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10 Practical Tips for Planning a Spring Break on a Budget

Travel Team | Dec 11, 2023

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Just because you’re trying to save money, doesn’t mean you can’t still participate in the age-old tradition of a spring getaway. With a bit of planning and some budget-friendly travel hacks, you can plan an exciting, memorable trip.

Pack your bags and grab your sunscreen. These 10 tips will help minimize your spending and maximize your fun.

1. Determine a Realistic Budget.

Grab a pen and paper, open an Excel doc, or log into your favorite budgeting app because it’s time to crunch some numbers. While it’s not the most fun task, it is important for budget-friendly travel. If you don’t know what you’re working with, you risk getting yourself into a financial situation that’s hard to get out of. You’ll need to know, without a doubt, how much available funds you have when you do get to the fun stuff like booking hotels, choosing flights, and picking excursions.

Don’t just make guesses about your income, either. Do the math based on your paychecks and other incoming money so you’re left with an accurate picture of your budget.

2. Choose Your Destination Wisely.

Woman looking at the oceanAfter doing your budget, the next step is all about deciding where you want to go and where you can afford to go. It’s not just about finding the cheapest destination for spring break. Figure out what gives you the biggest bang for your buck. Ask yourself:

  • Will I need to drive or fly?
  • Where will you stay (with friends, in a hostel, in a hotel, etc.)?
  • How much does it cost to eat?
  • Should I find a place with a kitchen so I can cook meals myself?
  • Do I need to rent a car?
  • What types of activities do I want to do?
  • Am I traveling solo, with family, or with a group of friends?

Some of the most popular spring break hotspots like Miami Beach and Cancun can get pricey. Instead, consider lesser-traveled locales where you can get more bang for your buck thanks to less expensive flights and local attractions. The best part about choosing a less-traveled location is that not only will you save money on travel costs, but you’ll also enjoy a much more relaxing spring break without the crowds found at more popular destinations.

Inexpensive spring break trips

  • Jekyll Island, Georgia: Savannah, Georgia, makes many people’s lists for underrated spring break spots, but drive about 90 minutes to the south and you’ll find another gem in Jekyll Island. It’s a prime spot for fishing, golf, and long walks on driftwood-covered beaches.
  • Gulf Shores, Alabama: If your Florida spring break days are behind you (translation: you’re no longer in college) but you still want some beach time, make your way to Gulf Shores. This family-friendly beach town is easy to get to, so you don’t have to spend a fortune just to get there. There are plenty of vacation homes for rent, too, perfect if you’re traveling as a group or with all your relatives.
  • Red River Gorge, Kentucky: Active travelers and those looking for an inexpensive spring break destination for families will love Red River Gorge. There’s a range of hiking trails, waterfalls, and natural beauty to take in at and around Daniel Boone National Forest. There isn’t much in the way of luxury accommodations, but that’s what helps keep the prices down.
  • Salt Lake City, Utah: Get one last ski trip in with a visit to Salt Lake City. There are some of the most affordable ski resorts in the U.S. nearby. See what the big deal is about the lake with trips to the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island state parks.
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico: For a Caribbean feel without the crush of Dominican beaches, try San Juan. You can still spend some time in the sand and sun, but there’s also fantastic history, shopping, and food in the Old Town. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you don’t need a passport to visit, either.

3. Look for Bundled Deals and All-Inclusive Options.

Beautiful beach resort.Travel sites like Travelzoo have vacation packages that are all inclusive. This means the rate advertised includes food and drinks, lodging, and airfare.

Groupon also often has getaway travel deals, and if you’re a Costco member, you can take advantage of their budget-friendly travel packages.

Lastly, some people like cruises for this reason. There’s always something you can purchase separately on board or during a call at port, but it’s possible to go the all-inclusive route as well.

4. Find Cost-Effective Travel Alternatives.

If it’s possible to drive to your spring break spot, enlist some friends to take a road trip with you and split the travel costs. If you need to stay overnight along the way, find family or friends who will let you crash on their couch (and maybe treat you to dinner, too). If you want to turn it into an adventure, pack up your camping gear and stay outside.

If driving isn’t an option, consider taking a bus, which is inexpensive and lets you relax while someone else does the driving. When you travel with friends, you can play games and spend more quality time together on the drive. 

