Even things like passport renewals, scrambles to make reservations, and last-minute packing have that certain sheen of Plum Deluxe glamour. For most of us, indeed, the idea of last-minute travel stands in stark contrast to day-to-day existence. Often feeling just out of reach, we tend to think of it as something reserved for others.
The irony of it is that in order for spur-of-the-moment travel to ultimately be enjoyable, it takes a level of practical and mental preparedness. It seems to be a challenge few are ready to take on, yet many still many dream of it.
The two keys to mentally preparing yourself for last-minute travel involve having:
- systems in place
- enough research behind you
The result will be that you’ll know enough to recognize a good thing when you see it and be ready for take-off.
So how can we set ourselves up with systems and knowledge to bring a little bit of that last-minute, jet-setting lifestyle into our lives?
- Know what “last-minute travel” looks like to you. Does it mean traveling this weekend, next week or month, or today? How far ahead of time must you request time off of work?
- Be sure your passport and any other official travel documents are up to date and not expiring within the next six months. Don’t make any assumptions, as rules can change quickly. Also, don’t necessarily rule out a specific country because traveling there requires a visa. Visas do expire, but usually not from the time of issue, but from the time travel commences. For any specific requirements for US citizens visiting individual countries, be sure to visit the State Department’s website.
- What do pets, houseplants, and children have in common? As much as we love them, we don’t want to take them with us on our special, last-minute jaunt. Be sure to build relationships with baby-sitters, dog-sitters, and neighborly plant waterers that meet your standards — and keep their phone numbers handy.
- Anyone looking for last minute travel bargains will definitely want to sign up for TravelZoo’s weekly email featuring 20 of the current best deals on the internet. Without overwhelming you, this once-a-week email blast keeps you in that travel mindset and gives a well-rounded idea of what it might cost to travel when and where. You will eventually be required to “buy now,” but often can arrange your exact travel dates later in the buying process, in the days, weeks, or months ahead. Buying your a trip this way will serve as a kind of insurance that you will be taking advantage of last minute travel in the near future.
- Even if you have tried social buying sites like Groupon or Living Social in the past, they may be worth revisiting for last-minute travel opportunities. These sites are particularly good for last-minute travel by car. Wonderful deals for charming inns and unique activities that are within an hour or two’s drive of home are regularly offered. As with TravelZoo, through these sites you can often buy now, then reserve and travel later for when taking off at the last minute suits.
- Search “last minute villa rentals in ________” and get on the mailing lists of agencies that catch your fancy. Be aware that sometimes sites are offering last-minute availability and sometimes are offering discounted deals as well.
- Last-minute weekend travelers that book their trip a few days ahead of time can often find incredible deals for weekend nights at hotels that are primarily business-oriented during the week.
- Be sure to take advantage of the benefits that come with any hotel rewards programs. Free night or double points offers often require an additional sign up. Particularly if you have any status with a program, a polite phone call directly to the front desk at the last minute may help you secure the best rate and put you in line for the possibility of a last-minute upgrade.
- With options such as HotelTonight.com, true last-minute travel within a few hours’ drive has become a more attractive option. Through their app, unsold hotel inventory goes live at noon each day in different time zones. Travelers can score rooms at some of the best sleeps in town in most major cities.
- Instead of saving frequent flyer miles for a trip that you’re not sure is ever going to happen, it may be worth a shot to see if you can find last-minute availability. Experience has taught us that it’s always worth checking. Phone calls directly to the airline frequent flyer booking department are your best bet. If you get a not-so-helpful customer service rep, hang up and try your luck again.
- When in doubt, buy the insurance or book the reservation that you can cancel. A small price for a big peace of mind.
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