5 Strategies for Taking a Spring Break Trip on the Cheap

Do you know the best-kept secret about school? The teachers look forward to breaks more than the kids!

A significant portion of the country is affected by Spring Break (teachers, students, families), so it’s no wonder that around 65 million travelers were screened by TSA over the 2016 Spring Break period. And while Covid put a damper on Spring Break and travel in general, the travel industry is looking for a rebound.

Spring Break is generally more expensive. You’re not imagining it. Airlines, hotels, and other travel services tend to raise their prices during peak travel times when they know people will be looking to travel despite the cost. That said, your Spring Break trip doesn’t have to break the bank.

Here are 5 strategies for taking a Spring Break trip on the cheap.

1. Staycation

We know this isn’t the sexiest option out there, but it is the cheapest!

The staycation became popular several years ago during the financial crisis because people simply couldn’t afford to travel. The idea is to take day trips to local activities within easy driving distance and return home at night, or simply participate in activities at home.

While travel is something we advocate spending money on (experiences over material possessions), Spring Break may not be the best time to do it because of the high prices. We don’t suggest going into debt to take a big vacation.

With these ideas in mind, a staycation is the perfect happy medium and can fit into almost any budget.

Participating in local activities lets you save major money by cutting out airfare and hotels, along with most meals. As a result, you’ll still be able to enjoy some leisure activities at a fraction of the cost.

And the best part is a staycation can still feel like an actual vacation!

Make your staycation feel like a trip away from home by setting start and end dates, planning your days around various activities, and letting go of your normal routine.

While a staycation may not be your dream vacation, it serves the purpose of gaining experiences without the hefty price tag of a typical Spring Break trip.

2. Drive to Your Destination

If you really need to get out of town but don’t have a big budget, then driving to your destination is one way to take a Spring Break trip on the cheap.

While driving to your destination takes time away from the vacation and limits your destination options, it significantly reduces cost by cutting out airfare. Many people can lay out a couple hundred for either a hotel or flight, but it’s much more difficult to shell out the money for both.

Of course, with the recent increase in gas prices, driving a long distance may not be in your budget, but driving will likely still be cheaper than flying. Plus, there are several great ways to save money on gas that you can utilize to keep costs down.

And just because you’re driving doesn’t mean the destination has to be boring. A favorite quick trip for Portlanders is to head to the coast or central Oregon. These locations are gorgeous, offer tons of fun activities, and are within a few hours’ drive.

Research possible locations within a few hours’ drive of where you live, and make that your Spring Break destination. You’ll still get away for a few days to experience a new (or old) place, but without the major cost of a flight.

3. Book in Advance

If your vacation thirst cannot be quenched with a staycation or a couple of hours’ drive, and you absolutely must get on a plane, make sure you book WAY in advance.

Aim for booking about a month in advance. According to Hopper, you should book your flight at least 25 days in advance but no further out than 150 days.

Furthermore, a study done by CheapAir found that flights are at their lowest price about 54 days beforehand and that tickets cost around $150 more when booked within two weeks of the trip.

We know it can be a pain to flight-watch, but luckily there are a lot of tools out there that can keep an eye on prices for you. Google Flights, KAYAK, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and AirFare Watchdog are a few, but there are others.

Of course, booking your flight in advance means you need to have your trip planned out in advance, so this strategy won’t work for you impulse vacationers.

These cheap fight rules apply year-round but may be especially important when planning a vacation during Spring Break when prices tend to be higher and seats tend to be more limited.

4. Stay off the Beaten Path

We’ve already mentioned that flights and hotels are more expensive during peak travel times, but this is especially true for major Spring Break destinations.

Not only is Spring Break a high-volume travel time, but the most popular vacation spots (think Orlando, Hawaii, or Mexico) tend to sell out quickly, further driving up the cost. This is a classic case of supply and demand. The cost is also high if the demand is high and the supply is low.

However, you can combat the Spring Break supply and demand problem by choosing a destination off the beaten path.

Sorry, Cancun.

Yep, destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico, California, Hawaii, and Florida all top the list of popular Spring Break spots and will cost you the most. Resort destinations such as Disneyland and Universal Studios are also more expensive since they target kids and families (the majority of Spring Breakers).

Unfortunately, warm, tropical, and resort-style destinations don’t offer a good bang for your buck during peak travel times, including Spring Break.

Another destination that will typically be more expensive during Spring Break is the mountains. Spring skiing is a popular activity, so these destinations in Colorado, Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, and British Colombia may be especially popular during Spring Break.

If you want to stay off the beaten path to get your Spring Break trip on the cheap, you must avoid the most popular mountains and (warm) beaches.

But don’t despair! There are plenty of other destinations you can choose during Spring Break that will be much cheaper and allow you to get out of town. There are plenty of cheap destinations in the U.S. to check out, including outdoor destinations like National Parks. California, in particular, has a plethora of great National Parks to visit.

One idea is to visit relatives or friends. Visiting relatives or friends will allow you to avoid the most popular destinations, save on hotel and food costs, and spend time with people you typically don’t see.

It’s a win-win for everyone, and it saves you money.

5. Use Miles and Points

The topic of miles and points is way outside the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that collecting miles and points can be a great way to significantly reduce trip costs.

Every major airline, hotel, and car rental brand has a loyalty program, free to sign up for. You can collect miles and points for each loyalty program through flights/stays/rentals, using credit cards and sign-up bonuses, shopping portals, and various other methods.

These points can then be redeemed for free or reduced-cost flights, hotels, and car rentals, which greatly lowers the out-of-pocket cost of trips.

I always utilize points and miles for travel and would highly recommend it for saving money on your trips.

Important: if you choose to utilize credit cards for collecting points, ensure you are only buying things you would typically purchase and that you can pay your balance off monthly. If you carry a balance and pay interest, you are wiping out any benefits you might gain from points.

One of the best deals in travel hacking is the Southwest Companion Pass, which allows you to fly a friend for free for up to two years.

Final Thoughts

Spring Break is one of the busiest travel times of the year, and also one of the more expensive. While planning a Spring Break trip is common for teachers, families, and students, it is possible to gain these much-desired experiences without breaking the bank. Spring Break experiences don’t have to come at the Spring Break price.