More Americans Opt for 'Short but Sweet' Trips

Two-income couples trying to coordinate their vacation weeks now may decide to tack a day or two onto a weekend instead

It used to be that a weekend was just enough time to get your laundry done and pay a few bills. But today, an increasing number of Americans are adding vacationing to the list as well, forgoing traditional week-long trips for those that will fit into just a few days.

The shift to more, but shorter vacations is the result of busy work schedules, limited amounts of paid leave, and tight budgets, travel experts say.

"Our free time and our spendable money are stagnating, so we have to put up with that by taking these little quick trips," says Rick Steves, a seasoned traveler and author of a series of travel books.

More and more, travelers are tacking a day or two onto their weekends and going everywhere from big cities in the United States to spots in the Caribbean and even Europe.

In the last 10 years, the number of weekend trips Americans have taken within the US has nearly doubled, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. In 1995, the number of trips taken that lasted one to five days (including at least one weekend night) was 604 million; in 1985, the figure was 327 million. Although some of these trips were for business, the majority were for pleasure.

"There is no doubt at all that this is a very discernable trend," notes Arthur Frommer, founder of the guidebooks that bear his name.

Mini vacations for busy families

Short vacations are particularly popular in dual-income homes where it is often easier to get away for several long weekends than for weeks at a time.

"For dual-income families, planning to take a week or two off for travel is very difficult, especially for people in management positions," notes Dean Wright, a professor of sociology at Drake University in Des Moines. "For these people, mini-vacations are becoming a real alternative."

Short vacations have become a way of life for Shelly Stuckert who works in Broomall, Pa., as the district manager of a chain of camera stores.

"I normally never take off more than three or four days at a time," Ms. Stuckert says. She has to travel this way, she says, because her work schedule often fluctuates, and because of constraints on her husband's time off. She takes short vacations two or three times a year, she says, having been to Florida most recently.

Travel agents say that their clients are traveling more on the weekends - often making spontaneous decisions to do so. In a survey last fall, a sampling of agents around the country who work for Carson Wagonlit Travel, a Minneapolis-based chain, reported that weekend bookings were up, with favorite destinations including casino and oceanside resorts, theme parks, big cities, and cruises.

Some travel agents say that lower air fares, especially those offered by startup airlines, are helping to fuel weekend travel.

Vicki Grieser, manager of Travel and Transport in Lincoln, Neb., says her agency has had families go to Chicago for the weekend because the roundtrip fare on Southwest Airlines was so low (under $40) that the parents thought it would be a good way to introduce their children to air travel.

Hotels also offer attractive pricing for weekend trips, particularly in cities in both the US and Europe that host business travelers during the week. The rooms at such hotels are empty on the weekends, and the rates are lowered to pull people in.

Mr. Frommer says that one weekend trend he has noticed in the past few years is that parents will take advantage of the rates in these business cities to show their children historic sites. Using the city as a home base, he says, families travel relatively short distances to sightsee.

"Even in the most prosaic American city - in Pittsburgh, in Newark - within 50 or 60 miles are interesting historical sites of varying degrees of importance that are still worthwhile for a child to be taken to," he notes.

Weekend travel options grow

Elsewhere, travelers are also getting more options for their weekend trips. While short trips and packages have been offered by cruises, airlines, and other travel outlets for years - especially in the off season - many in the industry are now adding more of these kinds of trips.

For example:

*American Airlines recently began its BreakAAway fares that are good for domestic travel Saturday through Monday or Tuesday. The fares require a minimum of a one-day advance ticket purchase, and so far have only been offered in the fall, winter, and spring.

*Last summer, Carnival Corp. added a three-day cruise out of Los Angeles. It already runs short cruises out of ports in Florida.

*Next winter, for the first time, Swissair will offer three-night, four-day packages to Switzerland and other European cities. They will join such airlines as Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, which also offer weekends in Europe.

*In the last three years, Boston-based TNT vacations, which offers packages of varying lengths to sunny locales like Florida and the Bahamas, has increased the number of destinations it offers for its short vacations from one to eight.

The number of guidebooks available for weekend travel in the US, and the number of travel ads in newspapers featuring short stays have also increased, Frommer notes.

Despite all the options, some weekend travelers say short trips have their drawbacks, such as too much time spent in transit and little time to unwind. But many maintain that weekend travel is still a good option for them.

Christine Chambers Monkowski, a facilities manager at a bank in Omaha, Neb., says that it's easier for her to take long-weekends than get a week off. She says that short trips work fine for her: "I'm getting away, I'm clearing my head, but I'm not missing that much work time."

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