FareCompare 4×4: Last Minute Vacations and Quick Getaways

Scott Burgess is the executive editor of HipsterTravelGuide.com — a travel news website. A journalist for 15 years, Scott has worked around the world as a reporter and editor. He was the Middle East Bureau Chief for Stars & Stripes for five years, living in Germany and working throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East from 2000-2005. He has lived in both the big and little towns in America as well, including Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles and Elmira, N.Y.

He currently lives in Metro Detroit where he uses his day job as an auto critic for a daily newspaper to help fund as many trips as he can manage on his time off. From camping to five star accommodations, Scott thinks the journey is often more exciting than the destination, unless, off course, it’s a really, really nice destination.

We caught up with Scott (via email) and asked him to break down the art of the “quick getaway” for us.

1. Where-to-Go

What are some of the best destinations for a short vacation or a spur-of-the-moment getaway?
The idea of a quick getaway does two things: It opens up the world around you and gives you something to make all your coworkers jealous. While there are great destination cities with a package of airfare and hotels, Las Vegas seems to have more deals than just about anyone. There is an abundance of hotel rooms and nearly ever airline in the world flies there. (Plus, depending upon where you stay, you can tell people you were in New York City, Paris, Egypt or the Pacific Islands.)

Also, don’t overlook places you can drive to. Take a map and draw a 300 mile circle around your house and you’d be surprised what falls into easy reach. Living in Detroit, I could go everywhere from Niagara Falls to Chicago and from Maniac to Cincinnati. All of sudden, my own back yard has gotten a whole lot bigger. Major cities all seem to have good deals and if you don’t mind hustle and bustle, a few favorites include Washington DC (great night life and free museums — the Air and Space Museum will bring men to tears), New York City (plan on spending a suitcase full of cash, but save some money by eating Rays Pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner) and Boston (try having a pint at every Irish pub within walking distance of Fenway).

2. What-to-Bring

Any tips for packing light? What are the essentials and what gets left behind?
I don’t need it. That’s the mantra I pack with. Whether I’m going somewhere for two weeks, or two days, there is very little I think is absolutely necessary. The bare essentials include: socks, boxers, a book and toiletries. (I have a travel toiletry bag ready to go with a comb, toothbrush, tiny toothpaste, tiny deodorant and bad hair gel — it takes up less space than a ham sandwich.) I also have a small bag with electronics, such as my camera, iPhone, headphones and a charger — they are my luxury items. I typically have the clothes I travel in (which are worn on both travel days) and then a destination appropriate set of clothes. That’s it. If I need anything else, I might buy it. That provides a souvenir as well as something I might use again. I realize my bare essentials packing means I may forget something, but I would much rather have too little than too much. If you constantly bring stuff back from a trip that is still clean, you’re packing too much. As a tourist in a new town, no one really cares what you look like or what you’re wearing. And if you do need that one special outfit — say for clubbing in Vegas or a formal dinner in San Francisco, then take it with you. The key is not doing without, it’s figuring out how to do with what you have, and nothing more.

3. How-to-Shop

Any travel tools/apps that make planning a quick vacation easier (other than FareCompare’s Bad Ass Map, of course)?
The great series of tubes that make up the Internet mean planning quick getaways is easier than every before, it’s like having a travel agent living in your pocket 24 hours a day and you don’t even have to feed the little guy. I subscribe to a number of different travel websites such as FareCompare, Travelzoo, Travelocity, Expedia and CheapCaribbean for travel notices. I will pick some destination cities to monitor airline ticket prices and others for packages. There are two ways to plan a quick getaway with so many tools available: Pick your destination ahead of time, then look for deals to come to you — which never seems to happen; or pick a time you’re going to go somewhere and have the flexibility to go anywhere.

Really, both are similar, but going to the deal instead of waiting for the deal to come to you opens up a lot more options and, typically, bigger savings. In both cases, you’re not at home — and that was the goal to begin with. Once I get there, I don’t use many apps on my phone, other than the GPS locator — which has become invaluable in finding a place quickly. To keep the battery charged, I tend to read guide books instead of app-based info, that way I can learn absolutely worthless information about the Algonquian Indians or the Whiskey Rebellian of the 1790s during the down time that comes with travel. Somehow, it stays in my brain for years.

4. When-to-Fly

What’s the best time to travel (to avoid crowds, hassle, etc.)?
I’m a big believer in traveling on shoulder time frames and counter intuitive travel. Go against the flow and avoid the crowds. Go to Cancun in July, go to Chicago for Christmas, hit Apsen in the summer, and Europe in the fall. Do your research, though, as spring time in New Hampshire might mean giant black flies chewing off your leg while you sleep.

I’ve been to Niagara Falls in February (the falls were completely frozen, creating a giant wall of ice); Amsterdam in November for an incredible four-day adventure including a special museum night for locals where we all sat in the lobby of the Van Gogh museum drinking red wine and listening to a jazz band, and Toronto for New Year’s eve, which included a nightmare late night at the hotel, where, it appeared, a dozen 18-year-old Canadians discovered the fun and horrors of alcohol and fire alarms. All of those locations were outside of the typical time frames for traveling to and that meant cheaper hotels, no crowds, lots of time talking with locals instead of tourists and reasonably priced tickets. (Don’t forget to check some things before going, as some tourist attractions may be closed or have very limited hours.)

When looking to avoid crowds, I like to travel on Wednesday and Saturday. I avoid Sundays and Fridays for the obvious reasons — everyone else is flying on them. The security lines are longer, flights are overbooked and children (and their parents) seem just a little crankier. It’s not fun.

When you’re looking at extending your weekend, instead of taking the traditional Friday and Monday off, try taking off Monday and Tuesday, then fly on Saturday and come back Tuesday afternoon. You’ll find great hotel deals and, quite often, better travel deals. Most of all, you’ll find that when you do get back to work, you’re relaxed and reset. And you’ll be the envy of the water cooler — because if traveling doesn’t change your perspective on life, expand your horizons or open your thinking to new and exciting things, at least it can make your friends a little more envious of your life over theirs.

Follow Scott and his band of merry travelers @hipstertravel on Twitter.


Published: June 7, 2010