How to Plan Killer Weekend Getaways
It’s no lie. Cole and I love to go places.
I think we’ll look back on our twenties someday and realize that we barely stopped moving. We work nearly around the clock during the week (especially Cole – he doesn’t take breaks, people), and on the weekends, we like to go places.
I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes, I just want to stay home (and we do). But almost every time we return home from a weekend away, I’m glad we did it.
Weekend getaways are our jam. Depending on how far we decide to travel, we have at least one or two days to explore a new area. We’ve discovered that we can hike, bike, kayak, walking tour, learn, and eat our way through a place in just two days.
Maybe someday we’ll slow down. But not yet.
In the last few months, we’ve spent weekends in Milwaukee, Chicago (twice!), New York City, Detroit, Denver, Louisville, Branson, and Eminence, MO. Some of these were in conjunction with Cole’s work events or visiting family and friends, but many were on our own accord.
Living in St. Louis, we have easy access to almost the entire Midwest. And I have a feeling there are more weekend getaways in our immediate future.
This weekend, we’ll be exploring the Indiana Dunes region, and it has got us thinking about our own method of planning and executing awesome weekend getaways.
So how do we make the most of (and afford) mini-vacations? We plan ahead:
We’re usually not too picky when it comes to accommodations, but we do like to stay in unique hotels, cabins, and campgrounds. Some of our favorite sources for finding these unique stays are:
- AirBNB. Hands-down, the best site for finding unique, affordable accommodations. And when we know we’ll be busy all weekend, without much time to enjoy the actual room, we opt for a private room in someone else’s house. (You can get $40 towards your first stay if you use our referral link!)
- KOA. Call it trashy, but we love Kampgrounds of America. During our trip, these felt like the Taj Mahal, with hot showers, wifi, laundry, and a game room. But now, they are a great source of finding cheap (usually around $50/night) cabins to stay in. When we visited Shawnee National Forest in the winter, our KOA cabin was the perfect retreat without having to pitch a tent in the sleet. And compared to the glamping cabins of today, these are usually a great value.
- The Dyrt. It’s Yelp for campgrounds. We have just started using this site for our own planning, but we already love how helpful it is. Plus, we have added quite a few of our own reviews and have already won prizes for our contributions.
- Priceline. Because sometimes, when driving late into the night, you just want a 1-star room where we can lie down for a few hours.
Before heading out for a weekend getaway, we always have a rough plan of what we’ll be doing. We tend to base our trips around outdoor adventures (do you know us?) so we use a couple planning tools to find the best hikes, biking trails, and kayaking trips.
- AllTrails. We use this site and app religiously for reading about popular trails in the areas we visit. It’s best used for current information, like trail conditions and parking tips.
- National Park Service. Duh? When in doubt, let the NPS be your guide. Even if you have your mind set on an urban trip, there are probably historic sites, memorials, or monuments wherever you are traveling.
- Local CVB websites. Search for “(location) visitors bureau” and you are almost guaranteed to find great information. Towns want you to visit, so sometimes you can even find coupons or special offers. This also tends to be a great place to look for specific events that are occurring during your weekend of choice. For our upcoming trip to Indiana Dunes, their visitor website has been extremely helpful.
- Blog posts. When we’re searching for activities to do in a certain location, the best source of information we usually find is through blogs. (Maybe we’re biased) We simply search, “(location) weekend blog” and look for a first-hand experience that matches the experience we’re looking for.
- Groupon. We have found great deals on museum fees, restaurants, and tours that guide our weekends in a city.
- TripAdvisor. We don’t use this much personally, but its Top 10 lists can be great for gathering lots of activities when visiting an area.
Finally, after gathering all our activities, we “star” them all on Google Maps. Maybe it’s because I am a visual person, but I can’t plan a trip without seeing all of the activities laid out on a map. This is also great to have during the weekend, because you can easily access hours and contact information in the moment.
Cole and I are currently living off of huge trust funds, so this part is easy for us.
Just kidding. Although we were accused of that by a lot of angry Facebook users when Yahoo Finance shared our story, we do fund our own trips.
We like to save money (who doesn’t?), so our weekend getaways are typically very affordable. During our long road trip, we were very frugal, and that mindset has carried over into our normal lives. However, we have loosened the purse straps a little when it comes to our weekends.
Accommodations tend to be the most pricey part of any trip, so we always nail that down first. (See our above list for ways we save money in that regard). When we book a hotel, we usually make sure that it comes with a free breakfast, a gym, and free parking. This can save around $20/day, and I love to start my day with a workout, even when traveling.
Luckily, our taste in activities is also very affordable. Hiking, biking, and kayaking (with our own kayak) is free. Many walking tours are free. Museums are usually cheap, and we can often get Groupons for half-priced admission. We aren’t foodies, so we don’t throw too much money towards eating out.
Most importantly, our values about money align well. We definitely argue about the finer points, but we agree on the concept of spending money on what matters.
St. Louis Weekend Getaways
There aren’t many excuses not to travel. If you prioritize your time and money, a weekend getaway is possible for just about everybody.
So what’s next on our list? Well, we have a few places in mind. There are many towns and regions located within around 300 miles of St. Louis that are just waiting to be explored.
- Hannibal, MO
- Columbia, MO
- Hermann, MO
- Kansas City, MO
- Springfield, MO (heading there next week!)
- Farmington, MO and Mark Twain National Forest
- Carbondale, IL and Shawnee National Forest (visited in February!)
- Peoria, IL (Cole’s mom lives here, and we’d love to explore more of the area)
- Chicago, IL
- Chesterton, IN and the Indiana Dunes region (heading there this weekend!)
- Indianapolis, IN
- Louisville, KY
- Nashville, TN
- Memphis, TN
- Fayatteville, AR
- Omaha, NE
- Des Moines, IA
What are your favorite Midwest weekend getaways that I’ve left off the list? Anything we need to check out soon?