Tips for Taking an Impromptu Vacation

By Ann Hartter

Not everyone can afford the impromptu vacation, and we couldn’t have done it without having done some basic preparations. Here’s what we did, and what we spent, that made our two days refreshing and allowed us to arrive home relaxed.

What an Impromptu Vacation is: The past weekend surprised us with a vacation hidden around the corner. An hour before we left on a road trip, we decide to stay out overnight and come home late the next day.

Where we went: A touristy town in the mountains, Steamboat Springs, is a place we have always wanted to visit. It was only 40 miles from a previously planned day trip destination, a town called Craig, but 190 from home.

Why we went: An opportunity arose to save money on old Jeep parts by buying another inexpensive old Jeep. The kicker was my husband had to travel 150 miles into the mountains and tow it back. It made sense to turn the weekend trip into a family drive, as gas mileage would be the same in our vehicle capable of towing. We found out that Steamboat Springs was near by and thus, the impromptu vacation was hatched.

What we had to accept: We realized that last-minute reservations in hotels could get pretty expensive, and since we had to take our puppy instead of having someone watch her on short notice, we faced narrow accommodation options. We also really didn’t have time to carefully research and plan what we’d want to do in the area, so we had to take what we could get as far as food and entertainment went. These ideas, however, didn’t daunt us.

What a good time we had!

We riddled our drive up with plenty of roadside stops, photography and conversation (this part we were going to do anyway, remember). After the forty extra miles and $15 in gas from Craig, we cheerfully rolled into Steamboat and stopped at the Visitor’s Center.

We spent the dreaded $140 on the hotel and $10 on the pet deposit, got a king-sized bed and put the kids in sleeping bags on the floor. The evening was spent enjoying the cable, the hot tub and going through the magazines, directories and high-speed Internet for the aforementioned research, all of which came with the hotel.

Steamboat has an excellent little magazine and a slew of art and music festivities, all of which made interesting local reading. We chose a brewery for dinner, as we have always enjoyed microbrew and original local fare, and were pleasantly gifted with live music and shady outdoor seating. We spent a reasonable $30 (before tip) for the four of us, and didn’t have to take any home. That price also included an empty growler to add to our collection.

Later, we stopped at the hotel’s restaurant for $20 dessert, enjoying a couple of pieces of pie, some adult beverages and an abundance of crayon time. Our $25 eggs benedict brunch the next morning topped off our food for the outing.

We spent some time perusing the main street, but only popped into stores we thought we might get something. My daughter got her first yarn and crochet hook from the knitting nook for $10, my husband ended his years-long search for well-fitting soft-soled moccasins for $30 and I found a reprint edition book by my favorite author on a sale rack for $5. My son was still enthralled with his Happy-Meal bad-guy from the previous day’s lunch and no stores seemed to suit him anyway. The 40 miles back to Craig to hitch up the Jeep cost, again, the extra $15 in gas, and we bought $10 for more juice, sports drinks, water, and ice for the drive home.

What it cost: Without the hotel and with all our “souvenirs,” our two day vacation cost $160. Accommodations, on the pricey side, were $150, leaving our whole “extra cost” total at $310. However, if you considered the yarn, hook, shoes and book would have been bought at any location, once found, the actual cost of the trip: $265. I never count tips in the cost of trips because service therefore tip varies, and that can cause problems in the comparison.

Comparative Value: This was, on most scales, an expensive trip, but it was a success. I evaluate it here because had we decided to make a trip to Steamboat Springs from home, with no other profitable motive, the cost of gas would have been four times as much. We would have returned with $45 in things we could have gotten anywhere, at least, somewhere else, and we’d still have to buy and pay shipping on parts for the Jeep. We may have saved $30 by pre-planning a hotel, but might have spent that on pre-planning lots of activities throughout the two days. And finally, the nice, relaxing, psychological value of knowing you simply took a vacation one day — because you wanted to — reduces your stress in day to day life. I’ve heard people say vacations were stressful. This one was not.

Here are some tips on how you can have a great, spontaneous, vacation too!

  • Create a general list of places you’d like to visit and routes to them, if not on the computer, at least in mind. If you end up having to travel to a place somewhere close to one of the places you want to visit, you can consider adding it to the trip.
  • Packing for an impromptu vacation is, well, impromptu. To enable you leave on short notice, you must take the time to make some basic lifestyle preparations. Having the basic preparations in order will allow an impromptu vacation to be put together in the restricted amount of time without causing a panic.
  • Keep one bag in the bottom of your closet instead of packed away in the garage or the basement. This will allow you to pack quickly and not have to waste time searching for luggage.
  • Pack the items that everyone will use into a single bag. If possible, using a single bag for everyone is worthwhile. Since impromptu vacations are usually for a single night, this is often possible. Keeping everyone’s things together reduces losses or forgottens and the cost of convenient replacements.
  • Keep your large, family-sized products in the pantry, and refill smaller ones for your bathroom. Being able to grab-and-go eliminates the obstacle of filling travel containers after you’ve decided to leave, and also reduces the forgottens.
  • Have a cooler in an accessible but out-of-the-way place, like the trunk. Packing drinks and snacks you already have in your fridge or pantry keeps dollars in your wallet as you pass the convenience stores and fast-food stops.
  • Have a favorite hotel chain. Knowing who you want to contact first cuts down on the number of calls you make, and ensures a satisfactory stay despite the “I’ll take what I can get” price.
  • Check into your hotel before stopping anywhere, and use the phone book, local magazines, hotel flier walls and guest directories. Knowing where you’re going keeps you from eating/stopping at the first thing that looks good, which can whittle your wallet quickly.
  • Go do the things you would do even if you were in your own town, like eating at the brew pub instead of the fancy reservations-only hot spot, or visiting the book store instead of the tourist-trap souvenir shops. You’re less likely to spend money on an indulgence, you are sure you will enjoy yourself and you already have an idea of the prices you will encounter. Keeping the stress low also keeps the pressure off your pocket book and staying within familiar atmospheres combats that spontaneous-purchase fever.
  • Stay outside! If you don’t go into all the shops on the main drag, you aren’t tempted to purchase everything there. You will enjoy the scenery, the local flavor and the effort most towns put into their individual attractiveness. Marvel at the architecture of the city hall, read the plaques and note the landscaping.

In the end, an impromptu vacation doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and if you are able to add it onto a trip that you are already going to be taking, it can be a wonderful way to see the places you want at a reasonable price.