By Sarah Wall

It may be cold and snowy over much of the United States now, but the days are steadily lengthening, and spring will soon be upon us. That means Spring Break is quickly approaching too, and many of us are feeling an itch to travel. With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine ongoing, experts believe leisure travel will bounce back in 2021, perhaps not to 2019 levels, but with a much stronger push than last year.

Traveling can be an expensive hobby, and with the lingering economic uncertainty, the price tag of a Spring Break trip might be top of mind. Thankfully, there are alternatives to some of the best-known vacation destinations that are not only more affordable, but also make for equally wonderful memories.

Amusement Park: Disney World… or Cedar Point?

Disney World has earned its reputation as one of the most unforgettable theme parks in the country. But between huge crowds and a high cost, it can be prohibitive for some families. Cedar Point, located in Sandusky, Ohio, is well-known by roller coaster enthusiasts for maintaining some of the wildest, highest rides in the world. From park admission to the cost of lodging in nearby hotels, Cedar Point rings up at a fraction of Disney World’s price.

Disney World 

Cedar Point

Hiking Trip: Sedona, Arizona… or Santa Fe, New Mexico?

The Southwestern United States is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Springtime weather is dry and warm, and the trails provide views unlike anywhere else in the country. But before planning a trip out west, consider the cost differences in various areas, which can make a considerable difference. Sedona, Arizona is a fantastic, well-known hiking center, with hundreds of miles of incredible trails through red rocks, caverns, and even the Grand Canyon (if you’re up for a day trip). But Santa Fe, New Mexico clocks in at a lower cost, and it, too, offers spectacular desert vistas and cornflower blue skies.

Sedona            

  • 206 trails; 117 rated moderate by AllTrails
  • Aesthetic: wellness, relaxation, red rocks
  • Hotels cost an average $226 per night (Booking.com) 
  • Rental cars cost an average $30 per day
  • Flying from Chicago costs about $100 roundtrip to Phoenix, ~3-hour drive from Sedona
  • Driving from Chicago takes about 25 hours, approx. $160 at current gas prices

Santa Fe

  • 100 trails; 47 rated moderate by AllTrails
  • Aesthetic: Old West, laid-back, desert vistas
  • Hotels cost an average of $78 per night (Booking.com)
  • Rental cars cost an average of $40 per day
  • Flying from Chicago costs about $250 roundtrip to Albuquerque, ~30-minute drive to Santa Fe
  • Driving from Chicago takes about 19 hours, approx. $120 at current gas prices

Beach Trip: Hawaii… or the Florida Keys?

Nothing makes for a classic Spring Break like heading to the beach. Tropical excursions, though, can have hefty price tags. If you’re craving sand and sun, Hawaii is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but because everything is imported, the cost of living is much higher than on the mainland. The Florida Keys provide almost as much sun and sand at a slightly lower price tag (not to mention, the flight is considerably shorter!).

Hawaii

  • Made up of 137 recognized islands
  • The climate in the spring: Low 80s F during the day, upper 60s F at night; average 1.5 inches of rain
  • Dinner costs about $50 to $100 per person/meal
  • Hotels cost about $250/night
  • Flying from Chicago costs about $500 roundtrip

Florida Keys

  • Made up of 43 connected islands; 1700 including unconnected
  • The climate in the spring: Low 80s F during the day (mid-80s later spring), upper 60s F at night; average 2.5 inches of rain
  • Dinner costs $25 to $35 per person/meal, as found on Yelp
  • Hotels cost about $236/night
  • Flying from Chicago costs about $80 roundtrip to Miami, plus car rental to the Keys
  • Driving from Chicago takes about 23 hours, about $145 at current gas prices