How to make the most of a three day vacation

As busy professionals, Chelsea and I do not often get days off. When we do, it’s important that we make the most of it. Sometimes, that means relaxing at home. This past week though, we hit the road. Including travel time, our fall vacation was a grand total of three days, but it felt like a perfectly timed getaway.

Here are some of my takeaways from the experience, including advice on making the most out of a few days off:

Start saving as early as possible

A view of Devil’s Lake, where Chelsea proposed.

Budgeting was essential for us to be able to pull this road trip off. Before I even determined where we would go, I figured out how much money I had to get us there. I started planning several months ago by setting aside a reasonable amount of my savings and scaling back my typical weekly spending to help make up for the gap. I thought about how much I might be willing to spend on lodging and how much could go towards gas before selecting the destination – those are two expenses that are the least flexible and most necessary when traveling.

Trip cost calculators like Gas Buddy are helpful at this point in the planning process. We used AirBnB for lodging, which makes it easy to see what the average cost of sleeping somewhere will be by glancing at the site’s map around your proposed destination.

We spent about $500 on this trip in total, counting lodging, gas, food and souvenir shopping for two people. That’s quite a bit of cash relative to my annual budget, which is why I had the money set aside several months ago. I didn’t transfer any of our vacation fund over to my checking account until the day we left!

Choose a destination less than 6 hours away

We were enjoying the Wisconsin scenery within hours of leaving home.

Based on our three-day window and predetermined budget, I knew we weren’t going to go anywhere we couldn’t get to in one day’s drive. (Flying was absolutely out of the question because it would’ve easily eaten up our whole budget.) I considered both the distance and the scenery I might like to see on the trip before mapping out a route to Wisconsin.

It was about a six hour drive to our first destination, lunch in a town called Baraboo, including a couple pit stops; a very manageable drive for two people to share. It also helped that we gained an hour from changing time zones. Wisconsin was a good destination for us because it was far enough away that the scenery was different from Indiana but close enough that we could get there by lunch time.

Leave plenty of time to relax

This was what we got to wake up to at our AirBnB!

With three days to work with, there’s a temptation to cram every day with as many activities and attractions as possible. I urge you not to fall into that trap and instead be intentionally flexible about your itinerary. After all, it’s not really a vacation if you didn’t get to relax!

We had no official times where we had to be somewhere throughout our trip. Instead, I estimated how long it would take us to get to each of the places I thought sounded interesting and built a loose schedule around my estimations. If we didn’t get to do everything, that was fine.

I intentionally left our evenings open, other than eating dinner, so we could take full advantage of our beautiful AirBnB location. We nibbled on complimentary snacks and watched movies at night. In the mornings, I spent a good half an hour drinking my coffee by the lake and listening to the waves. There was no jumping out of bed and rushing out the door to accomplish a list of to-dos – I get enough of that on work days.

Don’t waste time thinking about your vacation ending

It can be difficult to fully immerse yourself in the vacation experience, especially with little email and other work notifications popping up on your phone. You’ve put a lot of time and money into the trip, so you should savor every moment of it rather than worrying about the responsibilities that are waiting for you back home. Throughout the experience, remember to breathe and tell yourself that the only thing happening right now is “right now” and not work or school or other obligations. You deserve this break!

Be mindful of the experience you and your road trip partner want

I loved visiting all the boutiques along State Street.

People can want very different things out of a vacation, so it’s important that you know what your road trip partner (or partners) like to do. Chelsea enjoys hiking and she’s a vegetarian, so I spent time researching parks and green spaces in Wisconsin as well as restaurants with vegetarian options. I enjoy spending time outdoors, but I also love shopping, so we explored Madison’s pedestrian mall shopping area. I was very intentional about selecting activities that would balance out our interests.

Part of the reason that this trip worked out so well is that we were both comfortable with the openness and slow pace of the schedule I created. It’s important that you communicate with whoever you’re traveling with and understand what they find fun and relaxing.

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