Finally, spring break has arrived, meaning it's time to find someplace where spring has arrived.
Or maybe not.
While luxury cruises and beach resorts were once popular choices, the down economy has put a damper on many vacation plans. Students, already on tight vacation budgets, are particularly struggling.
|Halong Bay, Vietnam
But a shortage of cash doesn’t have to mean being stuck in your dorm room watching reruns of MTV's "Spring Break" all week. It just takes a little effort to find budget travel options that still provide all the comforts of a luxury vacation.
If the beach is your destination of choice, just look off the beaten path! Roam through Costa Rica, go shopping in Playa del Carmen, enjoy the white beaches of Anguilla or go clubbing in Miami.
If baking in the sun isn’t your thing, here are a few unorthodox possibilities to explore. Those not looking for oceanside lounge chairs can try dog sledding in Iceland, marvel at Sweden's ice hotel or wander the streets of historic Montreal. Here are a few tips for how to enjoy your time in the sun or in the snow, all while sticking to a budget.
For a spring break that’s the polar opposite, why not try Iceland?
A spring getaway doesn't have to take you somewhere warm and sunny. Expand your horizons and head north to score a great deal.
|Dog-sledding in Iceland. Very cool. (Icelandic Tourist Board)|
Following Iceland’s unfortunate bankruptcy in 2008, one of the most expensive cities in the world, Reykjavik, became a whole lot cheaper. Just recently, Icelandair extended a deal starting at $499 per person, including airfare from New York City or Boston, two nights lodging in Reykjavik and two full breakfasts. Or you can pay for the flight and book hostels across the country for as little as $20 per night.
Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, is a must-see destination known for its nightlife and cafe scene, as well as its brightly painted houses.
After hitting up the city, take a spin through the countryside. See Geysir, the original spouting hot spring that lends its name to every other water spout, walk the black sand beaches at Vik I Myrdal, take a gander at the volcanoes and fjords and hike up to the Gullfoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
If you’re looking for adventure, try your hand at dog sledding. Dog sledding Iceland is the only company legally allowed to book these tours, and advanced booking is highly recommended. After a hard day of dog sledding — it's not as easy as it looks — take a plunge in the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s largest geothermal pool. Lean back, look up at the pitch-black sky, and try to find the sometimes-elusive Northern Lights.
The best way to get around outside the capital is by renting a car. All U.S. and European driver’s licenses are accepted, though the minimum age is 21.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Cancun might be a typical spring break destination for crazy parties and marathon drinking, but smarter travelers might want to try Playa del Carmen, 45 minutes outside of Cancun, for a less-traveled alternative.
Playa, as the locals call it, is a smaller version of Cancun. It has great restaurants, nightlife and renowned shopping on its own Fifth Avenue, not to mention several gorgeous beaches. There are also daily trips to nearby Mayan ruins, including Chichen Itza (one of the seven wonders of the modern world).
Prices can add up if you choose to stay at one of the many resorts in Playa, but the trip does not have to be expensive. Using sites like Expedia or StudentUniverse can land direct and one-stop flights in the $250-$400 range. (The nearest airport is Cancun International.) Once there, an airport shuttle to your lodging costs about $15 per person.
While there are plenty of boutique hotels or motels, there's also another, less-expensive option: condominiums. The North American Standard Co. offers great deals on condos around Playa. For $1,050 (or sometimes less), five people can stay in a two-bedroom, two-bath condo four blocks from the beach. To top it off, the condo rental service offers a free concierge service to help vacationers find their way and plan excursions.
After all that, if you still want a piece of that spring break action, Cancun is only a cab ride away.
Looking to get off-the-beaten-school-break path? Oui, you say? Look no further for your international, multilingual destination needs than our neighbor to the north, Canada and its island-city of Montreal.
On the St. Lawrence River, Montreal is officially first French-speaking, and second English-speaking. That said, English is widely spoken, especially at such vital places as public transportation outlets and restaurants.
The city boasts New World charm on small cobble-stoned streets in the Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal) and Vieux Port (Old Port) neighborhoods. Some parts, especially the Place Jacques-Cartier, can get a bit touristy, but they’re still worth a walk-through. Walk from the Basilica Notre Dame down Rue St. Sulpice to Rue St. Paul and along to Place Cartier.
