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11 Best Affordable Spring Break Destinations on the Cheap

Spring break is a popular travel time for quintessential spring breakers: penny-pinching college students and young people.

It’s also an excellent time to travel in general. Springtime, including the traditional spring break season, is actually a fairly quiet time for travel. Outside classic spring break destinations like Daytona Beach, Florida, and South Padre Island, Texas, many tourist areas experience a drop in visitors.

Accordingly, cheap airfare and deep hotel discounts abound in and to lesser-known or generally affordable spring break destinations.

The destinations on this list meet one or both of those criteria. Not all have beachfront real estate, but each has ample amenities for cost-conscious visitors. They’re just as enjoyable as more typical spring break hotspots — without the price tag or, in most cases, the crowds.

And if you can’t get away this spring, no worries. Most double as popular summer vacation destinations.

Affordable Spring Break Destinations

These popular destinations, all within easy driving or flying distance of major U.S. cities, boast some of the best deals around. One of them is sure to be the perfect spot for your next cheap spring break vacation.

For travel in 2021, be sure to review each destination’s COVID testing and quarantine requirements, if any, to avoid unpleasant surprises upon arrival.

Pro tip: If you plan to fly to your spring break destination, sign up for a free two-month trial of Clear. Unlike TSA PreCheck, Clear uses your unique biometric data without requiring you to wait in line, allowing you to speed through airport security and get to your gate quicker.

1. San Diego, California

Balboa Park Gardens San Diego

  • High Season: June through September
  • Average April High Temperature: 68 degrees F
  • Flight Time From New York City: Six hours
  • Flight Time From San Francisco: One hour, 25 minutes

San Diego occupies a unique place in the American psyche. As the southernmost big city on the U.S. West Coast and Tijuana’s American counterpart, it boasts a cosmopolitan vibe that entrances visitors from beyond the Southwest. It also has miles of sandy beaches and top-tier golf courses.

San Diego’s mild climate is legendary, even by California standards. The city receives barely 10 inches of rain per year, according to Climate-Data.org, and temperatures rarely dip below 40 degrees F at any point during the year. In early spring, sunshine is almost a given, and fully overcast days are rare.

Near the city center, a massive revitalization project has spiffed up the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego’s answer to New Orleans’s French Quarter. This sprawling entertainment district has its fair share of overpriced bars and eateries, but there are some good deals as well.

For more cheap dining options, look to the area around the University of San Diego’s campus, which is close to the city’s densest cluster of affordable hotels.

Where to Stay

While many big cities have a hotel district where tourists tend to cluster, San Diego’s Hotel Circle takes this concept to a whole new level.

Stretching for 2 miles along Interstate 8 (between Interstate 5 and CA-163), Hotel Circle is close to the city’s Old Town neighborhood and lies within a short trolley ride or easy driving distance of major attractions like the University of San Diego, Gaslamp Quarter, Petco Park, SeaWorld San Diego, and Fiesta Island Park. Also, it’s just a few minutes from San Diego International Airport.

Hotel Circle (Mission Valley) earns high marks for convenience alone, but it’s also home to lots of full-service discount hotels that won’t dent your vacation budget. There’s a Best Western, Howard Johnson, Comfort Inn, and Motel 6 as well as several extended-stay options for longer trips.

Where to Avoid

San Diego loves its tourists, but certain areas aren’t particularly friendly to frugal travelers.

The coastal suburbs to the north are particularly exclusive — especially Del Mar and neighboring La Jolla, where present-day U.S. senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney owns a home.

Both are renowned for their beautiful beaches, but there’s no compelling reason to make the trip with so much coastline elsewhere in the area. If you must go, pack a picnic and don’t even think about doing anything more than window shopping.

Cheap Events & Attractions

You don’t have to spend a dime to kill time in San Diego. At more than 1,200 acres, Balboa Park is larger than New York’s Central Park. Its vegetated trails are perfect for an early morning jog against the backdrop of downtown’s towers, and its public lawns practically beg you to bring a picnic lunch and people-watch.

It also houses the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Natural History Museum (aka the Nat), and San Diego Air & Space Museum. Free concerts abound throughout the year.

For an unobstructed view of the bay, head to Embarcadero Marina Park or Harbor Island Park. You can walk along the waterfront for several miles in that part of downtown San Diego.

Or catch the ferry to Coronado Island from the Broadway Pier or downtown convention center to enjoy a 15-minute ride across the sparkling San Diego Bay. It costs just a few dollars per adult each way, and kids under 4 ride free. You can also bring your bike at no extra charge.

For a look at slightly smaller Mission Bay, Fiesta Island Park’s wide-open spaces are hard to beat. This nearly enclosed body of clear blue water has multiple marinas where you can watch pleasure boats cruise in and out of the harbor until the sun goes down.

Getting Around

If you’re in San Diego for just a few days, you don’t need to rent a car. Instead, opt for a four-day trolley pass and ride the Green, Blue, and Orange Lines to your heart’s content.

The Green Line runs north of downtown, offering reasonable access — some walking required — to the San Diego Bay waterfront in downtown and north-of-downtown attractions like SeaWorld San Diego and Fiesta Island Park.

The Blue Line wraps through downtown, touching the Gaslamp Quarter, then heads south along the coast to Chula Vista, where Bayside Park offers a different view of the bay, before terminating near the border.

Pro tip: If you want to get outside the city for the day, you can book a car with the car-sharing platform Turo. Choose from hundreds of types of vehicles and have your ride delivered to your hotel.

Why It’s a Good Deal

San Diego isn’t just a spring break destination. It’s also one of America’s most popular big cities for tourism and one of the best U.S. cities to visit on a budget. During the spring, San Diego hotels combat dipping occupancy rates with rate cuts and package deals.


2. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta Mexico

  • High Season: December through May
  • Average April High Temperature: 86 degrees F
  • Flight Time From New York City: Five hours (though direct flights are uncommon)
  • Flight Time From San Francisco: Three hours
  • COVID-19 Testing and Quarantine Requirements: Air passengers arriving in Mexico may be subject to temperature and health checks upon arrival, but there’s no pre-arrival testing requirement and no quarantine-on-arrival requirement for U.S. visitors, per the U.S. Embassy in Mexico. Travelers returning to the States (including U.S. citizens) must present a negative COVID-19 test result upon arrival.

Located about halfway down Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Puerto Vallarta is a tropical paradise popular with spring-breaking students, luxury travelers, and virtually everyone in between.

More mountainous than Cancun and less party-hardy than Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta caters heavily to American tourists, so be on the lookout for special package deals, especially as the high season draws to a close in May.

Puerto Vallarta built its reputation as a tropical resort, but there’s more than meets the eye. The area was among the first in Mexico to court American expats and retirees actively. And the fruits of that half-century effort are evident in locals’ familiarity with the English language and American customs.

It’s important to note that Puerto Vallarta’s tropical climate produces two sharply delineated seasons, one wet and one dry. The wet season roughly coincides with the Pacific hurricane season — in most years, it begins by late May and wraps up in early October. Accordingly, the bone-dry winter and spring months tend to be a little more crowded.

However, the true high seasons are confined to the Christmas season and Easter week, so those are the only travel times to actively avoid.

Where to Stay

For frugal vacationers, affordable hotels and eateries abound just outside the trendy beachfront district. You can find plenty of options through Hotels.com.

If you’re looking for a place within walking distance of the water, concentrate your efforts on the neighborhoods around two beaches: Playa los Muertos, south of the city center, and Playa Boca de Tomates in the north.

Playa los Muertos is popular with tourists from other parts of Mexico and boasts a laid-back vibe and crystal-clear water that’s perfect for swimming. Playa Boca de Tomates lies in the shadow of Nuevo Vallarta.

Harmless silt discharge from the nearby Rio Ameca makes the water less than appealing for swimmers. But if you just want to soak up the rays, it’s hard to do better. Neither charge admission.

Major hotel chains like Westin and Holiday Inn have outposts close to the beach, so you can stay in a name-brand place if you’d like.

Where to Avoid

As an international tourist destination, Puerto Vallarta has its share of trendy neighborhoods. Generally, the area around centrally located Playa Olas Altas is more expensive than other parts of town.

If you want to grab a bite while taking in an ocean view, be prepared to pay Miami-like prices. This area also tends to be crowded with rowdy international students.

Further north, Nuevo Vallarta is another area to avoid. That’s unfortunate because it’s stunning, but Nuevo Vallarta is basically a giant, golf course-riddled playground for wealthy Americans and Europeans as well as Mexican oligarchs.

Cheap Events & Attractions

In addition to hosting free beaches like Playa los Muertos and Playa Boca de Tomates, Puerto Vallarta is a regional historical and cultural center.

The Church of Our Lady Guadalupe in the city center’s old town district is among the most impressive Mexican churches outside Mexico City. There’s no cost to get in, but pay attention to scheduled worship times.

For a free view of the city and ocean, take a hike up one of the rocky crags overlooking the coast. When it’s time to eat, head south and stroll through the neighborhoods surrounding Macroplaza Puerto Vallarta.

You can find both familiar fast-food joints and authentic hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are easy on the pretension and even easier on the wallet. Vallartan cuisine is heavy on finned fish and shellfish, so bring an appetite for seafood.

Getting Around

Unless you plan to head south to national park Selva el Tuito, you don’t need to rent a car. In fact, since many of the city’s most important attractions are within a mile of the waterfront, you can probably get by without even getting into a taxi or hopping on a bus.

That said, the city’s bus service is better than that of most similarly sized American cities, especially close to the waterfront. A single ride costs roughly $1, lower than most U.S. public transit systems. If you’re not visiting multiple destinations in a day, you can probably get by without purchasing a pass.

Why It’s a Good Deal

Despite its reputation as an international destination, Puerto Vallarta is still far cheaper than comparable destinations in the U.S. and Caribbean. As in many Mexican tourist towns, outsiders and expats flock to upscale enclaves.

As long as you’re willing to push the boundaries of your comfort zone and spend time at beaches or in neighborhoods where Spanish is the norm, you can more than make up for the cost of your plane ticket.


3. Savannah, Georgia

Forsyth Park Savannah

  • High Season: Mid-March through mid-May; mid-September through mid-November
  • Average April High Temperature: 78 degrees F
  • Flight Time From New York City: Two hours, 25 minutes
  • Flight Time From San Francisco: About seven hours, including layover

Outside New Orleans and Charleston, South Carolina, no other city in the Southeast can match Savannah’s historic charm. The city’s downtown core is a well-preserved museum of 18th-century brownstones, lush parks, and cobblestone streets. Farther out, an extensive Victorian District borders yet more parkland.

Beyond the central city, well-kept subdivisions and condo complexes cater to retirees and people with vacation homes. Meanwhile, the beach communities to Savannah’s south and southeast — including Hilton Head, Tybee, Jekyll, and St. Simons islands — attract folks who enjoy warm-weather sports and beachfront living.

Parts of the Savannah area, including Tybee, are popular with spring-breaking students, but others remain quiet until the traditional start of the summer travel season in late May.

If you’re traveling with a group, look into the cost of renting a beachfront house on one of the islands or a walk-up near the center of town.

Where to Stay

Once you venture outside its historic heart, Savannah has a surprising selection of affordable lodging options. Midtown Savannah, centered around the hospital-heavy Midtown Arts District, has a selection of middle-of-the-road hotels that cost less than $100 per night during the spring.

In the suburban areas along Abercorn Road, discount lodging like Suburban Extended Stay Abercorn and Studio 6 offer comfortable, bare-bones alternatives.

Roughly 20 minutes from downtown, Interstate 95’s interchange with Pooler Parkway near Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport sports still more chain hotels, including Country Inn & Suites and La Quinta.

