Photo (cc) by Alex E. Proimos
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 anyway: 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. Watch the video below for quick advice on all of the above, and keep reading for a bunch more money-saving tips.
Matt and his friends in the video above worked out a 5-night trip for less than $300 each: You can do the same and maybe better. Here’s how:
What to do
1. Plan ahead. Depending on your spring break dates, it might be too late for thorough planning. But prices are often cheaper at hotels and on flights when you book in advance. Plus, if you have a good idea of where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and what you need, you’re less likely to face extra expenses and last-minute rate hikes. It also gives you more time to develop a budget and save — 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.
3. Look for deals everywhere. Find 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, coupons, and great ways to waste some time.
4. Talk to people. 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 more importantly, 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 — it’s fun to be impulsive about what you do and where you go, but 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.
What to take
7. Your friends. 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. 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 — be sure to ask. On the other hand, there are a lot of people looking to scam students on spring break, so be skeptical of “student discounts” from people who don’t seem like official representatives of whatever you’re buying.
9. 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 need. That will keep you from having to buy them again at your destination.
10. BYOB. 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 is the local jail.
11. 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. Your smartphone. Well, it’s not like you’re going to leave that behind — but WalletPop has 6 great apps for saving on spring break.
Where to go
13. Off the beaten path. You already know the most popular places for spring break — Vegas, South Beach, Key West, Cancun — and so does everyone else. So pick somewhere less popular for a more interesting experience and cheaper air and hotel rates. Here’s nine of the Best Alternative Spring Break Locations from U.S. News and World Report, and check out our list of Top 2011 Vacation Hotspots, which includes some offbeat and budget alternatives.
14. Places with good exchange rates. If you’re looking abroad, you might want to skip Europe — your dollars just won’t stretch as far there. Instead, pick a country whose currency is tied to ours — somewhere in Central or South America is a good bet. Here’s a list of international destinations where the dollar is strong.
15. 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 in walking distance, or a place that has good, cheap public transit and bike rentals.
How to get there
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 you’ve got between you and split the cost of gas. Traveling with friends can be almost as much fun as wherever you’re going.
17. Take a cruise. Here’s an all-inclusive solution for spring break — travel, place to stay, food, entertainment, and a destination for one low price.
18. Fly. 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 flyer miles now, or ask your parents for theirs. And, as always, look for deals — booking flight and hotel together can save hundreds.
Where to stay
19. Hostels. As Stacy mentioned in the video above, these are a cheap solution when you need a place to crash. And while it’s true you can’t party in most hostel rooms, how much of your spring break will you be spending there anyway?
20. 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. If you’re really adventurous, check out online listings for vacation rentals, spare bedrooms, or even apartment swapping. You might be able to work out something cheap with someone cool, and maybe you can return the favor when they go on vacation. You might also try to find a free or cheap place to sleep at couchsurfing.org.
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. Also a great place to make new friends and cook out.
Where to eat
23. Buffets. Sometimes all-you-can-eat is all you can afford. Find out where all the best happy hour and buffet places are in the area, from locals or online.
24. In 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. At the hotel. 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’s 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, don’t waste money. And if parties don’t suit your style or your vacation, be productive and help others by Using Your Spring Break to Volunteer.