After pounding through papers, projects and midterms into mid-March, there is only one thing on any college student's mind: spring break.
However, for many, being a college student makes it hard to even imagine being able to afford a nice vacation. Whether the destination is just to a friend's college or all the way to an exotic island, lack of money is always a cause for concern. Many students have been affected by the recession this year, and some are seeking alternative and cheaper spring break vacations.
For some students it's all about the journey, not the destination.
UW-Madison junior Mike Braun is taking his second spring break road trip to Florida.
""Driving, road trips are tons of fun, and flying is more expensive,"" he said. ""Good music, caffeine and pure excitement will get us through the 17-hour drive.""
Despite the suffering economy, gas prices are only slightly higher than last year. Since it often takes more time and costs more money to get a passport and plane ticket, road tripping to domestic locations is popular among students.
""The trip is semi-affordable,"" Braun said. ""I worked over break to cover the costs. Driving will save some money, and we didn't get a stellar hotel. The total travel and hotel fees will be around $250 for the week.""
Having a love for the open road as well as for nature are both appealing to other frugal students, like UW-Madison sophomore Mike Van Dyke, who is headed to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. His exploratory trip will consist of four days of backpacking, one day of rock climbing and one day at the Mammoth caves, all at minimal expense.
""We wanted to go backpacking. It's cheap,"" Van Dyke said. ""So, we decided to go to one of the prettiest spots in the nation. There are lots of waterfalls and tons of geography.""
Van Dyke is piling seven friends into a minivan because he found it the most cost-effective, even if it means smelling ""each others' lovely boots on the way back,"" he said. Not to mention they won't have to worry about hotel costs. The cost of the trip will come in around $80 per person.
""We are purchasing food as a group and borrowing gear from everyone we know. Gas will be cheap, as we are splitting it seven ways, and the minivan gets good MPG,"" he said.
While some students are hitting the road looking for truly unique and adventurous experiences at a low cost, some students will be on the road looking to change the lives of others through a program offered by the Wisconsin Union Directorate. The Alternative Breaks program offers students the chance to participate in volunteer and educational trips to culturally diverse and economically disadvantaged communities throughout the United States. The program started with only two trips in 1990 and is now offering 11 different trips for spring break 2010, as well as trips during winter and summer.
Shannon Chaplo, a leader of the WUD Alternative Breaks program, said they ""try and make the trips more affordable, as students apply from all different backgrounds.""
They can also be made more affordable through ASM grant writing, and students can apply for scholarships or use independent fundraising. In the spirit of the collaborative leadership model, the students drive together in vans to locations ranging from an organic farm in New Hampshire ($388) all the way to La Union de Pueblo in Texas ($169) and out west in a Colorado rehabilitation program ($179).
UW-Madison freshman Mary Heller, who heard about the program through her house fellow, is going on the Habitat for Humanity trip to Laredo, Texas.
""[I've] never been to Texas before, and also being next to the border will expose me to different cultures,"" she said. ""The trip is made with college students in mind, so the expenses are minimal.""
The trip is around $200, and the only extra money needed is for food and any additional activities.
Katie Fischer, member of the Alternative Breaks committee, went on the trip to New Orleans this past winter. She volunteered with the United Saints Recovery Project on projects that included painting houses, flooring, roofing and a community garden project.
""The trip was extremely affordable,"" Fischer said. ""My trip included housing, transportation and three meals a day Monday through Friday. Pricing can vary depending on the trip you attend, but all are extremely affordable and great deals.""
Fischer described her New Orleans trip as one of the most memorable parts of her college career. ""The friendships made and the work completed is amazing. I would recommend alternative breaks to all other UW students,"" she said.
Some students choose not to go anywhere for spring break because it is too hard to coordinate with friends from other colleges' spring breaks since the dates differ.
UW-Madison sophomore Eric Bostwick found it hard to get people to commit to going somewhere.
""Not only do the dates not match up, but it's too hard to come to an agreement on what to spend because nobody has anything,"" he said. ""Rather than go through the trouble, it's easier to just relax, work and save up money I don't have so that I can spend it somewhere else frivolously anyway.""
With the economy as the main factor in all of this, many students are simply heading home for the weeklong break. As Bostwick mentioned, being home makes it easier to relax because there isn't the added stress of balancing costs and coordinating schedules. Plus, heading back to mom and dad's can lend the opportunity to rediscover a hometown.
No matter the destination, students' spring break plans this year are more about piling in a van than working on a tan.