Also be sure to check out the more modern student, or Latin, quarter around Rue St. Denis — again a bit touristy but full of hookah bars and places to grab traditional Quebec fare, including poutine (fries with cheese curds and gravy).
You can fly to Montreal (the fare from New York for the first week in March on Expedia.com was around $500 roundtrip) or, if you don’t mind a 10-hour trip on Amtrak by train, roundtrip on the Adirondack line for about $150, from New York’s Penn Station.
Hostels are available for just a few piastres (Quebecois for a dollar), specifically from $20 to $72 a night for single private rooms. Proper hotels run about $175 for two nights with www.tourisme-montreal.org’s current deal. (Stay a second night at selected hotels for 50 percent off the first night’s rate.) From cities like Boston, universities often organize low-cost weekend bus trips, so check your campus news.
Whether it’s ice-skating at spots around town, hiking up the Mont Royale, or taking in a Canadiens’ game or a rock concert, Montreal’s the place to do it. So bring your sense of adventure and kick it Quebec-style!
You’ve heard of St. Martin, the Virgin Islands, Aruba, and other Caribbean paradises. But you’ve probably never heard of Anguilla.
Part of the British West Indies, it is a long, scrubby island, unlike its mountainous and famous neighbors. Anguilla, which means “eel” in Spanish, lies north of St. Martin, one of the Caribbean’s main vacation hubs. Getting to Anguilla usually means flying into St. Maarten (average flights from Boston are about $330 round trip) and taking a water taxi ($15 one way) eight miles to the dock on Anguilla.
Anguilla does have several mind-bogglingly expensive resorts, all of which lay on some of the world’s most pristine white sand beaches. But it has a few other features that make it a unique find. All of the beaches, no matter how exclusive the resort that abuts it, are public, and relatively deserted. The island is kept in a trust for its citizens, so development is extremely limited — there is no McDonald’s on this island. It has few residents and few tourists, and an abundance of peace and quiet.
Perhaps most importantly for students, it has an affordable bed and breakfast called Lloyd’s Guest House, which runs at $135 per night for a two-person room. So hop on a boat, call up Lloyd’s Guest House for a reservation, and prepare for a week of relaxation.
Just a short walk from Lloyd’s is Little Bay, a tiny beach cut out of a sheer rock cliff. You can only access Little Bay by boat or by rappelling down a rope that hangs from the cliff, but the risk is worth it. You’ll rarely see anyone in the tiny beach, and its cliffs are perfect for snorkeling.
For a cheap eat, the Un Amore Cafe is the spot. The pizza is the cheapest food on the island.
For most, Sweden conjures images of Ikea, H&M, ABBA and Elin Nordegren Woods (wife of Tiger Woods). But more than that, it offers cultural and natural wonders, and may be your choice for a (literally) cool getaway this spring break.
Part of this Scandinavian nation lies inside the Arctic Circle, meaning it offers snow- and ice-related activities. It’s also considered one of the friendliest countries in the world.
Typical winter sports such as downhill skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing are popular, but try dog sledding for an unforgettable experience in the snow. While in the Arctic Circle, you should also attempt to see the Northern Lights; also known as the Aurora Borealis. They are best seen between September and March, but are not always easy to spot.
In terms of lodging, there is one particularly unique (but pricey) option: Ice Hotel in the town of Jukkasjarvi. As you might expect from the name, in the ice hotel everything is ... wait for it ... made of ice. Each suite is designed with a unique theme, like the “Spooning Suite,” drawing on the pun by situating the bed between two “drawers” full of large knives and spoons, all carved in ice. The experience makes a great story, but this is not a cheap option. All rooms are more than $1,000 per night.
But there are certainly ways to see Sweden on a budget. Outside of the capital (Stockholm), you can find quaint hotels and cabins without the hefty price tag using websites like www.tripadvisor.com.
Away from the nature, the capital of Stockholm offers your typical European sights, including royal palaces, castles, seaside villas, museums and fashionista shopping venues. Staying in Stockholm is quite affordable, as one can always turn to hostels or inexpensive local hotels, like the Alexandra Hotel Stockholm or the Stay At Hotel Apartment Bromma Stockholm.
Spring is the not considered part of Sweden’s “high season,” so airfares are relatively low during March and April, averaging $600 for a round-trip from New York, says www.tripadvisor.com.
