Where should I go for a 3-day vacation? Weekend getaway strategies to save you BIG, plus 6 cheap weekend getaways.

family playing on beach, text overlay "where should I go for a 3 day vacation? cheap weekend getaways"My husband and I are always looking for ways to extend the “weekend feel” into our lives, and cheap weekend getaways are one way we accomplish this.

What is that ‘weekend' feel for us? It includes exploring new things together, sleeping in (though nowadays “sleeping in” is around 6:00 a.m. with our little guy), travelling with one another, etc.

You see, we're lifelong travel partners (it was even written in the wedding vows I tearfully read to him). And yet our lives are not completely optimized for lots of travel.

I'm sure you can relate to some of this:

  1. While I can get up and go anywhere whenever I'd like to since quitting my day job in 2013 to pursue Frugal Confessions full-time, we still have one-half of us working a typical 9-5 (rather, 7-4) job.
  2. Paul started a new job in December of last year, so he doesn't have a ton of time to take off (especially after our recent trip home to visit my family).
  3. Reason #3? Paul is in college full-time, and I am a Work-at-Home-Mom with an 11-month old that doesn't like me to work on my laptop (ohhhh the fussiness that ensues). So, the weekend is prime time for us to work.
  4. Money has certainly tightened up after me quitting my day job and after our baby came along. I wouldn't say it's been tightened by three twists of a vise, but certainly 1.75.

But instead of letting these excuses (and many others) hold us back from getting travel in together, we've learned how to score cheap weekend getaways.

Before I break down those tips for you, let me talk about what makes a good weekend getaway. Because at the end of the day, it matters how you FEEL during your weekend getaway, not about how far you traveled, or how much money you spent.

What is a Good Weekend Getaway?

What you will consider a “good weekend getaway” really depends on where you are in life. For example, are you in a relationship and it’s just the two of you? Then a good weekend getaway will likely have some romantic elements in it.

Do you have a small child (like we do)? Then you might just be wanting to take your first short weekend getaway to test the waters. What would make that “good” would be more all-inclusive, cheap, and near to you (so that you don’t have to fly with a little guy yet).

Do you have a family? Then you likely want to avoid places you’d have to fly to, and places you’d have to drive far distances to, because the kids have school (and airfare for a family can get expensive!).

No matter what season of life you’re in, for me, a good weekend getaway will include the following:

  • Quality Time (QT): Lots of quality time with whoever you’re traveling with
  • Explorer Opportunities: Opportunities to explore things you don’t get to do or see everyday
  • Short Travel Times: Travel to the destination is just a couple of hours or less (using any sort of mode of transportation, so long as it doesn’t cost next month’s mortgage)

How to Save on a Weekend Getaway

You’re here to find the best ways to save on a weekend getaway so that you can get some travel in, CHEAP. Let me show you how to get it done!

Strategy #1: Tack the Trip onto Work Travel

This is an age-old practice, but it’s worth noting because it can save you a BUNDLE of money.

On your next work trip, take your spouse/friend/etc. They will still have to pay for any airfare, but the hotel and gas costs are expensable to your company/organization (the hotel just for the amount of time your business function is for, not for the extra nights you’re tacking on).

Then, either leave several days early, or stay several days more after the business trip ends to explore the area.

Strategy #2: Offer Your Seat Up for a Flight Voucher

Here’s another strategy that is not as well known – when coming home from your next business trip, volunteer to give up your seat if they ask for a volunteer. Unless you have to be at the office, you can earn hundreds of dollars in free frequent flyer miles or vouchers that you can then use for a future weekend getaway by using this strategy.

It’s part of your rights as a traveler.

Strategy #3: Search for Last Minute Cheap Flights this Weekend to Anywhere

Sites like AirfareWatchDog.com will actually notify you of cheap, last minute flights out of your local airport. Secretflying.com, and TheFlightDeal.com are two more great resource when searching for cheap flights this weekend.

Strategy #4: Let Someone Plan it For You

Have you ever heard of a Surprise Travel Agency?

