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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Planning a Budget Spring Break Getaway

Thinking about taking a grown-up (or family-friendly) Spring Break trip? Believe it or not, you can make it affordable. Because Spring Break can vary between early-March to mid-April, there are a good 6 weeks when things are more expensive than normal. Unfortunately, Spring is a great time to travel, because the weather is warm, but not too warm and most kids are still in school, so the crowds are small if you avoid typical Spring Break destinations like Miami and Cancun. So, let's take a look at how to be a grown up and take a vacay that doesn't look like those old MTV shows full of sloppy-drunk, loud-partying, half-naked 20-somethings. 

spring break planning

Choosing a destination

Set your budget
Here's a thought. Instead of picking a place and planning your trip around it, decide on your budget and work around that. You may find that there are places you hadn't thought of before, but are just as awesome (or better) than where you first thought you might go. 
  • Scour deals on Groupon, Living Social and other daily sites for affordable vacations that might work for your time off. 
  • Use Kayak's Explore feature to find destinations that fit within your budget for the month/season of your choice.
  • Look at BookIt's promos for vacation packages that are awesome and budget-friendly.


Visit non-beach destinations
There are a lot of places that don't really fluctuate in price for travelers throughout the year. Some even have beaches nearby, even if they're only lakes (which can be fun in themselves). 

Travel to less-popular beaches
Some destinations just draw college kids. You can avoid those large crowds so you can at least get a little strip of sand for yourself and not have to fight people to get to the bar for a drink.
  • Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
  • Daytona, Florida (the small size makes it perfect for those looking for a bit of quiet)
  • Puerto Rico (cheap accommodations and dining)
  • Myrtle Beach (rent a condo for as little as $50)
  • Costa Rica (stay way from the touristy spots)
  • St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands (no passport required!)
  • Willemstad Curacao (stick to the all-inclusives here)


When to buy airfare

Usually, the perfect time to buy your airfare for domestic flights is right around 5 weeks out, but because the deals for Spring Break travel might be few and far between, look to book your flights 6-8 weeks out. If you have a stash of airline miles, this is the time to cash them in, even if it's just for one way of your trip. 25,000 points and $5 (on average) is hard to beat for a flight, but the earlier you book, the more likely you will be to find a reward seat. Start looking now. 
  • Book airfare on Tuesdays, and Sundays for lower fares.
  • Fly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturdays for the best rates. These are the least busy days to fly.
  • Fly early in the day. The earliest flights out are generally a bit cheaper and have less of a chance of getting delayed.
  • Travel light and skip baggage fees. 


How to choose a hotel

As nice as some hostels are becoming, I still don't recommend them for grown-ups and the U.S. doesn't really have many. Look into hotels that offer extras: a kitchenette, free breakfast, kids stay free, etc. I'd also suggest looking at both Airbnb and HomeAway at vacation rentals. You'll have a bit more space, the prices are comparable to hotels and you usually have both a kitchen and laundry facilities. If you're traveling as a group, this can really save you money.
  • Sometimes paying up-front can score you an awesome deal on a room.
  • If you haven't pre-paid, keep checking prices up to the day you leave, in case the price drops and you can rebook.
  • Skip online booking and call the hotel to see if they can give you a better rate than what you see online.


Alternate choices

Not all vacations are traditional. If you can plan a great trip, but the airfare seems out of reach, look into driving instead. Is it possible that there are really sweet destinations within driving distance from home that you haven't been to yet? I'd be surprised if there weren't.

Looking for more tips? Check out this article that I contributed my expertise to on Cosmopolitan.com.

What are your Spring Break plans?
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