2/17/2012 2:25 PM ET|
Spring breaks that won't break you
For family trips, spring break offers numerous opportunities to save money on travel expenses, from fares to accommodations.
By the time our daughter turned 5, we had dragged her all over the country -- to New York and Washington, D.C., in the spring; Seattle and San Francisco in the fall; Anaheim in January, Orlando in October and Palm Beach in May.
We loved going places in the "off-season" and dreaded the day when school schedules would lock us into vacationing at the same time as every other family in the known universe.
We needn't have worried so much. Yes, traveling during the holidays and the height of summer can be a pain. But spring break is more like traveling in early June or late August. Schools stagger their spring breaks, just as they do the start and end of their school years, so traveling isn't as painful -- or expensive -- as we had feared. Less competition means more opportunities to save.
(In case you haven't figured it out by now, this column is directed at families, since college students already know how to have a cheap spring break: fly a no-frills airline to somewhere warm, rent a dumpy motel room with 10 of your buddies, and eat fast food so you can conserve your money for partying. If you're a college student who wants to travel a little more comfortably, though, or to a destination that's not swarming with drunks, you may find some helpful tips below.)
Here are a few ways you can plan a spring break that doesn't break the bank:
Use those travel rewards
Snagging multiple free airline seats to popular destinations often requires planning six or even nine months ahead, but you may still be able to find free flights to destinations off the beaten track. You likely will have a better shot deploying hotel rewards programs for free nights. You can convert many airline miles into hotel points; check out WebFlyer's Mileage Converter for which programs translate. The transfer process can take a few weeks, though, so hop on it.
Or consider train travel. Most kids love trains, and sleeper car accommodations include all meals and access to a private lounge on most trips. Rewards in the Continental and Starwood programs can be transferred directly to Amtrak's Guest Rewards, with 15,000 miles or points landing you a two-bunk roomette for an overnight trip. For 20,000, you can get a one-bedroom accommodation, which pairs two bunks with a private bath. Hyatt and Hilton require transferring more points; you'll need 40,000 Hyatt Gold points and 100,000 Hilton Hhonors points to get the roomette.
Visit a national park
Stunning natural beauty, lots of stuff for kids to do (including visitors' centers and Junior Ranger programs) and accommodations, ranging from campgrounds to cabins to historic lodges, that typically won't drain your wallet -- no wonder our national parks are so popular.
That's a problem in the summer, when many national parks are packed. You'll still need to plan ahead for the most desired accommodations in springtime, such as the hotels in Yosemite Valley, but in mid-February you could still make April reservations for heated tents at Yosemite's Curry Village or a room at the historic Wawona Hotel a few miles from the valley floor. In warmer locations, camping might be an option.
Or you can seek out some of the least-visited national parks, some of which are good alternatives to their better-known cousins. Consider Canyonlands in Utah instead of Zion or Bryce, for example, or Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California instead of Yellowstone. Other less-trammeled parks to consider include:
- Big Bend National Park in Texas.
- Congaree National Park in South Carolina.
- Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida.
- Great Basin National Park in Nevada.
- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado.
- North Cascades National Park Complex in Washington state.
- Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota.
One of the most economical ways to vacation we've found is to rent a big house with one or more other families. For less than $100 per day per family, for example, we've rented a seven-bedroom lodge near California's Lake Arrowhead for long weekends. The kitchen means we save on restaurant meals, and the presence of all those parents means there's always somebody to look after the kids if you want to do some shopping or see a movie.
A crowd that size may be too big for you, but buddying up with even one other family can make a vacation rental much more affordable. Type your destination and the words "vacation rentals" into a search engine so you can start exploring the possibilities.
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
You might want to do some research before you come up here to visit Lassen on Spring Break. One of the reasons it is so lightly visited is NOT its lack of beauty; it is because it is remotely located. The road through the park doesn't even open until late May (or a couple of years ago...July!) In the winter season, a Visitor Center is open at the south entrance, and that is about it, although they do have snowshoe walks scheduled with the rangers (if the highway up is open). Oh, and there is no food available if that makes a difference. Try August or September, it's a gorgeous place to visit!
Copyright © 2013 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.