8 Tips for Planning a Spring Break Staycation on the Cheap
While a week-long vacation on the beach sounds like the perfect respite from the long winter, not everyone is willing to pay a premium for airline tickets and hotels at some of Spring Break’s biggest hotspots. That doesn’t mean you can’t still “escape” for a few days. With a little planning and savvy know-how, staycations can be an affordable, fun alternative for the entire family. Here are eight ways to keep your budget in check, while planning a staycation that feels like a true getaway:
- Choose a hotel with key amenities. Be sure to choose a hotel that feels like a destination in itself. One that has amenities that will make you feel like you’re on vacation without even stepping outside. These may include an indoor pool (make sure it’s big enough for the entire family to enjoy and not just a lap pool), and a spa with a variety of treatments that appeal to you. Check out the spa services menu online and make your reservations as far in advance as possible to ensure availability during your stay.
- Don’t pay for hotel perks. While you may be willing to pay a little extra for amenities like an indoor pool, you won’t want to pay a premium for things like on-site parking and wifi. Parking at hotels in major metro areas like Chicago can cost you upwards of $50-$60 per day. And if there’s a cost to use wifi in your room, find out if it’s free for those lounging the lobby. Ask specifically about daily rates for these extras before you book to ensure there’s no sticker shock upon checkout. And find out about the perks of signing up for a hotel’s reward program, which may include free wifi and free or discounted parking. Finally, consider using apps like SpotHero that help you find discounted parking at nearby garages. You may just find an available spot – at a fraction of the price – next door to your hotel.
- Take advantage of weekend packages, hotel credits and free breakfast. Check out hotel websites for special weekend packages that often include discounted rates, free breakfast and credits for amenities you may be planning to use anyway, like spa services. Hotels in major business travel destinations often have enticing package deals to help fill rooms on the weekends after the biz crowd heads home. Check out brands like Westin and W Hotels that appeal to this segment and expand your search to the financial districts that are less crowded on the weekend. Also, look for hotel brands that are known for quality, free hot breakfast, like Fairfield Inn & Suites and SpringHill Suites. You’ll easily save $40 – $60 before you even step out the door each day.
- Stay central. If you’re planning to play tourist, then be sure your hotel is centrally located to everything on your “must do” list. Not only will this save you transportation time, but parking and ride-share costs. And the more central you are to attractions and activities, the more you’ll feel like you’re truly on vacation.
- Have a plan and book in advance. When planning a vacation away from home, you likely wouldn’t just “wing it” upon arrival in your destination. Staycations should be viewed no differently. Be sure to book tickets to “must do” attractions in advance. Check out sites that specialize in local deals – like Groupon and LivingSocial – for discounts and coupons. Consider using credit card, airline or hotel reward points to pay for attractions or theater tickets. Find dinner deals on sites like Restaurant.com and make reservations in advance. The bottom line is that booking in advance will almost always net you better prices than paying at the door.
- Go stand-by for hot theater seats. If your staycation includes an afternoon or evening at the theater – and you’re not willing to pay the going rate for a seat – consider a more flexible option and head over to the theater’s box office the morning of the show. Single seats will be the most plentiful and most deeply discounted, so if you want to sit together this may not be for you, but if you want to see the hottest shows in town at a fraction of the price, leave some room in your itinerary to give it a shot. And note, weekday matinees tend to have the most day-of availability.
- Research “locals” discounts. If you’re not a frequent museum-goer, you may be surprised to find that opportunities exist to find free or discounted tickets just for being a local resident. Do a little research ahead of time and you may be able to save some serious cash. Some top museums have free monthly days for residents and many local libraries offer discounted tickets and free passes that can be checked out. If you are local to a major theme park, ask about resident rates and special discount days.
- Take a self-guided tour. If you think taking a tour of your hometown sounds like something for visitors only, think again. We tend to overlook so many of the special details and interesting history in our own backyards as we’re heading to work or going about our normal daily activity. One of the most rewarding ways to enjoy being a tourist in your own town is to download a self-guided walking tour app like Historypin or TripScout – or check out walking-tour resources on your local tourism bureau website. You’ll be surprised at what you learn exploring a new neighborhood or revisiting an old one in a new way. It will cost you little to nothing and may give you an entirely fresh perspective on your own city.