The Joy of Spontaneous Weekend Trips

spontaneous weekend trips

Most people think of a vacation as something you have to plan far in advance and spend a lot of money on. But vacations are like snowflakes; they come in all shapes and sizes. And like gifts, some of the best ones are pocket-sized. (I know, I can’t even with my own holiday metaphors.)

The case for the weekend trip

No matter where you live, there are at least half a dozen places less than 2 hours from you that you’ve never visited. Spontaneous trips are all about taking advantage of your geography and going somewhere that’s not stressful to get to. Longer vacations are usually a hassle to plan, and an even bigger hassle to go on. As much as I loved Thailand, I could do without the 23 hours of planes and airports.

But spontaneous weekend trips, by design, require almost no effort. You wouldn’t go anywhere last minute if it was going to be a headache to pull off. That defeats the whole idea. But if you’ve had a long week and you’re dreaming of a getaway, then maybe all you need to do is take a drive or hop on a train. You’d be surprised how different things are just a couple of cities away.

Deciding where to go is half the fun

There’s a line from a movie that says, “As long as you don’t choose, everything remains possible.” (Mr. Nobody) I’ve always loved that line, because while it can be a depressing thought, it can also be really exciting. Planning a spontaneous trip is perhaps one of the few times in life when I procrastinate. The practical advantage of planning ahead is completely out the window when you go somewhere last minute. The cost of hotels and transportation is not going to fluctuate much five days before versus three. So you can really relish those moments of indecision.

All you need to do is pull up a map and look up events, restaurants, and activities near you. You can spend hours envisioning dozens of interesting possibilities. Because no matter where you live, there’s always a quiet town or a lush nature park or a bustling city just around the corner.

Like a national park that you've lived next to your whole life and never seen.
Like a national park that you’ve lived next to your whole life and never seen.

But you have to decide and then do it

It can be really easy to talk and talk about a vacation and never take one. This is especially true of major trips, because people get overwhelmed by planning or start to get discouraged if prices fluctuate suddenly. But a spontaneous weekend trip is easier to plan, which also makes it easy to go through with. You just have to want to do it. So once you’ve narrowed down a few options, fill up the tank, pack a small bag, and hit the road! Nothing is going to stop you. So don’t let yourself stop you.

It doesn’t have to be expensive

The biggest myth about travel is that it costs a lot of money. But it doesn’t have to unless you want it to. If this is your excuse to stay home for the weekend, then ask yourself this: how much are you going to be spending over the weekend at home? Because if you go to dinner or Happy Hour on Friday, you could easily spend $30 or $40 in a few hours. That’s double the cost of a bus ticket to New York if you live within 300 miles of the city.

But what about accommodations, you say? Well, a hotel doesn’t have to cost $150 a night. The reason we pay so much for accommodations is because when most of us travel, we go to the biggest, most popular, most well-known cities in any state or country. Everything from hotels to food is cheaper in places that are not attractive to tourists. So if you live in DC, for example, you’re going to spend more on Sunday brunch than you are on an Airbnb in Charlottesville or Annapolis for the weekend. So go discover the places that aren’t in guidebooks. Your bank account won’t even feel it.

Ever seen a West Virginia ski resort off-season? It's like Halloween Horror nights in July.
Ever seen a West Virginia ski resort off-season? It’s like Halloween Horror nights in July.

It can be a good excuse to see old friends

How many of us live a stone’s throw from people we know and love that we only see once a year? There’s usually no real reason for that other than prioritizing other things. So make plans for lunch with a friend or family member that lives in the state next door. It’ll give you a reason to go away for a few days and an opportunity to catch up with someone you care about. As an added bonus, if you’re really close to someone, you might be able to stay with them for free.

It’s a good way to recharge

One of the downsides to a major vacation is that you have to go back to your regular life, already in progress without you. Everything is in chaos and you have a mountain of work and responsibilities that have been accumulating while you were gone. On top of that, you’re exhausted and jet lagged because you probably spent at least half a day trekking around the world.

But a weekend trip doesn’t have to disrupt your whole life. It has all the beneficial properties of a major vacation without any of the downsides. It’s a great way to break up an otherwise monotonous and stressful month, helping you recharge before you get back into the swing of things on Monday.

It encourages you to be grateful

I know, we just ate a bunch of food and fought with relatives about politics, so we’re all done being thankful for the year, right? But you should never underestimate the power of feeling truly grateful for what you have; it’s the key to happiness. And part of that is recognizing that you’re lucky to live near places that most people will never see in their lifetime. Don’t take that for granted. Take advantage!

So put a little excitement into your life, if only for a weekend. There may be some hidden gems around you worth exploring.