They say "getting there is half the fun" – not so true when you’re just trying to get to the fun, and if you fail to plan out your transportation needs, Spring Break can leave you spring-broke and in no mood to party. Here are some thoughts on the basic options:
We’ll Drive! Unless you’re 1,000 miles or more from your Spring Break destination, driving will almost always be the best and least expensive way to go. Take the trip seriously, though, and take the time to plan – use websites like MapQuest to figure out the length of the trip, and how much your gas budget will need to be.
Recruit the friend with the newest, most reliable, biggest, and/or best vehicle. Consider renting a vehicle. Drive in shifts and you can cut out long stops. Don’t let the driver(s) drink. Also, don’t count on "goin’ 90 the whole way there" – traffic and highway patrols are at their peak during Spring Break in many areas of the country, and nothing will slow you down more than a crash or getting stopped by the police. When the gauge hits "1/4 tank," stop and get gas – don’t risk running out of gas on the highway (especially on those long stretches in Texas and Florida). Have a working cell phone in the car. And give yourself time to recover after a long road trip.
We’ll Fly! The country’s favorite low-cost airlines, like Southwest, Jet Blue and Air Tran, will fill virtually every seat on every plane headed to the most popular Spring Break cities. If you plan to fly, you will have to purchase your tickets at least 30 days prior to travel if you are on any kind of budget.
Ninety days prior to Spring Break, we found a Southwest Airlines "Fun Fare" of $428 plus tax, round trip from Chicago-Midway (MDW) to Harlingen, Texas (HRL), the airport for South Padre Island. On Orbitz we found round trip seats on multiple carriers for $480 plus tax from New York-JFK (JFK) to Panama City, Florida (PFN), traveling in March. Keep in mind that the airports will be crazy, so arrive early – at least two hours ahead for domestic flights.
We’ll take Trains & Buses! If you’re headed to Florida or Southern California, Amtrak can be a great deal and much less hassle than flying. For example, traveling from Raleigh, N.C., to Tallahassee, Fla., (where you can get a shuttle to Panama City Beach) will cost just $110 round trip. Greyhound Bus Lines offers round trip fares from Raleigh to Panama City Beach for about $138.
Almost every air, rail, and bus line offers group travel discounts – so if you can put together a group of at least 20, contact the various group travel departments for the best deal!
Tours, Groups and "All-Inclusive"
If you search the Internet for the term "spring break travel" your first results will be the many companies that offer complete travel packages to the most popular destinations. Packages will always include transportation and accommodations, and many will offer meals, drinks, gratuities, and other goodies as part of the deal – these are referred to as "all-inclusive."
Budget options for Spring Break packages will run the gamut, from deals to Mexico departing from Southern California for under $100, to several thousand dollars for elaborate, luxury digs with first class transportation to Florida, Texas, the Bahamas, or Cancun. Many of the tour companies offer installment payment options, although you generally have to commit to the trip many months ahead.
When considering travel packages, and the companies that offer them, remember: Buyer beware! You should buy only from companies with good, established reputations for Spring Break travel – and the best way to check them out is to find people who have taken the trips in the past and ask them about their experience.
Tour companies are not all the same, so you should consider some of the factors that could go wrong: How tedious or restrictive the travel schedule will be; how many, and who, may be sharing your room or condominium. The quality of the accommodations and the meals (for all-inclusive packages) may or may not be what you expect. A deal that sounds too good to be true, often is, so do your homework!
Overall, the best rule of thumb is to avoid budgeting your Spring Break (or any vacation for that matter) to the very last dollar, with little or no cushion. You’ll have more fun if you go somewhere you can afford, and have money in your pocket for activities that may pop up while you’re there. Good luck and have a blast!
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