Monday, March 5, 2012

Save Money on Spring Break: Tips and Tricks for College Students

Ah, Spring Break. That one glorious week in March where all bets are off - the one week we can relax and leave midterms and upcoming finals behind us as we pile into a car and drive off into the sunset to our magical vacation in paradise.  At least, that's the idea. I'm sure many of us are still scrambling around trying to figure out what the plans are for Spring Break, cursing our professors for assigning projects that are due the Monday after Spring Break ends (WHY, professors? I mean really!) and trying to figure out how to fit several 24-packs of Natty Light  sleeping bags and suitcases into one tiny car, and of course, how to pay for the whole thing. Well, I'm here to help - with the money aspect, at least! Here are some tried and true tips for saving money on Spring Break! Find all the supplies you might need with coupons for for your spring break!

1. Drive, Don't Fly: Although gas is at an all-time high, driving to Spring Break is a better bet than flying. This is because you can fit more people into a car, which means the gas is split several ways, making the trip much cheaper. A 1700 mile round trip costs as much as one plane ticket (about $180-$200, roughly) but splitting it up even once or twice significantly slashes that cost! So find a friend with a car that gets decent gas mileage (you'll want at least 30 mpg on the highway!)  and offer to share the cost of gas.

2. Fill Up for Cheap: We've all heard those road trip horror stories, where it's 3am, you're driving through corn fields in the middle of nowhere, the tank is on empty. Suddenly, like the gates of heaven, the neon lights of a gas station appear - only for the price to be $1.00 a gallon higher than the last gas station you passed 2 hours ago. Don't let this happen to you! There are sites - such as Gas Buddy Trip Calculator - that will map out the cheapest gas on your route in advance, so you can make sure you're getting the lowest price possible BEFORE you run out of gas in Nowheresville, USA.

3. The More the Merrier: I already mentioned that splitting the gas with your car-mates reduces your cost, but splitting EVERYTHING with EVERYONE is even cheaper! Whether you're renting a cabin or camping in the woods, the more people there are, the cheaper it is. For example, one year I went with a group of 15 down to Daytona, FL. We added up all of our costs in advance - including gas for the 3 car caravan and 3 hotel rooms in a hotel RIGHT on the beach  - and then split it evenly 15 ways. Total cost for our trip? $120! Whether you're renting a hotel room or a cabin, the more people you can cram in there (legally, of course - check when you make a reservation so you don't get hit with fees or, worse, kicked out) - the cheaper everyone's price will be! So go ahead and invite your friend's girlfriend, her brother, that cute guy from Biology and your RA.

4. Research Before You Get There I know the word "research" kinda makes it sound like homework, but this is FUN homework! Look up stuff like the local scene, clubs, bars, restaurants, tourist attractions and whatever else is cool to do at your destination BEFORE you go. Not only will you save valuable relaxing and partying time once you arrive, but you can also find out what your costs will be- and what places you should avoid, like the botanical gardens that cost $15. You might find some really fun cheap stuff that you didn't know about! Also think about things like transportation (how will you get to/from the bars? Are they walking distance or do you need to get a taxi or arrange a DD to provide a shuttle?) cover charges, and anything else you might not be thinking of yet but will have to pay for during your trip so you can prepare and scrounge together as much money as you need.

5. Save on Food No, you don't have to bring a case of Ramen noodles with you (though you definitely could, you can make it using the hotel's coffee pot or just very hot tap water. I know this from lots of experience.) but food tends to be the highest expense on a vacation, just because everyone wants to eat out  every single meal, 3x a day. It adds up! Save money on food by doing the following:

  • Pack a cooler in the car. That way you don't have to stop at Taco Bell every time anyone gets hungry, or spend a bunch of extra money on overpriced snacks at gas stations. 
  • Go to the grocery store as soon as you get to your destination! Buy stuff that you can snack on throughout the week and eat for breakfast, especially if your hotel doesn't provide any food. Get some sandwich making stuff for easy, quick, cheap meals even if you don't have a way to cook. If you don't have any amenities like a fridge, that cooler will come in handy here - fill it with ice or cold water.  If you're renting a cabin with a fully functional kitchen, look up some cheap recipes (Like these) and cook dinner together as a group! It's so much cheaper than eating out, and WAY more fun, too. 
  • Buy some coupons. is a great way to save money on eating out, especially with a big group. The more you spend, the more you can save with the coupon! Search for restaurants in the area you'll be staying and pick up a few for dinner. Although full-priced coupons are $10 for $25 off your meal, the site almost always has coupons available that slash those prices. Right now, until 3/8/12, use the coupon code TRIP to slash 70% off your total purchase. Now you can eat out without breaking the bank!

