Whether you’re finishing your freshman year or heading into your final year of graduate school, there’s something magical about the end of the spring semester. Classes are wrapping up, the sun is shining, and spring fever is in full force.
With any luck, you’ve got a plan together for some type of summer employment. The next task is deciding where you’ll be spending all that hard-earned cash on vacation. You know you can’t bear the thought of heading back to class without at least a week’s worth of R&R. The question is: what, where, and most importantly—how?
The quintessential summer trip for the college set is the road trip, and exploring without a plan is half the fun.
However, there’s nothing wrong with doing a little investigative pre-search, purely for ideas, of course. RoadTripAmerica.com has an active forum where you can post questions and get answers from seasoned road warriors, as well as feature articles on topics ranging from the most boring highway in America to how to make a speed run. I too was curious as to what exactly constitutes a “speed run.” It’s covering at least 650 miles in one day. Roadtripusa.com is another good bet. It features 11 replicable cross-country routes (including Route 66), as well as several podcasts about road-tripping.
The best site, however, is RoadsideAmerica.com. Were I to just hop in the car this summer (if I had a car, that is, but more on rentals in a second), I would plan my whole trip based on this website. Tucked within this gem of a site is information about some of the weirdest places in the U.S. and Canada, precisely the places that make North American road trips so wonderful. Take, for example, Graceland Too in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where owner Paul McLeod will give you a three-hour tour of his home/shrine to the King at any hour of the day (literally). There’s also the Petrified Wood Gas Station, Cafe, Motel in Decatur, Texas, and The Smallest Church in 48 States in Horse Shoe Run, West Virginia, among a plethora of others. Need I say more?
What if you’re eager to hit the road, but don’t have any wheels? Under-25-year-olds (usually as long as you’re at least 21) can rent, although you should be prepared to pay a little extra. Erin Liszewski, one of our interns here at SmarterTravel, herself a soon-to-be college grad, rented a car during spring break. When asked about the extra fees, she says: “I chose Fox Rent A Car because their [under-25] rental fee is $20 a day, as opposed to the typical $25 a day. I was also able to justify spending the extra $20 because I split the cost of my economy car between me and three other people. For an extra $5 per day, I could stomach it.” She also made a good point of milking your status as a dependent for all it’s worth. As a student you can often take advantage of your parents’ AAA memberships, car insurance, etc. Be sure to inquire at the rental agency for details, though.
Fees aside, there are some good deals out there, even for one-way rentals. Be sure to check out SmarterTravel’s car deals page for more information.
Last but not least, the whole point of a road trip is that it’s supposedly cheaper than taking an all-inclusive vacation to Cancun. If you’re cruising in a Honda Civic, this might be true, while not so much for the Hummer or RV. With gas topping $3 a gallon in many places, you might want to check out this list of suggestions for paying less at the pump, as well as GasBuddy.com.
Pitching a tent and spending a week in the woods, on a lake, or at the beach is another option for an affordable vacation.
I recently went camping in Moab, Utah, and would highly recommend checking out both the national park campgrounds as well as the area’s private ones before making any decisions. From my experience, national park campgrounds tend to be cheaper, quieter, and centrally located to park attractions, but at the same time, they lack the facilities that make other campgrounds so fun, like pools, hot tubs, and proximity to liquor stores. It all depends on what you’re looking for.
Some campgrounds will also let you make group reservations, meaning that you and your crew will be able to be in the same area. Be sure to make arrangements in advance if you’re interested in something like this, especially around holidays.
Off-peak and group travel
If taking a vacation means whipping out your passport, never fear. STA Travel is offering round-trip fares between New York and London from just $182 (plus tax). You have to book by May 15 however, and depart by June 15. STA Travel also has some good last-minute specials worth checking out.
You could also fork out for a more expensive plane ticket to an inexpensive destination. For example, while a ticket to Ankara, Turkey, might cost $1,400 from New York, once you get there, the eastern part of the country is remarkably affordable. Many Southeast Asian countries are also off-peak at this time of the year. Yes, Bangkok can get monsoon rains during the summer, but if you’re headed there to check out the cultural and historical sights (not just the beach) it shouldn’t matter much.
Another option is group travel. Maybe the thought of traveling en masse pains you, conjuring up images of middle-aged couples in embarrassing “This body climbed Mt. Washington” T-shirts and white socks with sandals, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. There are actually some great deals to be had for students who are interested in traveling in groups, particularly via bus.
Two summers ago while traveling in Turkey, I met an Aussie girl who’d been traveling through Egypt. She had nothing but great things to say about Go Bus, a British company specializing in excursions in that region. Rates start at $399 for an almost all-inclusive nine-day trip (airfare and some meals are extra). A 15-day trip is also available for $499. A side note on getting to Egypt: While flights from the U.S. can be expensive, you can often score much cheaper ones from Europe.
Such cheap thrills are not only available overseas—you can find them in the U.S. as well. I had never heard of Green Tortoise Adventure Travel until I started doing a little research, but now I’m intrigued. The concept is simple: cheap, simple travel with interesting people. They offer many different types of tours, from cross-country jaunts to excursions south of the border, not to mention the Burning Man Festival. If you like camping, hostelling, and vegetarian food (meals are provided, but mostly of the non-meat variety), it may be worth a look. Prices are affordable, too. For example, the 14-day Best of the West tour starts at $699.
In a nutshell, your summer vacation options are only as limited as your imagination. Take advantage of the Internet and see what’s out there. From camping in national parks to lounging on beaches to giving your passport a good workout, you’re bound to find a memorable way to take full advantage of your summer break.