How to Plan a Fun (and Affordable) Spring Break

We would all love to go on an extravagant spring break, but that can be hard as a broke college student. Here are some tips on how to plan a fun and affordable spring break.


1. Plan

Unfortunately spontaneous and spur-of-the-moment decisions are not the best idea for your bank account. All of a sudden you’re spending money on unexpected costs like gas and tolls, parking, beach passes, food, and drinks, etc. Instead, you should plan out your trip so there are no unexpected costs or arguments between friends about what you are going to do. Find a location with a lot of different options for activities. Plan exactly where you’re going to stay, who’s going to share what room, how many days you are going to be there, and when you plan on leaving. It is also helpful to plan how many times you will be purchasing food and what kind of place you will be going. Are your friends planning on dining in restaurants for all three meals of the day? Or are you planning on saving money by packing granola bars for breakfast? If you are planning on going out to dinner or to a certain bar, I suggest choosing those places ahead of time and looking at the prices so everyone knows what to expect. An itinerary may seem lame, but it will be really helpful in the end.

Personal example: When I went to Disney World in Florida with my friends for our senior class trip, we made an itinerary so we could make the most of the 4 days we were there. Every one of us (about eight friends in our group) chose one ride and one character that they HAD to see so we could make sure we made time for everyone to do what they want. In Epcot, we made plans to take turns buying food items in each country and then sharing them so we could “eat around the world.” At night, we planned very specific restaurants to eat so everyone agreed on the price ahead of time. We planned everything down to the exact time, especially since we were running on our school’s schedule. The trip ended up going perfectly, we all had such a good time.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Kruse

2. Make a budget

This is probably the most important in terms of saving money on your trip. Sit down with your friends and decide on a price point that everyone is comfortable with. Is it $300 or $1000? This will require a lot of research on the location you plan on traveling, especially hotel prices and other big costs like amusement park tickets. Then divide up how much of your budget will go to each expense. If your budget is $500 per person, maybe $150 would go towards a hotel room that you share, $200 will be reserved for food, $20 would go towards gas money and parking expenses, $30 towards beach passes, and $100 for fun activities and souvenirs. Obviously, prices will vary dramatically depending on where you plan on going and how long you plan on staying, but you can also lower the cost by researching the cheapest options, like using Airbnb instead of a hotel. It is important that everyone is comfortable with the budget and promises to stick to it during the trip.

3. Go local

A great way to have fun during spring break for cheap is by staying local. If you are able to stay at someone’s house, then you don’t have to pay for a hotel which can be one of the biggest costs. I know this doesn’t sound fun, but there is a lot to explore that you probably don’t on a regular basis. It can also be fun to show your friends around your hometown. If you live near New York City, why not make your spring break about going to all the shops and quirky restaurants you’ve never been before? Or, maybe try hiking at a nearby state park. Even going mini-golfing with all your friends can be a really fun memory. If you live in New Jersey, you can go on mini day-trips to tons of different places. You can travel to NYC one day, go to Six Flags Great Adventure the next, and also go to the beach all in one week. If you live in Pennsylvania, you can do day-trips to Philadelphia, Hershey Park, Dorney Park, and even the Amish Country. Traveling to low-populated areas is also a great way to save money. Staying in a motel in Amish country (Lancaster, PA) is much cheaper than a beach hotel, and there are a lot of fun things you can do like exploring local farms, fairs, and museums.

Personal Example: Last summer, my two best friends, Jill and Kyra, and I wanted to see each other over the long summer break. We stayed at Jill’s house in New Jersey which is 20 minutes from the nearest beach. We ended up having such a great vacation that week just by buying donuts and sitting on the pier, going to the local mall, painting wine glasses we bought at the dollar store, and walking the boardwalk at night. Then over winter break, we decided to do a similar trip. They came to stay at my house in Philadelphia. We wanted to keep it cheap so we went to local thrift stores, had movie marathons, baked brownies together, and went to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell (which are free admission during the off-season). The biggest expense was parking garages in the city. These kinds of trips are the ones that make the most memories.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Kruse. 

4. Cut costs on food

Food can be really expensive, especially when you’re traveling to very popular tourist areas. A fun way to cut costs is to cook meals with your friends. If you plan some lunches and dinners, you can buy groceries ahead of time and cook your own meals instead of going out all the time. Especially with breakfast and lunch, it is easy to bring bagels and eggs or make sandwiches. This is also great because cooking with friends can be really fun and it gives you a fun activity to pass the time. If your group isn’t fond of cooking, you can try to save money by getting certain meals at small chains like Wawa, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, small pizza shops, etc. Then you can plan some nights where you go to nice restaurants and splurge since you saved money with the rest of your meals.

5. Save

This has to do with pre-planning your spring break. Any kind of big trip is going to cost a lot of money that you wouldn’t normally spend. Talk to your friends and see what works best for everyone. Maybe if you’re planning on flying to Disney World or going on a cruise for next year’s spring break, then don’t do anything for this year’s spring break. You could also try to ask for money for the trip if you have an upcoming holiday or birthday. I’m sure your family and friends would be more than willing to pitch in instead of getting a regular present. It is also just important to save money in small ways leading up to the trip. Don’t go out with your friends as much, and try to avoid online shopping sprees. It can be difficult to stop spending as much as you usually do, but if your friends all try to save money together and remind each other of the goal (to save as much money as possible for your fun trip!) then it won’t be too bad.

Some Spring Break ideas: 

Here are some ideas on how to spend your spring break to help get the ball rolling:

$- Camping or hiking

$- Sightseeing in a nearby/historical places (New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington DC, etc.)

$- Day-trips to a nearby beach or lake

$$- Visiting all the local attractions (zoos, aquariums, mini-golf courses, plays at your local theater)

$$- Travel to a city you’ve never been before (San Diego, Chicago, or even somewhere in Canada)

$$- Amusement park road trip (Six Flags, Hershey Park, Dorney Park, etc.)

$$$- Splurge in Las Vegas

$$$- Once in a lifetime Disney World/Disneyland trip

$$$- All-inclusive cruise (the perk of this is it includes food, activities, and travel all in one)

$$$- Exploring a destination in Europe (Spain, Italy, England, France, etc.)