The Washington Post

Summer post-graduation trips on the cheap

Today’s guest blogger is Ilana Strauss, a rising senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a regular contributor to Campus Overload.

With summer nearly here, many recent college grads are dreaming of relaxing in European resorts, taking Caribbean cruises and just generally setting large piles of money on fire.

But with the average student graduating thousands of dollars in debt, ideas of flying off to Mexico are starting to be replaced by buying piñatas.

Luckily, there are still some awesome trips available for reasonable prices.

Camping: The great outdoors, campfires, beaches, fantastic scenery … and all for dirt cheap, which also describes what you’ll be sleeping on.

You’re bound to have a camping spot nearby. Even if you aren’t near a national forest or private campsite (which you probably are), you are almost certainly within a few hours of a national forest. National forests are public forests spread throughout the country. They usually don’t have the brilliant, scenic views of national parks, but they are free. To find one, search “national forest near (your location)” in Google Maps.

Once you have a camping spot, you just need a tent, sleeping bag and supplies. Don’t forget the marshmallows! Seriously, you’ll regret it.

City adventure: Plenty of people go to the city to work or study, and then never really get a chance to explore. Rent a cheap motel room in a big city in your area (or crash on a friend’s couch) and check out what the area has to offer. You’ll probably find comedy clubs, art galleries, museums, bars, shows, restaurants and more. If you live in or have already been down every street of your local city, visit another one in the state.

Road trip: Grab a few friends (including one who has a car) and drive off to some place you’ve always wanted to visit, like the Grand Canyon, the Rockies or Washington, D.C. Since you’ll spend most of your time driving, the only costs to worry about are gas, cheap motel bills at small towns on the way, and possibly small admission charges when you get there. Split among friends, this really isn’t a problem.

The destination will be exciting, but it’s the journey that really matters in this sort of vacation. So don’t be afraid to stop off at interesting-looking towns on the way.

Local attractions: The big-name places are likely to be insanely costly, but local getaways can be surprisingly cheap, especially if you seek out deals ahead of time.

Fredericksburg, Va.: A cool find with a lot of history. See a play, try out a vintage winery and walk in the paths of George Washington and Civil War generals. The lowest-cost hotels run about $40 a night. Plus, you can also camp out for a few dollars a night.

Wisconsin Dells, Wis.: A well-known Midwestern getaway. Enjoy nice restaurants, water parks and shows. The shopping’s not bad either — I bought a pair of earrings for a dollar at one store. The lowest-cost hotels run at about $50 a night.

Mackinac Island, Mich.: A lovely little island whose claim to fame is that it’s never had cars. It’s true – cars were outlawed on the island shortly after they were invented, and the ban has continued to this day. You can go on a carriage ride, bike around town and enjoy the fudge the island is known for. You can also visit some historical sites from the War of 1812. The lowest-cost hotels run at about $60 a night.

With these tips in mind, you’re sure to be off to a summer vacation of a lifetime without the bill of a lifetime. Happy travels!

Ilana Strauss has interned at the Jerusalem Post and the Scripps-Howard Foundation. She also founded a humor magazine,


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