Photo credit: Anthony Cupaiuolo

Photo credit: Anthony Cupaiuolo

As I write this, the air temperature in Chicago is 4 degrees. Another four inches of snow fell overnight, adding to the foot or so that has covered the ground since before Christmas. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emannuel and Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon are about to dive into frigid Lake Michigan in the Polar Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics Chicago.

It’s no wonder that I’m dreaming of spring break is some warm and sunny locale.

If you’re dreaming of warmth and sunshine too, you want to make the most of that time away. Consider these tips for a better spring break. They will help you be safe, spend less and have more fun during your precious week on vacation.

  1. Choose your destination wisely. Disney World is the No. 1 tourist attraction in America—and it feels that way during spring break. If you want to spend more time having fun and less time waiting in line with the thousands of other spring breakers, consider a slightly less popular place for spring break and save Disney for another time.
  2. Book the right place to stay. Consider all of your options—home swaps, condo rentals, hotels, motels, campgrounds—and choose the one that will give you the most comfort for your cash. If you book a hotel room, ask for a room on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th floors. Why? Because the first floor is most vulnerable to a break-in and anything above the 5th floor is most vulnerable in case of a fire.
  3. PackingTry before you pack. If it’s been months since you wore that pair of shorts, take a minute to do a test fit before you toss them in the suitcase. This goes double for kids. Those shorts may have fit your 5-year-old a month ago, but that doesn’t mean they will fit the growing boy now. There’s no point in packing–and schlepping around–clothes you won’t be able to wear.
  4. Pack right. Put everything you want to take on the bed. Then put back anything that cannot do double duty—a scarf that doubles as a beach coverup, pants that go with two (or more) tops, shoes that work with pants and skirts. Then pack it all into one carryon. Even if you have a free checked bag, you still have to drag that big, heavy suitcase in and out of the hotel and wait for it to be found if it gets lost by the airline.
  5. Leave the good stuff at home. You don’t need to flash your best jewelry on vacation. In fact, doing that invites trouble. If you must bring valuables, make sure the hotel has a safe—then use it.
  6. Photo credit: Marina K. Villatoro /Gringa TravelingMom

    Photo credit: Marina K. Villatoro /Gringa TravelingMom

    Share with others. Make sure someone knows where you’ll be and when. Then make another copy of your itinerary, passport signature page and other important documents and email them to yourself or store them on the cloud—any place that is as close as the nearest Internet café or wireless connection.

  7. Clue in your creditors. Before you pack the car or head to the airport, call your credit card companies. Let them know when and where you are traveling. Otherwise, they may think it odd that you are suddenly spending euros in Europe or buying dinner in Dallas and cancel your cards. And just in case one card is lost or stolen, bring two (and only two) credit cards and keep them in separate places.
  8. PalmSpringsHikeDo the free stuff. Unless you’re a member of the 1 percent for whom money is no object, it’s important to find ways to stretch your vacation dollars. Find the free museum or attend the free concert or visit the free street fair.  (It’s no surprise that Free in the 50 States is our most popular feature on
  9. Be careful out there. Wear sunscreen. Buckle up. Drink in moderation (and never when you’re driving). Swim where the lifeguards are. Look around before you step up to take cash out of the ATM. Nothing can ruin a spring break–or any vacation–faster than a bad guy stealing your money, scoring a painful case of sun poisoning or some other avoidable disaster.

Keep the kids entertained on long road trips with these spring break road trip boredom busters.