or may even have readily available on their website). I tweeted at the Raleigh tourism board, and within a few hours, they had sent me a full list of suggestions. Similar to the suggestion above, this is a great way to save your own time researching by asking the experts for help.
Do Some Cursory Research If Necessary
After reaching out to your network, see if you have enough suggestions of things to do or see. This might warrant enough results and you don’t have to research anymore, but if you feel like you’re lacking in a certain area, do some basic research online to find more suggestions. Some sights that I find particularly useful for US travel are Eater, Thrillist, USA Today Travel or CondeNast Traveller (sometimes more luxury, but often lots of cool suggestions). If you’re strapped for time, this is a perfect activity to do while you’re at the airport waiting for your flight.
I would also recommend researching on Instagram and Twitter. Instagram is a great source of inspiration and with easy to track Geotags, you can quick bounce between cool restaurants or photogenic sites. Twitter is convenient for gathering local suggestions, especially from social media influences and minor local celebs.
Reserve Rental Car, Restaurants, Tours or Shows
Now that you have a rough idea of what to do, it’s time to start reserving any other activities you’ve got your heart set on doing. You should have a better idea of the distances between things, so you can reserve a rental car if necessary. Is there a popular restaurant you’re dying to check out? Reserve it! Is there a festival in town that you just found out about? Buy a ticket! With last minute trips, there is no time to waste on booking things that you want to do because they very well might book up or sell out. You have to just your gut to a certain extent and just go for it!
Throw Together A Quick Custom Google Map
I mentioned this on the blog last week, but I am obsessed with custom Google Maps. They are my favorite travel planning resource. Not familiar with how to use them? Check out this post to walk you through how to make one. Even though I only had a week to plan our trip to Raleigh, I still managed to get great tips & suggestions for what to see there and thoroughly loved my experience! Below is the Google Map I used to capture all the great spots Raleigh has to offer.
By this point, your trip is probably right around the corner and you’re ready & excited to go on your new adventures. Have a wonderful and well-planned trip!