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Do not break the bank on spring break!


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While the modern form of Spring Break for American students goes back to the mid-1930s, originating from student swim meets in Florida, the general concept goes back about 2,000 years to the practice of celebrating the season of fertility and the god of wine, Dionysus (Greek) aka Bacchus (Roman). Whether this practice spilled over, so to speak, into regular student life, the fact is that drinking is a common college — and to a lesser degree, high school — activity. In fact, the mostly commonly used “drug” for Americans under 21 is alcohol.

On the other hand, not every student drinks, and there are affordable, non-alcoholic alternatives to both Spring Break and regular weekly student entertainment. We take a look at both approaches to socializing on a student budget.

Alcohol in the USA: The Numbers

Much of the following general data on alcohol consumption is collected from various studies and surveys conducted in the United States spanning 2003-2012.

  • As of Oct 2010, it was estimated that over 33M Americans adults — 15% of the US adult population binge drink (when males consume 5+ drinks or females consume 4+ drinks in a row within 2 hours) every year. Excessive drinking (including binge drinking) was responsible for over 80K deaths yearly from 2001-2005 — the top preventable cause of death. These deaths amount to 2.3M years of life lost (YPLL) each year (about 30 years per death).
  • For 2006, excessive alcohol use cost the United States about $223.5B, including 1.2M emergency room visits and 2.7M physician’s office visits. For California alone, it cost about $31.9B. On the low end, it cost North Dakota $423.7M. The federal government paid roughly $2 of every $5 in state costs. These costs included lost “workplace productivity, health care expenses, criminal justice expenses, motor vehicle crash costs, and property damages.” Other costs not estimated include that due to pain and suffering by excessive drinkers as well as others also affected. (These figures include Washington, D.C.)
  • For 2004, smoking cost the country about $194.45B.
  • While binge drinking is primarily concentrated in 18-34 year old men, it is also a growing concern for women in recent years. As of Jan 2013, it’s estimated that over 14M women (1 in 8) binge drink about 3.2 times a month. When they binge, American women have 6 drinks. In high school, 1 in 5 girls binge drink. Excessive alcohol use resulted nearly 23K female deaths yearly during 2001-2005 — equivalent to 633,000 YPLL in each of those years.
  • 4,700 underage people (less than 21) died each year from 2001-2005 in the U.S. as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. That’s an average of nearly 8 (7.8) young people that die in every state every month, or nearly 2 each week in every state.
  • The leading causes of the underage deaths were motor vehicle traffic crashes, followed by homicides, then suicide.
  • 2/3 of high school students who drink also binge drink. This type of behavior is sometimes influenced by witnessing adults binge drinking.
  • 4 of 5 college students drink alcohol, and over 50% binge drink on occasion.
  • It’s estimated that 1.5B binge-drinking incidents occur among 18+-year old Americans yearly — or an average of approximately 4.11M times a day.
  • In 2009, 24% of American high school students and 26% of 18-24 year olds binge drank. In contrast, 23% of 25-34 year olds, 18% of 35-44 year olds, and 12% of 45-64 year olds binge drank. Only 4% of people 65+ binge drank.
  • 90% of underage drinking is from binge drinking.
  • More than 50% of alcohol consumed by American adults is from binge drinking.
  • 11% of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. is by people aged 12-20.
  • Some of the side effects of binge drinking include increased chances of breast, throat and other cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure, live disease, car accidents, unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, babies with fetal alcohol-related disorders, miscarriages, stillbirths, neurological damage and more. Violence, suicide, sexual assault occurrences and unintentional injuries also increase.
  • The top state for binge drinking estimates in 2009 was Wisconsin with 23.9% of adults participating. The lowest was Tennessee with 6.8% of adults.
  • Over 690K students aged 18-24 are assaulted yearly by another student who has been drinking.
  • Over 97K students aged 18-24 suffer alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
  • Nearly 600K (599,000) students aged 18-24 end up with unintentional injuries while or after drinking.
  • 25% of college students suffer academically as the result of drinking.
  • Over 150K students yearly get alcohol-related health problems.
  • 25,000 is the number of lives that MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) says have been saved in the U.S. thanks to the 21 years minimum drinking age.
  • Drinking by 21-25 year olds dropped from 70% to 56% between 1985 to 1991, thanks to the adoption of minimum-21 years age laws. It rose up to 60% by 1999.
  • States with an MLDA (Minimum Legal Drinking Age) of 21 witnessed lower consumption of alcohol for both those under 21 and 21 and up, when the laws were changed. There was a 16% decline in motor vehicle crashes in underage youth in these states

Spring Break: Facts and Figures

Here are a few general figures about Spring Break.

