The trips you take in young adulthood tend to be the ones that stick with you forever. You’re old enough to travel independently, but young enough that it still feels exciting. When you hear people talk about their favorite vacations, college spring break trips come up often.
The only drawback of traveling when you’re young is the cost. Unless Mom and Dad are footing the bill, students have much less disposable income to throw down on an all-inclusive stay in Bora Bora or a week in Paris.
Thankfully, having a good time doesn’t come with a set price. You can save big and still have the kind of spring break experience you’ve been dreaming of – if you play your cards right. Here are a few tips to save on spring break travel:
Renting a House
Staying in a hotel might seem like the obvious choice when you’re going on vacation, but you’ll almost always save money by renting a house, condo or apartment through a site like Airbnb. A 2013 report found that it was 21% cheaper to rent an entire home on Airbnb than to rent a hotel room. If you rent a private room through Airbnb, you’ll save 49% compared to a hotel.
Let’s look at prices for a week in Las Vegas. A condo that fits four guests is only $143 a night or $36 a person. You’d pay about the same for a two-star hotel, but an Airbnb house comes with a full kitchen, allowing you to cook your own meals and save even more money. You’ll also have laundry access, so you can pack fewer clothes and maybe even skip checking a bag.
Even if it looks less expensive to choose a hotel, consider other costs like parking and WiFi. These are almost always complimentary at an Airbnb, but often cost extra at a budget hotel.
Pick a Less-Traveled Destination
When you’re planning a spring break trip, it’s tempting to go where everyone else goes. But when it comes to traveling on the cheap, it pays to go against the grain.
When you pick a popular spot, you’re signing up to pay higher prices. It’s already more expensive to travel during a busy time of year, so try to save by picking a less-traveled destination.
Instead of New Orleans, try visiting Charleston, South Carolina or Savannah, Georgia. Choose Lake Tahoe instead of Aspen or Breckenridge, and Tampa instead of Miami. Skip Cancun or Cabo for one of the numerous resort towns on the Yucatan Peninsula.
When you pick an alternative spring break spot, you’ll save on everything including accommodations, meals and drinks. That leaves you more room to indulge, and less reason to stress about your budget.
Look for Student Discounts
It’s no secret that students can get lower prices on movie tickets and services like Spotify and Amazon Prime. What most people don’t realize is that the same principle applies to travel discounts.
Sites like STATravel sometimes offer better rates on flights for students. Some public transportation systems offer student discounts and most museums and local attractions will have student or youth rates. For example, students going to Europe over spring break can save up to 35% off train passes.
If you can’t find a discount offer, don’t be afraid to ask for one. Some places won’t have anything posted, even if student discounts are available upon inquiry. Remember to bring your student ID card along on vacation so you don’t miss out.
Avoid Unnecessary Fees
Students going abroad for spring break are likely thinking about what to bring in their suitcase, but they should also be considering what to bring in their wallets. The debit and credit cards you use on spring break may come with a foreign transaction fee that will be charged on every purchase.
The fee is usually 3%. If you spend $1,000 on your trip, you’ll pay $30 in fees. Before you go, understand what kind of fees your cards charge and find one without a foreign transaction fee.
If you have a solid credit score, you can apply for a travel rewards credit card that won’t have any foreign transaction fees and may offer cash back on travel-related purchases. Students without a good credit score can try asking their parents to add them as an authorized user on their travel cards.
Only Bring a Carry-On
I used to be a huge over-packer. I would bring way too many clothes, buy lots of souvenirs and often struggle to close my suitcase. When I flew home after studying abroad in London, I had to pay a $150 overage fee because my checked bag weighed more than 50 pounds.
Nowadays, I’m a light packer. When my husband and I went on our 14-day honeymoon, I only brought a messenger bag and a backpack. I still had room for cute outfits and souvenirs, and it was much easier getting around airports and train stations without lugging a suitcase behind me.
Bringing a checked bag almost always comes with an extra fee, unless you fly Southwest Airlines. Usually, the cost ranges between $25 and $50 for each leg of the flight.
For those who struggle with overspending, a large suitcase can be an invitation to go on a shopping spree. If you only have a carry-on, you’ll be more judicious with what you buy.
Checking bags can also lead to some extra expenses you can’t prepare for. When I travelled to Spain with my then-fiance in our early twenties, the airline lost his bags. We had to spend half of our first day shopping for clothes and toiletries, taking a bite out of our meager budget and forcing us to skip the first item on our itinerary.
Be smart about how much you actually need to bring. If you’re staying at an Airbnb with a washer and dryer, plan to do a load of laundry while you’re there. Coordinate with your friends ahead of time so everyone doesn’t have to pack a hair dryer, straightener or any other large items.
Do you have any tips to save on spring break travel? Share them with us in the comments!