Spring Broke: A student’s guide to affordable spring break travel

Finals week is here, and so is the impulse to pack our bags and get as far away from school as humanly possible. 

Every year, approximately 1.5 million students travel for spring break. According to a 2020 survey conducted by LendingTree.com, 22% of student-loan borrowers admitted to taking out more loans than they needed to fund their spring break trips.

With a few tips and tricks, traveling this spring break can still be fun without breaking the bank.

Plan ahead

“When students approach me with questions, their initial questions are more rose-colored,” said Cara Miller, DePaul study abroad advisor. “They have a kinda romantic view of travel, but then it starts to dawn on them that money is very important.”

Once you have zeroed in on a destination, Miller urges students to do in-depth research on the location. This will give you an idea of how much money you should budget out. Miller also suggests choosing locations that have a lower cost of living than Chicago so that your dollar can stretch further. 

“Learn about the place that you’re going to because then you’re gonna have a sense of ‘oh yeah, this is how much it costs for a cup of coffee,’ or ‘this is how much it costs for a meal out at a restaurant,’” Miller said. 

Miller recommends LonelyPlanet.com, a publication company that posts articles about travel destinations in the U.S. and abroad, linking resources to top restaurants, shopping and other attractions.

Another piece of the planning includes creating a budget. Miller recommends that students establish a daily allowance. 

“Take the amount of money you have and divide it by the number of days of your trip to give yourself a daily allowance,” Miller said. “For example, ‘I can only spend $20 a day, and you know what? Today I only spent $10, which means tomorrow I get to spend $30,’ or ‘today I spent $50 so I can’t spend anything tomorrow.’”

Amy Vasilopoulos, 22-year-old College of DuPage graduate who is currently in Ecuador on a work exchange program, says that she budgets her money by not withdrawing more than she needs.

“I like to go to the bank and get the amount of currency I plan to need,” Vasilopoulos said. “What I have is all I’ve got, and I try to use it wisely.” 


Flights are oftentimes the largest expenditure when planning a trip. 

Caroline Storey, DePaul senior who has traveled to Scotland and Ireland and has done road trips within the U.S., recommends using Skiplagged.com to book cheap flights.

Skiplagged is a flight search engine that allows you to book a flight beyond where you actually want to go. For example, maybe you want to book a flight from Chicago to Orlando but the fares are pricey. Skiplagged can find a cheaper flight from Chicago to Miami with a layover in Orlando. You would book the flight to Miami but get off at the layover. 

Do not check a bag, however, as it will continue on to the ticketed destination and not stop with you at the layover. 

“It’s not illegal and not unethical because you’re still buying the flight,” Storey said. 

Miller recommends the website studentuniverse.com that sells flights at student rates.

Although these websites are generally safe, Miller warns students to keep an eye out for scams.

“On the internet, you don’t know who is writing this stuff,” Miller said. “A big red flag is if a website is trying to get money from you. You don’t need to spend unnecessary money on a service that you could do on my own for free.”

Miller also encourages students to not shy away from layovers if they have the flexibility. 

Something I used to do in my twenties was take multiple planes,” Miller said. “One time I wanted to go to Rome and coming home was Rome to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to London, and London, back to Chicago. It took forever to get home but it was a very cheap flight.”

Alternative accommodations

“There’s never any shame in asking friends to sleep at their place if you are going somewhere where you know someone,” said Storey. “It’s very town and country to be like ‘you need to bring a gift for them,’ but it’s a nice gesture.”

If you do not have a friend at your destination, Miller suggests that trying out a youth hostel is not only a cheap accommodation, but a way to meet like-minded travelers. 

“Staying at a youth hostel is a very cheap way to find accommodation,” Miller said. “I’ve stayed at Hostels International in Australia, Paris and Japan, and typically you’re gonna find 10 or 15 bunk beds in a room and a set of lockers. There’s usually communal showers and kitchens.” 

Miller says the price of a youth hostel will vary based on the location, but on average one night costs around $30. 

Although hostels are based on an idea of community and considered a safe option, Storey recommends that anyone staying in a hostel share their location with their loved ones.

On vacation, grocery stores exist 

If you are staying at a hostel, Airbnb or a friend’s place, chances are you have access to at least a fridge and a microwave. 

According to a 2022 study by Gobankrates.com, 45% of the 1,037 respondents reported that they spent more than expected on dining while on vacation. This was the largest category of overspending in the survey, surpassing flight fares, accommodations and activities. 

“I think the main [mistake] is when people assume you’ll be eating at a restaurant every night, or  just assuming that it’s taken care of,” Storey said. “The best way to do it is to get groceries and cook [for] yourself.”

Avoid Uber

The costs of Uber rides to and from your accommodation to all the activities you have planned for the day will tally up quickly. Public transportation is a simple fix.

“Try the public transit system,” Miller said. “It can help you get places very quickly and more efficiently.”

However, Miller believes that nothing beats the power of walking. 

“I think walking through a city is one of the best things because then you really see it,” Miller said. “You observe things. You take things in.”