How To Plan An Affordable Spring Vacation

Most of us are dreaming of the perfect warm getaway while we scrape the ice off our windshields. As we're snowblowing the driveway, we dream of a sandy beach or just a hammock in the warm sun. Unfortunately, you might be reaching into empty pockets after tax season, meaning you may not think that dream is feasible.

But if you're creative with your destinations and your budget and have a flexible schedule, a place in the sun can be had without breaking the bank. Here are some helpful tips that will encourage you to pack that swimsuit, sunscreen and flip-flops.

Find free lodging

If you're traveling alone and want a really inexpensive vacation, you can always go online and find a free place to stay. Try where you can find a free bed, couch, futon or spot on the floor. One of the best perks about this is getting insider tips on what to do or see from your in-residence concierge.

Take a road trip

Many live within hours or a couple days drive of a warm destination, so go for a beautiful spring drive. This is one of the best ways to save money, stay on budget and is much less expensive than flying. According to AAA, gas is averaging about 33 cents less than it was a year ago. Pack all you want — no added fees on overweight luggage!

Go somewhere snowy

How about a snowboard or ski trip on the cheap? Try Snow King Resort in Wyoming. It's just a few miles from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and half the price.

Join a rewards program

One way to save big is to join travel rewards programs. The programs aren't just limited to airlines — hotels have them too. It's free to sign up, and if you open a travel rewards credit card, you may be able to earn tens of thousands in bonus points right off the bat. (But beware of fees with credit cards.)

Reserve midweek flights

If you and your family have some flexibility, fly midweek instead of on Friday or Saturday for better rates. Generally these midweek flights can be a great cost-cutter when traveling with the whole crew.

Pack everything yourself

It's cheaper to pack everything you need (within reason) than to buy it at your destination. Things like sunglasses, hats, sunscreens and sandals can be twice as expensive at beach vacation destinations.

Go out of the country

If you really want to get away, far away, and still not come home broke, try San Ignacio, Belize. This place is a steal because the U.S. dollar is double its value here. November to April is the best time to visit, and Southwest and United airlines have affordable flights to Belize City.

Budget your meals

Part of a great spring vacation is dining alfresco at a restaurant on the pier. Doing that for seven days is sure to put a big dent in your budget. Look online for the nearest grocery store and stock up. Most hotels will have a fridge, so stock up on things for breakfast like juice or fruit and necessities for quick lunches.

Buy passes in advance

Whether you are traveling with just your partner or with a family of eight, one of the best ways to save is to do online ticket shopping beforehand. You can buy discounted passes to parks, zoos, sightseeing boat rides, entertainment venues and even spa treatment packages.

Book later in the season

Savvy travelers know that some of the best deals can be found in the off-season. That can even apply to spring break. Late February through mid-April is peak season for spring break travel and crowds. Best deals can be found after mid-April.

Book early

One of the best tips for saving on spring break is to book early. Booking domestic flights about six weeks in advance will get you the best options and prices. If booking a cruise, try as early as 12 to 18 months in advance.

Go to less popular beaches

If you're looking for a beach destination, try booking at places that are often overlooked for more popular hot spots. Try the Outer Banks of North Carolina rather than Myrtle Beach or visit Jacksonville or Key West instead of Miami or Orlando, and you'll find there's more to Florida than just Disney.

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