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The art of escape: Save money on your next weekend getaway

SmarterTravel

The thought of spending hour upon hour surfing the Web for the perfect weekend getaway may sound as stressful as the long workweek you’re trying to escape. After all, weekend getaways should be about de-stressing?and planning one should be part of the fun. To help you get away from it all, we’ve collected our strategies and favorite Web resources for planning the perfect escape.

It may seem obvious, but first and foremost, consider what kind of escape you need. Is this going to be a weekend geared towards rekindling romance, or one for hanging out with friends? Next, decide whether you want to stay within driving distance or hop on a flight. (If you plan well, the costs may actually be similar.) Finally, decide if you want the escape to be active, such as a whitewater rafting trip, or relaxing?perhaps a weekend at a secluded B&B.

Next, turn to the Web for deals. For a local escape, start by checking state tourism websites. These websites often feature special packages or discounts designed to bring visitors in to the state, and are a good place to look for generating ideas on your own.

Looking for local escape ideas? Check deals from SmarterTravel.com’s Weekend Getaways page.

In general, there are two ways to plan an escape. The first is the do-it-yourself option, which puts the onus on you to choose an activity, a destination, lodging, and transportation. The second way, of course, is to search for packages that take care of the details for you. Both have a certain appeal, depending on the type of traveler you are and the level of energy you’re prepared to put into the search. Broken down by category, these are some of our favorite websites:

Bed & Breakfasts

A barrage of bed & breakfast sites exist on the Web, but it can often be difficult to know if the advertised property is a bonafide B&B or the spare room in someone’s house. It’s better not to take chances, so we recommend the following sites: Bed & Breakfast.com, TheInnKeeper.com, B&B Finder.com, and Pamela Lanier’s Bed & Breakfast Guide Online.

All of these websites permit you to seach by location, and in some cases by keyword or amenity. TheInnKeeper.com also highlights any rankings awarded properties from organizations such as Mobile or AAA. Pam Lanier’s site is useful if you’re interested in special packages?everything from cooking classes to chocolate-themed weekends have been featured in the past.

Hotel Getaways

The secret to getting good package deals at hotels is knowing how to find them. Smaller “boutique” hotels often post specials on their websites. To get a sense of which hotels you might be interested in, start by doing a search on one of the bigger travel websites, such as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, or Hotels.com. These websites don’t go into detail about specific packages, but will give you names of hotels to work with. The next step is to visit the individual hotel’s website. Find it on Google by entering the hotel’s name in the search box. Once you reach the hotel’s website, any special packages being offered are usually linked from the home page. Then you can choose between the offers on the travel agency sites and any special packages offered exclusively by the property itself.

Another option is to skip all the hard work and go straight to Places to Stay. Complete with a map to measure driving distances, this site allows you to find hotel and B&B getaways within a reasonable distance of your home.

Active Breaks

Have you ever considered a weekend hiking, biking, or whitewater rafting? If not, you might after perusing Gorp.com and Outside Online City Weekender. Check out the “Close to Home” tab at the top of Gorp’s home page, which will take you to a listing of long weekend trips. A nice feature of Outside Online is that you can specify where you live, and the site will tell you where you can go in your area for a weekend of adventure. Very user friendly, not to mention adrenaline inducing.

Packages

Find the cheapest last-minutes airfares available from your home airport with SmarterTravel.com’s last-minute airfare specials.

If all of this makes your head spin, there is an easier way. Many companies on the Web specialize in last-minute weekend travel packages. Most of these packages include airfare, hotel, and transfers, making the task of getting away for the weekend truly one stop shopping. This may not always be the cheapest method, but the deals are often good enough, and might be worth a few extra dollars for the sake of convenience.

Specializing in last-minute weekend getaways, Site59 lets you choose by either your departure city or by your destination. You can customize your trip (at an additional cost), but there are no hidden fees or taxes. SmarterTravel.com readers also save an additional $25 off the final price of all packages.

Another option is to use the “Ideal Vacation Finder” tool at 11th Hour Vacations to sift through package deals and find short escapes tailored to your interests. Similarly, LastMinuteTravel.com features a good selection of city escapes. The drawback to both of these sites, however, is that the prices are often land-only, with airfare available for an extra cost.

Whether you opt to purchase an all-inclusive package or plan the entire experience yourself, following the steps we’ve outlined here will help you spend less and get more from your weekend getaway.

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