If you’d like to be closer to the water and don’t want to pay hotel prices, set up camp at the Rivers End Campground & RV Park on Tybee Island, a modern facility with hookups and beach access.

Where to Avoid

Central Savannah — which is anywhere north of Henry Street between Martin Luther King Drive and Broad Street — is dotted with pricey inns and grand hotels. So it’s best to avoid it if you’re on a budget unless you’re traveling with a large enough group to find a deal on a vacation rental.

Outside the center of the city, certain islands are touchy as well. Each patch of dry land has its own character, and some — in particular, Skidaway and Whitemarsh islands — are downright exclusive. In fact, it’s best to avoid the area’s island resorts in general.

Cheap Events & Attractions

It’s not a stretch to say central Savannah is a life-size museum. To see its sights on the cheap, take an extended stroll along the Savannah River on aptly named River Street, then turn down Broad Street and roam through the alleys and side streets in its historic quarter. Rest on the wrought-iron benches in the city’s signature park squares beneath Spanish moss-covered live oaks and vibrant floral displays.

For a broader view of the city and its eclectic architecture, head south to Forsyth Park, the city’s answer to NYC’s Central Park. Most of this stunning expanse is a broad, flat lawn bisected by a tree-lined walkway. On nice days, Savannah College of Art and Design students sunbathe, throw discs, and play pickup soccer by the hundreds. Nearby Daffin Park is nearly as big but far less crowded.

For a more adventurous day of sightseeing, head out to the marshes and estuaries that dot the nearby coast. Federal and state agencies protect most of this land and water, so dozens of migratory bird species make their homes there. Don’t worry about renting a boat, as many of the most scenic areas feature boardwalk access.

For food, check out locally owned and operated seafood shacks. If you’re willing to venture outside Savannah’s core, there’s plenty to eat on the islands. Try to avoid the immediate riverfront, where value dining is difficult to come by.

Getting Around

Many of Savannah’s attractions — especially natural areas like Tybee National Wildlife Refuge and Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge — aren’t easily accessible by public transit. As such, you may need to bite the bullet and rent a car.

However, if you’re planning to spend the bulk of your time in Savannah proper, you can skip the vehicle and take advantage of the half-dozen free routes from Chatham Area Transit (CAT), which all converge on downtown Savannah. CAT also offers an unlimited day pass for a few bucks and a seven-day pass for just a little more.

Eager to get — or stay — in shape this spring break? Pancake-flat Savannah is an urban bicyclist’s dream, and the city’s impressive on-street bike infrastructure reflects that. An overnight bike rental from Perry Rubber Bike Shop should be marginally cheaper than renting a car.

Why It’s a Good Deal

Few destinations blend outdoor attractions and historical charm as seamlessly as Savannah. While the city’s historic district can be pricey, the beaches and wildlife refuges surrounding it are free to the public.

You can spend as much or as little as you want in Savannah. And with close-by camping options, your most significant daily expense might well be the delicious food you put in your stomach.


4. Washington, D.C.

Washington Dc Monument

  • High Season: Late March through mid-June; mid-September through early November
  • Average April High Temperature: 66 degrees F
  • Flight Time From New York City: 40 minutes
  • Flight Time From San Francisco: Four hours, 50 minutes

Washington, D.C., is one of the country’s more expensive metro areas, at least in terms of raw costs for real estate and other basic necessities. But it’s actually a surprisingly affordable tourist destination during the cooler months if you avoid the weeks bracketing the Cherry Blossom Festival, which usually happens in late March or early April and draws a crush of out-of-towners.

Despite its expensive reputation, D.C. has an incredible array of free or low-cost cultural institutions and a surplus of grand public spaces. From the National Mall to Rock Creek Park, it’s possible to wander through the city for an entire day without paying a dime to enter a public space.

Its climate is another huge selling point. It’s no San Diego, but the city is hard to beat in the springtime. By late March, winter’s chill has gone for good, and summer’s oppressive humidity is still two months away. Bring an umbrella, but there’s no need for a heavy coat.

Where to Stay

D.C. is divided into four quadrants — Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast — the boundaries of which meet at the Capitol. But the city’s most affordable hotel districts lie just outside its borders.

To the north, Silver Spring, Maryland, sits on the Metro’s Red Line and features discount hotels like Holiday Inn Express along with discount luxury outlets like Hampton Inn and Marriott Courtyard.

On the other side of town, densely built Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia, have plenty of reasonably priced places to stay (and plenty of unaffordable hotels, so steer clear of those).

Farther away, the suburb of Falls Church, Virginia, is about 30 minutes from central D.C. via the Metro’s Orange Line and is noted for affordable hotels and walkable streets.

Where to Avoid

In a word: Northwest. It’s one of the D.C. area’s most expensive places to buy a home, and hotel operators have apparently taken cues from local real estate agents.

The obvious advantage to Northwest is its proximity to D.C.’s most popular attractions, including most of the federal government’s landmarks, but it’s simply not worth the added cost. An extra 30 minutes on the Metro could save you $100 or more per day.

Cheap Events and Attractions

For such an expensive city, D.C. has plenty of free or low-cost attractions. From the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, the central city is awash in public edifices that are either free to the public or easy to appreciate from the outside.

When it’s possible to see and touch so many pivotal pieces of American history — perhaps while reading about their significance on your mobile device — there’s no need to splurge on a tour.

Plus, world-class museums like the Smithsonian Castle and the National Zoo are free to the public. A day of museum-hopping in New York City or Chicago can set you back $40, $50, $60, or more, but D.C.’s taxpayer-subsidized attractions are easy on the wallet.

If it’s not raining, you can spend the bulk of your days outside. A stroll up the National Mall takes you through two centuries’ worth of architectural history. It culminates at the Capitol Building (tours of which may be off-limits currently due to heightened security and COVID-19 concerns), surely one of the most impressive examples of Classical architecture in the new world. For a stunning view of the Tidal Basin and the Potomac River, head west to West Potomac Park and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

Would you like to see most of D.C. in a single sweep? Take the Blue Line across the Potomac and pay your respects at Arlington National Cemetery, which happens to sit on a ridge that boasts excellent views of central D.C.

