Avoid Weekend Travel Mistakes

text by Fiona Clarke

Recently CNN Travel asked readers if it would be worth flying six hours to a destination if you only had four nights to spend there. Surprisingly, the majority responded with a firm yes! So the next question is: how do you make the most of a short break?

I did my due diligence by consulting travel experts and frequent travelers to get their tips for making a long weekend holiday just as much fun, and just as satisfying, as an extended vacation. Here are some tips to make the most of your quick getaway.

BOOK A NONSTOP FLIGHT

Plain and simple: whenever possible, avoid layovers. As tempting as those lower fares are, it will cost you dearly in time wasted. In addition, weather delays and possible cancellations are more likely to cause you to miss your connecting flight. 

It’s also best to avoid destinations that require various forms of transportation to reach, such as an island only accessible by an infrequent ferry or resorts that require a private shuttle ride. Remember, your getaway time is limited.

Also, the more vehicle changes, the more likely your luggage will get misplaced along the way. You may be in San Francisco for three days while your belongings are en route from San Antonio.

SELECT THE RIGHT HOTEL

Choosing the lodgings best suited to your needs is key. Location, service, amenities, on-site activities, décor, dining options, ambience and available packages all play a part in finding the perfect match. So, know what you want, and don’t settle. 

If you’re seeking a luxury getaway by the sea that offers relaxation as well as a host of activities, here’s your checklist: a stylish beachside resort with luxury accommodations, swimming pools, splendid ocean views from each room, sailing and kayaking adventures, access to a world-class golf course, a full-service spa, poolside and fine-dining options and a very connected concierge who can make your every wish come true. 

For city visits, especially large metropolitan hubs, location is critical. Since your getaway is short, you haven’t time to waste traveling across town. Do your homework and decide in what area you’ll be spending the most time. Then, select a property in that neighborhood. Be sure that it’s up to par with the quality of service, style and extras you want. An attentive concierge is always helpful in reserving a table at that Michelin-star restaurant you’ve been reading about and securing last-minute orchestra seats at Broadway’s latest Tony Award-winner.    

PACK SMART

This is a short trip, so be wary not to overpack. With all the handy travel organizers (The Container Store is a great resource), it’s easy to consolidate your items. Shoot for one carry-on and delight in the time you’ll save not having to wait in baggage claim. 

When you’re headed to a warm climate, one case is doable. If you’re off to a skiing getaway, packing can be a challenge. You can arrive at the airport in very layered attire, leaving less in your suitcase than is on your person. 

If you are a habitual over packer like myself, consider sending a parcel via UPS or FedEX in advance to your destination hotel. Just be sure to let the hotel  know in advance, request a signature of acceptance and ask that it be secured upon your arrival. 

Ditto for sports equipment that is required to be checked (skis, scuba gear, surfboard, fishing reels, etc.). Either ship your items with UPS or FedEx, or opt for rental gear at your destination. 

Tip #1: Unless you’ve booked a trip to Mars, you can purchase whatever you’ve forgotten at a local shop. It’s how I got hooked on Elgydium French toothpaste and splurged on a marvelous Mason Pearson hairbrush.

Tip #2: Bring comfortable shoes.

PLAN YOUR TIME WISELY

If you know what you’d like to accomplish on your getaway you can plan your activities accordingly. Be realistic about what you can see and do in just a couple of days. I find it helpful to make a list of “musts”  and “maybes.”

One sensible plan is to choose a specific path and take in the activities along that route. For example, a day spent on New York City’s Fifth Avenue can include a stroll through Central Park, shopping at the A-list specialty stores, tea at the Plaza, a visit the Museum of Modern Art and a contemplative moment inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral – all iconic Manhattan “musts” within an eight block radius.

 Also consider what you and your travel partner/partners can sanely handle. After all, the last thing you want is to come back from your vacation on the outs with your BFF or return feeling so exhausted that you are in need of bed rest.

DO SOME PREPLANNING 

On a recent girls getaway with three friends to Miami Beach, Sara found herself wishing she had arranged her group’s dining logistics ahead of time.

“We arrived at the hotel, freshened up and had a cocktail by the pool,” she recalls. “The next thing we knew it was time for dinner, but we hadn’t made a reservation. We weren’t even familiar with the local options and had no idea where to look.” 

Famished, the group ended up wandering aimlessly around South Beach before settling on a random spot. Sure, it’s impossible to predict weeks in advance if you and your fellow travelers will be in the mood for Italian or if you’d rather prefer sushi on any given night, but reservations aren’t usually set in stone and can be cancelled. At least record a list of the local dining favorites. 

Research dining options ahead of time or, after you book your accommodations, contact your hotel’s concierge for recommendations.

PREPARE FOR A NEW TIME ZONE

The advice for dealing with jet lag on short vacations is the same as on longer trips. Wherever you’re headed, do everything possible to maintain the revised time schedule at your destination. 

For example, if I fly from Phoenix and arrive mid-afternoon in Maui, I would check into my hotel and unpack, have a swim, chat with the concierge regarding scheduling activities, eat dinner, stroll the resort grounds, then tuck myself in for a good night’s sleep. The objective is to acclimate to the new time zone as soon as possible.

If you arrive to your destination at nighttime, get settled in the hotel, order some herbal tea and a light snack, perhaps do a bit of reading to help settle in for a full night’s sleep. That way you’ll be waking up with the locals, ready for your first full day.

Also, experts suggest that you plan lots of outdoor activities for your first day in a different time zone, because the sunlight and fresh air will keep you energized. If there’s no avoiding the need to rest, try to limit yourself to a 20-minute power nap. Long resting periods confuse the body, making it more difficult to acclimate to the current time.