  • Even the President’s daughters take time for Spring Break. $115.5K is the approximate cost to taxpayers of Malia Obama’s March 2012 Spring Break trip to Mexico. This cost includes transportation, lodging, airfare, Secret Service agents and other charges.
  • Over 1.5M students go on Spring Break each year, spending over a billion dollars.
  • During this time, both male and female college students drink as much as 10 alcohol drinks each day – sometimes more.
  • Most students spend over $1000 per week on Spring Break.

10 Popular Spring Break Destinations

Florida and Texas used to be the top destination states for Spring Break, but that’s changing with more students going to other states or out of country. Based on bookings by STA Travel (self-billed as the largest student travel agency) and as reported in the LA Times, the top destinations for Spring Break 2012 were as follows.

  1. Cancun, Mexico
  2. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  3. Miami (South Beach)
  4. Panama City Beach
  5. Puerto Vallarta
  6. Acapulco, Mexico
  7. Montego Bay and Negril, Jamaica
  8. Nassau, Bahamas
  9. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  10. Las Vegas, Nevada

For 2013, other popular destinations include:

  • London
  • Los Angeles
  • Paris
  • Puerto Plata
  • Punta Cana
  • Rome

20 Budget Spring Break Destinations

Top affordable Spring Break destinations for 2013, in alphabetical order, were as follows.

  1. Bahamas
  2. Boston, Massachusetts
  3. Biloxi, Mississippi
  4. Cancun, Mexico
  5. Chicago, Illinois
  6. Daytona Beach, Florida — historically, often the top U.S. destination.
  7. Denver, Colorado
  8. Dominican Republic
  9. Jamaica in general
  10. Las Vegas, Nevada
  11. New York City, New york
  12. Ocean City, Maryland
  13. Orlando, Florida
  14. Playa del Carmen, Mexico
  15. San Jose, Costa Rica
  16. San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
  17. San Juan, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico, in general
  18. Santo Domingo
  19. South Padre Island, Texas
  20. Washington, D.C.

Of course, many of these locations are not about partying, so can be a nice alternative if you want something different for Spring Break. By that criteria, there are many places both in the USA and outside where you can go with fellow students and have an enjoyable break — while staying within a budget. Here are a few additional destination suggestions.

  • Bermuda
  • Hawaii
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  • Portland, Oregon
  • St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Vermont

9 Tips for Saving for Spring Break

If you’re intent on going somewhere for Spring Break, whether you plan to drink or not, put in planning time in advance, to reduce your overall costs.

  1. Save just $15-20 a week starting a year in advance, and you’ll have about $750-1000, which is enough to let you pick from a number of Spring Break destinations.
  2. Buy online. Bargain-shop destinations online or via a mobile app. Stock up on any supplies and clothing that you’ll take with you.
  3. Book tickets months in advance, for discounts of 50% or more.
  4. Rent a place with a kitchen and share the cost with a group of students. Cooking your own meals will be gentler on your wallet, as will sharing the accommodations.
  5. Share a tent. You might want to check local laws as well as night time temperatures, but you might be able to skip renting a place. Do not try this without planning.
  6. Take your student ID for possible student discounts.
  7. Buy local. This may not apply to everything, especially in very popular destinations, but in some cases, clothing and accessories may be cheaper.
  8. Look for freebies. This might go without saying, but planning ahead by searching online (including with Google Maps) to look for places with freebies such as shuttle services to / from the airport, parking, breakfast, wifi can save you a few dollars.
  9. Pace yourself. The average student on Spring Break who drinks might drink 10 or more drinks every day. That adds up in cost. It’s easier to pace yourself if you give yourself a budget and translate that into hard limits in terms of drinks per day.

14 Entertaining Alternatives to Drinking

If you absolutely are set on consuming alcohol and are underage, there are some options:

  • Have your parents present. MADD says that some U.S. states allow for parents to be present and give “small amounts” of alcohol to their own children (usually not anyone else’s). But you also have to be aware of campus rules, city bylaws before considering this option.
  • Go to Canada or elsewhere outside the U.S. This is not necessarily a budget-conscious option, unless you were planning to go to Canada anyway — such as for a ski trip to British Columbia or Quebec. However, if you just cannot get rid of the urge to drink underage, the fact is that most Canadian provinces still have a legal drinking age of 18-19. While there are groups urging raising the age to 21 in some provinces, that has not happened yet. Some other countries have a legal drinking age as low as 17. Mexico and other North and Central American Spring Break destinations are popular due to low legal drinking ages.

Not keen on the crowds of Spring Break, or waiting in a line in the cold and dark, hoping to get into a club with a fake id card? Or want to do something different at Spring Break locations than drinking? If you like the idea of being able to save some of your hard-earned college money — or scholarship funds — to pay down your student debt, there are always options for your socializing time and party budget.

