It’s no mystery why day trips are popular. They’re a fun and spontaneous way to experience something different, even if it’s just for a few hours. Whether you’re short on time or money, or you simply want to sample solo travel, a day trip can provide an ideal opportunity for a brief escape. If you’re considering a day trip, but you’ve already exhausted your list of interesting destinations easily accessible by car, bus, train, or ferry, you should weigh the possibility of taking a day trip by airplane.
Isn’t a day trip by airplane a waste?
Business travelers frequently take same-day return flights, but if you’re paying for it yourself, an airplane day trip may seem a misuse of time. You travel all day only to spend a fraction of it enjoying your destination. On my recent day trip to San Francisco, I was awake for 21 hours, rising at 3:30 a.m. and returning past midnight one day later. Totaling the time spent in flight, waiting to board the plane, and traveling to and from the airport at both ends of my trip, I did the math: nearly 12 hours in transit for only nine hours of exploration. Was the trip worth it?
Yes. You know what they say: travel isn’t just about the destination; it’s about the journey.
I won’t lie–my San Francisco day trip was a marathon travel day. By the time it ended, I was happy but weary and convinced I’d never again do something so ill-advised. Now that time has passed and my memories of the trip’s challenges have faded, I’ve realized how much I enjoyed my visit and how little I spent to make it happen. I made some mistakes, but since it was my first flying day trip, I’m considering it an education. Now I’m excited to attempt another similar experience–with a few improvements. Here’s what I’ve learned so far about planning and taking a day trip by airplane.
Start with an airfare deal
Unless you’re flush with disposable cash, you should start with finding a great bargain on your airfare. One of my favorite sites for finding discounted airfares is The Flight Deal–it’s where I found my cheap round-trip flight to San Francisco. Other favorite sites worth checking out: Google Flights and Skyscanner, where you can set up notifications for low fares to interesting places.
Choose your destination wisely
Before you purchase your plane ticket, make sure you’re smart about where you want to go. Choosing a day-trip-friendly destination is a big part of making your travel experience successful. As you’ll likely want to maximize the amount of time you spend enjoying your destination, consider a few things:
- Is there a nonstop flight to your destination?
- Is the airport close to where you want to spend your day? Or will airport transfers take too much time?
- If you’re traveling to a metro area, are there many transit options to and around the city? Or will you need a vehicle? Renting a car may add to your final trip budget and cost you time looking for affordable parking.
Follow the local news
Staying informed about your destination is simply good practice. Being prepared for what to expect is particularly important as there are no second-day do-overs on a day trip. Rerouted bus lines to accommodate a planned political rally derailed the afternoon of my day trip to San Francisco. Had I paid attention to the local news, I would have made alternate plans to skirt the detours.
Get a good night’s sleep
You’ll likely have to wake up far earlier than you normally would and go to bed much later than you’re used to, so try to get a good night’s sleep. You’ll need adequate rest to tackle whatever comes your way. If anxiety about waking up on time keeps you from getting much-needed shut-eye, enlist the help of a friend or a wake-up call app to put your mind at ease.
Plan for downtime
Downloading a book to read or bringing a small project along can help you feel you’re making good use of the inevitable downtime that comes with commercial air travel. Sure, scrolling through your social media feed is always a good fallback to pass time, but it’s nice to have a second option.
Prioritize saving time over saving money
As a budget traveler, I advocate for a thoughtful, frugal approach to travel. However, when you’re as tight on time as you might be on a day trip, it can be wiser to spend a little more when necessary for the sake of efficiency. If it’s faster to pay for a rideshare than waiting for a bus, do it. Rent a bike to get around instead of walking everywhere.
Prepare a detailed itinerary
Preparing a minute-by-minute itinerary of what you want to see and how you’d get from point to point can be helpful–planning your trip is half the fun of travel, after all. This seems like strange advice coming from someone who advocates for living in the moment, but trust me–you won’t regret it. A detailed itinerary can give you a sense of stability that’s grounding, especially if you’re a first-time solo traveler.
…But don’t obsess about a schedule
That detailed itinerary? It’s not meant to be followed to the letter. You don’t have to hit all of your highlights; having an itinerary creates structure, which can lead to greater opportunities for spontaneity.
Consider applying for expedited screening
Watching TSA Pre✓ passengers receive preferential treatment and quick security screening while I plodded through the security checkpoint for nearly half an hour finally convinced me that applying for an expedited screening membership might be a good idea. If you fly frequently and a day trip flight might be in your near future, programs like Pre✓ or Clear seem like a good investment.
While it’s easier to drive a car to go someplace new, an airplane day trip is a totally feasible alternative. It puts a wider range of destinations within reach and is an affordable option for more expensive travel spots. In San Francisco, the average price of a hotel room alone can eclipse $300 per night. The total cost of my own there-and-back-again trip from Seattle? $192, including flight, airport transfers, transit and meals. Plus, I made some great new memories in a city that I love.
If you’re considering taking a day trip by plane, where would you go?