Have you ever thought about heading to the airport without travel plans and booking a last minute flight to a random place right on the spot? Jazzy and Ben, who run the travel blog Road Affair, took this very approach for a recent trip.
They went to the airport in Chicago without any travel plans and bought plane tickets for a last minute trip to Iceland. “During the pandemic we found ourselves craving travel even more than usual,” says Jazzy. “But planning trips became impossible. So whenever there was a window of opportunity to escape, we jumped on it with a spontaneous trip to somewhere.”
They’re not alone. According to a new study from the site Skyscanner, in the post-pandemic era, spontaneity is the new name of the game in travel, and travelers are booking more last minute trips than ever.
Skyscanner’s research shows that over half of respondents (53%) have booked a trip to a destination they know nothing about, revealing spontaneous and flexible vacations as the new travel norm. The study also shows that 56% of travelers have arrived at an airport without a destination in mind and booked there and then to get away.
“The impact of the pandemic and ever-evolving travel restrictions has reignited the appetite for spontaneous travel with three fourths of U.S. respondents (75%) saying that the events of the last two-and-a-half years have made them want to be more spontaneous,” says Laura Lindsay, Skyscanner’s global travel expert.
This wasn’t Jazzy and Ben’s first time to embark on an ultra last-minute journey like this—it’s something the duo has been doing regularly for the past nine years, ever since they bought airline tickets on a whim to Cancun, Mexico. “It all started when we got stuck trying to hitch a ride out of Chicago, as we were embarking on a journey to hitchhike the USA,” says Jazzy. “We spent that day trying to catch a ride with no prevail—we found ourselves with no place to go.”
Their solution: They decided to catch the last train back into the city, which happened to be heading to the Chicago O’Hare Airport. On the spot, Ben asked if she had ever wanted to just go to the airport and buy a ticket to anywhere. “Clearly the answer was yes,” says Jazzy. “Without thinking, we booked the cheapest flight out—which happened to be Cancun.”
With nothing but their backpacks, the couple landed in Mexico without knowing anyone, the language, what to do or where they were going to stay. “That was all part of the fun,” says Jazzy. “We ended up staying for one month before moving on and traveling the rest of Central America. Since then, we’ve gone on more spontaneous trips than we can count. It’s now our lifestyle.”
The latest Skyscanner data suggests that traveling spontaneously might be one of the most financially savvy ways to take a trip, and with today’s technology, people can more easily book a trip while on the move or even in the airport. On Skyscanner, for instance, travelers can use the “Everywhere” search to source destinations or timing that will provide them with the best deals. “For all bookings made on Skyscanner for trips departing in September 2022, booking within September 2022 was the cheapest time to do it,” says Lindsay.
Saving money isn’t a given—you need to be strategic and savvy about it. “Traveling without reserving a flight or hotel room in advance could end up being more expensive than having everything pre-booked,” says Jazzy. “However, depending on the season, there are last minute flight and hotel deals that spontaneous travelers can take advantage of.”
Depending on the airline you use, you might also be able to save money by booking at the airport. Lifestyle blogger Kevine McMillan explains how this works in a viral TikTok video that explains a work-around for low-cost airlines like Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines, which usually charge an online booking fee for passengers who book through their website.
Besides saving money, a huge motivation for travelers is the chance to do something wildly spontaneous. “The opportunity to learn about a country’s culture by not reading about it—but by actually living it—is priceless,” says Jazzy.
Indeed, psychologist Emma Kenny says that there are proven benefits of last-minute spontaneous travel. “One common stress is the decision making involved in the holiday planning process. This is why forgoing the methodical organization that so often goes hand in hand with a planned holiday and instead choosing to enjoy an impromptu break can be so liberating,” says Kenny. “Whilst it may seem scary to just pack a bag and hop on a plane to take a chance on an unknown destination, you will psychologically benefit as this creates a ‘can do’ attitude and will remind you of the limitless possibilities that are out there. And because you have no clear set agenda, or plans, every step you take will involve a sense of adventure, which is truly freeing.”
Here, some other tips on how to save money on last minute travel:
Be Flexible: “Searching by multiple dates and airports will give you the best chance of a bargain. Flight prices are all based on supply and demand. Because some dates are more popular than others, prices will vary,” says Lindsay. “Consider traveling a day before or a day after your original departure dates, flying on less popular days of the week is always cheaper.”
Mix & Match: “Being flexible in mix and matching the airlines you choose to fly with can seriously cut costs,” says Lindsay. “Look at flying out with one airline and back with another or out of one airport and back into another.”
Find a Spontaneity Buddy: “If you struggle to be spontaneous and you know that you need that extra push to get you out of your comfort zone, enlist the help of your partner, best friend, or parent,” says Lindsay. “Get them to plan some fun trips away and agree that they will only tell you where you are going a few hours before you need to set off.”