According to a recent survey conducted by Constant Contact, 43% of small business owners report not taking vacations, 56% report feeling like they can’t be away from their business, 51% report not having enough time to focus on themselves, and 40% report not spending as much time with friends and family as they would like.
Does that sound like you? If so, you should also know that studies have shown that taking vacations actually improves job performance, enhances problem solving skills, and makes bosses better leaders. So, if your excuse for not taking a vacation is that you’re afraid that your small business will suffer, just the opposite may be true. If your excuse is that you can’t find the time, then read my earlier Tip Post How to Delegate Your Way to a Much Needed Vacation for all the help you need to clear the decks and make that vacation a reality.
So, with the holiday fast approaching (just 8 more days until Christmas), why not take an impromptu vacation right now and start 2016 rested, relaxed, and ready to go? It really isn’t too late to make plans, and you might just find a bargain in the process. And, for the majority of business types there really is a slowdown for at least a few days at the end of the year. Here’s how to take advantage…
Fly on Christmas Day
Long car trips are not ideal on Christmas day because so many of the support businesses you’ll need (gas stations, restaurants, etc.) are closed for the holiday. (HINT, HINT, HINT, small business owner!) But, flying is another story. The planes are still in the air, Christmas Day flights are typically the last to fill-up, and you can actually take advantage of very reasonable fares. So, what better way to surprise your family, your long-distance significant other, or old friends, than to unexpectedly show up bearing gifts on Christmas Day.
Timing Tip: The least expensive holiday days to fly are Christmas Day and the morning of New Year’s Day. Returning on January 5th can save even more.
Other Relatively Cheap Days to Fly
While “cheap” is a relative term during the holiday, according to the cheapair.com Holiday Cheap Flights Report 2015, in addition to Christmas Day, early in the morning on New Year’s Day is a good bet for finding travel deals. They also recommend Tuesday – Tuesday round trips for the best prices instead of flying on weekends. In fact they note, if you can plan to travel on January 5, you’re likely to get the best deal for holiday travel. Other good choices include Christmas Eve, Wednesday the 23rd, and Dec 29-31st.
Deciding Where and When to Fly— On Any Budget
If you’re going to use your vacation to visit friends and family, or a favorite family spot, then you don’t need special advice on finding low fares. Your best bets are always checking airline websites for pricing and deals, and using popular search sites like Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz, Travelosity, Kayak, or any other site you prefer, to look for the best fares. Just make sure that you search using flexible dates and nearby airports to ensure that you get the best picture of all your options.
Destination Tip: Try SkyScanner.com for low-cost vacation suggestions.
If you don’t have a destination in mind, then try skyscanner.com for ideas that will fit any budget. To use it, select your departure city in the “To” field (it will auto-fill based on your browser location), then click in the “From” field and select the “Flexible-Everywhere” option. Enter your desired departure date and return date, or select a departure month and a return month to widen your search. (You can also direct the system to “find the cheapest month” but that is not ideal if you want to travel this holiday.) For the “Everywhere” search you must use the Economy option, but you should select the number of travelers. Optionally select to search nearby airports; and I’d strongly suggest also selecting the “Direct Flights Only” option to limit the chance for snafus over the busy holiday travel time. Then click the Search button.
You’ll be shown a list of destination countries and should select one. (You can always go back and select a different one later.) You’ll then be shown a list of destinations with available flights in your selected timeframe, with the lowest priced flight listed first. Scroll down the list to find an interesting place to visit– it may be somewhere you’ve never thought of before.
(To learn more about things to do in a particular city, try Peek.com (or the Peek App for iOS), Trip Advisor destination guides, Fodor’s Travel Guides, or the Dérive App which directs “an exploration of urban space in a random unplanned way as a game.”)
Click the green arrow with the price to see a list of available flights sorted by price. (You’ll also see a modal giving you the opportunity to create a watch on the trip—use it or dismiss it as you wish.) Click the green “Select” arrow for the trip you want, and you will be taken to the airline website where you can book your flight.
Finding a Place to Stay
You might just find a low-cost travel surprise for a destination near friends and family who would be more than happy to put you up for a few days. But, if you’re off on an adventure to a new city, you’ll also need a place to stay. Again, hotel websites are great sources for last minute deals, popular general travel search sites like Expedia, Priceline, and Orbitz are also good resources, as are hotel-specific search sites like hotels.com and trivago (which is particularly good for international destinations).
For last minute hotel deals at luxury properties or basic hotels for the current night, or booked up to 7 days out, download the Hotel Tonight App for iOS, Android, or Windows Phone. You can enter a destination (US or International), let the App use your location to make suggestions, or you can search in map view. You’ll see last minute deals you can book with “three taps and a swipe.” You can also read reviews before making a choice, and have 24/7 access to live customer support. Additionally, in some markets you can use the App to chat with local experts who will help you find the most fun activities, trendiest bars, and go-to restaurants.
For fantastic bargains at some of the most exclusive, luxurious hotels, if you wait until the very last minute—meaning the night you want to stay—download the Booking Now App. Brought to you by Booking.com, the App provides same day, one-night stay deals at 600,000+ places worldwide. Of course the drawback to this is that you may not get to stay in the same place each night of your trip (but hey, variety is good!), and of course you may get to your destination city without knowing where you’re going to sleep for the night (uncertainty can be exciting too!). Open the App and get a map with nearby hotel offers, select one you like, read about the hotel and its amenities, read reviews from actual guests, then book it with “two taps.” The App will even give you directions from your current location to your hotel. (Once you’re booked, you may be able to negotiate a longer stay with the hotel itself. Or just consult the App again the morning for someplace else.) Download for iPhone or Android. It even works with Apple Watch.
