Planning a vacation often entails months of researching, asking friends for recommendations, strategizing around costs, making reservations and otherwise preparing for a nice escape from your everyday life. But that’s not the only way to travel. In fact, many people enjoy more last-minute getaways.
“Spontaneous travel is one of my absolute favorite ways to travel,” travel blogger Rocky Trifari told HuffPost. “The spontaneity takes away a lot of the stress that comes from the arduous planning and anticipation of a trip. It can even be empowering to recognize that in some cases, those planning procedures we typically follow aren’t nearly as necessary as we brainwash ourselves to believe.”
Taking a spontaneous trip is a great way to let flexibility be your guide and explore destinations that weren’t necessarily on your radar. Don’t hesitate to go outside your travel comfort zone. And it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to spend more money.
“It’s unlikely someone comes back from a trip regretting they took it, and additionally, the spontaneous travel doesn’t have to mean booking a flight the day before and traveling for a month,” said Katy Nastro, a spokesperson for Scott’s Cheap Flights. “It can even be seeing a great fare pop up, booking a week or long-weekend stay when you had no intention of taking that trip at all.”
Below, travel experts break down the benefits of spontaneous travel and share their top tips for making the best of a last-minute trip.
A spontaneous trip allows you to be more present.
“The benefit of spontaneous travel is that it allows you to be more present,” said travel blogger Esther Susag. “Instead of needing to make sure you check everything off of your planned itinerary, you are able to take it all in and not feel the pressure of needing to rush to your next stop.”
These types of trips tend to comes with more bare-bones itineraries ― or no itinerary at all ― which makes for a slower, calmer experience.
“With spontaneous travel, you don’t have the time to figure out every ‘top spot’ to see, so instead when you arrive and you find something you are enjoying, there’s not that pressure to leave immediately to fit everything in,” Susag said.
There’s greater openness to the endless possibilities in travel.
In October, the team at Skyscanner released a report about the happiness benefits of traveler spontaneity created in consultation with psychologist Emma Kenny.
Kenny “pointed out that spontaneous travel helps foster a ‘can-do’ attitude and reminds travelers of the limitless possibilities that await them,” said Laura Lindsay, Skyscanner’s travel trends expert. “When travelers are able to live in the moment, they’re able to experience the thrill of adventure without the stress of planning a trip and making all of the decisions that entails.”
Trifari echoed this sentiment, noting that he recently took an excellent last-minute trip to Chicago and unexpectedly made lifelong friends in the process.
“Spontaneous travel is a way to meet new people, discover destinations that maybe you wouldn’t have gone to ordinarily, and helps prevent decision paralysis, which stops many people from traveling in the first place,” he said.
You can discover new sides of your travel personality.
“For the more organized and ‘Type A’ kind of traveler, spontaneous travel may allow them to take a new and different approach to travel, and they might be surprised at how much they enjoy having a more flexible schedule, maybe they will even find that they are less stressed overall,” Susag noted.
Of course, there are benefits to planning ahead for a trip, but having to be more spur-of-the-moment in your travels can lead to pleasant surprises and amazing adventures.
“You may not have found that amazing hole-in-the-wall restaurant where you got to chat with some locals about their country for hours as opposed to planning your meals around the highest-rated restaurants on Tripadvisor,” Susag said. “Instead of having your trip already planned out when you arrive, it may push you to ask locals some of their favorite hidden gems or places to see and that can lead you down some really unique and fun adventures that you wouldn’t have known about had you planned far in advance.”
The mental health benefits are real.
“There are countless surveys that affirm travelers are more healthy, happy and productive than non-travelers, and with the addition of spontaneity to the mix, you can expect an increase to all of the above,” Nastro said. “Spontaneous travel can have the power to release us from daily stresses, spark creativity and an overall sense of adventure when we immerse ourselves in a new place.”
In a time when many of us live über-scheduled lives, she emphasized the value of breaking away from routine by taking a last-minute trip. It can be especially helpful if you’re feeling a little stuck in a rut.
“And while going on a super long and well-planned vacation can be amazing, it may not necessarily mean you’ll be feeling transformed the entire trip,” Nastro said. “A Dutch study at Radboud University in Nijmegen showed that trip length may not necessarily correlate to increased health and well-being as respondents said their health and wellness peaked at day eight, returning to pre-trip levels, so three one-week trips may be better than one three-week trip for overall well-being, for example.”
Here’s how to make spontaneous travel work for you.