If flying is your only option, keep these money-saving tips for flights in mind:

  • Compare prices for one-way tickets on different airlines, which are sometimes cheaper than round-trip fares. (Just remember that you may end up paying more in sanity if this makes your itinerary more complex.)
  • Fly during the middle of the week.
  • Take a red-eye flight.
  • Fly via less-popular airports.

5. Ditch the Overpriced Accommodations.

It’s fun to stay in a luxurious hotel with an ocean view, but how much time do you really spend in your room? If you’re willing to forgo some unnecessary amenities, you can save money and still find a decent place to stay.

Hotel star ratings can be a bit tricky — who awards them, can they be trusted, what do they really mean — so use them as a guide, but dig a little deeper in your research, too. You might be able to find a three-star accommodation that’s just as nice and less expensive than one with four stars.

For example, three-star hotels are typically geared toward business travelers and long-term stays, while four-star hotels are marketed toward tourists. The level of service won’t be dramatically different. You’ll likely get tiny bottles of shampoo, some dining options, and a pool at both. It’s just a matter of how luxurious those amenities are.

When you’re watching your pennies, consider “downgrading” to a less expensive three-star hotel that’s still clean, comfortable, and conveniently located. When you pick the perfect place to stay on vacation that’s still on budget, you can spend that money you saved on activities that make lasting memories instead.

6. Only Bring the Money You Need.

Financial preparation isn’t finished after you set your budget. If you want to enjoy a guilt-free spring break, you have to stay within your means the entire time.

To avoid impulse spending, bring only what you need when you go out. If you’re uncomfortable traveling with cash, get a prepaid debit card to take on your trip instead. This is a good hack for semi-independent teens on their first spring break, too.

Don’t forget to keep emergency money stashed away for any unforeseen circumstances. Keep this locked in your room safe. If there isn’t a safe, request one.

7. Buy Groceries.

Woman shopping for groceries.Going out on the town is fun, but it adds up quickly. When you arrive at your destination, stop at the nearest grocery store and stock up on snacks, sandwich ingredients, and breakfast options like instant oatmeal, bagels, and cereal.

Considering that you easily spend around $20 per meal, if not more, cutting that cost just once a day will save about $150 over the course of a week-long trip. Decide which meals you’ll indulge in at a restaurant, then take advantage of your hotel’s free breakfast and pack your own lunches and snacks for during the day.

8. Bring Coupons.

Check for deals online before you leave for your trip. Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial have deals on activities and restaurants, and you can filter your search by location. Find a few awesome restaurant deals ahead of time and make your reservation. This will not only save you money, but it also eliminates the stress of finding a place to eat at the last minute when you’re supposed to be relaxing.

Don’t forget to ask the locals for recommendations. People who know the area can steer you away from tourist traps and help you find more cost-effective dining and entertainment options that are just as good, if not better.

9. Uncover Membership Rewards.

Many credit cards, national clubs or organizations, and even some large retailers offer membership perks to customers. You may be able to save on every aspect of your trip, from the flight to your meals.

Don’t forget to mention if you’re a member of the military, a student, or a senior, which almost always gets you a discount. If you’re traveling with a disability, you and a companion may also be eligible for reduced-price tickets at museums and other sites.

10. Plan a Road Trip, Camping Trip, or Staycation.

Group of friends camping.You don’t have to travel far to have an epic vacation. Instead of going somewhere tropical or exotic, explore somewhere new that’s just outside of town. This still allows you to get away while saving on travel costs. If there are hiking or camping destinations near you, consider an outdoor adventure for your spring break.

Ultimately, if you have enough fun, the destination becomes less important. With some planning and creativity, you can have a great time and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Travel Insurance for Spring Break

Travel insurance is a key piece to protecting your money. If you need to cancel your trip or if you get sick or hurt while traveling, without travel insurance, you’re responsible for paying all those expenses. With travel insurance, however, you could receive a refund for prepaid, nonrefundable trip expenses if you cancel. No one wants to pay for a vacation they didn’t take. And we all know how expensive medical care can be. Travel insurance could help with that cost, too, keeping a health emergency from also turning into a financial emergency.

Get an easy quote online or talk to an expert agent about protecting your spring break trip.

About the Author

Maile Proctor is a professional blogger and content editor. She focuses on health and fitness, lifestyle, and family. She’s written about money-saving travel tips for a variety of websites, including Tripping.com, Active.com, Travefy, and more. She earned her Bachelor's in Broadcast Journalism from Chapman University and when she's not writing, she enjoys hiking in San Diego, California. Follow her on X @Maile_Proctor.

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