Totally new concept. You give them the budget that you have to work with (between $400/person and $5,000/person), you fill out a survey, and then they plan a 3-day weekend getaway for you.

You get an email a week before your trip date, which contains recommended items to pack (thank goodness!), weather forecast, any luggage needs/restrictions, and where you have to show up + the time.

You receive an itinerary and tickets (if needed) in an envelope in the mail. It contains directions to your accommodations, and a city guide (don’t open it!).

When you get to where you have to show up (per the email), then you open your envelope. Surprise!

Steal the Strategies I Use to Find the Best Cheap Weekend Getaways Near Me

First off, if you’re looking at destinations near you, then you’re already going to be paying les because you won’t have to pay airfare. Bravo, you!

So, what are the other things you’ll need to pay for?

  • Food
  • Place to spend the night
  • Gas
  • Cost of activities

Here are my weekend getaway budget tips to help cut down these costs.

Strategy #1: Raid the Grocery Store

If you can find a place to stay where there’s a kitchen (or you can keep an ice chest stocked), then it’s in your best interest to locate the grocery store where you go to and stock up on supplies. You can then cook several of your meals for the weekend, and it’s like you aren’t spending any extra to eat because you would be spending that money to make meals at home, too.

Strategy #2: Bring Freezer Meals + Your Crockpot

Even better? Create freezer meals ahead of time, stick them in an ice chest, and bring them with you. Bring your crockpot with you, and enjoy a weekend free from most cooking work by plopping your freezer meals into the crockpot before heading out on an activity.

Strategy #3: Travel in the Off-Season

My husband’s family has gone in together on a beach house in Galveston 3-4 times. We get what appears to be a beach mansion, for a long weekend, right on the beach (or a row or two back). And it only ends up costing $300-$400 per couple.

The reason we can do this is:

  • We all chip in to get the house
  • We do it in hurricane season

It’s something to think about!

Cheap Weekend Getaways in Texas

I happen to live in Texas (Houston!), and so know a thing or two about finding cheap weekend getaways here.

  1. New Braunfels, Texas: One of our best Texas weekend getaways was tubing down the Guadalupe River (you can also tube down the Comal River). There’s a German sausage festival each November in New Braunfels called Wurstfest. May I suggest you time your river tubing trip for then? And don’t forget about the GORGEOUS Natural Bridge Caverns – the coolest cave tour we’ve ever done.
  2. Fredericksburg, Texas: There are these cool, tiny homes German settlers used to use at Fredericksburg Herb Farm and you can stay in one! Just 8 miles away is the famous bar in Luckenbach where you can listen to live music, hike at Enchanted Rock (and you can camp there),
  3. Hot Springs, Arkansas: This isn’t, of course, in Texas…but we’ve personally driven the 8.5-hour drive from Houston to this charming, antiquated little town to soak in the waters. So, I wanted to mention it! It’s a very cheap weekend getaway, which means you can afford to get some hot springs treatments in the old bath houses. The wall behind the bar at the Ohio Club (which has some really colorful history) is absolutely gorgeous. And you’ll want to walk the promenade each night. I also hiked up the mountain trail, which is just about 1,000 feet high. The hotels downtown are outdated, for sure, but they’re quite cheap and give you walking access to everything.
  4. Galveston, Texas: If you can split a beach home with one or several other families, even on Jamaica Beach, Texas, during hurricane season? You’ll be able to afford a cheap weekend getaway in Texas.

Cheap Weekend Getaways – East Coast

Did I mention, I also grew up on the East Coast? Northeast, to be a bit more specific.

I’m sharing my best and most favorite cheap weekend getaways on the East Coast.