Getting Around

The nation’s capital is blessed with an excellent public transit system. The Metro, as it’s known, is anchored by five heavy rail lines — Blue, Green, Red, Orange, and Yellow — and a network of complementary buses.

If you stay outside the city’s core and take the train in, you can walk between most of the landmarks you want to visit. The exception is Rock Creek Park on the far northern fringes of town, but the Red Line passes pretty close to its eastern entrances.

Unless you plan trips to the Civil War battlefields (Manassas, Antietam, and Gettysburg) in the surrounding countryside, you can access most area attractions on foot or public transit.

Why It’s a Good Deal

Every year, millions of families visit D.C. during school breaks in the summer or around the holidays, but traffic drops off abruptly during the transitional seasons.

The only real blip in this trend is the world-famous Cherry Blossom Festival, which usually happens in late March or early April — the exact time of “peak bloom” varies from year to year, depending on the severity of the preceding winter.

The sight of the city’s cherry trees in simultaneous bloom is genuinely breathtaking. But accommodations are much more expensive at the festival’s height, so frugal travelers would do well to avoid this time.


5. Vermont

Burlington Waterfront Vermont

  • High Seasons: June through mid-October; Christmas through mid-February
  • Average April High Temperature: 55 degrees F
  • Flight Time From New York City: 45 minutes to Burlington
  • Flight Time From San Francisco: About eight hours to Burlington, including layover

By March, most northerners are sick of snow, ice, and subfreezing temperatures. But Vermonters live to squeeze every last drop of enjoyment from the winter.

For budget-conscious travelers in this corner of New England, the mid-March through mid-May corridor occupies a frugal sweet spot between the busy, expensive midwinter and summer seasons.

If you arrive in March, chances are good you’ll find residual snow cover and nary a sign of spring — in a typical year, flowers start blooming by mid-April. That’s OK, though, as ordinarily bustling ski areas like Sugarbush and Okemo offer deep discounts for late-season skiers. Conditions permitting, the bigger resorts try to remain open until mid-April.

If you have more time and aren’t averse to spending some time on the road, bring your passport and take a jaunt up to Montreal, Quebec, less than two hours north of Burlington. And Montreal’s international airport is quite a bit bigger than Burlington’s, so it might be more convenient to start and end your trip there if you’re coming from afar.

Note: Pandemic travel restrictions could make these plans unworkable. U.S.-based leisure travelers to Canada are still subject to 14-day arrival quarantine as of March 2021, according to the U.S. Embassy there. Check the latest travel guidance before booking your flight.

Where to Stay

Vermont isn’t a big state, but it’s big enough. If you prefer cosmopolitan surroundings, use Burlington as your home base. The downtown area features both large hotels and quaint inns, but they tend to be pricey at any time of year.

Stick to the area just south of downtown along the Route 7 corridor, where you can stay at independently owned inns and motels offering modern but affordable creature comforts in 1950s-style surroundings.

Outside Burlington, look to lesser-traveled areas, such as the Northeast Kingdom, which is physically isolated from the rest of the state by the spine of the Green Mountains. Bed-and-breakfast rooms can cost significantly less than comparable units in the state’s pricier southern and northwestern sections.

Where to Avoid

Although ski resorts tend to offer deals in early spring, nearby lodging options often remain pricey throughout the low season.

Additionally, hotels in the central core of Burlington — and to a lesser extent, those in smaller cities like Montpelier, Bennington, and Brattleboro — charge a premium for charm and convenience.

Cheap Events & Attractions

Burlington is a beautiful town, and many of its signature attractions are free. On the city’s Lake Champlain waterfront, Waterfront Park and Battery Park feature panoramic views of Grand Isle and (in the distance) New York state’s towering Adirondack Mountains.

While the lake ice is unsafe for winter recreation by late March, it’s never too late to walk along the trails that connect downtown Burlington with the northern neighborhood of North Beach. Cheap eats abound in central Burlington and outlying neighborhoods, with a surprising array of cuisines for such a small city.

Beyond Burlington’s borders, wide-open spaces beckon. Barely 20 miles east of town, Mount Mansfield State Forest harbors the highest point in the state along with four state parks and dozens of miles of hiking trails.

Just south of the forest, Camel’s Hump State Park features a challenging 4,000-foot mountain peak with breathtaking views of Lake Champlain and the mountains beyond.

Farther south still, the Appalachian Trail passes through southern Vermont. Early in the season, when through-hikers walking the entire 2,200-mile length of this famous long-distance hiking trail are still in the Carolinas, day and weekend hikers have this stretch all to themselves.

Late-season spring breakers should take care during the locally notorious “mud season,” the treacherous, messy time between when the ground thaws in early April until it finally dries out in late May.

Getting Around

If you’re confining your stay to Burlington, you probably don’t need to rent a car. Most of the city’s attractions lie within walking distance of one another, and Green Mountain Transit offers a 10-ride pass for $1.50 per ride.

But for trips to Vermont’s rural hinterland, you likely need a car. If you’re splitting your vacation between city and country, you only need to rent one for the time you spend out of town.

Why It’s a Good Deal

Vermont’s tourism industry has a well-defined low season, and it just happens to fall between March and May. Relative to the Memorial Day-Columbus Day period, when warm weather and fall foliage draw crowds, hotel prices drop by as much as 50%. As long as you’re OK with a little mud and cool weather, Vermont is beautiful in the springtime.


