For most college students, spring break can never come fast enough. Where winter break comes with family obligations and summer break often involves a full or part-time job, spring break is the one time of year to explore and let loose.
But for many students, expensive resort packages and crowded tourist destinations are less than appealing. Whether you’re trying to save money or just to get off the beaten path, here are some alternatives to a traditional spring break.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
If you’re trying to save money and want a different spring break experience, go camping. Camping is generally less inexpensive – as long as you prepare accordingly.
First, decide what kind of camping experience you want. Do you want to visit a state park near you or travel somewhere like the Grand Tetons or Yosemite?
Your location will also determine what kind of gear you need. If you don’t have any camping equipment, choose a place that won’t require special gear.
Instead of buying camping gear, you can rent it from outdoor equipment stores. This lets you try out tents, packs and other necessary gear without splurging. If you plan on going camping regularly, you can buy gently used equipment through sites like REI or GearTrade.
If you enjoy the outdoors but camping is a bit too rustic, rent a cabin somewhere in the mountains or foothills. Make sure to pick a spot that’s easy to get to over spring break, as some places may have snowy winding roads that can be difficult to navigate during certain times of the year.
Pick Unusual Locales
The laws of supply and demand apply to just about everything – including spring break trips. If you choose somewhere popular, you’ll likely pay more than if you chose somewhere off the beaten path. You’ll also be stuck with large hordes of people, which will make it harder to enjoy your trip.
For example, visiting Philadelphia, St. Louis or Denver for spring break will mean smaller crowds and a smaller bill. If you want an exotic trip, choose Costa Rica or Puerto Rico instead of Mexico. If you like Southern history, pick Savannah or Charleston instead of New Orleans. If you like being in a hip city, choose Asheville instead of Austin.
When imagining your dream spring break trip, really consider what kind of trip you’re looking for. Do you want a region with a lot of history? Do you want somewhere totally different than where you currently live? Do you want a city with tons of live music and ethnic restaurants?
Use travel sites like Google Flights, Hopper or Scott’s Cheap Flights to get ideas on where to travel based on inexpensive flight ideas.
Go Somewhere Cold
Most people travel on spring break to get away from the winter weather. But if you don’t mind the cold, try going somewhere that isn’t warm. For example, visiting New York City in March may be less expensive than going to Miami. Just try to avoid cities that may be too unpleasant in the winter, like Boston or Chicago.
Choose a city that has plenty of indoor activities to indulge in, like museums, art galleries and restaurants. That way, you’ll still have a memorable vacation.
Utilize Your Network
If you’re planning a spring break trip with friends, make a list of places you’d like to visit where you can crash for free. For example, does someone have a family cabin? Is there a sibling with an apartment in a cool city?
Make a list of possible ideas and start asking people if you can stay with them. If you end up going this route, make sure to be polite and respectful guests. Treat the home well and bring a host gift or buy them dinner when you’re there.
Find Ideas via Social Media
Social media is a gold mine when it comes to finding alternatives for spring break. Start by following hashtags like #midwestvacation or #springbreakideas. Click on posts you like and scroll down for more hashtag ideas.
You can also try finding travel bloggers by using hashtags like #travelblog or #traveblogger. Create a special folder on Instagram with ideas that you can share with friends.
Take a Road Trip
Visiting one city for spring break is fun, but traveling across the country can be even better. Search on Google for road trip routes that start in your city and see what you can find. You can go back home the same way or take an alternate route to see different areas.
Make sure to mark possible attractions before you set off and research the best places to stop. If you have a tight budget, pick hotels or Airbnb homes to stay at before you leave. But if you prefer being spontaneous, use apps like HotelTonight to find great deals while you’re on the road.
Go By Yourself
Most people envision a spring break trip with friends, making memories that you’ll have together forever. But if you’re an introvert or don’t want to follow your friends on a pricey spring break trip, consider traveling by yourself.
You may have to plan ahead to find the least expensive accommodations, but it’s totally possible to have a budget-friendly spring break trip on your own. You can find a hostel to stay in or a room in someone’s house to drive the cost down even more.
Start Planning Now
No matter where you decide to go for spring break, start planning ahead. Even cities that seem like quiet alternatives for spring break may still require hotel or Airbnb reservations a few weeks in advance.
Planning ahead will also save you money. Determine what your travel costs will be and how much you can afford to spend. Knowing your budget in advance will narrow down the options and ensure you don’t go into debt just to fund a vacation.
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Conscious Coins.