Spring break is a hallowed time for all college students where the possibilities for travel are limitless. In those ten days, away from books, exams, research and deadlines, many offer themselves to the idea of tropical destinations, adventure, or finding their own in a place rich in cultural and historical significance. However despite the destinations being only limited by the imagination, many find themselves dwarfed by the cost and the logistics of mid-semester travel. With a sound mind and a bit of haggling, spring break travel isn’t expensive anymore and in fact is more affordable than ever. Finding an airline or a hotel on the fly and on the cheap is possible for those who are willing to make a few sacrifices for comfort in exchange for keeping your wallet full.
The more inconvenient, the cheaper it will be
Airlines thrive on getting you to your destination with the shortest route, the fastest planes, and the most convenient times of arrival. However with the most favorable final destinations and timing, they also up the price. For example, using Kayak.com I planned a virtual weeklong trip from Miami to New York City. Flying from Miami International Airport to JFK on American Airlines on a Saturday set the price at $530.00 for a flight that leaves on a weekend, arrives at mid-morning, and arrives in Miami in the early-evening.
However, I then made a few changes, I changed the day to a non-weekend (a Tuesday), set my departure and arrival to a smaller airport (Ft. Lauderdale International to Newark, New Jersey) went to a smaller airline (US Airways) and picked a departure and arrival time (leaving in the early morning and returning late at night) I was able to drastically cut down the price for arriving in virtually the same destination.
While some may argue that I did not in fact land in the same state, Newark is still close enough where a taxi can provide a short (and scenic) drive into the city.
This also applies for international travel. When flying abroad, don’t aim for the main hub which is the most direct route. Flying a route that includes layovers, early morning or late night flight times, and arriving at a smaller regional airport is going to dramatically cut back the costs. The more inconvenient your travel is, the less burden it’s going to be on your wallet.
Skip the hotels, go for the hostels
I’ve praised and promoted the idea of hostel travel many times. The advantage for the on the budget traveller is immense. Hostels provide a great social atmosphere, since the rooms are in dorm style bunks with other young travelers often there for the same reason. One of my favorites was the Lazy Lizard in Moab, Utah. Paying only $10.00 a night, I was given a bed, sheets, pillows, a shower, and a kitchen, in exchange for sharing the room with a ragtag group of other hikers, climbers, and explorers who were all there to take in the parks. With our group the hostel was lively and social, with people meeting one minute, and planning excursions with new friends the next. Hostels run worldwide, and from New York City to Barcelona, it’s possible to an inexpensive and rather convenient way to stay a few days.
Organized tours aren’t worth it
Many companies tout their “Spring Break Specials” aimed at luring your unsuspecting college student to adventures, savings, and wild parties by bundling everything into one convenient package. Planning it all on your own is going so save you more valuable time and money. Much of the time these organized touring companies hire guides of the lowest bidder, most of the time giving the same information (or in some cases quoting per verbatim) from the guide book. Groups are moved along in huddled masses as they’re rushed from one tourist trap to the next. Planning your own schedule allows you more liberal movement, staying as long as you like, and greater interaction with locals and immersing yourself deeper into the environment and the culture. If you must go with an organized group, use it for outdoor travel. Having a guide is handy when on unfamiliar terrain or trails, less so in a city, museum, or historical environment where one is looking for knowledge and explanation rather than staying clear of physical dangers.
Chances are, your Spring Break excursion is only a few days, so make yourself as mobile as possible. Instead of lugging the big suitcase around, find a sturdy 50-65 liter backpack and easily haul it around (In some cases, smart packing will even allow you to bring it on the plane as a carry-on, saving you the check in fees) With the backpack rather than the luggage, you are always aware of where your belongings are, and it makes for a thorough travel pack as well as a rather handy daypack. For clothing options, pack the minimal, an outfit for day and night that’ll last you a few days. For washing clothes you can pick up detergents and powders that are made specifically for using the hotel sink. The lighter traveller is the happier traveller.
Of course these options are not only limited to Spring Break travel, but are cost-effective measures for the traveller on the go. Smart research into cheaper air and lodging alternatives make for a longer, farther, and more rewarding voyage. Cutting back on weight and making your own itinerary makes you feel the liberation and the freedom that you won’t get with the typical tour group. I’m wishing everyone a safe, happy, and fulfilling trip!