Beaches packed shoulder to shoulder with scantily clad college students? Luxurious hotels with endless room service and swim-up bars? Constant bass-heavy dance tunes pouring out of speakers and a continuous flow of sugary liquor?

If you’re anything like us, then you think this all sounds, well … horrendous.

With the sunny thaw of March just over the horizon, college students around the country are beginning to prep for spring break. And while the quintessential spring break beach getaway may be appealing to some, it’s certainly not for everyone — specifically, those of us who don’t enjoy scorching sunburns, blasted eardrums, a full week of hangovers, and staggering bills.

So, if you’re looking to utilize your week off with a more meaningful travel experience, and you’d prefer not to break the bank in the process, here are some options for planning an alternative spring break.

Photo by Renee Hahnel

Live the Van — or Car — Life

When you get behind the wheel of your car, the country opens up in an endless sprawl of possibilities. Criss-crossing the nation in all directions, the U.S. Interstate System can transport you from coast-to-coast and everywhere in between. So, as long as you’ve got a good set of wheels, some gas money, and a few podcasts or audiobooks to keep you company, you can venture wherever you desire, whether that’s the majestic Grand Canyon or the rustic coastal city of Portland, Maine.

Also, moving on four wheels will save you truckloads in travel costs. Gas might not be the cheapest, but it’s certainly preferable to the cost of a plane ticket. And, if you choose to  camp, boondock, or just sleep in your car, you won’t have to worry about splurging on hotel rooms.

Photo by @nathanochoa

Explore the National Parks

If you’ve always wanted to see more of our country’s gorgeous public lands but never felt like you had the time, now’s your opportunity. There’s a reason they’re called “America’s Best Idea,” so why not check one or two U.S. National Parks off your bucket list? From the snow-covered summits of the Alaska Range to the lush marshes and mangroves of Florida’s Everglades, national parks preserve and showcase the breathtaking natural landscapes that actually make America great.

If you’re located in the South or the Midwest, road-trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park for a week of hiking and backpacking. Those of you in the West could head north to Olympic National Park, south to the national park haven of Utah (the state is home to five), or farther west to California to explore the granite cliffs of Yosemite or the desert landscapes of Joshua Tree. For those on the East Coast, consider the rocky beaches of Acadia National Park in Maine, the sprawling forests of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, or the lively woodlands of South Carolina’s underrated Congaree National Park.

Photo by Erika Skogg

Experience a New City

If pitching a tent or living out of your car isn’t your cup of tea, why not take advantage of the week off and explore a new city instead? Experience what it’s like to live in a new place, sample the local fare, learn the city’s public transportation system, and explore all the major sights. Through hostels or Airbnbs, you can still manage to keep boarding costs low and, in a massive country like the U.S., you’ll have an endless selection of cities to choose from.

Of course, there are the major metropoles like N.Y.C., L.A., Chicago, and Houston, but if you’re looking for a new and exciting getaway, shoot for one of the smaller, hipper urban areas around the country. If you’re in the West, tour the old town of Albuquerque, New Mexico, or stay active by hiking or mountain biking in Colorado Springs. East Coasters should check out the quaint waterfront of Annapolis, Maryland, or the warm shorelines of South Carolina, while Midwesterners can get a taste of the craft beer scene in Milwaukee, Wisconsin or explore Columbus, Ohio’s brick-roaded German Village. Or, if you’re in the South, experience the Texan charm of Fort Worth or sip some bourbon in Louisville, Kentucky.

Head Up to the Great White North

Of course, the whole point of spring break is to escape to somewhere warm and relaxing, but if you don’t mind a little chill in the air, use this opportunity to explore the fantastic offerings of our neighbors to the north. We often overlook Canada when considering getaway destinations, forgetting there’s a massive country filled with vibrant cultural hubs and mesmerizing natural spaces just across the border. For cozy cobblestone streets and magical old-world charm, book a stay in Québec City’s historic Vieux Québec neighborhood, or, if you’d prefer a more modern metropolis, check out Vancouver’s bustling seaport, thriving arts scene, and mesmerizing mountain vistas. Outdoor enthusiasts could also explore Canada’s scenic national parks, such as Banff or Jasper, though keep in mind that in March, the Great White North is still probably fairly white.

Photo by @jamieout
Photo by @alenpalander
Photo by @mavi.sun

Hit the Slopes

Granted, it’s definitely not the cheapest option on the list, but what better time than spring break to post up in a cozy mountain town, grab some fresh powder by day, and indulge in a little après-ski fun by night? Of course, if you’re aiming for the most exhilarating runs, you’ll want to get a lift ticket at one of the Rocky Mountain resorts such as Vail or Alta, but if you want to avoid stretching your wallet, set your sights on the Northeast, instead. Though the mountains are shorter and the trails icier, New England offers world-class skiing opportunities, not to mention a full calendar of exciting events, including retro-themed ski days and beer and music festivals. But, if you’re looking to “Ski the East,” check out Sunday River in Maine, Okemo or Sugarbush in Vermont, or Bretton Woods or Waterville Valley in New Hampshire. No matter where you go, keep an eye out for student passes to cut down on the price of your lift ticket!

Witness the Capital’s Cherry Blossoms

Forecasting the peak bloom dates for this brilliant phenomenon — when our nation’s capital becomes awash in the bright-pink blossoms of its many cherry trees — is difficult more than a few weeks in advance, but it often occurs toward the end of March. Even if the bloom dates fall before or after your spring break, the cherry blossoms are spectacular no matter when you visit.

D.C. is already a historic and stoic city, with its white marble monuments and tree-lined boulevards, but it’s never more fantastical than during this early spring period. In addition to simply walking around and enjoying the radiant sights, you can check out some of the city’s scheduled celebrations, such as the Blossom Kite Festival and Blossom Festival Parade. For up-to-date info on dates for peak bloom, keep an eye on the National Park Service’s Bloom Watch.

Photo by Richa Joshi
Photo by Richa Joshi

Cover Photo by Renee Hahnel

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Devon Shuman
Devon Shuman is a creator, a storyteller, and a traveler from Boston, Massachusetts. He caught the travel bug at a young age when his family would take camping trips in southern Maine and New York’s Adirondack region. Since then, his adventures have taken him all across the globe. His favorite journeys include island hopping in the Galápagos, thru-hiking Vermont’s Long Trail, and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. He currently works as an editorial consultant for Passion Passport, helping explorers from around the world tell their stories.