2/17/2012 2:25 PM ET|
Spring breaks that won't break you
Swap your house
We haven't tried this yet, but several friends have, and all reported great experiences. One family swaps only with people they know (or whom their friends know), while others use services like HomeExchange. One person became such fast friends with a couple who stayed at her modest Long Beach, Calif., home that she was invited to multiple stays at their properties in Italy.
Lean on friends and relatives
Hotels give you privacy, a place to retreat and regroup. Sometimes that may be exactly what you need. Staying with good friends or simpatico relatives, though, can really deepen your relationship while saving you some cash. We still remember with fondness the springtime visit we made to dear friends who had moved to southern Virginia. It gave us a chance to reconnect and explore an area we might never have seen otherwise.
Just remember to limit your stay to a reasonable length (remember the old saying about fish and houseguests), and be sure to take your host family out to a nice dinner as a thank-you.
Consider a cruise
Cruising can be a relatively inexpensive way to travel -- not as cheap as camping, perhaps, but more economical than the same-length trip to a theme park. You can find seven-night Caribbean cruises for $500 a person, or even less, in March and April.
The ships typically have pools and kids' clubs. They also have on-shore excursions, which can get pricey fast. Pick yours carefully, and consider exploring on your own when you can. Bonus for you: no cooking or cleaning, and laundry service is often cheap. It gives lie to the idea that family vacations are just picking up after your kids in a different state.
Look for last-minute deals
If all else fails, log on to travel sites to see what you can cobble together without much lead time. Travel providers sometimes slash prices at the eleventh hour to fill airline seats, hotels and cruises. The first time I ever used Priceline we landed a great deal at Paradise Point Resort and Spa, a hotel on its own island right next to San Diego's Sea World. We signed up for the hotel's email list and were sent a great half-price deal we used for last year's spring break. Another auction site if you know where you want to go is Hotwire.
If you're more flexible about your destination, major travel sites such as Bing Travel, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity often feature late-breaking deals. Two other good places to try include Last Minute Travel and Travelzoo's "last minute" section.
Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.
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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!
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