Cost-effective, low-planning adventure trip can lead to an easy, fun spring break


Planted right in the middle of the semester, spring break provides the fun and relaxation that students need to get recharged for the last half of the academic year. Unfortunately, many college students don’t have enough disposable income to fund a wild and crazy, booze and topless-filled beachside getaway, contrary to what MTV would have you believe. But I’m here to tell you that plenty of fun and relaxation can be had right here in the Midwest.

Last spring break, my boyfriend and I road-tripped from Wichita to Joplin, Mo., then to Springfield, Mo. up to the Lake of the Ozarks State Park near Osage Beach, Mo. Along the way we ate at Lambert’s “Home of the Throwed Rolls” Cafe, visited burned-down mansion ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park, rented banana bikes at a KOA, took a horseback ride through the Lake of the Ozarks State Park and visited the Exploration Place in Wichita on our way back.

When we combined the costs of everything and split it between the two of us, a whole week’s worth of activities and a lifetime of memories cost a grand total of about $350 each. This ended up as one of the best vacations I’ve ever been on although we didn’t have a plan, we were on a tight budget and we could only drive. So for all you spring-break-on-a-budget-ers, I hope the following tips help you have a fun and fabulous spring break adventure that doesn’t need excessive planning or cash.

One way to cut your spring break costs is to drive to your destination instead of fly. If you road trip with at least one other person that you can split the gas cost with, driving is actually pretty affordable. So by staying in the Midwest, you can drive and reach most destinations in less than a day so your time can be spent doing, not just driving.

You don’t need a fancy GPS to get around either, Walmart has an annually updated Rand McNally U.S. road atlas for between $5 and $10. By ditching the technology, you can improve your map reading skills and see how you and your road tripping partner(s) navigation skills match up.

Before you leave on your adventure, fill your trunk with the essentials. Load a cooler with drinks and ice, pack a big bag of snacks — granola bars, M&Ms, and chips are some of my must-haves — and pack another bag with all the little but important things — Ziplock bags, napkins/paper towels, salt and pepper and disposable dishes are always handy. Eco-friendly, non-disposable grocery bags are perfect for this. These items are good to have so that you don’t have to eat out for every meal of the day, and it’ll help keep your budget and weight gain low.

If you pack a tent and sleeping bags, you can save big time on lodging costs. Most towns have KOA campgrounds or parks nearby that you can camp in, so camping is a pretty reliable way to stay. Since sleeping on the cold ground in a tent can get pretty uncomfortable, use the money you saved on lodging to stay in a cabin or hotel once or twice during the week.

Although you could just start driving and let your whim and fancy shape your trip, it’s probably easier to have a vague destination in mind. For our trip last year, our destination was the Mark Twain National Forest; although we never ended up there, it helped shape our journey.

To get your gears turning, here’s a list of a few Midwestern destinations and their distance from Manhattan — Lincoln, Neb., two hours; Springfield, Mo., four hours; St. Louis, five hours; Denver, seven hours; Colorado Springs, Colo., seven hours; Fort Worth/ Dallas, eight hours; and Chicago, nine hours. Even if you don’t want to go to your end destination, it will help you pick a general direction or a highway to start from.

Having a solid three to six hours of drive time is ideal because that drive time is your adventure time. During that time, let road signs be your guide. Take the exit for the tiger sanctuary, the small town zoo or the national park. These detours are what make traveling without an agenda so much fun.

One of my favorite memories from the Missouri trip was from a sketchy roadside animal sanctuary where we were certain our backwoods tour guide (if you can even call him that) would be eaten by alligators. At the time, it was a little scary and I just wanted to use some hand sanitizer, but as soon as both of us were safely back in the car, we exploded with laughter. We really would have missed out on a funny and memorable adventure if we hadn’t pulled off the highway to check it out.

Another place to get local destination ideas are the flyer kiosks located at the front of hotels, gas stations and hometown restaurants. As a kid I was fascinated by the flyer kiosks and all of the potential adventures. But sadly for little me, my childhood vacations were usually planned in advance with a family member’s house as the main destination. However, for a non-planned spring break-on-the-fly trip, the flyer kiosk is awesome. It will show you all the natural landmarks, national parks and tourist spots in the area, and best of all, it’ll help you find the free attractions.

If you take these considerations into mind, I’m sure you will have a very memorable and relaxing spring break adventure. But one of the most important parts of the wandering spring break adventure that I haven’t covered yet is your adventure partner(s); and I only have one tip on choosing your partner — choose wisely. You’re going to be around this person for a week, packed into a car, making shared decisions and possibly sharing a bed or room. Being sure that your partner(s) have similar temperaments, travel expectations and budgets can make the trip go that much easier.


Lauren Gocken is a senior  in secondary education. Please send all comments to