6. The Outer Banks, North Carolina

Outer Banks North Carolina

  • High Season: Late April through early October
  • Average April High Temperature: 70 degrees F
  • Flight Time From New York City: One hour, 30 minutes to Norfolk, Virginia
  • Flight Time From San Francisco: Seven hours to Norfolk, Virginia, including layover

At the height of summer, North Carolina’s Outer Banks region is popular with Mid-Atlantic residents looking to escape the inland coastal plains’ excessive heat and humidity. From late May through late September, sea breezes keep temperatures 10 or 15 degrees cooler than on the mainland.

In other parts of the year, this effect works in the opposite direction. Unlike inland areas, the Outer Banks never really get cold in the winter, and the ocean banishes the cool season’s residual chill by mid-March. It’s a well-kept secret, as tourist traffic drops in the fall and doesn’t really pick up until Memorial Day.

Local business owners use the long off-season to repair and upgrade their facilities, but most remain open in some capacity. Accordingly, this is a suitable part of the world for winter-weary travelers to visit on a shoestring budget.

Where to Stay

The Outer Banks is a long, narrow strip of land that separates Pamlico Sound from the Atlantic Ocean’s open waters. None of the handful of settlements that dot it can properly be called a city.

Each of these settlements has one or more lodging facilities, which tend to come in one of two forms: larger beachfront hotels and quiet motels that feature drive-up rooms and cottages.

Generally, the latter offers better value. But there’s also a handful of discount hotel chains, such as Comfort Inn South Oceanfront in Nags Head. The farther afield you venture, the thinner the hotel selection gets.

In the easternmost point of Rodanthe, North Carolina, it’s best to rent an apartment or beachfront cottage if you’re staying for more than a couple of days.

Where to Avoid

Even in the spring, the northern half of the Outer Banks tends to be pricier than the southern half. That includes the communities of Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Duck, and Kitty Hawk. It’s possible to find deals in this region, but real estate is more expensive. Vacation rentals are the way to go.

Cheap Events & Attractions

This place is a beach lover’s paradise. After all, the barrier islands that make up the Banks are basically a giant series of white-sand beaches.

In the north, spend time at uncrowded Duck Beach, then visit Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers first achieved powered flight.

Further south, visit the sharp elbow bend of Cape Hatteras National Seashore for a 270-degree ocean view. Along with Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, this preserve also harbors an impressive dune complex that’s popular with hikers and bird-watchers alike.

From the highest dunes, with the Atlantic Ocean to your east and Pimlico Sound to your west, you’ll feel like you’re completely surrounded by water — and you don’t have to pay a cent for the view.

If you’re hungry, there are plenty of cheap cafes along these barrier islands. Once you’ve filled up on the catch of the day, climb the stairs at Bodie Island Light Station, which is free to the public, for an even better view of the water.

Getting Around

If you plan to visit multiple Outer Banks communities, you may need to rent a car. Alternatively, you can avoid the hassle of navigating and parking on narrow, sometimes sand-covered roads in an unfamiliar vehicle by renting a bike from one of several local outfitters.

Ocean Atlantic Rentals, which operates four locations on the Outer Banks, offers weekly bike rentals at shockingly low prices. Just For The Beach Rentals offers nearly identical pricing, and both outfitters throw in free delivery on larger orders. At those prices, it’s often worthwhile to snag a weekly rental for shorter trips too.

Why It’s a Good Deal

Much of the cost of an Outer Banks getaway is for airfare (or gas) and lodging, but once you’re there, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy yourself. Accessible transportation is a big perk, as is the simple fact that local hoteliers and rental property owners are desperate for low-season business.

As in Vermont, hotel costs can drop by as much as half from the summer season. And an abundance of camping makes the Outer Banks a sensible choice for cost-conscious travelers.

One final advantage of visiting the Outer Banks in the springtime is the weather. Between March and May, conditions are almost invariably mild. The wet, windy winter storms have long since departed, summer’s heat hasn’t yet set in, and hurricane season doesn’t begin until July.


7. Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville Tennessee Skyline

  • High Season: Mid-April through mid-October
  • Average April High Temperature: 71 degrees F
  • Flight Time From New York City: Two hours, 20 minutes
  • Flight Time From San Francisco: About six hours, 30 minutes, including layover

Despite its glamorous image, Nashville has loads of bargains for cost-conscious spring breakers. Forget the Grand Ole Opry, Dolly Parton, and all the trappings of “country royalty.”

Yes, there are plenty of millionaires who own second, third, fourth, and maybe fifth homes in the Music City, but there are also plenty of hardworking stiffs who can get by on a modest income. So follow in their footsteps and enjoy yourself.

Where to Stay

Nashville’s tourist district is pretty compact, so it’s important for vehicle-less travelers to stay as close to it as possible. The area along the Cumberland River near Exits 47 and 48 on I-40 — informally known as the Stadium Area — boasts low-cost lodging options like the Clarion Hotel, Hampton Inn & Suites, and Extended Stay America, all within walking distance (or a short bus ride) of downtown Nashville.

If you have a car and don’t mind driving into town, there’s an even bigger cluster of hotels — including budget-friendly brands like Holiday Inn Express on the west side of town. It’s about 10 miles by car from this location to downtown.

Where to Avoid

Central Nashville is brimming with hotels, but they charge a hefty premium for convenience. Generally, the west and south banks of the Cumberland River — basically, the city’s central business district — cater to business travelers and professionals who associate with the area’s sizable medical cluster.

A secondary area to avoid lies just to the south of downtown Nashville near Vanderbilt University. Depending on the university’s event schedule, prices can fluctuate wildly. It’s best not to chance an unannounced rate hike by avoiding the district altogether.

Cheap Events & Attractions

Nashville is much more than the world’s country music capital. Visitors who don’t know Garth Brooks from George Strait can peruse Nashville’s world-class art institutions, visit its impressive zoo, catch a minor league baseball or Nashville Predators hockey game, and hike in the picturesque hills that rim the Cumberland River Valley.

For a completely free outdoor excursion, take a picnic lunch to Shelby Bottoms along the river and watch private boats navigate its rocky shoals. Nearby Stones River Bend Park offers a more rugged environment for urban hikers.