A final plus? Most Swedes speak English, so you won’t have to learn Swedish for “Where’s the bathroom?” (Ursakta mig, men var finns toaletterna?!)
Whether cruising the rainforest on a zip line or soaking in a hot spring with the locals, Costa Rica offers the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. Active volcanoes and white water rapids sit between hundreds of miles of Pacific and Caribbean beaches — a virtual playground for adventurous spring breakers.
And the best news: It’s affordable. Flights into Juan Santamaria International Airport (just outside of the capital, San Jose) are about $400 roundtrip, if you avoid flying on Saturdays. Once in Costa Rica, dorm beds in a hostel cost about $10 a night, and a private room goes for about $20 a night. You can look through options at HostelWorld. Though we don’t recommend staying in San Jose for long, a bus ticket from this central location to anywhere in the country costs less than $10.
Once you’ve landed in San Jose, the options are endless. Check out Jaco, an Americanized beach town on the Pacific Coast. In the northeast region, hike a volcano or repel down a waterfall at the Volcan Rincon de la Vieja.
Nature lovers can catch a glimpse of the endangered Central American squirrel monkey at the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio or swim with sharks at Playa del Coco. End your trip in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, an Afro-Caribbean beach town where you can swing from a hammock while listening to reggae music.
The people of Costa Rica — Ticos, as they call themselves — have a reputation for hospitality. So whether you bring your hiking boots or flip-flops and a swimsuit, you’ll likely find respite in Costa Rica.
Want a low-key thaw? Miami might just fit the bill.
Staying on Miami Beach means you’re close to the surf, the clubs and the stunning Art Deco surroundings of that beach community and city. Walking north from South Beach (a great way to see the local scenery), you’ll hit posh, people-watching-friendly Lincoln Road. Be sure to check out the jazzy Van Dyke Cafe.
Staying across the causeway from Miami Beach, on the mainland, you can party it up, off-Beach, at I/O Lounge, a club that hosts different dance nights and boasts an outdoor patio (cabbing it back and forth is recommended here as well).
Transport and staying skinny: flights on kayak.com were recently about $350 for a one-stop roundtrip, while direct flights from Boston were in the $400 range. Hostel accommodations on South Beach can be relatively cheap, though better deals are available for bunking in larger dorms.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Oh Canada! The 2010 Winter Olympics might be over, but there are gold-medal deals to be
(Courtesy of John Rawlinson)
had. Students looking for an international trip that doesn’t break the bank or involve the anxiety of non-English-speaking countries will find this a pleasant option.
Vancouver is the kind of place where foodies, extreme sports enthusiasts and fishermen can be found sitting at the same cafe table. This northern city has been compared to a mix of San Francisco and Seattle, because of its temperate climate and vibrant art scene. Outside of safety and convenience, Vancouver’s unique geographic location allows people to go off and snowshoe on the mountains and on the same day kayak down the water, according to Tourism Vancouver.
Although Vancouver is not particularly well known as a party destination, it has a pretty unsung night life, with Granville Street providing endless opportunities for dancing up a storm in the nightclubs, laying low with slices of 99 cent pizza and cheap beers, or enjoying a quiet cocktail in one of the area's serene bistros.
A host of deals and promotions posted on Tourism Vancouver’s site give plenty of incentive for college students to head north, including a third-night-free hotel offer for travel through April 30.
Nonstop flights originating from Boston run about $744 on Expedia, but a cheaper travel route to Vancouver — if you don't mind a little extra travel time — can be had by flying from Boston to Seattle for $450 and hopping on a bus to Vancouver for just $30, saving you a few hundred dollars that could be spent down on Granville St.
With an ample selection of hostels and three-star hotel accommodations downtown for about $60 a night, you will easily be able to find a place to lay your wary body for a very low price.
And if you're looking to strap on your skis and hit the slopes, the Whistler/Blackcomb site offers a wide range of lodging, airfare and ski-and-stay deals to combat its post-Olympics slump. In addition, quieter slopes mean no lift lines and more powder for your punch.
Being that it is Vancouver's off-season for tourism (it is much more visited during the summer months), and since hotels and restaurants are looking to fill rooms and seats left vacant from
the recent ending of the Olympics, everybody has a chance to win, at the least, a great vacation deal in Vancouver.
This report comes from journalists in our Student Correspondent Corps, a GlobalPost project training the next generation of foreign correspondents while they study abroad.