This article is by staff writer Holly Johnson.

How are you saving on spring break?

A few weeks ago, I attended a daytime get-together comprised mostly of mothers of school-aged children. With spring break approaching, the topic inevitably came up, to which everyone in the room simultaneously let out a grunt of frustration.

Unlike some parts of the country, our school system works on a modified year-round schedule. So instead of one week of spring break, we have two. That means that, in most cases, even the families who go on vacation are left trying to find childcare for the second half.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always cheap. And as we talked amongst ourselves, I realized what a huge pain spring break can be.

“I still need to find someone to watch my kids,” admitted one of my friends. “The school-sponsored break camp is crazy expensive this year,” she complained.

Another friend lamented about the rising price tag of the vacation she had just finished planning.

“We just booked flights,” she said, “and it hurt.”

I didn’t have anything too exciting to add to the conversation, aside from the fact that we, too, are feeling the pain of spring break. We’re going on vacation one week and paying twice our normal daycare costs for a week when we get back.

Ouch.

How much are we talking about?

No matter how you cut it, breaks from school can be just as much hassle as they are fun. Sometimes it seems like you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you travel, you have to accommodate those costs; but if you don’t, you may be stuck paying double duty to get someone to watch your kids.

But due to the high costs of a spring break vacation, sometimes staying home is the only option. According to the American Express 2013 survey on summer vacation travel, the average expense per person in the United States is $1,145, or $4,580 for a family of four. And keep in mind, those costs are for summer travel, which is typically cheaper than the marked-up prices found during peak travel periods like spring break.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to save whether you book a trip or stay home. Here are some of the ways people I know are saving this year:

Saving on spring break travel

Vacation within driving distance — No matter where you go, one of the biggest travel expenses to consider is airfare. Save right at the beginning by considering only destinations within driving distance. This may limit your options considerably, but at least you won’t shell out thousands for airfare before you even arrive at your destination.

Search for online deals — Using sites like Expedia.com, Travelocity.com and Priceline.com can be a great way to compare low-cost vacation options and destinations. And don’t forget to compare pricing on direct rental sites like VRBO.com and AirBNB.com.

Book early … or last minute — If you were hoping to book a spring break trip early this year, that ship has already sailed. However, it may not be too late to scoop up some last-minute deals. Check out all of your favorite online sites for last-minute flights and lodging. For last-minute cruises at up to 82 percent off, check out VacationsToGo.com.

Saving on a spring break staycation

Consider spring break day camps — In most areas, daycares and schools have “spring break day camps” meant to keep kids busy while the adults are at work during school breaks. They can be pricey, so make sure to compare several options.

Take off work and stay home — If you are limited on vacation days, the last thing you probably want to do is take a week off to stay home. However, you can easily turn it into a fun bonding experience with your kids if you can find some fun activities to keep everyone busy.

For example, check out local state parks in your area, go camping, or check out local museums during their weekly or monthly “free day.” Go for walks, ride bikes to the park, or have a picnic. Do something — anything — to keep your kiddos busy and entertained.

Trade babysitting with a friend — Two people I know are trading spring break weeks to watch each other’s kids instead of taking two weeks off work. If you are on a single-week spring break schedule, you could always split the week down the middle and share the responsibility with a friend.

How are you saving on spring break? Whether you have planned a trip or plan to park yourself at home, chances are good that spring break will wreak havoc on your budget or your daycare plans. So let’s hear it. In the comments, let us know how you are saving on spring break. Are you spending a bundle on a big trip or planning something fun at home?

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