Spring break is around the corner, and you’re ready to chill. But while you’ve been slaving away to pass your midterms, you haven’t made any plans — and you don’t have much money.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
A good spring break doesn’t require a ton of cash: a place to go, a way to get there, somewhere to stay, cheap food, and — for those of proper age — perhaps a drink or two. Check out our money-saving, fun-boosting tips:
1. Plan ahead
Depending on your spring break dates, it might already be too late for thorough planning and advance ticket purchasing. But plan what you can. Knowing where you’re going, how you’re getting there and what you’ll need means less stress and less likelihood of extra expenses and last-minute rate hikes. Developing a budget now will help you save on staples so you can splurge where it counts.
2. Check with your school
Many colleges have on-campus travel agents who can help plan your vacation and find the best rates; your school might even get special discounts. And campus organizations might be planning trips of their own, so you can get in on good deals there or find people to split costs with you.
3. Look for deals everywhere
Find Restaurant.com, Groupon and LivingSocial deals for areas you’re heading to or through — these sites serve travelers well, because deals frequently pop up for food and hotels. When booking or buying anything, look for online promotional codes and discounts too. When you’re in a hotel or all-night diner, grab one of those deal books from the corner stuffed with tourist brochures — they’ve got maps and coupons.
4. Be outgoing
When you’re traveling, don’t be shy about talking to the locals — first, because meeting new people is what travel is all about, but just as important, locals can tell you what’s worth checking out and what’s an overpriced tourist trap. They’ll save you time and money.
5. Don’t buy stupid souvenirs
Most of us cut loose on vacation, including with our wallets. While it’s fun to be impulsive about what you do and where you go, don’t succumb to impulse buys of tourist junk. You can find that stuff cheaper online anyway.
6. Know the local laws
Speed limits are obvious, but some states — and certainly foreign countries — have different rules about driving and what could get you pulled over, including driving while on the phone. The last thing you need on a trip is a brush with the law, which could mean hefty fines or worse. There may also be noise ordinances, or restrictions on what you can have at the beach.
7. Gather your posse
Cost sharing is a great way to cut car, hotel and other travel expenses. Try to collect a group of friends with useful skills: your obsessive-compulsive roommate who’s organized and can keep track of details, the cheapskate who can sniff out deals or knows the area, a sweet-talker who can score you discounts and smooth over ruffled feathers, and somebody who can cook so you don’t eat sandwiches and potato chips all week.
8. Wield your student ID
Especially if you’re going to a popular destination with high prices, there are probably student discounts that can bring things down to more reasonable rates. Sometimes you need a local ID, sometimes not, so ask. On the other hand, there are a lot of people looking to scam students on spring break, so be skeptical of “student discounts.”
9. Gather all the necessities
If you’re the type to have a little party the night before you go, you’ll probably end up packing at the last minute. Make a list so you don’t forget stuff like sunglasses, hat, clothes, sneakers and sandals, camera and whatever else you might need. That will keep you from having to buy them again at your destination.
If you’re going to be drinking, bring your own. Alcohol isn’t cheap, and you won’t immediately know where the best prices and drink specials are on arrival. So bring your own — but only if you’re old enough to legally have it. And be careful — the quickest way to ruin any trip is to overindulge, and one place you don’t want to save is with free lodging in the local jail.
11. Load up on groceries
This is why you want a cook in the group – so you don’t have to eat out for every meal, but you don’t have to subsist on your usual dorm fare of ramen either.
12. Harness your smartphone
Of course you’ll probably want to take plenty of selfies. But beyond that, your device can be a great travel tool. TheStreet has a great rundown of apps to make your spring break trip cheaper, safer and more fun.
