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How to Take a Minivacation
A trip doesn't need to be grand, glamorous or long to afford gratifying experiences.
Learn the secret behind pulling off a rewarding mini expedition.
Unlike well-planned two-week vacations, minibreaks offer a chance for time-pressed jetsetters to squeeze in exciting adventures on a quick two- to four-day escape. Seasoned globetrotter Alastair Humphreys, a National Geographic 2012 Adventurer of the Year, inspired the "microadventure" concept after tackling exhilarating local challenges (think: hiking London's M25 motorway and swimming the River Thames). Flash-forward to today, and you'll find a variety of companies luring intrepid wanderers craving a quick yet fulfilling getaway that packs in plenty of activity and outdoor exploration. Whether you want to embark on a family trip, a solo foray or group expedition, here are pro tips for mastering the minibreak.
Assess your vacation goals.
Traveler motivations vary and activity levels are subjective, says Chris Doyle, executive director of Europe and Central Asia at the Adventure Travel Trade Association. "The blend of activity with immersive nature and cultural experiences is where the sweet spot is – and the levels of activity can be modulated in terms of frequency, intensity and so on," he adds. Steve Born, vice president of marketing for Globus, parent of travel company Monograms, suggests determining the intent of your vacation: "Do you need to relax and unwind, or do you want to actively discover a destination and get the most out of your time away?" If you're set on the latter, opt for "action-packed excursions in the heart of your destination," he says. For example, if you're visiting London for 36 hours, enjoy sightseeing on an immersive cycling or culinary tour in lieu of trekking to Stonehenge.
Don't let procrastination hold you back.
While traveling on a whim is a romantic notion, "it's not always easy to be spontaneous on vacation and have things work out in your favor," Born cautions. Popular sights could be overbooked and long lines can be a deterrent, he says. Instead, rely on a tour operator to organize expeditions to can't-miss landmarks and arrange transportation to get the most out of a short trip, he says. Jonathan Brunger, general manager of the travel company Adventure Life, also suggests booking accommodations and transportation ahead of time. "The last thing you want to do is spend your precious time during an already-short holiday figuring out a bus schedule or vetting a guide," he says.
Consider your time frame.
An extended trip has become unrealistic for many travelers who have difficulty carving out time that is uninterrupted by work or other stress points, Brunger says. That's why a "miniadventure is a great way to make the most out of a situation and timing," he adds. Even in four or five days on an Adventure Life escape, you can disconnect from the stressors of everyday life with adrenaline-pumping activities such as hiking the Inca Trail in Peru and river rafting in Costa Rica, he explains. Destinations across Central America are well-suited for U.S. jetsetters, he adds. Belize is easy to reach from the U.S., with an approximate four-hour flying time from hubs along the East Coast, and you can enjoy diverse activities, including sea kayaking, snorkeling, wildlife-viewing in the rainforest and exploring Mayan ruins, he says.
Tack on a few extra days to your business trip.
If you're traveling for work, consider adding a few days to your itinerary for a "bleisure," or a mixed business and leisure trip. "We often work with couples or individuals who are taking a minibreak from work travels or a conference," Brunger says. "They are taking advantage of already flying somewhere – maybe even on the company dime – and take a few days for some leisure or adventure either before or after their work. This is something we see very, very often," he says. A variety of popular business destinations across the country offer excellent settings for combining work with vacation thanks to their abundance of leisure attractions. For example, Las Vegas offers the nearby Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area for outdoor exploration, while Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City boast world-class museums, performance venues and shopping districts.
Immerse yourself in your destination.
"Be a conscious and respectful traveler, be mindful to people and place, and be present [and] fully immerse yourself in every moment. The dividends will be extraordinary," Doyle says. Born also suggests embracing the great outdoors. "We're no longer confined by traditional definitions," he says. "Even city escapes, when done well, can feature the outdoors." He suggests immersing yourself in whichever destination you choose by interacting with locals and understanding diverse cultures through cuisine, art, architecture and personal passions such as hiking or photography. For an easy domestic getaway, he points to long weekends in vibrant cities such as Chicago, New York City and New Orleans, and for a far-flung retreat, Born suggests Monogram's four-day getaway in Dublin, which offers time for leisurely outdoor exploring along Grafton Street, St Patrick's Cathedral and other can't-miss attractions.
Set reasonable expectations.
Instead of trying to cross too many places off your list in a short period, focus on a specific area to get the most out of your trip and dodge unnecessary time in transit, Brunger says. "That is where we can come in and set reasonable expectations on what you can or can't do within the [set] time frame," he adds. Born also recommends avoiding overextending yourself. "You don't want to come home feeling like you need to take a vacation from your vacation. Instead, indulge in your passions," he says. "Take in some inspiration sights. And, of course, make room and time for creating memories," he adds.
Leave logistics to a trusted company.
To fully benefit from a microadventure, map out a solid game plan and seek local support, Born advises. It's a misconception that a shorter trip requires no advance legwork, he adds. "You still need to consider accommodations, transportation, activities and more. Consider using an expert, or book a vacation package to make things easy so you can simply focus on having fun on your minigetaway," he says. But deciding to travel on a whim can have some advantages. Inquire about possible deals, especially for last-minute trips, Brunger says. And "a hotel, excursion or other service might have extra space they need to fill last-minute," so you may be able to land a bargain, he explains.
Traveling with youngsters? Give the kids a stake in your vacation.
Getting your kids involved in the trip-planning process is an easy way to avoid tantrums, even on short minitrips, says Karen Cicero, a contributing nutrition and travel editor for Parents Magazine. "Give them a choice of something," she says. For instance, let them decide the trails you'll hike if you're headed to a national park or let them pick where to eat. Even kids as young as 5 will appreciate having some responsibility, she adds. She also recommends bringing along a few creature comforts (think: stuffed animals and picture books) and maintaining habits like afternoon nap times to dodge crankiness or restlessness, especially if it's your first family adventure.
Even visiting a close-to-home national park is a great way to enjoy a budget-friendly escape with the gang, Cicero says. She recommends perusing the Kampgrounds of America website to take your pick from hundreds of campgrounds. While it's hard to reserve a spot inside the national parks, particularly during the peak summer season, it's still a wise idea to check out the NPS website for other parks you might not have considered, she says. Another idea: Look at nearby state parks. "Some places are four or five hours from your house," she adds. She also suggests plotting a short road trip as an easy, accessible, affordable and memorable way to experience the parks.
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