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12 Spring Break Vacation Ideas That Actually Cost Less Than Staying Home

Think your budget can't handle a destination vacation? Think again! We've found amazing deals, discounts, and value getaways that will actually cost you LESS than trying to entertain everyone at home with a "staycation" (think: the cost of movies, museums, eating out, car and gas, home utilities, and groceries). Check out these super cool ideas, and then pack your bags for a real vacation that won't break the bank.

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Thatched Cottagemubus7/Shutterstock

Get a whole house for (nearly) free

Instead of simply staying in a hotel room at your preferred vacation destination, why not get a whole house—for free? By setting up a home exchange, you can swap residences (even if you rent) with like-minded travelers around the country and globe for an immersive and authentic (not to mention inexpensive) experience. HomeExchange has an inventory of 400,000 homes spanning 187 countries and costs either $15 per night or $150 for unlimited stays for the whole year; the small fee goes toward HomeExchange services such as user verification and insurance, which is why the service is known for its safety. What kind of homes can you expect to swap for your abode? Everything from design-focused estates in Cape Town to legit treehouses in Costa Rica, not to mention charming cottages in the Cotswolds and très chic apartments in France.

Tip: Keep an eye out for swaps that include cars for even greater vacation savings!

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South Scottsdale, Scottsdale, AZ, USAvia

VRBO for a warm-weather getaway in Arizona

VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) is a great way to get a deal on accommodations when you travel. And according to the vacation experts at VRBO, Scottsdale, Arizona, is both a popular and affordable spring break destination. Scottsdale is a city with lots of charm, not to mention plenty of free or inexpensive activities. The whole family will enjoy hiking through the gorgeous landscape of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy (free for self-guided hikes); getting spooked at Goldfield Ghost Town (admission with Mammoth Mine, free to $8); and stepping back into the past at the Pioneer Living History Museum (from $8). Plus, you can get a luxe condo that sleeps six and even has multiple bathrooms, a gas fireplace, and a pool, for $83 a night in the heart of Old Town.

Tip: Try listing your home on VRBO for when you’re on your vacation and you might even make money on your vacation.

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Balmoral Resort Floridavia

Spread out in a Florida resort from $100

Like the idea of spreading out with your family but not ready to join the sharing economy yet? Then consider Balmoral Resort Florida, a vacation resort in Central Florida about 30 minutes from Orlando, where you can rent a whole home with a full kitchen and many with their own pools, starting at around $100 a night. It’s pet-friendly, too, so Fido can you in on the fun. Included in the price is access to a waterpark, pools, mini-golf, sand volleyball.

Tip: Resort specials will actually reimburse you for part of your theme park or activity tickets. Don’t miss these other spring break destinations you haven’t even considered yet.

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LAS VEGAS JANUARY 31: The Circus Circus hotel and casino on January 31, 2014 in Las Vegas.Circus Circus has the only RV park on the Strip providing additional accommodations in the 399 space park.Maria Maarbes/Shutterstock

Vegas baby, Vegas

Las Vegas has thousands of rooms, and the only way the casinos can make money is if they’re filled with visitors, so it pays for them to fill hotel rooms even at incredibly reduced rates. This is great news for travelers! You can get a swanky hotel room, fill up at a gourmet buffet, and still have money left over to hit the slots if you check out the deals at sites like Travelocity for Vegas. We found MGM rooms starting at $22 at the family-pleasing Circus Circus and rooms from $35 at Strip favorite Luxor. Plus, round-trip airfare to Las Vegas starts at $75.

Tip: Sign up for Travelocity promotions for an additional 10 percent off (we also saw a $25 air credit offered as well).

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Lovely 3BR House at PARK COLONIAL ZONEvia

Airbnb a home in the Caribbean for way less than a hotel room

Want to book a tropical getaway, but hotel prices in the top beach areas are higher than the palm fronds? We feel you, but don’t put away your sun gear just yet. Airbnb has numerous tropical getaways in top vacation spots that make an island getaway affordable. One we particularly like: A Dominican Republic modern 3-bedroom house in the charming Colonial town of Santo Domingo is just $59 a night.

Tip: List your home on Airbnb while you’re on vacation and you can make back the money you spend on your trip. Don’t miss these other tips on how to travel for free.

