15 February 2008Features
In college, nothing is more anxiously anticipated than Spring Break week. But while some students pack up for a luxurious Mexican Riviera getaway on their parents’ dime, others must scrimp and save every dollar earned at the coffee shop. The good news for those of you in the latter group is that it is very possible to have a fun vacation without going broke.
If you have to fund your own travel, however, there are several things to keep in mind. First, you’ll need to plan ahead. Booking plane tickets and hotel accommodations in advance is essential to saving money. As Spring Break approaches and rooms and seats fill up, hotels and airlines will increase their rates. So unfortunately those of you on a budget will have to relinquish some of your spontaneity. When making travel arrangements, make sure you do your research. Use online search tools like Sidestep, Priceline, and Travelocity and compare your results. Another thing to check is individual airline sites. Often times airlines will run travel deals that aren’t available through the above mentioned search engines and make sure to check airlines that frequently have specials, like Southwest and Jet Blue.
Location is another consideration. If you are on a strict budget, then you’re probably not going to Maui. Depending on where your college is located, some locales will be cheaper to get to than others. But one good way to save money is to look into travel deals. There are several travel agencies, like STA Travel, that specialize in group rates for spring breakers. Look to them for guidance on all-inclusive packages. While there is less freedom of choice with an all-inclusive package, they do eliminate a lot of worry and unexpected costs that come with things you might not necessarily be thinking about, like cab rides or airport shuttles. These packages often take care of everything you need – airfare, hotel room, food, and transportation – so they’re ideal for curbing costs. But definitely do your research and find a company that is well recommended. Some of these services are less reputable than others and you don’t want to take a risk and end up in a shady situation. Spring Break scams are common and have ruined the vacations of many a sorority sister.
So now that some of the basic issues are out of the way, where to go? One way to keep your costs down when picking a location is to explore something in your own region. For example, if you go to school in Florida, pick a beach, find a cheap motel room, and eliminate travel costs.
If you live or go to school in the southeast, access to beaches is no problem, and if you’re steering yourself away from popular spots because you’re worried about costs, that may actually backfire. Where there are crowds, there tend to be deals.
For example,Panama City Beach, Florida is an extremely popular Spring Break destination, second only to Daytona in the state. But that actually works in your favor if you’re trying to save money. The massive influx of party-ready coeds has given rise to a price war between the city’s hotels. Some offer packages with ridiculously low rates, like $169 for the entire week, a package that includes a daily breakfast and a free beer party. If you live within driving range of the area, then you can definitely take advantage of the competitive spirit among the city’s businesses and find some great deals.
Clearwater, Florida. Clearwater is beautiful and offers ecologically and socially diverse beaches. While a popular spot for Spring Break, Clearwater is much less crowded. You can find packed beaches, but you can also find quiet nature reserves. There is an airport nearby, so getting to and from your hotel will not likely require a rental car. Depending on how many people you’re traveling with, cheap lodging is fairly abundant. Many of the less-fancy motels offer rates starting at $60 per night. You could also look into renting an efficiency for the week, with rates starting around $650. These units sleep at least five and have full kitchens, meaning you’ll spend less on food.
Generally speaking, if travel costs are not prohibitive, popular Spring Break locations like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and South Padre Island, Texas can often be your cheapest options due to the super aggressive and abundant travel packages out there. Granted, if you go to school in Washington State then getting to these locations may be somewhat difficult. But who said Spring Break had to occur at the beach?
In the Pacific Northwest, head north to Canada and check out Vancouver, a huge city with a gorgeous mountainous backdrop. The nightlife is active, the scenery is beautiful, and the drinking age is 18. Elect to stay in a hostel and you’ll pay less than $30 per night. Or stay stateside and go on a camping and hiking trip at Mount Ranier. It might be a little cold for a tent, but you can find lodging from $40 per night in the region. Or if skiing or snowboarding is more your thing, head to Silver Mountain Resort in Idaho for the $36 student lift tickets.
If you live in the Northeast, the same activities apply. Head across the border to Montreal, take advantage of the cosmopolitan culture and shack up in a hostel for $18 per night. Or take a ski trip to Cannon Ski Resort in New Hampshire where you’ll find lift tickets for college students at $42 per day. The mountain also has great package deals and season passes that could save you some more.
In the southwest, you’ll have plenty of outdoor options due to the fact that the March weather will be perfect for hiking and camping. Spring Breakers flock to Lake Havasu in Arizona every year and there are plenty of deals to find. Renting a houseboat is expensive, but could be cheap depending on how many people you can cram on board. But lodging can be found in Havasu City for around $50 a night. Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border offers similar breathtaking scenery and has lots of options for camping. Or consider a road trip through New Mexico, a state resplendent with cheap hotels, plentiful campsites, and cool cities like Santa Fe and breathtaking parks like the White Sands National Monument.
If partying isn’t what you’re after, then you might consider an Alternative Spring Break. This organization offers students the chance to do some meaningful community work in needy communities across the country. To participate, students raise money for the trip with fundraisers, so the personal costs of going are very minimal. A road trip can also be a fun alternative to the standard Spring Break. You’ll get to see a more diverse landscape and the freedom of the open road is just as exhilarating (if not more so) as a throng of well-muscled men at the beach. Check out this New York Times article on how to travel by car with your frugality in tact.
Regardless of where your starting point is located, the fact is you don’t have to feel constrained by a small bank account. The key to keeping your trip under budget is simply planning in advance. Don’t rule out that crazy week in Cancun, but do start thinking early about which foam parties you’ll attend and use every resource available to help you find the best prices. The tourism industry wants you to travel, and they know that they’ll make more money by lowering prices to increase their customer base. A little research and a little forward-thinking and you’ll be frolicking in the surf in no time.
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