My husband Luke and I took a spontaneous trip to Iowa this weekend. Because we could. We’ve taken many spontaneous weekend trips over the last year and half, some to places I never imagined. This is the time in our life to travel and explore because it is so easy to pick up and go. We both work full time, but our work commitments are only Monday through Friday. We don’t have children, pets, or a house to take care of, we can just water our plants, turn off the lights in our apartment and leave. This freedom won’t last forever, but we’re embracing it while it lasts.
Our adventures have been limited to weekends (especially long weekends, when one or both of us is able to get a Monday or Friday off), and unless we can find a great deal on a flight, we drive. We’ve been on some incredible adventures, all on a fairly tight budget. These are our secrets to planning a spontaneous adventure.
We live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and love exploring our home state of Minnesota. Duluth is less than a three hour drive and is one of our favorite places to explore and go hiking. We’ve also visited Pipestone, Minnesota, which is beautiful but vastly different from Duluth. Look at a map and figure out where you could reasonably drive in a day or an afternoon. From Minneapolis, we’ve taken road trips to:
• Duluth, Minnesota
• Pipestone, Minnesota
• Hudson, Wisconsin
• Fargo, North Dakota
• Huron, South Dakota
• Dubuque, Iowa
• Wichita, Kansas
All of these trips were on a weekend or long weekend- some were just day trips. We’ve been able to see and experience some amazing things just a few hours from home.
It’s important to remember not to compare your local adventures with others who live in a different area of the country (or the world!). My cousins live in Phoenix, Arizona, and a few hours in the car gets them to some incredible places. This past weekend, we drove 5 hours to Dubuque, Iowa. The same weekend, my cousin and her family drove 2 hours for a day trip to Mesa, Arizona. They hiked some beautiful trails and saw some amazing geological features. And so did we. Certainly we saw very different landscapes, but that doesn’t make one boring or less of an adventure. Don’t get me wrong- I’m looking forward to some incredible hiking next time I visit family in Arizona. Dani, if you’re reading this, next time you’re in Minnesota, we’re taking you to Tetteguche, Gooseberry, or one of the other amazing state parks along Minnesota’s North Shore! Embrace the scenery, culture and unique things about each place you visit. I can look forward to different trips and experiences without devaluing the ones I’ve already had. Finding the beauty and adventure in every destination will make every trip more exciting.
Embrace the weather
When Luke and I planned our honeymoon to Washington State, we looked at the average weather for Seattle and saw nothing but rain. We packed rain jackets, rain pants, umbrellas and boots, as well as lots of layers to keep us warm. Before we left, we decided that it was going to rain all day, every day, and it would be terribly cold, and we would love every minute of it. And guess what? With the exception of one gloriously sunny day, it rained every single day. And we had a blast. Neither of us complained about the rain, or about being cold because we expected it, and were prepared for it. And every moment of sun or clear skies we got was a treat.
We had a similar attitude traveling to Iowa this weekend. We figured it would be cold, and probably windy. Our first night, we were surprised by a snow storm, but took it in stride. Seriously, we’re from Minnesota, we can handle a little snow. The next day, most of the snow had melted, and yielded a grey, very muddy day. The next day was sunny, 50 degrees and beautiful. For our 3 day trip I packed 3 different coats (a winter coat, a spring pea coat and a rain jacket) and I wore all of them (welcome to the Midwest, friends!).
We enjoyed having the city to ourselves and spent hours exploring downtown, parks and trails while others opted to stay inside. It was absolutely worth it to see dozens of bald eagles sitting on the ice along the Mississippi, or to hike along the river bluffs. Even traipsing through the mud was well worth it for the amazing views we were treated with around every corner.
Set a budget
Spontaneous trip expenses can easily add up, especially if you are traveling frequently. Set a budget and stick to it. Consider transportation expensive (gas, car-related expenses, or airline tickets), hotel costs, meals and entertainment. Can you stay with family or friends? Are you willing to shop at the grocery store for a could of meals instead of eating out?
Sometimes last minute planning can cost more. When my football team, the Denver Broncos, won the AFC Championship and were headed to the Super Bowl, my uncle invited Luke and I to watch the big game with him and his family in Colorado. It’s been over two years since I’ve seen all of my cousins, and we wanted to go so badly! We were able to get the time off work for a long weekend and we could stay with family. However, we couldn’t find reasonably priced tickets, and driving to Denver wasn’t reasonable for a long weekend. As much as we would have loved that trip, it just wasn’t worth a major splurge on tickets for such a short trip.
To save on hotel costs, try staying in suburb of a larger city, or see if you can stay in a hostel. You might also consider a day trip (or a weekend full of day trips!) if staying overnight doesn’t make sense. Look at travel websites like Expedia, Kayak or Trivago for deals. Depending on the season or destination, you may also look into camping instead of finding a hotel. To save on transportation, consider taking the bus instead of driving. One of my best friends lives in Chicago, and she swears by the MegaBus. With low fares and free wifi, it’s a great alternative to driving, and much cheaper than a flight.
Don’t let spontaneous trips ruin your budget or cut into plans you’ve made for other adventures. Do your research, and if it’s not in the budget, don’t go. Maybe you can take the same trip another time, or maybe you’ll have to adjust your itinerary. Either way, it’s not worth blowing your budget!
Do what you love
Luke and I love hiking. Whenever we travel, we try to find a park, trail or path to go on a hike or long walk. It’s important to us to get outside and explore. If we aren’t able to get outside, we get very antsy. We plan our trips around hiking, which means we tend to travel places with parks, recreational areas, or long city walks. We’ve also opted not to visit places that don’t have opportunities to explore outdoors. When planning our Dubuque trip, we originally looked at going to Des Moines. However, most of the points of interest we researched in Des Moines were inside, like museums and theaters. We opted to visit Dubuque because of all the hiking trails up and down the Mississippi River.
I firmly believe that every city and destination have something beautiful to offer, but that doesn’t mean it will be your cup of tea. As you choose your destination, keep your interests in mind, and make sure there are enough activities to pique your interest. Don’t feel obligated to visit a museum or site because a website suggested it-go with what you love. Keep in mind that many tourism websites are paid to promote certain attractions. According to the city website, the top 3 tourist destinations in Dubuque are all casinos! I’d take the view above (Mines of Spain Park) over a casino any day.
Embrace your weekend of spontaneity. Enjoy this time to adventure with your significant other or travel buddy, or just yourself. Take the scenic road, visit the hole-in-a-wall cafe, and check out the trail that wasn’t on your map. For Luke and I, the goal of these trips is to go somewhere we’ve never been. Begin your trip without expectations, and see where it leads you. If one of the things you had planned doesn’t pan out, or isn’t as exciting as you hoped, try something else.
Document your adventures, and share them with your friends! Take photos, keep a travel journal or make a travel map. We are constantly getting travel ideas from our friends. We love finding new favorite places off the beaten path. Enjoy exploring a new place, even if it’s just for a weekend.
Where should we go for our next spontaneous adventure? We’d love to hear your adventure ideas around Minneapolis (Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa). I’m looking forward to embarking on even more adventures this coming year!