Last-Minute Holiday Travel

Last-Minute Holiday Travel Ideas for Every Budget

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How many of you usually travel during the holidays? Growing up, Brian and I both traveled to visit family for Thanksgiving or Christmas. As we have gotten older, we’ve grown more vested and committed to hosting our own holidays. It’s nice to spend the holidays the way we want, whether we’re at home or on the road.

Holiday Travel

We recently learned that some of our friends have made Christmas travel plans strictly for themselves. While their respective families aren’t thrilled, our friends couldn’t be more excited. This conversation brought up some interesting thinking and talking points:

  • Immediate versus extended family travel
  • Timeframe for booking reservations
  • Impact of inflation and short-staffing
  • True vacationing versus active travel

With the shifting landscape of economic influence, remote access, and the effervescent energy of possibility outside of pandemic restrictions, the idea of travel has changed for many.

These circumstances pose the question:

What limitations, if any, affect how you want to spend your time and money while traveling – particularly during the holidays?

Last-Minute Fun

Rather than traveling to visit others for the holidays, some might choose to travel for a more intentional vacation getaway. If you decide to explore some last-minute holiday travel, you don’t have to break the bank – unless you really want to, that is. Whether you’re looking for budget-conscious options or luxury escapes, we have a few travel ideas that could work for you!


Who doesn’t love a great bargain? I try to keep a waste not, want not kind of attitude, which often carries into how I travel. Scoring a fantastic deal along with a frugal mindset makes it all the more fun (at least it does for me!).

If you are itching to hit the road, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a trip. The bargain-hunter in you might appreciate the following options:

Low-Cost Carrier Flights

Save on transportation costs by flying with a budget airline. While low-cost carriers have a certain reputation, Brian and I can assuredly say we have never had a bad experience with them. This says a lot since we fly them almost exclusively.

Of course, if you sign up for a low-cost flight, just be sure you know what you’re in for! Read up on baggage restrictions, how to hack in-flight entertainment, and more. Flying a low-cost carrier has helped us offset travel costs so that we can spend a little more on food and fun.

Receive the latest airfare sales by signing up for e-mail notifications directly through their websites. You won’t want to miss out on these – especially if you land a deal like the one I received last week!

Frontier - 100% Discount

Road Trip Adventures

Despite the crazy high gas prices we experienced this year, road trippin’ was the most affordable way for us to travel. This tried-and-true American experience took us through 13 states, which included our West Coast Getaway!

Securing a trusty steed can get costly if you don’t own a car or don’t want to use your own car. Consider other ways to land a vehicle:

  • Check to see if your employer offers company discounts for car rentals
  • Sam’s Club or Costco members-only rental car pricing
  • Relocation rental websites such as Transfercar
  • Check off-airport car rental sites for better last-minute rates
  • Book through Turo for a variety of affordable, last-minute options
  • Borrow a car!

See the sights, pop into a few roadside motels, crash in your car, and camp along the way. With highways connecting city streets to country roads, you can hit the fast lane for a quicker ride or cruise along the scenic route for a slower pace.


Workaway offers volunteer opportunities in over 170 countries through 40,000 hosts. It’s more of an unconventional last-minute getaway, but if you’re a curious spirit, then it’s worth a browse. This community connects travelers who would like to venture on a working holiday in exchange for accommodation and food. Its primary purpose is to encourage cultural connection while learning new skills.

Hosts include families, local businesses, and organizations. ‘Workawayers’ can sign up as individuals, couples, and even families! For about five hours per day, you commit your time and effort to the work agreed upon while having some fun. Opportunities can extend anywhere from 2 weeks to several months.

Browsing Workaway is free, but a paid account is required to access all features and interact with hosts. Paid accounts currently cost $49 or $59 for a one-year subscription, based on the type of account.

Trusted Housesitters

Traveling through Trusted Housesitters offers an affordable way to explore both near and far. This global community conveniently and safely connects homeowners to house and pet-sitters. In exchange for free accommodations, house-sitters agree to care for homes and pets. There are some options to only house-sit or house-sit with plant care, though most of the house-sitting opportunities include caring for the homeowner’s pet(s). This makes Trusted Housesitters a great way for animal lovers to travel!