6. Pay for Everything with Mystery Shopping Remember the post I wrote on mystery shopping? And how I was like omg, this is the great thing ever? Well, allow me to reiterate that. This year, I am paying for the entire gas bill for my Spring Break vacation - with mystery shops. And I don't mean like I'm saving up. I mean I'm literally doing mystery shops all the way down and back -at travel centers and gas stations! Travel centers & gas stations are one of the most bonused shops out there, because they tend to be in the middle of nowhere - and that means you get paid tons to do them! You'll find travel center shops at and BeyondHello (contact me for a referral link to BeyondHello) gas stations at Corporate Research International  (contact me for a referral link to CRI) and Ritter Associates. How much does a travel center shop pay, you ask? Oh, about $20. Do 5 of them and you just got $100. Sound good? It gets better - you can schedule food shops and more on the way to and at your location! Schedule a few fast food shops with MarketForce. Just about every mystery shopping company has some good food shops available - Corporate Research International has about a million - and some, like Amusement Advantage, even have theme parks, zoos, ice skating rinks, and more! (Give my email -[at] - during signup at Amusement Advantage, please! I might get a referral bonus.) The options are limitless - not only are your expenses paid for, but you get PAID on top of that! Read my post about Mystery Shopping for more details.

7. Pack Everything You Might Need I mean, don't pack so much that no one else can fit their luggage in the trunk. But you don't want to arrive at the beach only to realize you've forgotten your towel, swimsuit and sunscreen and need to take a $50 trip to Target. Include all toiletries, camera, plenty of clothes, a few pairs of shoes, a towel, and maybe a deck of cards, some DVDs or a hookah for some free entertainment. Remember to bring a pillow and blanket, especially if your sleeping situation is going to be cramped and possibly involve tents or the floor. And pack clothes for multiple weather conditions - things can get weird this time of year, and you don't want to have to buy a jacket because Daytona Beach happens to be 40 degrees in March (this is a true story, it is super cold there.)

8. Sleeping Situations: I have mentioned a couple possible sleeping situations in passing, but let's run down the list of options.

  • Hotel: Easy, convenient, posh, practically risk-free. Most will be cool with having a large group of people stay in one room as long as there's a hefty security deposit, but always check first. 
  • Cabin: Renting a cabin is a great idea for large groups. You'll also be able to cook, which means you can save money on food. These tend to go fast though, so don't just show up hoping there's a vacancy!
  • Camping: If you're outdoorsy, and your friends are cool with roughing it for a few days, campsites are insanely cheap - think $4 a night cheap. You'll need your own camping equipment (tent, sleeping bag, supplies for cooking, etc) but most campsites do have restrooms and showers, and some offer electricity for a higher fee. Befriend a few Eagle Scouts and stock up on camp-fire gear to make the most of this vacation!
  • Couch Surfing: Yes, this is a real thing. Personally I've never tried it, but my boyfriend and his friends used this site for Spring Break one year. They weren't robbed or killed, so that's good, but this certainly isn't the most comfortable sleeping situation. Don't do it alone, and be wary of your surroundings and belongings. Although most people using the site are probably harmless and totally cool, playing it safe is always the best bet. If you and your friends are looking for adventure, meeting new people, and don't mind sleeping on couches and potentially sketchy situations, this one's for you. (Plus: totally free!)
  • Hostels: Cheaper than a hotel and less potentially scary than Couch Surfing (unless, of course, you've watched that one movie .... you know the one I'm talking about) hostels are another option for cheap sleeping. Use this site to search for hostels, and DON'T watch that movie if you haven't seen it already. Just don't do it!
9. Get a Groupon: Like, Groupon can be a great way to save money on something you'd probably pay full price for anyway. Right now they have a special Spring Break section with some AMAZING deals on awesome beach resorts and hotels, that are ACTUALLY AFFORDABLE. (Ridiculous!) They also have really cool activities for cheap, like mini golf, museum tickets, yoga, and clubs. Just search in your area to find some awesome stuff for your entire group to do, on the cheap!

10. Have a Staycation: The cheapest way to spend Spring Break is by staying at home. Not only will it allow you to finally catch up on the reading you've been putting off for your classes - and possibly time to do some laundry - but you can actually have a lot of fun at home! Pretend you're a tourist and visit some places you've never been. Grab a friend and explore a new part of town. Get a local Groupon and treat yourself to a spa day or salsa dancing class. Find a new restaurant you've never eaten at before, get a coupon and order drinks and dessert. Go camping for a night, go fishing and have your very own campfire. See if they have zip-lining in your area (my new favorite thing) or go sky-diving or something crazy! Then when people ask how you spent your spring break, you can say "I went freaking sky-diving!" instead of "I stayed home and did homework." (You secretly did both! Ha!) Staying home CAN be cool!

How are you going to spend Spring Break, and what will you do to keep your costs down? Tell me in the comments! As for me, I'll be in Orlando, FL! I can't wait!! 

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  1. Thanks for the tips I'm no where near the age of a typical college student on Spring Break but I do have my son's outta state graduation to attend this June.

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  2. Those are very smart tips! Saving doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to enjoy what college spring breaks could offer. It’s okay to have a little fun, as long you’ll do it smart way. After all, the “fun of it” will depend on you and the people you’ll be sharing those moments with, and not on the places you’ll stay and the expensive rides you’ll travel in.

    Valerie Casey @ Studemont Group CFS

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