Are we doing anything fun this weekend?

It’s a common question in my house. Between sports and homework, and fundraising for the sports, and birthday parties, and swimming lessons (let me check my calendar, I think I forget something…) fun can be a relative term. One thing we agree is fun, however, is a trip. And while full-on weeklong (or longer!) vacations are a beautiful thing, they aren’t always feasible.

So why not pack your overnight bag for a quick trip in the coming weekends and make it two days that are truly fun for all? I was lucky enough to take quick trips to Boston and New York City recently, and here’s how I made the most of it, and how you can too!

A bridge over a pond in Central Park during the winter

Plan for the best time to visit. Off-peak travel has advantages, but the weather is not one of them! Central Park was a little chilly in January.

Make a plan: Planning is one of my favourite parts of the vacation. I love researching where we are going, the things to do, and reading other people’s experiences and advice. When your time is limited planning is integral: you’ve only got a short time, so there is no time for dithering! A great place to help you decide your “must-sees” is the local tourism website. I was in New York at the end of January, during “NYC Winter Outing,” which features 2-for-1 tickets to select Broadway shows and top attractions, plus special prix-fixe menus at a whack of restaurants, which I wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for the NYCgo website. Mid-winter is admittedly a bit of a dicey time to be visiting the Eastern Seaboard, weather-wise, but planning for a quick visit off-peak can be worth your while, finances-wise. Conversely, you might find some of your favourite attractions are closed, or the thought of lining up for a show in the frigid temperatures with kids too much to bear. In that case, better save it for the warmer months.

The New York CityPASS C3 option lets you choose three attractions to visit, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island for example

Leave room for flexibility:  Planning is essential to be sure, but you need to leave some room for flexibility. If you can’t roll with the punches, you might miss out while your eyes are stuck on the clock or your planner. Boston was in the throes of Superbowl fever when I was there. I am only the most superficial of football fans and would probably never have scheduled any time for anything related to sports. Still, the enthusiasm [crazed fervour] for the local team was infectious, and the time we spent browsing Pats paraphernalia to join in the fun ending up being a great way to feel like we were getting to be a part of the city; an experience I would have missed out on if I had been too dedicated to The Plan.

It can be hard to strike a balance between hyper-planned and willy-nilly. A sight-seeing pass like the New York CityPASS can help. If your short trip means you wouldn’t have time to visit six attractions and make full use of the regular CityPASS, they offer a “C3” option. The C3 lets you choose three from ten of the most popular attractions in NYC. And you don’t have to decide ahead of time which three attractions you are going to see—you can choose on the go!

The Grey Line Best of Boston trolley tour takes visits through Beacon Hill and past the State House

Get the lay of the land: If you are visiting a place for the first time, especially if it’s a quick trip, I recommend taking a tour. In fact, I recommend taking all the tours! Tours are a great way to see the highlights in a focused way, guided by an expert.  For instance, I got a crash course in paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, seeing and learning far more in the hour tour than I would have wandering aimlessly on my own. We took another tour at Ellis Island and to the Statue of Liberty and spent three hours well getting oriented in Boston, where we took the “Best of Boston” tour with Grey Line Boston. A cute trolley bus took us past lots of historic Boston spots, with stops at Copley Square, Fenway Park, and the USS Constitution at the Charleston Navy Yard. The narrated tour gave us some fun insights into Boston, plus helped us narrow down the spots we wanted to go back for a more in-depth visit.

The purple lighting in the cabin at YOTEL has a funky feel; the YOBOT in the lobby stores and retrieves luggage in a Jetsons-esque way

Stay in the heart of the action: If you are taking a trip to a world-class city, staying in the heart of the action is where it’s at.  YOTEL New York is a place you will want to check out; located in Midtown, walking distance from Times Square, the Hudson River, and easy access to the subway. It doesn’t bill itself as a family hotel, but with available bunk beds, space-age lighting design, and A ROBOT IN THE LOBBY, it’s definitely a place kids will get a kick out of. It had a friendly vibe, and I enjoyed chatting with other guests in the funky social spaces of the hotel—not feasible or advisable at every hotel! My cabin (I’m not sure if they are going for spaceship or cruise ship imagery, but rooms at the YOTEL are called cabins) was very cosy (read: small) but it suited just fine. I liked the efficiency touches—like the bed that folded itself up into a lounge to make more room during the day. On short trips, room size takes a backseat to the location in order of importance, because really, you’re not going to be in the room very much! In Boston, we stayed across the river in Cambridge, which was lovely but translated into more travel time when we wanted to go into the city. Which brings me to the next consideration.

The subway in NYC was a quick, cheap way to get around that delivered us into the heart of the action

Time is money: I like a bargain as much as the next gal. Possibly more. But when time is of the essence, you will likely be faced with the situation where you have to choose between “expensive” and “time-consuming.” Flights—i.e. direct and costly or connecting and cheaper often fall into this category.  This can be a consideration for transportation in the city as well. In New York, the subway was often just as quick as hailing a cab. From where I was in Boston, public transit was sufficient, but UBER still proved to be a more efficient way to travel in most cases. Another time-saving tactic is to search out skip-the-line tickets. For instance, some of the attractions on the CityPASS let you bypass the waiting and head right in. If you are travelling during the peak tourism season, this can save you a lot of time. Again, a little research ahead of time can help you determine where you can save, and when it just makes more sense to pay a little extra.

Above all, the critical thing to remember is it’s just a weekend, and you are in a fabulous destination! Even if nothing works out, your plan falls apart, you spend too much money, and everyone is miserable…it’s just a quick trip. You can always take a do-over!