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Tools to help you find a good vacation last minute

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If you want to give yourself the gift of adventure this winter but aren’t sure where to go, there are some great places on the internet to look.

Features like Explore on Google Flights or Skyscanner’s Explore Everywhere option are designed to show you what’s available in your budget on the dates you have free to get going.

Laura Lindsay, Skyscanner’s director of consumer public relations and communications, told me such tools are getting more popular.

“The destination-agnostic search that we have, they’ll do that first to see where is it that they can travel that is within their price bracket, but then they’re open-minded to where they can go to get the best experience,” she said. “It has featured in our top 10 most-searched destinations for most of this year.”

Planning a trip without a destination in mind at the outset may seem weird, but it can be a great option to get away and experience something new.

Here’s what to know to take the best advantage of these tools:

The world is your oyster with destination-agnostic flight search tools.

How to search

Skyscanner and Google Flights let you do broad searches by selecting which months you’re able to travel and serving up options within that time frame, but they also provide filters for more granular inquiries.

Lindsay said it’s a simple three-step process to look on Skyscanner:

  1. Type in your local airport, or even an entire region or small country for more flexibility and price options.
  2. Type “everywhere” into the next box (you’ll find this in the drop-down list too).
  3. Choose your dates. If you’re flexible, search by “whole month” to see when’s the cheapest time to fly (vacation cocktails won’t pay for themselves, she added).

Google has a similar option, and one thing I particularly like about Google Flights is that it lets you set your maximum budget as a filter.

I used the tool myself last week to chase airline status by meeting Delta’s money-spent requirement –  against my own advice. I was just a few dollars from earning frequent flyer status with Delta for 2024 and realized it would be cheaper to pay now to keep my perks than to check my snowboard for an upcoming trip to the mountains early next year. So, I set the amount I needed to spend as the limit on Google Flights and found a quick day trip I could take to clinch my Medallion again for next year.

So, later this month I’ll be heading to Montreal for 55 minutes on a ticket I spent about $100 for.

While Skyscanner doesn’t appear to have that same filtering option, it does helpfully lay out destinations in order of expense, which makes it easy to do the filtering on your own.

According to Lindsay, budgeting has become an increasingly important factor for many travelers, even as 39% of U.S. travelers plan to spend more on getaways in the coming year, according to Skyscanner research.

Google also lets travelers explore destinations within driving distance of the airports they’ll fly into, and Skyscanner includes an option to look at hotel prices on the whole-month search to get a better handle on the all-in cost of a trip.

Previous Cruising Altitude:Avoid lines and crowds at airports by flying on the holidays.

Other places to look for flight deals

Google Flight and Skyscanner can be great options, especially for planning last-minute travel, but mailing lists like Thrifty Traveler and Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) can also help you stay in the loop for airfare deals as they become available.

Of course, with those options, you won’t be able to do the same kind of exploring or real-time filtering you can take advantage of when doing your own searches, but they’re still great options for knowing what deals are out there.

How do I know where to go?

That’s the beauty of using these tools: You don’t have to. Maybe you just want to get away to … well, anywhere, but you have a cap on how much you’re willing to spend. Or maybe you know for sure that you want to sit on a beach or go to the mountains, but don’t care which beach or which mountains you’re headed to, so long as you can have the appropriate beverages in hand once you get there.

Using tools like those offered on Skyscanner and Google Flights is not just a good option to help you stay within your budget, it’s also a great way to help you find new places to put a pin on the map.

Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at [email protected]

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