East Coast Cheap Weekend Getaways:

  1. Poconos Mountains, Pennsylvania’s: My family owns a cabin in the Poconos, and we’ve found some great treasures over the years. While there, you’ll want to check out PA’s Niagara Falls (Bushkill Falls), dine at the Austrian café in downtown State College (Herwig’s Austrian Bistro – we ate there before going on our honeymoon to Austria!), take a boat tour through Penn’s Cave, and stay in a romantic cabin with a hot tub in the floor (yes, these exist). There are also places to ski!
  2. Michael’s, Maryland: Get a weekend of island and maritime life on St. Michael’s. Enjoy waterfront dining, cruise the Chesapeake Estuary on a Patriot narrated historical cruise (just $26.50 for adults), rent kayaks or canoes, and much more water fun (like crabbing!).
  3. Sugar Shacks, Vermont: Have you ever heard of sugar shacks? I hadn’t, until I read a Rachel Ray magazine. Then I learned that my Dad has gone to some, and I’m dying to go myself – they’re little restaurants and cafes where real maple syrup is the star of the menu. Time a trip to Vermont to witness the amazing fall foliage, and be sure to stop off at several sugar shacks to get things like maple-walnut waffles, maple crunch sundae, maple-smoked pork, etc. They’ve even got maple-beer and maple-vodka! You might even check out a cave while you’re there.
  4. Lancaster County, PA: I grew up right around here! This is a cheap getaway, and it still feels like you’re entering another world. The Amish live here, and with them you’ll find yummy whoopie pies, horse and buggies on the roads, farms galore, gorgeous countryside, and more. Check out a live auction, if you can – they’re pretty fun. Lots of antiquing, heavy German foods, etc.

Cheap Weekend Getaway Example – Our Casual, Low-Cost Weekend Getaway

Several years ago we went on a September weekend getaway to the Guadalupe River that I meant to write about but, well, here we are.

The great news? We can easily replicate this awesome nature trip again with just a little finagling to make it appropriate for a young couple with a baby.

This was our costs for camping and tubing along the Guadalupe River, a mere 3.5-hour drive from our home:

  • Camping: $12 per person/night
  • Tube floating: $15 per person for 2-6 hours (we chose 3 hours)
  • Food/Alcohol/Ice/charcoal/s'mores supplies: $64.74
  • Gas: $50 (however, at the time I had signed up for the Serve Card deal, which meant that I got $25 free after loading it with $25, so we used this to slash our gas costs in half)
  • Equipment We Already Had: This is an area that could cost you more than what we spent. For us, I already owned a tent from my early 20s that houses up to 6 people, we had bug spray, sunscreen, a cooler, and had gotten a lovely camping lantern + sleeping bags from our wedding registry. So, for us, we didn't have to buy any special equipment to go. Try to borrow what you need and do not own.

What Our Weekend Trip Looked Like

We left Friday evening as soon as Paul was home from work, so around 5:30 p.m.

The reason we were able to leave as soon as he got into the driveway is because several days prior to the trip I packed everything up for us.

We strategically packed up his car so that the things we would need as soon as we got there − the lantern, wood for the fire, the tent + hammer − were on top of the rest. This turned out to be a good decision because we arrived in the dark around 9:00 p.m. Paul used the car lights as lighting while he got the fire going and pitched our tent.

I focused on getting our “kitchen” area organized; it was all very 1950s (ha!).

We had already had sandwiches on the way there (which I made at home and packed in the cooler), and so we broke out the s'mores and some alcoholic refreshments to enjoy an hour or two in front of the fire before hitting the tent. I remember the moon being amazing that night; it casted a beautiful glow along the river water and we could see the outline of the mountain-rock right in front of our camping sight.

The next morning, we had breakfast, then went tubing with a company who drops you off up the Guadalupe river depending on how many hours you'd like to float. We made it back to our campsite by early afternoon, had hamburgers and hot dogs, and did lovely, non-computer screen things like walk, read, talk, etc.

On Sunday, we left in the early afternoon and arrived home for several hours to decompress before gearing up for the following workweek.

How I Would Update this Weekend Getaway for Our Lives Today

Now that it's September again, I'm itching to get out into nature and explore a bit more with my husband. And now, we've got a baby!