Accommodations Tip: Stay in your own private rental house or condo instead of a hotel. Find one, even on short notice, with Trip Advisor.
If hotels aren’t your thing, consider vacation rentals instead. While that may sound daunting, especially for last minute travel, it has become my go-to choice even on very short notice. A great place to start is the Trip Advisor Vacation Rental Search. Most of the properties have reviews from other guests, and you can book some directly through Trip-Advisor while for others you will need to contact the rental agency or proprietor. Options include fully equipped rentals (full kitchen with pots, pans and dishes, etc.) of every type—standalone houses, townhouses, condos, cabins, and in a few places even yachts—in over 190 countries, at prices often lower than upscale hotels. (For example, I recently rented a 2 bedroom, quite spacious house in Austin, TX for $200/night.) In some cases you’ll be dealing with a rental agency, and can simply use a key code they provide to gain access to the property. In others, you’ll have more of a Bed-and-Breakfast type experience, with the owner living in a different house on the property. Either way, you’ll be on vacation but won’t need to worry about other people’s kids running and screaming in the halls, amorous guests in adjacent rooms, or even getting dressed to eat breakfast.
Drive to The End of The Road
If flying isn’t your thing, consider a driving vacation. You won’t have to worry about the hassles of airline travel, and you have the option of a day trip or a longer stay. You could pick a tourist spot that you have been meaning to get to but never have, a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try, or a hike (weather permitting) you’ve always wanted to take. Just keep the drive to under 3-hours or so for a day trip, or under 8 hours or so for a multi-day excursion, to ensure that you’re not too worn out from driving to enjoy yourself.
Or, you could try something a bit more adventurous. Years ago on our honeymoon (a driving tour in Europe), my husband and I perfected what we called the “end of the road” plan. We pulled out a map, drew a circle around our current location that demarked an 8-hour travel radius, then picked a spot in that range where there was only one road in, and that road ended in a town. We drove there, experienced everything the place had to offer, found a restaurant for dinner and a place to stay– no advance planning at all. (That was over 20 years ago, so with Apps like Hotel Tonight and Booking Now you have a bit of a larger safety net than we did.) This approach yielded one of the trip highlights, which we still talk about today—a stay in Grächen Switzerland, a little village nestled deep in the Alps. (It is now a rather popular tourist destination, and may have lost a bit of its remote charm of 2 decades ago, but you really can’t go wrong in the Swiss Alps…)
Driving Destination Tip: Try the Random Point Generator for selecting a road trip destination.
Of course, with technology you don’t need a paper map to help you select a new place to explore. You can use the Random Point Generator instead. Start by deciding whether to use a circular or rectangular region, and then select the number of random points on the map you want to generate. (5-10 is a good starting place.) Select the “Restrict Area” radio button, then enter your home city (or current location) in the “Search for Place” box, then click the “Find it” button to set the Longitude and Latitude. Enter the “Max Distance” from your current place, and then click the “Get random points” button. Results will display in the box. Click the “See it on map” button to open Google Maps in a new window with each of the random points highlighted. Click a point and then the “Find Nearby Points of Interest” link to open a map with just that point where you can locate restaurants and other points of interest on the map, and even enter your current location in order to get directions to the spot. Understand that this is random, so you may end up with some points in the middle of nowhere, but with a few tries you might just get the perfect suggestion for a new and exciting excursion.
Perfect the Staycation
Even if you don’t actually travel for the holidays, you can use a “staycation” to relax and recharge so that you are ready to face the New Year. For many small business owners, that is easier said than done because of all the technology trappings around that tempt you into checking on business for “just a minute.” So if your typical Christmas morning begins with checking email, proceeds to opening presents with your family around the tree (with the phone nearby just in case), and ends with checking email again before sitting down to a family breakfast (with your phone still nearby), then the best way to ensure a successful Staycation is to leave the phone, the tablet, the laptop, and any and every other electronic communication device you have at the office. That way, you simply won’t give into temptation and can hopefully take some time to think about everything and anything EXCEPT your small business.
Staycation Tip: Make access to your phone and all of your other electronic devices impossible (leave them at the office, put them in the safe deposit box at a bank that will be closed, or entrust them to a friend) so that you are forced to unplug.
For some the ideal staycation involves truly just staying in the house and enjoying the company of your family, or enjoying being completely by yourself. (For busy people of every stripe, the value of a bit of quality quiet alone time cannot be overstimated.) For others, it is a chance to get out and enjoy local activities (see tips for daytrips above to help select a destination.), or to visit with nearby friends. You might also treat yourself to a last minute stay at a local luxury hotel or spa (Try using the Booking Now App for that.) It SHOULD NOT be a time to catch up on errands, house cleaning, yard work, or any other chore.
For some other suggestions, check out:
- 6 Staycation Ideas That Don’t Suck
- The Staycation Challenge website Hints and Tips
- Planning A Staycation? 15 Tips To Keep It Frugal And Fun!
- 15 Tips to Perfect Your Bedroom for Your Staycation
- 12 fun and fabulous ideas for the ultimate staycation
- Family Staycations: 6 tips for making your time at home almost as big a deal as your time away
Whether you hop a plane, hop in your car, or hop in place at home, make sure you make the time for at least some downtime during the holidays. Your small business will thank you for it.
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