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WILLEMSTAD, CURACAO - APRIL 04, 2018: Cruise ship Carnival Conquest docked at port Willemstad on sunset.NAN728/Shutterstock

Cruise into a vacation

Flexible schedule? Consider scooping up a cruise for the spring. Cruiselines start deeply discounting upcoming cruises to fill berths with prices as low as $50 per day. This includes all your food and fun on top of the room. Plus, you get sunshine, pools, and waves galore. One example: Carnival’s 4-day cruise from Long Beach, California, to Baja, Mexico, for $234—which includes upgrades and extra amenities.

Tip: There are now cruise ports conveniently located on waterways around the country, so often it’s no longer necessary to fly to your port.

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GR Solaris Cancunvia

All-inclusives with amazing freebies for kids

All-inclusive resorts take the guessing work out of your budget; for one price, you get all your meals, drinks (including cocktails, beer, and wine), kids clubs, rooms, and entertainment rolled into one. But you might not know that many properties include kids for free in the pricing, meaning your little ones (usually 12 and under) get all the same perks for no additional cost family-friendly resort groups, such as Sunscape, Dreams, and IBEROSTAR.

Tip: You’ll be able to find great packages in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and throughout Mexico. At the GR Solaris Cancun, two adults and two kids can enjoy a deluxe room in the beachside resort for a little over $200 per night (that’s for everyone with everything included).

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Bear Lake - A sunny summer morning view of a rocky section of Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA.Sean Xu/Shutterstock

Get to know a National Park

The U.S. National Park system is a treasure trove of fantastic sites and experiences, and a National Parks Pass grants free access to your full car for an entire year. One park to try in the spring: Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). The YMCA of the Rockies is one of the best-kept family vacation secrets in the country. You can get a fabulously clean and spacious lodge room for $84, or a private log cabin with mountain views starting at just $109 per night. And the sky’s the limit for family activities, including hikes into neighboring RMNP, horseback rides, archery, roller skating, and arts and crafts (some activities have a fee).

Tip: Fourth graders visit National Parks for free, so be sure to go online and register your fourth grader if there’s one in your family.

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Empty passenger airplane seats in the cabintratong/Shutterstock

Fly with a companion for free

If you haven’t taken advantage of Southwest’s companion credit card offer, now is a great time to sign up. Unique to this airline, the card grants you free companion tickets for an entire year once you hit their minimum spending cap ($4,000 in the first three months). Plus, you’ll get 30,000 points to redeem for flights, about the total for a round-trip ticket.

Tip: Kids under two fly free with a ticketed passenger. These are the best credit card perks to use on vacation.

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L'Orangerie de Lannironvia

DIY camping in style

If you’re a family that already owns a tent, or just wants to try camping, is like a for campsites. There are options across the United States, but this is also a great way to see Europe on the cheap (sites can be as low as $10/night). One of our favorites is L’Orangerie de Lanniron on the shores of Brittany, France: a bishop’s palace-turned-campsite with an outdoor pool, nine-hole golf course, tennis court, and restaurant with tent sites start at $25/night.

Tip: Don’t want to pitch a tent? Pitchup also offers a number of “glamping” sites with everything from cabins, to luxury tents to yurts.

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Generator Hostel Venicevia

New generation hostels

If you haven’t stayed at a hostel recently, banish all thoughts of sterile barracks full of bunks. Instead, a new generation of posh hostels (or “poshtels,” if you will) are popping up around Europe and the United States, with modern designs, comfortable family rooms, and fun communal areas all for a fraction of what you’d pay at a full service hotel. One of our favorites is Generator, a group of “design-led” hostels in prime locations around Europe, and now in Miami and Washington, D.C., too. In Venice, Italy, you can stay on super chic Giudecca Island (home to the 5-star Belmond Cipriani Hotel) for less than $70 a night.

Tip: Download the GenFriends app to get special deals and discounts. Here are 16 more affordable spring break destinations you should book now.

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Snowbird Ski and Summer Resortvia

Ski for free in Utah

Want to get your kids out on the slopes but prime time skiing is too pricey in mid-winter? Try swishing down the slopes in spring, when the sun is shining, the weather feels less Arctic, the snow is soft and inviting, and you can ski for free! At Snowbird Ski Resort, about 35 minutes from Salt Lake City, book a room for at least two nights (starting at $125 a night) and get free daily lift tickets for the adults, and kids 12 and under ski free, too.

Tip: Have 5th or 6th graders? They can try out all of Utah’s resorts for just $45 (total) with the Ski Utah Passport. Read on for the best spring break idea in every state for even more inspiration.

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Disclosure: We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Melissa Klurman
Melissa is an intrepid explorer and award-winning travel journalist with more than 25 years of experience. She covers topics ranging from family travel and Disney to honeymoons and romantic beaches, and everything in between.