Taking a spontaneous trip may feel daunting and unfamiliar at first, but the experts HuffPost spoke to shared their tips for making the most of it as well.
Be strategic about your flights.
“My advice for anyone wanting to try out spontaneous travel is to be strategic about how you buy your flights,” Susag said. “This is a great opportunity to use those credit card points you’ve been racking up and save some money.”
Don’t be afraid to book each leg with a separate airline, especially if you have a small number of loyalty points with different companies.
“Try to fly during the weekdays. Flight prices tend to be cheaper during the week as opposed to the weekend,” Susag added.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to fly in terms of cost, crowds and cancellations, so consider booking those days if you can.
“Being able to work remotely in a location for a day or two can help to maximize your time away as well if you are short on vacation days,” Nastro noted.
Snag deals when they pop up.
“If an opportunity presents itself, take it!” Trifari urged. “Monitor flight prices, keep in touch with friends or family who may share an interest in traveling with you, and look for good deals online.”
There are lots of websites and apps that share good travel deals, like The Points Guy and Scott’s Cheap Flights.
“If you happen to see something that makes sense for your wallet ― a flight, accommodation, or itinerary ― book it,” Trifari said. “You can ask around and create a trip with memories that’ll last you a lifetime. Even if you go on your own, solo adventures can be some of the most rewarding ones a person can take.”
Keep the itinerary short and simple.
Resist the urge to cram a bunch of last-minute adventures or reservations into your itinerary. That goes against the spirit of a spontaneous trip.
“For people who are big planners but are thinking about doing their first spontaneous trip, try to only plan one big activity or place to see a day,” Susag said. “That way you cross something off your list that you are wanting to do, but still allow yourself to leave room for flexibility and unplanned adventures.”
Book accommodations with free cancellation.
“One thing I do even before I have fully decided if I am going to go on a spontaneous trip somewhere is I will book a hotel with free cancellation as soon as I’m even thinking about a trip,” Susag said. “That way I have decent accommodation as a backup, and I can always look for better options after.”
Location is another important factor when picking lodging as well.
“I also try to get my accommodation as central as I can and, I promise, that makes doing a spontaneous and unplanned trip somewhere much easier and more stress-free,” Susag said.
Be flexible with your destination.
“For a leisure traveler, price is almost always the deciding factor when booking airfare. However, oftentimes we are stuck by dates or location, and don’t consider being flexible with either, when in fact flexibility is key to finding amazing deals,” Nastro said.
She recommended searching for flight options based on a broader region like Western Europe, rather than a specific country like Spain. You may come across an amazing destination that’s less familiar or find the opportunity to rediscover a place you haven’t visited in years.
Travel search engines and other third-party sites make it easy to spot good deals if you cast a wide net.
“An ‘Everywhere’ search on Skyscanner for December reveals great value flights from New York for as little as $35 to Nashville, $55 to Miami, $79 to Turks & Caicos, $85 to Chicago, $89 to San Francisco, $170 to Cartagena, $246 to Rome, $266 to Paris for those willing to be a little spontaneous,” Nastro said.
“Try going to places during an ‘off-season,’” Nastro advised. “Not only is airfare significantly less, but during a low-season, all aspects of travel are more affordable such as car rentals and hotels.”
Research the peak and low seasons in destinations you’re considering. For many, it’s right after the winter holidays.
“January and February are the least traveled months of the entire year, yet this is the time when airfare tends to be cheapest, as well as there is an abundance of cheap deals to be found, regardless of warm or cold weather destinations,” Nastro said. “A lot less people are traveling due to just traveling over the winter holidays so for those of us looking to find spontaneous last-minute deals, this might be a great time to consider.”
Be flexible with your dates, as well as your destination.
“Searching by multiple dates and airports will give you the best chance of a bargain,” Lindsay said. “Flight prices are all based on supply and demand. Because some dates are more popular than others, prices will vary. The ‘whole month’ search tool allows you to see cheap flights at a glance and pick the right deal for you.”
Find a spontaneity buddy.
“If you struggle to be spontaneous and you know that you need that extra push to get you out of your comfort zone, enlist the help of your partner, best friend, or parent,” Lindsay recommended. “Get them to plan some fun trips away and agree that they will only tell you where you are going a few hours before you need to set off!”
Then, you can repay the favor by taking on the next surprise trip. The key to making spontaneous travel happen is to find what system works best for you. Channel the Nike slogan and just do it.
As Trifari remarked, “You can make the decision to travel somewhere, ask a buddy to join if you’d like, book the trip and go!”