To see one of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s smaller dams, venture northwest to the Old Hickory Dam and feast your eyes on the snaking lake it holds back.

If you don’t mind heading indoors and parting with a little cash, check out the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Getting Around

Nashville doesn’t have a rail transit system, but the Nashville Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s bus system is quite good, especially if you buy a pass. If you’re staying for a couple of days, opt for an unlimited day pass. For longer trips, purchase a seven-day pass.

From the hotel district near the stadium, a five-minute bus ride across the river drops you within walking distance of most of the city’s major attractions. For trips farther afield — say, to the Grand Ole Opry or the Old Hickory Dam — look into affordable car rental options.

Why It’s a Good Deal

Although Nashville has emerged as a spring break destination for students from points further north, its tourist season doesn’t get going until the middle of April. If you can swing a trip in late March or early April, you get to enjoy fantastic spring weather at much lower price points.

Like the other sizable cities on this list, Nashville also offers plenty of free and cheap attractions that don’t require a car or special equipment to enjoy.


8. The Central Appalachians

Harpers Ferry West Virginia

  • High Season: Mid-May through late October
  • Average April High Temperature: 68 degrees F in Charleston, West Virginia; cooler in the mountains
  • Flight Time From New York City: Three hours, 45 minutes to Charleston, West Virginia, including layover
  • Flight Time From San Francisco: Seven hours to Charleston, West Virginia, including layover

The Appalachian Mountains stretch from Georgia to Maine, but tourist dollars aren’t spread uniformly along their spine. The northern end of the chain, from Vermont to Maine, is a wild mix of craggy peaks and tiny, bucolic towns. At the other end, Smoky Mountains National Park draws millions of visitors per year with awe-inspiring vistas and impossibly beautiful forests.

In between — in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania — lie what many perceive as countless hardscrabble towns and relatively few notable tourist attractions.

This perception is unfair to the growing tourist industry of West Virginia and Virginia. But it also means sharp-eyed travelers can take advantage of impressive deals in an environment that’s no less beautiful than the mountain chain’s more popular regions.

Where to Stay

“Central Appalachians” isn’t exactly synonymous with “the great outdoors,” but maybe it should be. As in Vermont, state and national forests dot the region along with locally managed parks. Most of these offer camping in some form, from rustic and primitive to modern and convenient.

For the former, check out the higher elevations of Savage River State Forest and New Germany State Park, both in Garrett County, Maryland, roughly midway between D.C. and Pittsburgh. Both have dozens of primitive campsites priced to book.

For the latter, check out Mason-Dixon Campground just across the Pennsylvania state line.

Where to Avoid

As in Vermont, the most expensive lodging options in the Central Appalachians tend to cluster at the bases of ski resorts. Avoid Snowshoe Village altogether — aside from a handful of northeastern resorts, it’s the closest thing to Aspen that side of the Rockies.

You don’t need to avoid the Wisp area entirely, but stay away from ski-in, ski-out lodging and anything with frontage on Deep Creek Lake, the resort’s centerpiece.

Cheap Events & Attractions

In March, the snow still flies in the higher elevations of West Virginia and Maryland, so resorts such as Wisp and Snowshoe may remain open. If you’re looking for deep discounts on late-season ski packages, look no further. Family-friendly activities abound near these snow-sport epicenters as well.

For a look at the region’s rich history, head over to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, for a walking tour of the old town. If the weather remains too iffy to attempt a hike into the highest elevations of the mountains, drive over to the New River Gorge and peer into its 1,000-foot depths.

If you’re fortunate, you’ll get a free show, as daredevils routinely use the bridge over the gorge to practice bungee jumping. At lower elevations, day hikes abound in Southeast Ohio’s Wayne National Forest.

Getting Around

If you want to enjoy your time in Appalachia, you need to rent or bring a car. While this can add to the cost of your trip, the area’s wealth of cheap lodging options should lessen the blow.

If you use a city like Charleston or Morgantown, West Virginia, as your home base, you may also be able to avoid rental fees on days you don’t venture out of the city.

Why It’s a Good Deal

As in Vermont, spring — especially early spring — is a lull time in the Central Appalachians. Independent hoteliers slash rates or close altogether, and even brand-name lodgings are half-deserted.

For campers, off-peak rates tend to be significantly lower than peak-season rates, and virtually empty campsites mean that visitors have their pick. In the warm season, this region is a popular outdoor destination for active residents of big cities like D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh — so come summer, there’s not a lot of breathing room. Enjoy it while you can.


9. Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas Nv Affordable Spring Break

  • High Season: Most of the year; June through August is typically the slowest stretch
  • Average April High Temperature: 81 degrees F
  • Flight Time From New York City: Five hours, 45 minutes
  • Flight Time From San Francisco: One hour, 35 minutes

You can undoubtedly spend (or outright lose) a lot of money in Las Vegas. But you don’t have to. Thanks to a reliable and robust supply of cheap flights from just about anywhere in North America and a vast stock of low-cost hotel rooms on or near the Strip, Las Vegas really is an affordable spring break destination.

Doing Vegas on the cheap does require some self-restraint. To save, skip the trendiest hotels and stay off the Strip. Stick to budget-friendly buffets and avoid chef-driven sit-down restaurants altogether. And staying off the casino floors is a must.

Where to Stay

Most people visit Vegas for the glitz and glamour of the casino-studded Strip, the colloquial name for the stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard between Las Vegas International Airport and downtown Las Vegas.

In most tourism-driven cities, avoiding the primary tourist draw is the best way to keep cash in your pocket. But that’s not necessarily the case in Las Vegas.

The Strip’s massive hotel-casino complexes have hundreds if not thousands of rooms each and fiercely compete against one another, creating a visitor-friendly supply-demand balance.

During the spring break season, you can easily find quality hotel rooms on the Strip for less than $150 per night and in kitschier downtown Las Vegas for less than $100 per night.

