College students aren't the only ones traveling in March. Non-student couples and families of all ages are also heading south for spring break. While these groups don't necessarily mingle well, they all have one thing in common; wanting to find the best deals on the best vacations available while escaping the winter blues.
Here's how to beat the crowds, and the higher prices they bring, to find the least expensive and most relaxing vacations this March.
Go Someplace Else
A poll by the travel website Kayak.com shows the top spring break destinations are Las Vegas, Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Puerto Vallarta. Student Universe identifies Panama City, Cancun, and San Jose among their top 10.
The trick to getting deals on air fare? Pick a less obvious destination.
There are any number of alternative spring break destinations where the Southern sun shines as brightly, but the prospects for cheap air fare and reasonably-priced accommodations aren't as dim. Seek out spots packed with museums, parks and kid-themed destinations that are close to, if not on, a beach, or just outside large spring break destinations. Don't overlook classic smaller cities like Charleston, Savannah or Galveston.
While domestic airfares spike during spring break season, international airfare drops, according to Sarah Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Kayak. The flight may be longer, but the cost is far less.
For non-collegiate couples or families looking for relaxing beach views not obscured with red-cup toting partiers, the Greek islands offers moderate climates and off-season rates, while Spain's economic troubles make finding hotel deals a snap. Or head to the Balkans -- rich in culture and thrifty in cost.
Go Out to Sea
Because cruise ships sail whether they're full or not, savvy travelers who wait until the last minute to book can reap the rewards of rock-bottom prices. Cruisers who sail in off-season March will pay a fraction for the same trip as their summer-traveling counterparts.
Book a "family" cruise to avoid the collegiate crowd; search out itineraries low on parties and packed with kid-friendly activities. Prefer to spend more time on-ship than in a port of call? Check out off-season ship repositioning deals. While the starting and ending ports will differ, and the stops will be fewer, the on-board service and accommodations will be the same quality and the price will be right.
Go at an Off-Peak Time
Because breakers hoping to take advantage of every single minute of vacation travel weekend to weekend, flights and other fares mid-week will be lower. A five day vacation that leaves on Tuesday and returns on Saturday will be markedly less expensive than a Monday-Friday jaunt, or even a Sunday-Saturday trip. Off-hours flights, red-eyes, and flights with ugly layovers can offer substantial savings to travelers who are traveling light in companions and have time and flexibility to spare.
Go to College
If it sounds counter-intuitive consider this: College towns like Berkeley or Chapel Hill don't shut down when the students are away. Their cultural resources make many of them great places to vacation, and lines are considerably less at coffee shops, concert venues and museums when school is out of session. The colleges themselves frequently have exhibits open to the public and their websites are founts of information for visitors.
Don't Go ... Yet
If time permits and vacationing around school schedules isn't an issue, consider waiting out the spring break period and instead traveling in April. Early spring is still shoulder season for many destinations around the world and with careful planning, deals and lesser crowds can be found.