Create a free account to browse potential listings. If you decide to sign up, annual plans currently range from $129 through $259, depending on the features included. An interest in travel, a personable profile, and a responsible attitude can lead you to some unexpected adventure and new friendships – even at the last minute!


Before I started acquiring hotel loyalty points, I used Hotwire to book discounted rates. While they advertise that you can book up to 60% off regular rates, most of my reservations were usually closer to 30%-40% off. With that being said, Hotwire is a pretty decent option for planning a last-minute trip!

Hotwire’s Hot Rate Hotel Category features discounted options that come with a catch; Hotwire doesn’t reveal the name of the hotel you book until after you’ve paid. It does, however, show a general area of the hotel location on a map, the hotel’s amenities, as well as its standard price and overall star rating.

If you have a little bit of time on your hands and you’re keen on detective work, you can actually narrow down which hotel is hiding behind the Hot Rate. Compare and contrast the available information with a different travel site, such as Priceline or Expedia. I’ve done this many times myself, and have not been wrong once.

Hotwire Hot Rate

Of course, as with anything, read the fine print. These Hot Rates usually do not include additional fees that might be required to stay at the hotel, such as a resort or parking fee.


Would you prefer a getaway that included more rest and relaxation? If you’re comfortable bumping up your price range, these options offer an inviting balance of affordable fun with a range of amenities.

Vacations To Go

Brian and I used Vacations To Go to book cruise vacations in the past. Granted, we haven’t been on a cruise in a long while, but I’m happy to report that this website is active and still offering fantastic rates!

Cruising is an affordable way to visit a handful of cities in one trip. The price per person includes:

  • Ship accommodations
  • Ocean transportation
  • Most onboard meals
  • Beverages limited to water, coffee, tea, and juice
  • Most onboard entertainment

The base price is a great bang for your buck, but you can certainly spend more for a more extensive experience. If cruising is your thing, Vacations To Go gives you access to a large database of last-minute and future deals.

Their 90-Day Ticker features some of the best last-minute deals in the cruising industry. You can explore this list free of charge, but you’ll have to sign up through their website to access it.

Cheap Caribbean

Are you craving an escape from the cold? If sun, sand, and sea are part of your idea of the perfect holiday, then look no further than Cheap Caribbean. This travel website features all-inclusive vacation packages in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America.

The cost per person for an all-inclusive accommodation covers the expense of all food, beverages, tips, and most activities on property. Cheap Caribbean provides a seamless user experience through their website. You can choose to book a flight and resort package or just the hotel. Upon check-out, you can add on transfer transportation and excursions.

Brian and I booked our (nightmare) all-inclusive vacation through Cheap Caribbean. While the all-inclusive experience wasn’t for us, we loved the ease and service of Cheap Caribbean. The rates were very affordable, the booking experience was simple, and the personalized service was truly fantastic.

Vacation Rentals

Sometimes, I catch myself day-dreaming about booking a random trip for the weekend. I’ll hop onto Airbnb or Vrbo and browse to my heart’s content. Well, what do ya know – there are usually PLENTY of places to book last-minute!

Vacation rentals offer a variety of accommodations at a range of rates. You can choose to book a shared room (like a hostel!), private room, or an entire place.

Be sure to pay attention to the policies, reviews, and cleaning fees of potential bookings. This should be a fun and relaxing holiday, after all!

Brand Loyalty

Brand loyalty will get you into places you want to go and places you’ve yet to discover. Strategize smartly, and you might just find yourself utilizing brand loyalty for luxury choices.

If you’ve built a relationship with a particular brand, you might find yourself enjoying incredible reward nights, free upgrades, and complimentary stays.

For example, Brian and I have had the opportunity to:

  • Travel the West Coast
  • Road trip through Texas
  • Indulge in a luxurious Downtown Denver getaway
  • Kick up our feet in Milan
  • Appreciate upgraded city views throughout the US
  • Book impromptu stays the “night of”
  • Celebrate big moments and make memories at our “home away from home”

As members of IHG One Rewards and Holiday Inn Club Vacations, we can enjoy membership benefits across 17 brands in 6,000 destinations. Brian and I have seriously appreciated (and made plenty use of) the last-minute flexibility and range of IHG options available to us throughout the United States.

