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It's Not Too Late for a Last-Minute (Affordable) Summer Getaway

Molly Triffin

When you’re faced with seemingly endless meetings, deadlines, and emails, something’s gotta give. For most of us, that thing is R&R.

That may explain why so many Americans don’t use all their paid vacation days: If you’re feeling stretched at work, the thought of taking a break can sound nearly impossible. But the evidence is clear: Chugging away isn’t doing you (or your career) any favors.

As it turns out, vacations can actually improve your job performance, rather than dragging you further behind, and even increase your likelihood of getting a raise or bonus. Not only that, but getting away can boost your emotional well-being, too.

And with Labor Day fast approaching, now’s the perfect time to plan a last-minute getaway. Whether you want to party at the beach with your friends, enjoy a romantic weekend or go solo, here are seven tips to help you get a break—without going broke.

Scan for flight deals, destination: anywhere.

When it comes to last-minute trips, plane tickets are probably your biggest challenge. According to a study by CheapAir, you’re most likely to get a rock-bottom fare at around 54 days out—and the two weeks pre-departure tend to have the steepest prices. Still, there are strategies that can yield a bargain.

“Look for deals first, then choose the destination,” says Becky Pokora, travel blogger at SightDoing. “Most people start the other way around, saying, ‘I want to go to Hawaii,’ and then look for ways to save on that particular trip. But it’s often better to search for pre-made packages, airfare sales or special promotions.”

With that in mind, Skyscanner is your new best friend. Enter your starting location and dates, then for the destination, click “Everywhere.” The site will pull up a list of flights in order of cost. Google Flights offers a similar “Everywhere” service, plus a handy feature to filter results based on the type of trip you’re in the mood for, from ecotourism to culture. If you’re feeling super spontaneous, the app GTFO (Get the Flight Out) offers up round-trip tickets leaving that night or the following morning.

Twitter is also a must. Follow @JetBlueCheeps, where the airline famously tweets about their killer, eleventh-hour sales; @TheFlightDeal for a round-up of travel bargains that come in at $.06 per mile or less; and @airfarewatchdog, which publishes deals from all airlines. (Just be ready to act quickly—these get swooped up fast.)

Hit the pavement instead.

Of course, avoiding air travel altogether may be the most economical option. “Use a website like Fuel Economy to estimate the cost of your trip and figure out whether it’s cheaper to fly or drive,” says Kristina Portillo, founder of Business Travel Life.

The Roadtrippers app can help you out by suggesting sample itineraries and cool stops along the way, themed trips like movie filming locations or guides to haunted places and decent roadside lodgings within your price range.

Save on swanky hotel rooms.

Once you’ve landed on a destination, find a place to bed down. In addition to HotelTonight, which lists luxury accommodations at up to 70 percent off, check out RoomerTravel. People who had to cancel a trip and are stuck with a hotel room they can’t get out of list their reservations for other travelers to purchase at more than 80 percent below market price.

Branching out to less popular areas of a city is another savvy move. Look for accommodations in the suburbs of a major city, but right on the subway line with easy access to the main attractions. Or consider staying in a city’s business district, as hotels there will offer better rates during weekends and holidays, says travel advisor Suzanne Wolko of PhilaTravelGirl.

Or rent for even less.

You already know that renting a vacation home through Airbnb, VRBO or HomeAway is often thriftier than a hotel stay. “You get double the space for half the cost,” says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. “Plus you have access to a kitchen, so you can prepare most of your own meals.”

Now there’s a website that can nudge home rental prices even lower, allowing travelers to save up to 50 percent off home rentals. Through Tansler, you can name the price you want to pay, then owners from properties you like compete for the booking. The first host to accept the offer confirms the reservation.

Pitch a tent.

New apps are giving the old-school, low-budget camping trip a nice upgrade. First, book a site online using ReserveAmerica. Then sign up for the Moonlight app, where you can import your campground reservations, access meal and activity recommendations and coordinate itineraries and details with your group, like who’s bringing food and equipment.

If you’re not into roughing it, scan the luxe accommodations on GlampingHub, where you can choose from cozy tree houses, fancy yurts and secluded cabins. Or book a reservation with Under Canvas, which operates hotel-quality camps next to four National Parks.

See the sights—at a discount.

You may subscribe to daily deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial in your hometown, but don’t forget about them when you’re traveling, too. “It’s a great way to get local deals on dining and activities,” Portillo says. “I recently bought a last-minute Groupon for a vineyard tour and tasting for 50 percent off the normal price.”

While you’re researching, don’t forget to look for free entertainment, too—from movies under the stars in public parks to gratis museum admissions. Check the city’s website in your destination of choice for a calendar of events.

Be flexible.

Finally, make sure you’re approaching your spontaneous travel plans with the right mindset. If you have a rigid idea of what you want, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, from sky-high rates to hotels with no vacancy.

“Be flexible with travel dates, keep an open mind about trying new airlines or accommodations and consider heading to an off-season destination instead of limiting yourself to one place that may be crowded and costly,” Woroch says. Then relax and enjoy.

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