Where to Avoid

Despite having some affordable accommodations, the Strip has its share of not-so-budget-friendly resorts. Avoid super-high-end complexes like the Bellagio and Luxor, for example. A rough but reliable rule of thumb for Vegas visitors: The nicer the hotel pool, the more expensive the nightly rate.

If you plan to spend most of your time on the Strip or in downtown Vegas, think twice about trying to shave a few bucks off your nightly lodging bill by booking a far-flung motel in a distant suburb.

Greater Las Vegas’s transportation infrastructure strains under the weight of the region’s rapid growth, and traffic jams are commonplace. On the bright side, parking remains free at many casinos on the Strip itself.

Cheap Events & Attractions

It’s OK to find the bright lights of Vegas gaudy, even tiresome, but walking the Strip is still a fantastic way to spend an afternoon or evening and get some exercise while you’re at it.

Check out the Bellagio’s fountains as you pass, timing your transit with one of the scheduled water shows if you can. With its Old West vibe and street performers, downtown Las Vegas is fun to explore on foot too, though it’s decidedly not family-friendly after dark.

Away from the Strip, get a break from the action at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a beautiful and popular park in the foothills west of the city. Dozens of miles of trails welcome all abilities and fitness levels, and the higher elevations offer breathtaking vistas of the Las Vegas valley.

A bit farther west, Mt. Charleston and the greater Spring Mountain National Recreation Area offer yet more hiking (and a legitimate alpine respite from the desert floor). But check the weather before you leave, as late-season snow flies well into March and may render roads or trails impassable.

Getting Around

If you plan to stay on the Strip and spend most of your time in the heart of Vegas, you don’t need a car to get around. You need a private vehicle if you plan to explore the desert and mountains around the city, but limit your rental to just the days you’re not sitting poolside or walking the Strip.

Why It’s a Good Deal

Las Vegas is one of the most tourism-dependent big cities in America. The resulting competition between its casino resorts is beneficial to cost-conscious spring breakers looking for a respite from chilly weather, boring routines, or both.

And although March and April are technically part of Vegas’s high season, high visitor volumes don’t translate to high prices in Vegas as they do elsewhere.


10. Panama City, Florida

Panama City Beach

  • High Season: Late November through early March; late May through early September
  • Average April High Temperature: 81 degrees F
  • Flight Time From New York City: Four hours, 10 minutes, including layover
  • Flight Time From San Francisco: Seven hours, 25 minutes, including layover

College students from the Northeast and Midwest flock to this modestly sized town in the Florida Panhandle. And neighboring cities such as Panama City Beach and Destin are quite popular too.

However, there’s plenty of room for less adventurous travelers to spread out in Panama City. Between Tyndall Air Force Base and the city of Destin, the Gulf of Mexico coastline is a nearly unbroken expanse of white-sand beaches and picturesque dune complexes.

Panama City is the perfect home base for frugal travelers who wish to explore this beautiful, mild part of the world. Depending on the size of your group and the length of your stay, opt for non-beachfront accommodations in Panama City or a rental property on its outskirts, and avoid the costly condo towers on Panama City Beach’s main drag.

Where to Stay

During the spring, Panama City Beach tends to remain fairly busy. Accordingly, Panama City offers better deals on regular hotels and vacation rentals, even as it recharges for the high season.

Howard Johnson, Red Roof Inn, La Quinta, and Comfort Inn & Suites have convenient, non-waterfront locations within walking distance of Panama City’s downtown area.

If your heart is set on a rental, look to the Pretty Bayou neighborhood or the adjacent town of Lynn Haven. Both places’ side streets offer affordable cottages that may be available to short-term visitors. As a rule, rents and room prices fall as you travel away from the water.

For your trips to the beach, choose peripheral parts of Panama City Beach, preferably within a few hundred yards of St. Andrews State Park.

Where to Avoid

Stay away from Panama City Beach, especially the waterfront strip of high-rise condos and overpriced hotels, as even morning trips to the beach can be trying during spring break.

Also avoid the area near Tyndall Air Force Base. It’s not expensive, but there’s just not much to do near its gates.

Cheap Events & Attractions

If you don’t like going to the beach, Panama City isn’t for you. Aside from a handful of expensive, trendy restaurants, there’s not a whole lot else to do.

If you do like the beach, March and April are prime times to visit. Panama City’s notorious summer humidity has yet to set in, but the sun is strong enough that you can probably jump into the mild Gulf of Mexico waters.

For a more natural look at a classic Florida beach environment, visit St. Andrews State Park, a picturesque collection of tidal pools and dunes on a narrow barrier island. If you enter on foot, admission is negligible. If you have a car, take a drive along Highway 30A to Point Washington State Forest for a hike through its cypress swamps and pine forests.

And for a relaxing day on the water that doesn’t put you at risk of a third-degree sunburn, purchase a saltwater fishing permit and post up along any of the dozens of bayous that lead to North or West Bays.

Posten Bayou, Pretty Bayou, and Robinson Bayou are closest to town. If you don’t catch anything, don’t worry. You can find affordable locally caught seafood at dozens of area restaurants.

Getting Around

In Panama City, it’s possible to confine your activity to a radius of a mile or so within the city center and spring for a bus fare to Panama City Beach (a day pass costs just a few dollars).

However, many of the area’s finest attractions aren’t easy to reach on foot or public transit. A rental car makes life easier, but renting a bike makes more financial sense if you’re traveling light.

Why It’s a Good Deal

Panama City and Panama City Beach might be famous spring break destinations, but that doesn’t mean they’re unaffordable. If you stay in a hotel or rental property away from the Panama City Beach waterfront and rent a bike instead of a car, you spend far less than the college students who snap up expensive rentals on the beach.

Plus, the main attractions are free. Whether you’re walking through the pines at Point Washington, exploring the dunes at St. Andrews, or just sitting anywhere along the miles-long beach, you don’t have to pay anyone for the privilege.


