Sometimes, an unexpected free weekend pops up, or your tax refund is bigger than you thought it would be, or there’s a blissful reprieve at work so that you can suddenly take off a few days. These are the perfect opportunities to plan an 11th-hour getaway, which is why you need to be prepared with an electronic spur-of-the-moment vacation toolkit to help you plan the ultimate escape. Download these apps, and bookmark these sites so that when lightning strikes, you can score the best deals and make the most of your impromptu trip.
Get Yourself There
Hop over to data-driven fare site Hopper.com’s Flight Explorer tool, which lets you search which destinations offer the cheapest flights from your city within the next 30 days. Need to get out of town ASAP? Hopper’s Get the Flight Out app helps you find the best fares leaving from your location tonight and tomorrow morning. You can also search for last-minute tickets to anywhere in the world at Adioso.com -- and sort the results by price to find out where the deals are hot. And Kayak’s Explore tool gives you a visual representation of the flight prices to various cities from yours.
Already know where you want to go? Google Flight Search lets you look for the cheapest tickets to whatever destination you choose, starting with the same day of departure. It’s not unique in that sense, but it offers “Best Flights” results, which shows itineraries that offer the best trade-off between price, duration, delays, number of stops and other factors. When you’re planning a short trip with not a lot of wiggle room, this information is invaluable. (Note that you can’t book directly through Google Flights; it directs you to the sites where you can.)
The NextFlight app is another good tool in your arsenal. While it won’t let you actually book airfare directly, you’ll see a list of available flights on more than 1,200 carriers for the next two days. It’s especially helpful for checking out which timetables work best if you’re on a tight time budget.
Stay In Style
The HotelTonight app is a must-have for any savvy procrastinating traveler. It helps you find deep discounts at high-end hotels around the world up to seven days in advance. A recent search turned up a deal for a night's stay at Hotel Nikko in San Francisco’s Union Square for $319 (normally $465), while a night at the trendy Gansevoort Hotel in New York’s Meatpacking District could be booked for just $225 (typically $345).
Headed to Europe? Blink (owned by Groupon) specializes in last-minute bookings in 182 cities in eight countries around the Continent. And you won’t get an overwhelmingly long list of properties -- the app selects just four picks of the day, all hotels that get its seal of approval.
Jetsetter’s Hotels and Last Minute Travel Deals app is another smart tool to keep at your fingertips (though it's only available to iOS users). You can find zero-hour deals on everything from all-inclusive resorts in Mexico to luxury Kenyan safaris. It’s free to download and sign up, and discounts on last-minute luxe offers are up to 60 percent off.
Of course, you don’t always need a luxury hotel to enjoy your trip. Priceline’s Express Deals search tool lets you search for hotel options at up to 65 percent off -- no bidding required. You don’t get the name of the hotel until after you book, but you’ll find hotels of every star rating in the inventory.
If you prefer to find your flight and hotel in one go, the Last Minute Travel Deals app should be your first stop. It lets you book both your airfare and accommodations at the same time, highlighting mobile-only wholesale deals that are typically only available to travel agents. Last Minute Travel claims that last-minute deals are featured at up to 60 percent off the regular price.
Expedia.com’s last-minute deals booking page is another handy tool that lets you search for 11th-hour hotel and flight combos (though you can book separately, as well). The page also highlights stand-out hotel, flight and package deals.
Make The Most Of Your Trip
Getting there’s easy. But you also need a few good tools to help you maximize your experience during your stay. Start with TripAdvisor’s Offline City Guides, which you can download directly to your smartphone. You’ll find self-guided tours created by local experts in 80 cities around the world that you can access offline so that you don’t spend precious data or incur roaming charges.
If you’d rather get some help planning your itinerary, Utrip is a website that will customize an itinerary in more than 37 cities throughout the U.S. and Europe. You’ll answer a few questions about your preferences, budget and dates of travel, et voilà: Utrip creates a detailed schedule with suggested things to do, see and eat. And it’s not solely algorithm-based: Local experts help curate the list of activities.
If you’re looking for specific experiences, Peek is a site that curates interesting activities in 20 cities and lets you book them directly online. Want to know when and where the best parties, sales and other events are happening in the city you’re visiting? The YPlan app shows you what’s going on in town and helps you book tickets in just two taps of a smartphone.
Finally, no trip is complete without sampling the best of local cuisine, so make sure you have the OpenTable restaurant reservation app on your phone. Of course, the hottest restaurants are booked well in advance, so you should set up alerts through Rezhound.com, which will notify you when an OpenTable reservation opens up at the last minute. Serious spenders can also try apps like Table8 and Resy, which will find you same-day reservations for a fee.