Spontaneous ventures and last-minute bookings have become an intentional part of our lives. The way we travel opens us up to new experiences, teachable moments, and, ultimately, all kinds of unforgettable memories. With IHG brands in more than 100 countries, Brian and I look forward to our next adventure overseas.

Best Price Guaranteed. Don't just stay. Stay Smart.

Brand loyalty should be a mutually beneficial experience. If you are already a member with a specific brand, look into the best ways to maximize benefits and develop your status. Many programs offer earning multiplier opportunities, complimentary nights, discounted rates, and credit card bonuses.

To accelerate your earnings or status, we recommend looking into a travel or hotel credit card. Opening an account with a great bonus can get you to your next destination – last-minute or otherwise!


If you happen to have extra cash on hand and would prefer more personalized experiences, luxury vacations can be a great option. They are costly, but for good reason:

Many luxury getaways are fully planned for you, with several alternative itineraries and selections at your fingertips. If you are short on time or simply aren’t into “the details”, booking a luxury trip typically takes care of the planning, organizing, transportation, and more. All you have to do is pay and show up!

Full-Service Travel Agency

We haven’t traveled through an agency before, but our friends and family have. They thoroughly enjoyed their experiences. From 3-day excursions to nearly a month away, we’ve only heard good things.

Full-service travel agencies are in the business to provide personalized, full-scale experiences. Are you seeking outdoors adventure over food and wine outings? Or maybe you’re drawn to historical or filming locations? There are agencies that specialize in these specific experiences! The best part is that they can intertwine experiences based on your preferences and interests alone.

With a full-service travel agency, you can opt for a small group travel tour or a private tour for yourself and/or your family.

If you’re interested in a full-service, last-minute trip, you can:

  • Touch base with others who’ve traveled this way for personal recommendations
  • Access applicable credit card benefits (Chase, for example, offers Travel Concierge service)
  • Google desired travel locations to find private travel agencies to contact
  • Explore luxury options through websites such as Intrepid Travel or Overseas Adventure Travel
  • Check in with the Tripadvisor Forum to search or ask for agency recommendations

Once you find a good agency to work with, your travel plans should be smoothly set in motion!

Mystery Vacation

A mystery vacation might pique your interest if you’re feeling extra adventurous. Pack Up + Go is a company that specializes in delivering personalized surprise vacations. These trips are US-based 3+ day mystery adventures!

When you sign up, you complete a pre-trip survey that indicates your:

  • Origin
  • Budget
  • Method of travel
  • Vacation time
  • Interests

Pack Up + Go takes care of the rest! You’ll receive your details in the mail right before your departure date. This mystery vacation offers easy convenience and removes the stress of planning to encourage open-minded anticipation and excitement.

Specialty Yacht Cruises

While you can use Vacations To Go to select a luxury cruise vacation from cruise lines like Celebrity or Regent Seven Seas, a specialty yacht cruise offers a different level of luxury.

  • Limited number of passengers for a more curated and intimate experience
  • Spacious and comfortable cabin sizes for each guest
  • Upscale on-board dining and beverages
  • Private excursions and on-board activities
  • Tailored daily activities

Specialty yacht cruises grant the opportunity to explore more remote areas of the world in a personal way. The price per person is typically all-inclusive, aside from the cost to travel to and from the departure location.

Whether you’re looking to visit Alaska, explore the Galapagos Islands, or seeking seaside adventure elsewhere, a yacht cruise can fit the bill for a luxury, last-minute getaway!

Holiday Your Way

Do what you want to do this holiday! While life can feel complicated with budget and time constraints, along with commitments and obligations, there are different ways you can simplify your holidays.

If you’ve been considering getting out of town, think about how you can make it happen. With last-minute travel options at different price points, you can disappear for a quick weekend or couple of weeks.

Will you be traveling this holiday season?

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2 Responses

  1. As a young adult, we usually visited at the very least, three house holds for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a lot of traveling and sometimes out of state. It was enjoyable catching with the various families. As to the credit card, I am almost tempted but in the coming year – just how many trips will be taken?

  2. It’s always a fun adventure hopping from one family to another (along with a few stops to visit friends in between!). Makes for many memories 🙂. As for the credit card bonuses – I agree that it’s best to consider the amount of travel planned for the rest of the year. Otherwise, in some cases, it limits the ‘best bang for the buck’ in terms of taking advantage of the full credit card bonus/benefits.

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