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The coronavirus pandemic has canceled a lot of things, but your summer vacation doesn’t have to be one of them.

USA TODAY

Smart travelers will make the most of a three-day weekend trip when there is proper planning and savvy research. And since most of us have been in lockdown, we’ve had a little time to research trips for when we’re allowed out. 

It’s especially nice is a holiday falls on a Friday or Monday because using an extra vacation day isn’t needed.  But regardless of whether it’s a holiday weekend or not, a three-day trip affords four days to explore and three nights to enjoy the nightlife of a destination (provided bars, restaurants, clubs and theaters are open where you’re going).

Maybe you’re not ready to travel for Memorial Day weekend – or  perhaps leisure travel isn’t permitted yet in your state. But here are some money and time-saving tips for when you are.

Stay close to home and avoid flying

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Flying to your destination adds stress and can take time away from your weekend, says travel expert Samantha Brown. “Don’t get on a plane,” she says. “Look at destinations that are at the most two to three hours from your home so you can start your fun weekend immediately.”

Instead, Brown says, stay local and use online resources to build a fun mini-getaway. “Visit your own home state’s official tourism website. It will most likely have ideas for romantic travel, adventure and family already created for you like meal delivery services,” Brown continues. “All the hard work has been done for you so just sit back and enjoy.”

Road trips won’t be the same this summer:  Here’s what you should plan for

If you have to fly, choose direct flights

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Connecting flights sap the time out of your mini-getaway, so do your best skip connections, which may be delayed.

“Concentrate on cities with non-stop flights from your home airport; connections add at least an hour travel time and more often than not two to three hours,” says travel agent Avery Harris of Viking Travel, part of Ensemble Travel Group, a consortia of agencies in the U.S. and Canada.

Use online platforms like Google Flights or Kayak to compare flights and costs but consider booking directly through the airline to make it easier to change or cancel your reservation or get a refund, especially while things are still uncertain. And check the carrier’s website to find out how long they are waiving change fees.

I snagged an airline refund amid the pandemic:   How to get one if you’re eligible

Make Monday your bonus day

For those looking for a three-day getaway that doesn’t break the bank, one way to save money is to be flexible. “Most people automatically assume adding Friday to their long weekend is best, but consider taking Monday off instead,” recommends Harris. “Many airlines and airports run fewer flights on Sundays and with heavier corporate traffic on Monday, there are often more options and therefore potentially cheaper flights.”

Consider going somewhere you’ve already been

If you loved a past visit to a major U.S. city that’s easy to get to, you’re probably going to have a good time there again. “There are always new things whether it’s a restaurant, show, exhibit that you missed on a previous visit,” says Harris.

Try staying in a city’s business district on the weekend

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In popular, touristy cities, the centrally-placed hotels tend to have steep prices on the weekend. With public transportation and ride-share apps, it’s easy to get to the city’s tourist epicenter if don’t want to pay sky-high room rates.

Selecting hotels in another section of a city is a way to save. “Consider business districts and financial districts in cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco for weekend trips since they have more availability once business travelers head home,” says Steve Heitzner, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of Marriott International for the Americas.

Swap the pricey city and stay in a neighboring town

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It’s tempting to want to be close to all the sites and culture, but know that hotel prices may usurp most of your travel budget, especially if it’s a holiday weekend.

“Consider weekend destinations that are close to the major hubs such as Bellevue, close to downtown Seattle, or Arlington and Alexandria in Virginia both close to Washington, DC,” says Heitzner. Public transportation or a quick Uber or Lyft ride is worth the money that can be saved.

Pack light

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Are you always over the luggage weight limit and want the keys to not overpacking? Here are tips for keeping your suitcase light.

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Not only do direct flights save time, so does traveling by carry-on.  “The beauty of only being away for a few short days is that you really don’t need much,” says Dianna Vaughan, Global Head and SVP, All Suites Brands by Hilton. She also says packing light minimizes travel hassles. “You won’t have to waste time standing around baggage claim,” adds Vaughan.

Smart weekend travelers disembark the plane and start their vacation in minutes. A nifty carry-on to consider is the Samsonite Mobile Solution Expandable 19” Spinner, with USB charging port.

Book a suite-style room for more space

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Long-weekends can even be more relaxing in a larger space.  To help make the most of a mini-getaway, Home2 Suites by Hilton, Embassy Suites, and Homewood Suites, Hilton’s all-suites brands, unveiled their Seize the Weekend program, filled with tips and inspirations to help your next long weekend escape even better.

Be spontaneous with hotel plans

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Hotels are hoping for an upswing in travel and want you to know your experience will be safer, and cleaner, during the coronavirus pandemic.

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The HotelTonight app can be useful for catching a last-minute reservation, if you want to be a bit more spontaneous with lodging decisions. Last-minute deals can yield luxe experiences at a savings, if can take a leap of faith with hotel plans.

“Same-day hotel rates are, on average, 10% percent less than booking the day before,” says HotelTonight founder Sam Shank. “Rates are the highest at 8am and then progressively decrease. Prices drop dramatically around 4pm, and you can save another 5 to 10 percent by waiting until 8 pm to book. This is true year-round.”

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