30 ways to save big on spring break travel

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Your mind and body may be ready for a sunny beachside spring break in Cancún, but if you’re living that broke college kid life, you may imagine your spring break looking more like a week at home, scrolling through Instagram and binging Netflix.

However, it is possible to plan a spring break trip on a limited budget. And yes, even a college student’s budget can be stretched for spring break fun! If you’re wondering how to plan a spring break trip without living off instant noodles for the next month, we have some tips to help you get a well-deserved vacation from those long nights spent studying in your dorm room.

Keep reading for some of our best tips on making your spring break trip dreams happen on a budget!

Related: Average savings by age

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1. Start Planning Early

Waiting until the last minute to plan a trip could mean missing out on cheaper flights, hotels, and even popular ticketed attractions. If you’re going to a hot destination during a peak travel season, which includes spring break for many destinations, then you could blow your travel budget on the flight alone, leaving you without enough money for food and lodging.

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2. Make a Budget & Stick to It

Before you even leave for your destination, it’s smart to create a travel budget. What can you reasonably afford to spend on accommodations, transportation, entertainment, meals and shopping? Having a budget could help you avoid splurging on expensive dinners or overspending at local shops.

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3. Find Off-Season Destinations

If Cancún for spring break is too pricey for your college student budget, you’re in luck: There are a number of great destinations that are off-season in the spring, ranging from the more rugged Jackson County, North Carolina, to the Big Apple.

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4. Only Travel as Far as You Can Drive

It’s about the journey, not the destination, right? You can make that (semi) true by taking a road trip with a few friends. For those worried about COVID-19, a road trip could not only save you money, but it could give you more peace of mind knowing that you can more readily control who you come in contact with.

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5. Avoid Tourist Traps

Doing spring break on a budget may mean skipping foreign travel or popular and expensive U.S. tourist traps, like Miami or Nashville. There are plenty of cheaper alternatives to these locations that can save you money and that will probably be far less crowded, too!

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6. Reach out to Friends & Family

If you have friends or family in another city, reach out and ask if they’d be willing to host you. If they agree, you could get some free lodging and meals out of it. Plus, you’d be connecting with locals who could guide you through the city and give some tips on cool and free stuff to do that you might not have found otherwise.

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7. Ditch the Plane Ticket

Planes and cars aren’t the only way to land at your tourist destination. You can do spring break on a budget by hopping on an Amtrak train or a Greyhound bus, both of which have destinations all over the country. The best part? You can catch up on some work, sleep or relaxation while you enjoy the ride!

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8. Don’t Forget about Cruises!

You could spend a fortune going to just Miami or Los Angeles. Or you could check out some cheaper cruise options that could potentially take you all over Alaska, the Caribbean islands or a slew of other destinations for less! There are even cruise options designed specifically for college students.

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9. Consider Pitching a Tent

Do you get motion sickness in cars or boats? With camping, your feet will be firmly planted on the ground, and your budget will also be pretty firm! You can camp out in many destinations across the U.S. and even abroad, be it under the stars near a national park or near a great fishing hole in the Carolinas.

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10. Look For a Deal

Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial offer a number of travel and hotel deals both for individuals and for group travel. Checking out which hotels are offering promotions could help you save when booking accommodations. You can also find deals on attractions near where you’re vacationing, too.

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11. Sign Up for a Spring Break Volunteer Experience

Many colleges offer a program called “alternative break,” which allows students to travel and volunteer during their spring break. If your college doesn’t offer any alternative break trips, you can still find some opportunities through organizations like Habitat for Humanity and United Way.

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12. Be a Tourist in Your Own State

If airfare is out of the question for your spring break budget, a budget-friendly alternative could be touring your own state. You can take a spring break road trip around your state or even take multiple day trips, the latter of which could allow you to have most of your meals at home with no hotel needed!

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13. Fly on ‘Unpopular’ Days

No, it’s not just your imagination: There are some days that are cheaper to fly on than others! For most airlines, those days are Tuesday and Sunday. And for booking flights, you could save up to 36% just by booking on a Sunday.

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14. Shop Around for Cheaper Flights

It may be tempting to go with the same airline your family always books with or to simply choose the first airline that pops up online. But to save some cash, find sites like TravelZoo and NextVacay that offer newsletters you can sign up for to get alerts for the best flight deals.

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15. Ask for Extra Snacks

If you’re flying to your destination, be sure to grab the airplane snacks. And if you like the snacks, ask for seconds! You may be able to snag a free snack to help tie you over between meals when you land. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no.

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16. Consider Airbnbs or Hostels

For those looking for the best tips on how to plan a spring break trip, one not-so-obvious one may be skipping hotels altogether. Staying at an Airbnb or hostel could be a cheaper travel hack than even a budget motel, especially if you don’t plan on spending much time in your room, anyway!