13. Get off the beaten path
You already know the most popular places for spring break — Las Vegas, South Padre, Daytona, Key West, Cancun — and so does everyone else. So pick somewhere less popular for a more interesting experience and cheaper air and hotel rates. MoneyCrashers offers an interesting list of alternative destinations as well as ways to get better deals at some of the traditional spring break sites. Another option — potentially a more meaningful one — is to volunteer during your spring break. There are a number of organizations, like International Volunteer HQ, that arrange for volunteers to travel affordably to places like Guatemala, Costa Rica, Romania and the Philippines to help out in such roles as teachers, work on agriculture and conservation projects and more.
14. Cheap international destinations
If you’re looking abroad, you might want to skip Europe; your dollars just won’t stretch as far there. Instead, think south of the border and the Caribbean. A list of affordable destinations from U.S. News & World Report highlights places like Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Bermuda. Again, if you are willing to volunteer during your break, it will open up a lot more affordable international options.
15. Go for pedestrian-friendly
One more thing to factor into your destination decision – if you’re not going on a road trip, at least – is how you’ll get around. Pick a destination where you won’t have to rent a car: Look for places where everything worthwhile is within walking distance, or pick a place that has good, cheap public transit and bike rentals.
While we’re on the subject, check out: “The 35 Most Walkable Cities in America.”
16. Road trip
As we just mentioned, one way to save might be a road trip. Wherever you’re going, you’ll have a way to get around. If you listen to our earlier advice and decide to travel with your buddies, you can take the most fuel-efficient car among you and split the cost of gas. Traveling with friends can be fun wherever you’re going.
17. Take a cruise
Here’s an all-inclusive solution for spring break. As the site CruiseCritic explains:
Cruising is a smart vacation option for college students for so many reasons: It’s affordable, it’s low-hassle, and cruise ships provide plenty of free entertainment, activities and nightlife. For students on a tight budget, cruising gives you big bang for your buck, offering inclusive meals, the opportunity to visit several destinations in one shot, and, if you have a port within driving distance, a way to avoid airfare.
The post has a useful Q & A specifically for college students on spring break. Be sure to shop around for special deals on spring break cruises before you book.
18. Fly flexible
To save on airfare, especially at this late stage in the game, you need to be flexible. Don’t turn up your nose at midweek or middle-of-the-night flights – they’re the cheapest. Use your frequent flier miles now, or ask your parents for theirs. And, as always, look for deals; booking flight and hotel together can save hundreds.
19. Consider hostels
Hostels are a cheap solution when you need a place to crash. And while it’s true you can’t party at many hostels, how much of your spring break will you be spending there anyway?
20. Call on friends (or friends of friends) and family
If you know anybody near your destination, maybe you can get a free room from someone you know and trust. Just don’t abuse your welcome, and throw them a few bucks for what you use in food and electricity — it would’ve been far more expensive otherwise.
21. Other people’s homes
The alternatives for vacation rentals, spare bedrooms and apartment swapping opportunities have exploded in the last few years. In addition to looking for good deals through Airbnb and VRBO, you could look for a free or cheap place to sleep — and interesting locals to meet — at couchsurfing.com.
22. Camp out
If you’re going on a road trip and plan on slumming it, you could always stay in your vehicle — but that’s often illegal. A better option is to find a nearby campground, which is also a great place to make new friends and cook out.
23. Hit the buffets
Sometimes all-you-can-eat is all you can afford. Find out where the best happy hour and buffet places are in the area, from locals or online.
24. Use the kitchen
If you’ve got a place with a kitchen, make use of it – and not just the microwave. Cooking is way cheaper than eating out every day, and if you make just one or two big meals, the leftovers can last all week.
25. Take advantage of hotel freebies
If you get complimentary breakfast or any kind of on-site discounts, make use of them. Watch out for stuff in your room that costs you, though: That mini-bar is not your friend.
26. Somebody else’s school
If the local college has spring break on a different week than you do, there are probably some events happening on campus — which might include free food.
Now you’re ready to party. Just don’t do anything we wouldn’t do: In other words, stay safe and don’t waste money!
What’s the best road trip or spring break adventure you’ve experienced? What made it so great? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.