Planning Tips for Last Minute Travel

travel the world

Summary: If a great travel deal comes up, you may want to drop everything and go on a journey. Here are some tips for planning last-minute travel that make it easier on the pocket.

When was the last time you took a trip? If you’re a planner or living on a fixed income, you probably plan your trip details well in advance. However, with so many apps and websites available offering hotel, flight and destination discounts, it’s quite likely you’ll stumble upon a last-minute trip opportunity that you won’t want to pass up!

Did you know there are simple things you can do to help you prepare for last-minute travel?

Tips for last-minute trip planning

1. Set a budget

Setting a travel budget is the first step to making a trip work. When preparing for a last-minute trip, it’s helpful to know what other categories of your overall household budget from which you can borrow. While it’s not advisable to dip into your emergency fund, you could borrow from your entertainment fund, for example, to pay for your trip.

2. Save on transport and accommodations

Transportation and lodging are typically the biggest expenses when you travel. But that’s also where you could save the most money. Here are some tips for last-minute travel planning:

  • Don’t just look for flights from your local airports, check neighboring airports, too!
  • If you’re planning a road trip, rent a car with great gas mileage to avoid putting the miles and wear on your personal car.
  • Expand your thinking on lodging. If hotels in your destination city are unavailable or too pricey, consider some tried and true home rental websites, like Airbnb or VRBO. These sites offer short-term rentals that are managed by homeowners. Most listings provide pictures, descriptions and guest reviews of the properties, and you can communicate directly with the owners to make sure the accommodation meets your needs. Plus, these companies offer free mobile apps you can download to manage your reservations on-the-go.

3. Explore cost-effective dining options

Once you arrive at your destination, your next biggest expense could be food and drink. To make your trip affordable, be flexible when it comes to dining out. For example, if you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, go to the grocery store and cook meals at home. Dining in for a few nights could add up to great savings.

If you want to patronize local restaurants, there are still creative ways you can save money.

  • Dine out during lunchtime when prices are typically less expensive than dinner menu prices.
  • Don’t bypass the appetizer menu. Appetizers are usually less expensive than entrees and may have dishes that can double up as your main course.
  • Ask your waiter about portion sizes. You may be able to split an entrée.
  • Check local papers, websites, travel guides and travel influencers on social media channels to find recommendations on restaurants with daily specials or discounted menus — like early bird, late night or happy hour.

4. Keep your loved ones informed

It might seem romantic to leave on an unplanned, whirlwind holiday. But the last thing you want is your loved ones worrying about your whereabouts and well-being. Make sure you inform the people close to you about where you’re going, where you plan to stay and if possible, give them an alternative number at which they can contact you in an emergency. Traveling alone? Check out our tips for solo travel.

How to find last-minute travel deals

If you can take off on vacation at a moment’s notice, several websites and mobile applications can help you find the best last-minute travel deals. Here are three sites to check:


FareDrop is a membership site that promises to save you up to 80% on flights. Once you sign up for a membership and set your “home” airport(s), FareDrop will send you email notifications on airfare deals to destinations you are interested in. Most of the deals are for flights departing within one to eight months in advance. FareDrop has a free membership plan that provides three weekly deal notifications from one selected airport. For more unlimited deals, you can sign up for the Pro Plan, which costs $99 per year.

Secret Flying

Secret Flying is another website that alerts you about last-minute travel deals on flights from your selected airport. There is no cost to sign up for Secret Flying and get their email notifications. The site also sends alerts about Error Fares, which are super cheap flights that were marked low by accident by the airlines or a travel agency.

Google Flights

Google is the go-to source for information on many things, including last-minute flight deals. With Google Flights, you don’t even have to have a destination in mind. Just select the airport you plan to depart from and leave the “Where to?” destination empty. You can specify your travel dates or leave that blank as well. If you don’t provide travel dates, Google will let you know the cost of flights for a one-week round trip within the next six months.