11. Napa-Sonoma, California

Lake Berryessa Near Napa

  • High Season: Mid-April through mid-November
  • Average April High Temperature: 71 degrees F
  • Flight Time From New York City: About six hours
  • Drive Time From San Francisco: One to two hours

With impossibly exclusive restaurants and some of the world’s finest vineyards, Napa doesn’t seem like the sort of place that would fit most budgets, let alone a frugal traveler’s. That’s why the neighboring wine region of Sonoma has been billed in recent years as an affordable alternative to Napa.

But it’s best to look at Napa and Sonoma as two sides of the same coin. And budget-conscious travelers can experience both without taking out a second mortgage.

Where to Stay

Although the region is rather densely populated and boasts some cute little towns, the Napa-Sonoma area is largely rural. As such, many of its most affordable lodging options lie off the beaten path.

For instance, the Best Western outpost in the small town of Calistoga, which owes its existence to a popular hot spring, lies about 25 miles northwest of Napa. On the other side of the Coast Range is nearby Santa Rosa, still on the mend after a devastating wildfire.

The Highway 101 strip boasts budget hotels like the Quality Inn & Suites, where you can snag a room for less than $100 per night in the low season. They’re not fancy, but they get you close to the scenery and delicious wine.

Camping is also an option. Drive-in campsites at Sugarloaf Ridge cost less than half the likely tariff at local budget hotels.

Where to Avoid

While Napa has a handful of national-brand hotels that don’t charge the hefty nightly fees of the high-end resorts, pretty much everything within the area carries a hefty “convenience charge.”

That includes seemingly innocuous places like the Hilton Garden Inn, whose occasional “bottle of wine with every room” deal should be a giveaway that upcharges aren’t far off.

Cheap Events & Attractions

A surprising number of local vineyards in both Napa and Sonoma offer complimentary wine tastings by appointment, though many require a minimum purchase (typically one or two bottles) as a condition.

Buehler Vineyards and Vincent Arroyo Winery are among the most generous, though California Winery Advisor has additional suggestions.

To enjoy Napa and Sonoma outside the confines of a winery, check out sprawling natural areas like Hood Mountain Regional Park and Annadel State Park. Both feature miles of hiking.

If you choose to camp at Sugarloaf Ridge, follow the trail up to the peak of Bald Mountain. According to the park’s website, those who make the climb can see the Golden Gate Bridge and the peaks of the northern Sierras on clear days.

Getting Around

Given the sprawling geography of the Napa-Sonoma region and the prohibitive cost of limiting your activities to the built-up areas of the region, renting a car is a must.

But Zephyr Adventures and Napa Valley Bike Tours offer safe, eco-friendly touring options for folks who plan to indulge at the region’s vineyards. The tours are pricey, but you can always copy one of their itineraries, pack some camping gear, and make a three- or four-day trek on foot or bike.

Why It’s a Good Deal

Early spring is the perfect time to travel to Napa and Sonoma. In most years, the rainy season ends by late March and is quickly followed by a spate of warm, sunny, stable weather conditions. During drought years, reliably dry weather comes even earlier.

But the high season doesn’t begin until mid-April, so travelers can look forward to several weeks of fair weather and budget hotel rooms.


Reducing the Risk of Spring Break Travel During COVID-19

With the arrival of effective COVID-19 vaccines, U.S.-based travelers are tentatively taking to the roads and skies once more. But the pandemic isn’t over by a long shot, and travel remains risky.

Officially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against nonessential travel — that’s all leisure travel, including spring break trips.

If you must travel or choose to do so despite official recommendations, the CDC advises taking precautions such as:

  • Getting a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you’re eligible (check your state or local government’s official COVID-19 website for details)
  • Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth while in public (this is required on airplanes traveling to, from, and within the U.S. and on all other public transport)
  • Getting a COVID-19 test no more than three days before your trip begins
  • Avoiding crowds and remaining at least 6 feet from others not in your household whenever possible
  • Getting tested again for COVID-19 no more than five days after returning and self-quarantining per the CDC quarantine guidelines (which may have you quarantine for up to two weeks)

Additionally, follow all practical risk-reduction measures for pandemic travel, such as:

  • Having multiple spare masks or face coverings on hand
  • Choosing an airline that blocks out the middle seat in every row (or if your budget allows, purchasing the middle seat so no one can sit there)
  • Opting for Airbnb over a hotel to avoid crowds and interpersonal contact
  • Exercising outdoors or in your room if possible
  • Traveling by road for shorter trips (and longer ones if you have the luxury of time)

Implement other approaches for reducing your risk on spring break too. For example, according to the CDC, crowded restaurants, bars, and private parties are significant factors in COVID-19 transmission, in part because alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes people less likely to mask and socially distance properly.

So it’s safest to avoid alcohol, especially in indoor settings where maskless patrons freely consume it. Drinking at your Airbnb surrounded only by your fellow travelers is far safer.

Finally, think twice about traveling at all for spring break in 2021. Instead of visiting Washington, D.C., and checking out the Smithsonian museums in person, you can take a virtual tour from the comfort of your living room.

One advantage of virtual tourism is the opportunity to check out places you might not have the time or funds to visit — like the British Museum in London or the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, two of Travel & Leisure’s top picks for remote museum tours in 2021.

But museums aren’t the only places you can tour virtually. You can remotely go to zoos, aquariums, theme parks, and even cathedrals. Look for specific virtual tours by searching for “virtual tour” and the name of your destination. Or check out the lists from Taste of Home, Good Housekeeping, and Forbes.


Final Word

Once you start looking for affordable spring break travel ideas, you start seeing them everywhere. Whether you’re interested in following in the footsteps of millions of college students over the years and spending a few days on a warm beach or you prefer to ride winter for as long as you can, there’s a location that will speak to you — without draining your bank account.

Brian Martucci
Brian Martucci writes about credit cards, banking, insurance, travel, and more. When he's not investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, you can find him exploring his favorite trails or sampling a new cuisine. Reach him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

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