While much of the country is still knee deep in snow and frigid temperatures, there is no better time to plan a spring break escape! Many popular destinations book up months in advance or hike prices for snowbirds desperate for some warmth and sunshine, but a great spring break vacation can be planned quickly and doesn't need to burden your wallet.
Whether you want to explore a new city or lounge on the beach, you can beat the winter blues with some budget-friendly spring break planning.
Budget for relaxation now. Establish a budget now to avoid spending that could set you back. For those who need a little assistance setting aside some extra cash, there are personal finance tools that make it easy to estimate how much an upcoming trip might cost and help you cut back so you can afford your vacation. They can also tell you how much you need to save each month to reach your travel budget and encourage you to stick to a savings program so you can lounge comfortably on the beach.
Rethink the hotel. When searching for a place to rest your head, broaden the hotel search to include vacation rentals, private homes or hostels. These options are often more affordable than hotels, especially if you are traveling with a large group or need to split costs. They also have the added benefit of a kitchen, so you don't have to eat every meal on your trip at a restaurant.
Check resort special offer pages. Theme parks are a popular spring break destination. Plan early and shop for bargains on special offer pages at the resort of your choice. Just make sure the date of your visit isn't blacked out (many resorts don't offer discounted rates during popular travel times). If you belong to an automobile club, ask the place where you are staying if they accept the club discount.
Stay near vacation hot spots. When choosing a getaway, consider locations that are in close proximity to bigger, popular destinations. These adjoining spots are usually just as beautiful as their more well-known neighbors but can be more affordable and less crowded. For example, Daytona Beach, Fla., is a popular spring break destination, but 50 miles north of Daytona is St. Augustine, which has a great family-friendly beach. Some vacationers flock to Palm Springs, Calif., in droves for the desert heat, but adjacent towns such as La Quinta or Indio can often be enjoyed at a lower cost.
Volunteer. More people are skipping the beaches on spring break and budgeting in time to help those in need -- a movement known as "voluntourism." New Orleans is a popular destination for voluntourists of all ages because visitors can combine the sightseeing the Big Easy has to offer with community service in areas still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Voluntourism programs do charge fees to cover the meals for participants, but it's often significantly less than what you'd pay for more traditional spring break trips. If you itemize taxes, you may be able to write-off expenses for your charitable travel.
Enjoy the great outdoors. National parks in the United States and Canada fill up in the summer. Campsites are usually tough to secure, and prices are at their peak, but spring is a good time to see some of the greatest natural treasures without huge crowds. Parks within a day's drive of larger urban areas may still get crowded during spring break, but most don't approach peak attendance until summer.
Don't let planning a relaxing spring break getaway leave you stressed. Follow these tips to enjoy a well-deserved, and wallet-friendly, vacation.
Holly Perez is a consumer money expert at Intuit and mint.com spokeswoman, a leading Web and mobile money management tool that helps people understand and do more with their money.