Last-minute travel checklist

Keeping costs down is just part of last-minute travel planning. With less time to prepare, follow this checklist to make sure you don’t leave anything out!


  1. Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, bodywash and skincare
  2. Medications and vitamins
  3. Chargers for electronic devices
  4. Notify your bank: If you’re traveling more than 100 miles, it might be a good idea to let your bank know you’re taking a trip. What’s worse than going to pay for something and having your card declined?
  5. Kids’ items: If you’re traveling with grandkids or young children, make sure to think of things they might need to keep them entertained in transit, like crayons or coloring books.

If you’re only packing a carry-on:

  1. Think versatility! Pack clothing that can be worn more than once or in more than one way.
  2. Wear your bulkiest items — like shoes and a coat — on your plane ride to save space in your suitcase.
  3. Use vacuum-sealed plastic bags to maximize space.
  4. Take advantage of the extra space in your shoes. It’s great for packing undergarments, socks or jewelry!
  5. When flying, don’t pack liquids over 3 ounces and be careful when packing toiletry items with sharp edges and razors. To be on the safe side, you can check the TSA website to find out what you can carry on and what you need to leave at home or put in your checked bag.

For the home:

  1. Set your thermostats to reduce the amount of time your heat or air conditioning runs. Typically, warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter is best while you’re away.
  2. Ask your neighbor or a friend to collect your mail or place a temporary hold with your local post office while you are gone to keep the mailbox from getting full.
  3. Make sure to close your blinds or curtains.
  4. Get a timer for a living room or bedroom light to automatically turn it on and off. These things will make it less evident that you are away from your home.
  5. Unplug small household appliances.
  6. Clean perishables out of your refrigerator.
  7. Take out your garbage.


1. Are last minute vacations a good idea?

Travel is almost always a good idea, even when your trip is last-minute. It can open your mind to new cultures, educate you on history or just provide you with much-needed rest and relaxation.

To make the most out of a last-minute trip, the key is flexibility. If you want to get away, pick a destination based on what is available and affordable. If you have a specific destination in mind, you’ll need to be flexible about when and where you fly out and where you stay. Your ideal accommodations may not be available, so you’ll need to go with the flow on what you can find within your budget.

Taking a road trip is an easier way to do a last-minute vacation because it doesn’t require scheduling a flight. You’ll still need to book accommodations, which you can figure out along the way. Or you can pre-plan where you stop and places to stay when you arrive.

2. Is last-minute travel more expensive?

While it can be easier to manage your expenses if you plan your travel in advance, that doesn’t necessarily mean that last-minute travel will be more expensive. You may find better airfare or cheaper accommodations when you book at the last minute.

Airlines may offer last-minute travel deals if they have empty seats they need to fill. The same goes for hotels and home rental companies like Airbnb and VRBO. You may even find last-minute vacation deals on cruises. Cruise lines often cut prices close to departure if a ship isn’t full.

You may also save money on flights by flying on standby. When you fly standby, you can snag any empty seats the airline may have on a flight. However, if the flight is full, you could end up waiting in the airport for a flight that has available seats. Keep in mind, some airlines charge a fee for standby, which may actually end up costing you more money.

Finally, when you travel at the last minute, you may be lucky enough to find last-minute travel deals on airfare, but then have a more challenging time finding reasonably-priced accommodations. So, the total cost of your impromptu vacation may be more expensive overall, than a planned one.

3. What are the disadvantages of last-minute travel?

The biggest disadvantage of last-minute travel is that you may have difficulty finding flights or places to stay. Or the only flights and hotel rooms you do find are significantly out of your price range.

Typically, the best way to save money on vacations is to plan out your trip months before you travel. Applications like Hopper, Google Flights, and Skyscanner can help you find affordable airfare for the destination you want to visit. You also have a better chance of saving money on accommodations if you plan ahead.

Double check the list to make sure you haven’t left anything out, brush up on your travel safety tips, and enjoy your trip!

Item #376400_0324

Budgeting In Retirement?

See how long your retirement savings will last.