Want To Just Pack Up & Go On Vacation? Here's How

Illustrated by Bella DiMarzio
Truth: A once-in-a-lifetime trip doesn't need to take a lifetime to plan. Maybe you realized you have a few leftover vacation days. Maybe you'll do anything to get out of the cold, even for a long weekend. Maybe that holiday bonus is just burning a hole in your pocket. Or maybe you don't need an excuse to get out of town.
It's also easy. The right combination of apps, know-how, and adventure are all you need to craft a trip on the cheap. And now is absolutely the time to take one: According to experts, prices for travel tend to be the lowest in January and February, a so-called travel "dead zone" after the holidays. Ahead, how to make sure you're ready to go at a moment's notice.
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Illustrated by Bella DiMarzio
Sign Up For Alerts
Jet setters depend on Airfare Watchdog for amazing deals — especially if you're flexible on where or when you want to travel. Individual airline newsletters will also alert you to sales. Consider setting up a special travel-only email, so you can make sure the deals don't clutter up your inbox and you can easily find them when you need them.

Another website to watch: SecretFlying.com, which offers inexpensive flights anywhere in the world. "Last year, I got a $600 round trip to Australia from New York." says Phoebe Settree, creative director of lifestyle blog Dreaming on Fifth. "Note that these flight are non-transferable and non-refundable — but I guess that’s the risk you take for a round-trip to the Bahamas, in peak season, for only $200."
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Illustrated by Bella DiMarzio
Follow Your Favorites On Social Media
More and more airlines and hotels also tweet last-minute deals. You can make sure you don't miss them by setting Twitter notifications.
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Connect Your Friends
Everyone knows that endless email chains are the worst when it comes to spontaneity. Try PlanChat, instead. This messaging app allows you to put destinations on your watch list and scans for flight deals, create group polls, and message everyone in one place.
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Know Your Company's Work-From-Home Policy
Depending on where you work, you may not even need to officially take vacation days for a short trip — especially if you know you'll be able to log on and do work in real time. This is especially easy if you're planning to go to Europe — the time difference means that you theoretically have the entire morning and early afternoon to explore before logging onto your laptop.

Bottom line: The best way to confidently jump on a travel deal is to be very clear on how much flexibility your workplace offers.
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Showcase Your Status
You know having a credit card affiliated with an airline is great in terms of getting perks and upgrades. But did you know it's possible for you to have similar status across airlines?

"Let’s say you want to start flying with another airline or plan to take at least one flight with them, let them know you have status with another airline and want the same status with them. Generally, they will match your status level one-to-one with a qualifying period of one year to keep the status they have given you," says Richie Copelovitch, executive VP of sales and merchandising at iFly Luggage.

Copelovitch says the same applies to hotels and car-rental companies. "The result is that you are treated with the same level of care and distinction as you would be if you were traveling with your frequent airline or car-rental company."
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Illustrated by Bella DiMarzio
Go Solo
Fact: If you're going to wait for everyone to have the same free days, you may miss your window of opportunity to get away. If you see a deal you can't pass up, consider going for it solo.

Want to meet people during your travels? Start with your own social-media feed — a scroll through Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook might reveal a friend or connection who lives in the city you're visiting. And despite the name, Couchsurfing isn't just for people looking to crash — it's also a site to connect with locals for coffee.

Finally, even if hostels aren't your thing, hanging out at a hostel bar can be a good way to connect with younger travelers and get intel on the cool stuff to do.
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Pack Super-Light
Unless you're heading on a camping trip in the woods, know that it's always possible to find what you need in another city or country. Yes, spending unnecessary money sucks, but better to pack as lightly as possible — one non-wrinkle fancy outfit, comfy shoes, a few tops and pants — and DIY laundry on the road. Having just a carry-on gives you major flexibility, since the last thing you want is to land in your destination and find your checked luggage has been re-routed.
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Book Last-Minute
Despite the name, Hotel Tonight allows you to book up to a week in advance — and often has rates at nearly 70% off, says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch.

Calling the hotel directly (not the 800 number) can also be a way to net big savings, especially if you call just a few days — or even the day of — your trip.
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Talk To Locals
Once you've landed at your destination, a barista or bartender can be way better than Yelp in terms of helping you find the coolest under-the-radar things to do and places to go.

Another genius way to get insider intel: Consider checking out a yoga or indoor cycling class, or go to a local meet-up group. You'll meet residents of the city and get an insider look that you wouldn't if you just stuck to touristy attractions.
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Have Your Passport Up-To-Date
Before you begin searching fares, make sure that your passport is ready and has at least another six months before expiration. According to the U.S. State Department, if you have less than six months of validity, you may have trouble entering certain countries. (Read more specifics, here.)

Also, if you are planning a trip overseas, make sure you're clear on the specific visa requirements before you book, since some visas may take a few weeks to obtain.
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Register Your Trip
On that note, if you are traveling overseas, make sure someone back in the United States knows your itinerary. It's also smart to make sure someone back home has a copy of your passport and that you have a scanned copy on your laptop or mobile device. If it does get lost or stolen, it will be easier to get a replacement.

Finally, if you're going abroad, enroll in the Smart Traveler program through the U.S. Embassy, which will give you travel warnings and alert family or friends in the case of an emergency.
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Come Up With A Travel Savings Strategy
It's that much easier to pack up and go if you know that you're not going to blow your bank account. Although it sounds basic, Suzanne Wolko, blogger at Philadelphia Travel Girl, recommends having a few savings strategies in play at all times.

One in particular that's paid off for Wolko: always emptying her purse of change every night. "I had a change jar I'd been keeping for awhile, and a New Zealand trip on the calendar. I decided to haul it over a few days to the bank’s coin-counting machine. The machine spit out the international coins, but in the end my tally was $1,200! I was really surprised! I bought a new camera, hiking boots, a coat, and helped defray the trip costs with the change. People might laugh at my coin bottle, but it works," says Wolko.
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Illustrated by Bella DiMarzio
Make A List
Yes, you want to pack light and, yes, there's peace of mind knowing that you can always buy a coat/bathing suit/fill in the blank. That said, making a list of everything you want to bring — including snacks for the airport, phone chargers, and tampons — is clutch for avoiding uncharged products.

"When you pack last-minute, you tend to forget things or realize you need to buy something before your trip and it’s too late. Sure, you can buy bug spray or sunscreen when you arrive, but those little things add up! And god forbid you forget something like a neck pillow or headphones for the flight and have to purchase them at the airport. Even pens cost like $5 there! I would know, because these are all things I have forgotten at least once," says Tara Cappel, founder of FTLO Travel, a travel agency for millennials.
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Wait To Book Day Trips
While it's tempting to book cool tours before you get to your destination, Coppel recommends holding off — especially for an off-the-beaten path destination.

"Do the research, but don’t necessarily book activities online. The options online are usually the most expensive and you can often find the same tour or class for half the price through word-of-mouth when you get there," says Coppel.

And the same goes for restaurants: While amazing restaurants may book up months in advance for dinner, going for lunch or sitting at the bar is a great way to have the same experience without a ton of planning.
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Book Overnight Flights Or Trains
Want to get serious bang for your buck? Settree recommends booking overnight travel, which allows you to roll your accommodation and travel budget in one.

"While going through customs may be a headache, you’re saving at least an additional $60 for a place to stay the night. My boyfriend and I took the overnight bus from New York to Montreal and put the saved money towards extra poutine!" says Settree.
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