  1. Check out an under-age club. If there’s no live music on campus, check out other local music venues where alcohol might not even be served. Some cities even have under-age night clubs with DJs or live music.
  2. Start a fun flash mob and bring the noise… in the form of a boombox.
  3. Find a local venue who will hold a barbeque or pizza party.
  4. Hold a “Sober Party” such as Party.0. Local merchants will sometimes contribute to these non-alcoholic parties in the form of discounts or food and gift cards. Some might even contribute party space.
  5. Go on Spring Break but see some of the sights as a group.
  6. Go somewhere you’ve always wanted to go and make it a photo trip. Travel with friends and classmates — whether it’s a weekend trip or for Spring Break. Group discounts sometimes apply. Make choosing the destination each year the prize in a game — whether a video game or physical challenge such as darts, or a favorite board game. If you take enough high-quality pictures, you might be able to sell some of it afterwards through “micro-stock photo” websites.
  7. Do good with community service, mission work — any kind of volunteer work. Challenge 5 acquaintances to match your efforts. Celebrate afterwards with a group dinner at a nice restaurant, or over a coffee if you’re on a tight budget. This kind of effort always looks great on a resume. If you’re volunteering overseas, sometimes your flight and accommodations will be covered. Going with some classmates could give you the opportunity to get to know them better. New Orleans is still a popular destination for volunteer work, if you want to stay stateside.
  8. Go a step further with ‘do good’ and help build a Habitat for Humanity home. Again, make it a challenge by choosing team captains and having each recruit as many people as they can. The winning team could be the one who builds more sections of a new home in a day — or simply the team who recruits the most people who actually participate. Losing team pays for a pizza party afterwards.
  9. Do something completely different: take a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon or New York City, or a dinner cruise around New York.
  10. Do something crazy and stay put instead of partying. Catch up on the 100 top books of all time, or some other list, and do it as a group challenge and discuss whatever you finished in a group over coffee or tea.
  11. Spend Spring Break time creating a startup business with friends and classmates, then have a launch party promoted through Facebook and Eventbrite.
  12. Look for a shared entertainment space in your college dorm. Anyone have a computer with large screen? Hook up your laptop or mobile device to a large screen in the dorm, rent some movies online from Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, iTunes or Nook. If you have access to your family cable TV account to watch shows and movies online, save some money that way. You can also use “air display” technology from smartphones and tablets to stream to a TV. Just make sure your mobile device is on a wifi network instead of a cellular plan.
  13. If you prefer music, there’s no shortage of mobile apps, including iTunes Radio, Pandora, Last.fm, Soundhound and tons more.
  14. Cheap option: Nook HD+ is also an Android tablet. Their TV/film selection is still slim, but you can buy film and TV episodes from Google Play store and use the Nook HD/HD+ HDMI-out cable ($39.95+tax) to attach it to a TV — better for group viewing, and split the cost.

Remember, if you drink, please find someone sober to drive you home.


Information for this article was collected from the following pages and web sites:

  1. http://www.active-sandals.com/spring-break1.html
  2. http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/
  3. http://www.cdc.gov/features/CostsOfDrinking/index.html
  4. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6201a3.htm?s_cid=mm6201a3_w
  5. http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/
  6. http://blog.chegg.com/2013/09/23/alternatives-to-frat-row/
  7. http://blog.chegg.com/2013/09/09/flash-mobs-and-bbq-sales-brainstorming-your-clubs-next-event/
  8. http://articles.dailypress.com/2013-03-21/news/dp-tsq-christopher-newport-spring-break-habitat-20130321_1_cnu-students-habitat-homes-collegiate-challenge
  9. http://www.dosomething.org/blog/11-great-and-terrifying-facts-about-spring-break-0
  10. http://fellowshipoftheminds.com/2013/03/28/how-much-does-obama-girls-bahamas-spring-break-cost-us-taxpayers/
  11. http://www.gooverseas.com/blog/alternative-spring-break
  12. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/13/the-history-of-spring-break_n_1342353.html
  13. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeanenne-tornatore/seven-spring-break-travel_b_2810748.html
  14. http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-releases-records-detailing-government-funds-expended-on-first-daughter-malia-obamas-spring-break-trip-to-mexico/
  15. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/02/news/la-trb-where-to-go-spring-break20120301
  16. http://www.madd.org/underage-drinking/why21/
  17. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/college-drinking
  18. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/travelocity-indicates-cost-of-spring-break-travel-increasing-but-deals-still-available-190818241.html
  19. http://www.studentuniverse.com/travel-guides/spring-break
  20. http://theexaminer.com/stories/news/grand-valley-state-students-spend-spring-break-serving-southeast-texas
  21. http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1888317,00.html
  22. http://travel.usnews.com/Rankings/Best_Cheap_Spring_Break_Destinations/
  23. http://www.travelweekly.com/North-America-Travel/Spring-break-destinations-report-strong-bookings/
  24. http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/10greatplaces/2013/03/07/affordable-spring-breaks-inexpensive/1972327/

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