How Taking a Spontaneous Vacation Can Actually Save You Money and Stress

Thinking you can't just up and leave? Here's how to make it happen without stressing the entire time you're gone.

Photo: Peter Ardito.

Our brains are designed to crave and be thrilled by the unexpected, according to research from Emory University. That's why spontaneous experiences stand out from the planned ones-and why taking an impromptu whatever-happens trip is so rewarding. Forget the tedious hours comparing hotel rooms, monitoring flight costs, and arranging your itinerary. You'll gain a psychological and emotional edge by not scheduling every move. "The less we try to meet specific goals on a trip, the more fun we have," says Sean O'Neill, the travel tech editor for Skift, a global travel industry research company. And by taking much of the stress out of travel, spontaneous trips could lead to a more enduring "vacation effect"-the term researchers use to describe the potential physical gains we get from time off, like stronger immunity. Plus, you're left with the surprising joys and memories you just can't orchestrate. Time to head out on an instant-gratification vacation. Use these three strategies, throw some stuff in a bag, and bon voyage!

Start with a Quickie

Opt for a weekend getaway that you book just a day (OK, maybe two) in advance. That's less intimidating than diving into a weeklong spontaneous adventure if you've never traveled that way before. "I call it the hot tub method," says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., a psychologist and the author of Better Than Perfect. "When you first dip a foot in a hot tub, the water might feel too warm. But then you adjust, and it feels great." Once you've lived the excitement of traveling on the fly, you'll want to bump up the thrill with a longer trip.

Jump On Last-Minute Deals

Another perk of spontaneous trips: They can save money, says Ruzwana Bashir, a co-founder and the CEO of, which offers an app that lists activities for destinations in the U.S. and select spots worldwide. To find the deals, use an app like HotelTonight (free), which lists hotel rooms available immediately. For flight discounts, try It gathers the best available round-trip flights. (Insider tip: Domestic airfares tend to drop as takeoff time gets closer, while longer-haul flights may get more expensive, says Bashir.) If you have a dream destination in mind, set flight alerts with a free service like It will tell you when fares dip extra low.

Crowdsource Your Itinerary

But how will you discover activities? The Localeur app (free) is your answer. It gathers travel recs from residents in dozens of cities around the world. There's also the aforementioned Peek (free; iPhone only), which lets you browse tours and workshops by date or destination. And you should always ask locals for their favorite spots, says O'Neill. Cabdrivers, hotel check-in staff, Airbnb hosts-they've all got opinions about where to eat, what to see, and where to work out. "They'll have the most up-to-date info," says O'Neill.

Pack Quick for a Last-Minute-Trip

These travel innovations will help you walk out the door in minutes.

  • Beauty bag: The Aesop Boston kit ($75; contains all the hair, body, and face products you need, plus mouthwash-all in TSA-approved sizes. Stash the kit at home to toss in your bag the next time you decide to get away.
  • Packing squares: Just fill the CalPak cubes with your essentials ($48;, slide them into your suitcase-they're designed to fit perfectly-and go. Instant organization.
  • Master list: Input your destination, how long you'll be staying, and a few possible activities (hiking, working, fancy dinner) into the PackPoint app (free), and it will check the weather and generate a packing list for you.
Was this page helpful?
Related Articles