Vacation Ideas for Poor, Broke, and Starving American College Kids

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These days, American college students can’t wait to escape from the dull, white walls of the classroom into scenes of sunshine and beaches. Some of the best vacations for college kids in the US are also the cheapest options that allow you to truly relax and not worry away your trip by breaking your budget. Maybe you like to camp, hike, swim, kayak or ski? Keep in mind—when you are a poor, broke college student, wherever you plan to go or whatever you plan to do usually becomes much cheaper by bringing your friends along. Check out some of the top destinations for students to stave off the dreaded thought of exams:

1. Camping Getaway
Camping has been and always will be a cheap option for students—especially if you already have a tent! Take tents or invite friends to pitch in and rent a cabin to take advantage of “the more the merrier” bonus. To optimize funds with this option, be sure to stop at the grocery store and stock up on easy camp items, plan cheap activities like hiking or kayaking if you have one, and even whitewater rafting that can be less costly when many people are involved. This type of outdoor adventure with friends is perfect for those college students living in the Midwest and scenic forest areas.

2. Cabin at the Slopes
Another amazingly rewarding option for broke college students is a ski trip. Not only do you get to enjoy a nice getaway on the slopes among friends, but the more people you get to go with you, the better cabin you can rent! You can either rent a cabin or suite at the lodge that can be split between several friends for top amenities at a cheaper price. If you plan it out before you go, you can also save by bringing your own alcohol and other type snacks to keep on budget. Don’t forget your favorite board games, cards and hot cocoa to pass the time! This is a great option for those who live in a mountainous area near the slopes.

3. Amusement Park Adventure
Take the day off for a jam-packed day of fun at the nearest amusement park. One of the easiest options for poor, broke college students is a day or weekend riding rollercoasters and other thrill rides. If you have a long drive ahead of you, consider staying at or near the park. Everyone can embark in one car to save on gas, and spend the night in one hotel room if you plan to stay another day. It’s best to pack everyone into a room to save, if it’s just for one night! You may also find student rates available at the park.

4. Hostels on the West Coast
If you decide to take a trip on your own, or if you are backpacking with a companion, you may enjoy a stay at some of the many hostels along the west coast. Although hostels are less common in America than countries in Europe, you can still find them in major cities and beaches up the Pacific shores. The Pacific and Ocean beach neighborhoods of San Diego hold some of the best value hostels considering what you get for what you pay. Your stay will be unique in that you will find some hostels situated right at the edge of the boardwalk, just steps from the sand and ocean. There are other hostels up the California 101 on shores of Santa Cruz and San Francisco for as low as $25 a night! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my exclusive interview with the world’s number one hostel booking website,

USCT 010: Hostels In America – With Hostel World’s Dan Zbijowski

5. Couch-surfing Expedition
Perhaps you are an adventurer and a risk taker? If you are brave and would like to get in touch with people and places prized by the locals, you might have what it takes to be a couch surfer. Couchsurfing is the best value stay, since it’s free and the people involved do a fabulous job of introducing you to the local area (for the most part). It’s like a gamble, and you may just luck out and win the most rewarding stay out of any of these options listed! But, you never know what you are going to get with couch-surfing. Despite the risk, it is the most interesting option. There are many kind people out there that would love to host you for the night and show you around town, so take them up on the offer!

6. Hiking and Rock Climbing Trip
For those of you students who really want to stick to a tight budget this break, try a hiking or rock climbing adventure—especially if you already know someone who goes! Rock climbing requires team work, if you dare to brave the most daunting cliffs. Many rock climbers are happy to be accompanied by others who share their same love of the adrenaline rush they receive from hanging hundreds of feet up! If you already have the equipment, then this makes for a not-so-expensive vacation idea. If you know a friend who has it, borrow it—ask them to come with you, and show you the ropes while you are at it! Trekking the forest is among the most inexpensive vacation activities that allow you to escape the monotonous classroom into a more refreshing outdoor setting.

7. Las Vegas
Pack everyone into one vehicle, and hit the road for the city lights on the Vegas Strips. This place has no need for rules, but if you must have one, it’s that poor students should drink in the hotel room. It will save you big bucks in the long run. Also, it’s a good idea to check the schedules for free shows and attractions offered at the various hotels before you go—it is completely unnecessary to pay for entertainment in this city! Get outside—see the Bellagio fountains and the themed indoor setting of famous hotels. Another great way to take advantage of traveling in large groups is with hotel stay in Vegas. You won’t see much of the hotel room except your face planted in the pillow after a long night out on the town, so you won’t even notice a few extra people to a room! Vegas used to be more well known for its abundance of free attractions, many of which have closed doors in the past few years alone to cut costs; read all about the recent closings (many of which are yet to be removed from the guide listings of sites like Lonely Planet and Frommer’s):

Farewell To The Sirens of TI. RIP Vegas

8. Hit the Beach in Florida
Among the most favored east coast destinations is the US state of Florida. This place draws the east coast college crowds for spring break and summer vacation every year. From the beaches down the Florida east coast, like Miami Beach, South Beach and Daytona Beach to those situated along the Gulf in Clearwater and Key West, this state is full of beautiful sandy shores and warm waters for snorkeling. Miami remains one of the most popular Florida college student destinations with the boardwalk and plenty of nightlife to keep things exciting after the sun goes down.

9. Music Festivals
Some students cannot resist the thought of a festival and the celebration of live music. Crowds of college kids gather at the country’s most popular music festivals between exams to let loose and get lost in the groovy tunes of top artists. Some of these festivals are easily visited on a budget, and include an overnight stay at the campsite. Camping at the festival saves on hotels, so get a weekend pass to take advantage of all the amenities offered while you are there!

10. Road Trip with Friends
Everyone needs to see the American countryside sometime in their life! You will be surprised as you watch days turn the horizon from mountains to deserts to plains to forests and then back again. Take advantage of traveling with friends by riding in one car and having everyone pitch in to split the cost of gas. There are many places to go—it all just depends on where you start. Set off across the country from east to west, up or down the California or Pacific coast, to the bottom of the east coast to the beaches or road trip to famous attractions. Get inspired to hit the road by checking out our article featuring my top 50 favorite images from my many years of travels:

Takin’ The All-American Road Trip: 50 Inspirational Photos

11. East Coast Beach House
There is nothing like an east coast getaway for the week with friends at a beach house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Just when you thought a beach house was unaffordable, your circle of friends will make it so by getting together to split the cost. Beach houses are commonly found in east coast destinations like Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks and Nags Head. This option also works if you decide to go with the hotel—since, the more friends that go, the nicer the hotel and the cheaper the cost!

12. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast
Many college kids cannot wait to make a break for the Gulf Shores and the action and entertainment found in historic towns like New Orleans. Every carnival season, an enormous Mardi Gras celebration takes place in the bars and clubs along the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. The party seems to spill out into the town during the festivities, and many students gather here at the coast to bring the place to life. If you are a poor, broke, starving college student, you may find a short drive to the Gulf coast and New Orleans a fun-filled option for traveling on a budget.

Looking for even more budget travel advice? Check out my book City Smart: Travel Savings Handbook.

Are you a poor, broke, and starving American college kid?! If so, what’s your favorite place to travel? If not, where did you like traveling in your late teens and early 20’s? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. Cheers!


Taylor Goldblatt

After years of research, travel, and dreams, I have created this website for people like you who want to experience the things that only America can offer. My passion is to explore and share America's greatest destinations and attractions. Follow me on Twitter @USCityTraveler for additional travel tips and ideas.

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