|Opportunities abound to vacation without the high price|
|Written by Kristen Bahler, Daily Vidette Reporter|
|Wednesday, 22 April 2009 18:00|
Whether the student is a returning freshmen or a recent graduate, chances are they need a holiday. Despite recession qualms and money woes, almost anyone can take a proper summer vacation without hemorrhaging money . they just need to be willing to adjust.
When most people daydream of getting away, images of sweltering heat and jumbo margaritas are usually conjured. Such luxuries are almost nonexistent on the average college student's budget, so learning how to pinch pennies when it comes to traveling is a must.
"In these times, a lot of things related to travel are discounted," Tim Davis, president of Suzi Davis Travel, said. "People want to make sure they are spending their money as wisely as possible . students are on a budget and need to stay on it, they're not necessarily looking for an upgrade. They just want to go and figure the rest out when they get there."
Unfortunately for those on a tight budget, "just getting there" is a feat in itself. On the plus side, a simple web search can save a student hundreds of dollars on accommodations and airfare. The Kayak and Student Universe Web sites have some of the cheapest deals on airfare around, and Amtrak has last-minute deals every week. If you plan on traveling in a larger group, however, sometimes the best alternative is a gas card and your mom's old Taurus.
Davis, who makes a living out of finding the cheapest travel options for his customers, knows a thing or two about planning for a summer vacation on the cheap.
"I always like to start with the when," he said. "Whether two months or two days, once we understand how long [they have], we try to find the basic criteria that need to be met for the person to get this vacation executed. Then we get to the budget, how many people are going, and how we can get there."
Those who don't mind staying in hostels can save some major money (hostelz.com has tens of thousands of hostel listings both in the states and abroad), but an even cheaper alternative is a modern phenomenon called "couch surfing," a worldwide network of travelers who simply stay on each other's couches. For free.
"It has worked really well for me," Margaret Kocher said of this rather unorthodox way of traveling. "I went to New York for spring break in 2007 and in late March I went to Madison, Wisconsin and couch surfed. If you get hooked up with couch surfing, you can go anywhere."
Couchsurfing.com has over a million registered "surfers" in over 200 countries.
"You usually ask about five people [from the coach surfer's website] in a city you want to stay at and hope at least one of them responds," Kocher, a senior at Illinois Wesleyan who has traveled rather extensively both in the U.S. and abroad, said. "When I was in New York I stayed with a guy from Guatemala who lived in queens. We chose him because of location and he ended up being really nice and accommodating, ... he asked us questions, made us food, and was of a similar mindset."
Though many would be understandably hesitant to stay on the couch of a complete stranger in a foreign city, (or a foreign country, for that matter) Kocher believes couch surfing is a (literally) priceless traveling option that, if done intelligently, is extremely safe.
"Everyone's profile on the website is verified. You can see how many people have stayed on their couch before and what their experiences were like," Kocher said. "[For example] in Madison, the girl I stayed with has had over 50 people stay on her couch. It's a valuable resource, to find someone in the city you want to go to ... so if you don't have a lot of money you won't end up by yourself in a hotel room or sleeping in your car, which I've done . it wasn't fun," she said.
When asked what advice she'd give a student who was interested in trying out couch surfing but was concerned how safe and legit an experience they'd have, Kocher responded, "Don't go alone. If you're scared, make sure your personal belongings are always on you . try and learn a little bit about the city beforehand so you can ride a bus, etc. if you need to. I would definitely say you have to make sure you choose wisely . but also, get out of your comfort zone and try it."
If roughing it to the extreme of sleeping on a couch or floor is not for you, there are numerous other ways to make up for the money spent on a hotel or hostel. An enjoyable vacation needs not necessitate flights to the four corners of the world. Music festivals, baseball games and shopping trips in a city a student has never visited can be a much more enjoyable experience than battling the lines of screaming children at Disney World. St. Louis is a beautiful city with more than enough to do (even for a Cubs fan) and the Wisconsin Dells has campgrounds that make another affordable alternative to hostelling.
According to Davis, a student can even go abroad without delving into their student loans.
"Mexico is very interesting and has lots of capacity with prices that are very low," he said. "In the same sense, the Dominican Republic's prices are very low and Mediterranean cruise prices are usually in the 100 dollar a day range. There is some really low airfare to Ireland and when you get there you can get around without breaking the bank . it's always smart to do research on your destination ahead of time as well. Know where you're going to be . and look at some maps before you get there."
"Don't go out to eat every meal," Kocher said, concerning simple money-saving tricks. "Instead of doing something expensive, sit in a park and people watch. Make friends with locals and people in bars. You don't have to spend money [to have fun]."
In short, regardless of the size of a student's pocketbook, there is absolutely no reason they should have to work all summer without a vacation. Think about it, when else are you going to be willing and able to spend a week living out of a van, or trekking from hostel to hostel.