So how would I adapt this very affordable getaway for our lives now?

  • We'd Get to Leave Earlier Friday Evening: Paul now gets home at 4:45 p.m. on nights he's not in class (and there's no class on Fridays!), so we could get on the road even earlier. Of course, this takes a bit of finagling on my part, so I'd need to make sure Conner is fed, changed, and up from his afternoon nap. We'd probably need to make a stop or two on the way for diaper changes and such. So, we would likely get there around the same time as our last trip and possibly a little later.
  • Packing Changes: I could pack in the days prior to us leaving during naptimes and while the baby is otherwise occupied with emptying our bookshelves (*sigh*…at least he likes to play with books!). New things we'd need to include are baby food, bibs (actually just one − we received a reusable bib just like this one as a gift and I can't speak highly enough about it for people who like to travel and don't want to pack tons of cloth ones!), play pen, disposable diapers (easier than cloth diapers when traveling), baby wipes, a few toys, baby food, baby spoons, baby sunscreen, baby swim tube…you get the idea. I would also make sure we have some easily-accessible baby snacks and foods in the car for the ride there.
  • An Extra Item to Buy: I'd definitely splurge on some baby-safe mosquito repellent. In fact, we should get some of that now since we live in Houston…but I hate the idea of putting extra stuff/chemicals on our little guy! So, I go back and forth on this one.
  • Choose a Different Campsite: While we loved the campsite, admittedly it was way too filled with people looking to be loud and obnoxious on Friday nights. That won't work when we're trying to get the little guy down. So, we'll likely look for a more family-friendly campsite.
  • Sleeping Arrangement Shuffle: This is the one thing I'm worried about. Yes, we have a 6-person tent. However, how can we most closely simulate the little guy's sleeping arrangements at home inside the tent so that sleep time goes on without lots of crying? He did really well with sleep time while travelling up to PA recently, and we used a play pen then. However, I'm not sure that his play pen − which used to be his bed, until we finally moved him up to his crib a month ago − can fit inside of the tent along with the two of us. So this might look like rolled up blankets to create a buffer bed for him, and of course his normal blankets and sleep-time accouterments from home.

Well, there you have it − a look at our $167.74 getaway, plus our plans for how to make it work for us again!

Do you have a low-cost weekend getaway that you already went on, or one you've been dreaming up in front of the work lunchroom vending machine? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.
3 replies
  1. Bill in Houston
    Bill in Houston says:

    I was going to ask if your campsite went “Thumpa-thumpa” all weekend. My wife and I tried tubing in New Braunfels back in 2010. The campground we chose was full of Phi Kappa WOOOOO members on one side, and wannabe rappers (car stereos played the entire time) on the other. This was not the tubing with work friends I remembered from 1985. It wasn’t even the tubing with high school classmates my wife remembered from 1992. Man, I’m old.

    We just returned from a “bucket list” weekend that was far from frugal, but it fulfilled a lifelong dream for me. We did save a few dollars here and there (I used airline miles so my wife and little boy could fly to NYC for free, we stayed with family for four nights.). I forgot to mention that my infant daughter still flies for free. We also brought HER infant seat and stroller and gate checked them (free).

    Where did we spend money? $600 for concert tickets. (Yeah, it was a scalper.) $300 for my airfare. $250 for rental car with kid seat and GPS. $40 for gas. $230 for date night dinner at Capital Grille across from Radio City. Took my folks out to dinner for $120. $1540 in all. Spread out over 3 months. Used my United card to get free bag check, and used it/paid off to pay for what we did. Was this worth it to see Jeff Lynne and ELO at Radio City Music Hall? Yes! Would I do it again? Not like that. Maybe he’ll tour the US next year.

    Bill 🙂

    Reply
    • Amanda L Grossman
      Amanda L Grossman says:

      Absolutely — on everything you just said:). Camping is not for everyone, but for those who love it, I think we REALLY love it. I’m chomping at the bit for some time in nature!

      Where did you guys go camping?

      Reply

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