Four ways to take a frugal (and grownup) spring break

Going on spring break is not just for college students. Grownups feel burnt out after a long winter, too, and they deserve a vacation in spring just as much as the college kids do.

Charles Platiau/Reuters/File
Tree blossoms frame the Eiffel Tower on a spring day in Paris (April 7, 2016). Even as a grownup, it's possible to take a cheap spring vacation.

Going on spring break is not just for college students. Grownups feel burnt out after a long winter, too, and they deserve a vacation in spring just as much as the college kids do.

If you want to take a grownup spring break without spending a lot of money, here is what you need to know about enjoying a frugal and classy spring break.

1. Location, Location, Location

The first method of saving money on your spring break is to choose your destination wisely. Vacationing in a less popular area ensures that you will save on lodging, food, and transportation, since the high-traffic vacation spots have inflated rates.

In particular, consider warm weather locales that are not featured on MTV, such as New Orleans, Biloxi, Mississippi on the Gulf Coast, and Austin, Texas.

If you're willing to forgo warm weather, taking a ski vacation can be an affordable way to get away for spring break. Many ski resorts offer late-season deals in the spring, even though the skiing can be just as good this late in the year.

2. Know When to Fly

In general, getting to your destination will be your biggest travel expense, which makes it a prime candidate for cutting costs. Start by choosing Tuesday or Wednesday to fly. Airfare tends to be least expensive on those travel days, and room rates also tend to be lowest midweek.

Another way to save money on airfare is to expand your flight search. According to professional world traveler Nora Dunn, "If you solely use the big online search engines to book your flights, there is a good chance that you are overpaying — sometimes dramatically." She recommends checking the websites of departure or arrival airports to find which airlines that fly there, and then booking directly with the airline.

3. Seek Alternative Lodging Options

We tend to think of only two types of spring break lodging: high-end resorts that cost an arm and a leg, or cheap motels where you never feel comfortable taking off your shoes. But there are much better alternatives for both your wallet and your burgeoning germophobia.

Comb Daily Deal Sites

Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial offer hotel deals regularly, and you can often find deals for hotels that include indoor pools, arcades, or other entertainment. The most frugal option is to find a deal on a hotel that provides free breakfast or a room that offers a small kitchen or refrigerator so you can minimize the number of meals you eat in restaurants.

How much you save depends on the deal itself. The downside is that hotels may drastically reduce their prices if they aren’t booking enough rooms around the time of your trip — meaning even though you bought a “deal,” you may have paid a premium.

Rent a Cabin in a State Park

State parks offer cabins and other lodging for vacationers at very reasonable prices — generally as low as $70 to $100 per night. These cabins often have two bedrooms, a bath, and a full kitchen. Staying at a state park with plenty of hiking trails, lakes, and canoe or bike rentals will ensure that you have plenty to do. And some parks even offer games and other events for families.

Go Camping

The least expensive lodging for spring break is to go camping, provided you have the right equipment. The cost per night for a campsite rental at a state park is generally between $10 and $40. When you camp at a state park, you will have access to both electricity and full bathrooms, so even those who consider Motel 6 to be roughing it should be perfectly comfortable.

If you do not have camping gear, it's possible to rent tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear, and other necessary equipment. Big chains like REI rent outdoor equipment, as do many local camping gear stores. You can also rent camping gear online, Netflix-style, from LowerGear, Gear To Go Outfitters, and OutdoorsGeek. In particular, OutdoorsGeek allows you to rent entire packages of name-brand gear so that you don't have to pick what you need a la carte.

Stay at Someone's House

No, I'm not suggesting you become a squatter. You can find inexpensive places to stay using services like Airbnb, that will allow you to stay in someone's home for your vacation. These rentals generally offer full kitchens, and if you're not feeling particularly social, it's also possible to rent an entire home or apartment instead of staying with your host.

Alternatively, you can take part in a hospitality exchange. Homeowners all over the world are willing to open their houses to guests, free of charge. Many of these programs ask that you also open up your home to other guests, like Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet in the movie The Holiday. Since you will be a houseguest, remember that Miss Manners would expect you to bring a host gift and help out around the house with dishes and other chores.

You can find a hospitality exchanges at Couchsurfing, Global Freeloaders, and Servas.

Become a House Sitter

People who live in lovely destinations also like to get away for spring break, leaving a house that needs to be tended. The website House Carers matches travelers up with homeowners who need house- and pet-sitting services while they are away.

4. Stick to Your Food Budget

Enjoying the local cuisine can often throw a wrench in the best-planned travel budget. As I mentioned above, it's a good idea to stay somewhere that will allow you to eat at least one meal per day for free, or has the setup for you to make your own. But you can also reduce the bite to your wallet by being strategic about which meals you eat at restaurants. Breakfast or lunch generally tends to be cheaper than dinner, and you're less likely to fall for the upsell for expensive cocktails earlier in the day.

This article is from Emily Guy Birken of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website. This article first appeared in Wise Bread.

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