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17. Use Public Transportation

While Uber may be one of the handiest apps to have while traveling, relying on ridesharing and taxis could end up costing you a small fortune, especially if you’re traveling in a big city. Using public transportation could cost you a fraction of the price of an Uber, plus it will allow you to explore more for your destination as you navigate around subway and bus stations!

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18. Bring Your Own Food

Grocery costs may be on the rise, but the price of dining out can wreck spring break trips on a budget. If you want to try the local cuisine, you can do so much cheaper by going to a local grocery store and buying premade meals there or, better yet, making your own meals using fresh, local ingredients. This option may only be available if you’re staying at an Airbnb or hotel with a kitchenette, though.

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19. Eat Out for Lunch, not Dinner

Eating out for dinner will often cost you far more than eating out for breakfast or lunch. And if you decide to eat out for dinner still, skip the drinks and desserts. These items are usually far more expensive than doing so at home. Plus, the quality (and quantity!) may not be worth it since many restaurants don’t even make the desserts  they serve!

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20. Ask about Complimentary Hotel Meals

Students looking for spring break trips on a budget won’t want to miss out on this tried-and-true travel budget saver. Before booking your hotel, ask if they have any complimentary meals, such as a continental breakfast. It may not be as fancy or Instagram-worthy as the hottest brunch spot in town, but it is better for your budget!

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21. Use The Free Hotel Coffee

Most hotels offer free coffee either in the lobby in the mornings or through small coffee makers in your room. It may not be as fancy as your usual venti coconut milk latte with two pumps of salted caramel, but it won’t cost you anything.

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22. Look out for Free Samples

Looking to score some more free snacks? Add local farmers’ markets to your itinerary! Many markets are full of free samples, so you may even be able to scrounge together a free lunch. You can also snag some free swag, like t-shirts and reusable bags, from local vendors and businesses, your hotel or even a local visitor’s center.

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23. Prioritize Free Activities

Sure, you can spend $50 for a museum ticket, or you could search online for some free museums nearby! Many hot spring break destinations offer free walking tours, free museum days and a plethora of other free activities, such as parks and beaches.

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24. Find a Travel Buddy (or Four!)

You’ll find that going on a budget-friendly spring break trip can be a lot easier if you have a travel buddy with you. Pooling your college budgets together may even help you to afford nicer accommodations or even explore far-flung destinations.

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25. Cash in Credit Card Rewards…

If you have a rewards or cashback credit card, you may want to save up your points to help fund your epic spring break. Having a travel rewards card can be an easy way to save on travel, especially if you’re able to use that card on purchases before heading out on vacation, which could help you build up even more rewards points.

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26. …And Earn More Rewards While Traveling!

Using your rewards credit card on vacation may not help you save for your current trip. But if you save up your rewards, you can already have a new vacation fund started before you even come back from spring break!

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27. Research Student Discounts

Catching a movie or eating out during spring break? Ask about a student discount! You may be able to score some sweet savings even before your vacation, as companies like Expedia often offer student-only travel deals. You can also try Student Universe, which helps students get discounts on hotels, airfare and more.

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28. Ask About Membership Discounts

A ton of college discounts exist, but don’t rule out membership discounts you could get from family members. For instance, Costco, Sam’s Club, AAA and AARP all offer travel discounts to their members. It may be worth asking some relatives about their memberships to save big on your spring break trip.

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29. Avoid Transaction Fees

Transaction fees can be a real budget killer if you’re traveling abroad. And even if you’re state-side, ATM fees can also put a dent in your spring break savings. So you may want to ask your cardholder about fees and plan accordingly to make sure you have enough cash on hand to avoid them.

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30. Use Hotel Toiletries

TSA-approved toiletries can be overpriced, and buying them when you arrive at your destination may also mean overpaying for toiletries that you have loads of at home. The best alternatives? Pack your own shampoo and conditioner and transfer them into smaller bottles you can snag at The Dollar Store. Or better yet, just use the hotel toiletries. They may not be what you’re used to, but your budget will thank you.

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The Takeaway

Wondering how to plan a spring break trip on a budget? It may not be as hard as you think! If you’re willing to try off-peak destinations and hunt for discounts, you can save a ton of cash. Spring break trips on a budget don’t have to be a drag, either. You can still go to popular destinations if you create (and stick to) a spring break travel budget. Using rewards and cashback cards can also help you save on airfare and other travel expenses.

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Kaitlyn Farley

Kaitlyn is MediaFeed’s senior editor. She is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, specializing in social justice and investigative reporting. She has worked at various radio stations and newsrooms, covering higher-education, local politics, natural disasters and investigative and watchdog stories related to Title IX and transparency issues.