There’s nothing like a road trip with friends to take your mind off life’s stresses and pressures. That’s why going on a road trip is such a popular vacation idea for college students, who desperately need a well-earned break from studying all year.
However, because college students typically don’t have a lot of disposable income, it’s important to plan road trips in a way that minimizes expenses as much as possible.
If you’re a college student trying to plan a budget-friendly road trip, you’ve come to the right place! We have 15 incredible ideas for college-friendly road trips to share with you today, including trips you can take during Spring Break!
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s go!
Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
If you’ve got your heart set on a scenic, peaceful road trip through one of Tennessee’s most beautiful natural spots, Smoky Mountains is the ideal location for you!
The Smoky Mountains provide 384 miles of paved and gravel road, which is plenty of distance to cover on your trip. The roads are quite narrow and winding, so we’d only recommend this trip to proficient drivers, but if you have the skills to navigate this terrain safely, the scenery will make it all worth it.
Hiking, horseback riding, and river tubing in the Smoky Mountains will keep you entertained for at least 3 days. While there are plenty of resorts and lodges in the vicinity, you can cut down your budget even further by setting up camp in the beautiful surroundings!
You can definitely make your Smoky Mountains road trip a Spring Break vacation, but we really recommend going in the Fall to enjoy the scenery at its finest.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
If you’re more of a beach-goer than a hiker, a road trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, could be your perfect getaway!
Myrtle Beach itself is 60 miles long, but obviously, that’s not a long enough distance for a proper road trip. However, luckily, there are plenty of exciting (and budget-friendly) attractions surrounding Myrtle Beach, which makes it easy to plan a route leading up to the beach as your final stop.
One of the most popular ways to incorporate Myrtle Beach into a road trip is to start at New York City and make the 11-hour drive to the beach. You can either take the scenic route, passing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and Virginia Beach, or the city drive. If you choose the latter, you can stop off at famous attractions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art (just $14 entry for students!)
Once you reach Myrtle Beach, you can enjoy the Skywheel and the rides at Family Kingdom Amusement Park before relaxing on the beach. This is the perfect Spring Break road trip, and there are a variety of budget-friendly resorts to choose from.
Overseas Highway, Florida
Do you love being near the ocean? If so, the Overseas Highway in Florida could be your dream road trip!
The Overseas Highway is 113 miles (171.4 kilometers) long, which should take the average person about 4 hours to drive, taking into account the usual traffic.
However, we’d recommend extending your Overseas Highway road trip by stopping at some of the main attractions, such as Islamorada, where you can enjoy gorgeous, scenic beaches, incredible food, and a variety of historical and cultural venues such as the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center (just $6 entry for students).
If you want to stay overnight, you can book into reasonably priced accommodations such as The Pelican Key Largo Cottages, which provide budget-friendly economy rooms.
Great Sand Dunes Natural Park, Colorado
The Great Sand Dunes Natural Park in Colorado is an amazing road trip destination if you’re looking for adventure.
For a scenic drive, we recommend taking the Medano Pass Primitive Road, which usually takes between 2 and 3 hours to drive, and delivers some of the most scenic views in Colorado.
Once you’ve completed the driving aspect of your road trip, you can sandboard, go fishing, or stop off at nearby restaurants for delicious food.
There are lodges nearby with rooms starting at budget-friendly prices. Alternatively, you can get a backcountry permit for free from the Visitor Center, which will allow you to camp in the dune field.
Havasu Falls, Arizona
Havasu Falls is one of Arizona’s most stunning natural attractions, so it’s no surprise that it’s a popular road trip location.
For college students who have saved a little money for Spring Break, Havasu Falls provides an amazing, natural camping experience. A weekday reservation for the campsite starts at $100 per person, and while you’re there, you can enjoy the incredible views on the hiking trails.
Pacific Coast Highway, California
Pacific Coast Highway in California brings together sun, sea, and student-friendly prices in one incredible road trip destination.
The Pacific Coast Highway is 655.8 miles (1055.4 kilometers) long, so you’ll have plenty of ground to cover on your road trip.
In addition to the scenery, there are plenty of places to stop for fun activities and relaxation. The coastal town of Mendocino, for example, is ideal for kayaking and shopping, while Pacifica is the perfect place to stop for food. Half Moon Bay is great for unwinding on the beach and whale watching.
Daytona Beach, Florida
If you’re planning a road trip in Florida, Daytona Beach is a destination you should definitely consider.
No matter where you are in Florida, it shouldn’t take longer than 3.5 hours to get to Daytona Beach, which is long enough to appreciate the scenery without feeling too intense.
Once you get to Daytona Beach, you can take advantage of the biking trails (we recommend bringing your own bike to avoid excess spending), make the most of the reliable surf, or try kayaking and paddleboarding!
Daytona Beach is also right next to the Boardwalk, where you can shop, eat, and have fun at the arcade all day. Screamers Park is nearby for the thrill-seekers, and when you’re tired out, there are plenty of reasonably-priced accommodations to choose from.
Route 66, Chicago to LA
Route 66, also known as the Mother Road, is widely known as one of the best routes for affordable yet breathtaking road trips.
It’s easy to get onto Route 66 if you live anywhere between Chicago and LA. The route is a massive 2,448 miles (3939.7 kilometers) long, so there’s no shortage of places to see and things to do.
We definitely recommend stopping at the Grand Canyon, and Santa Fe, Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles should all be on your list of stops as well.
With so many destinations to stop at, it’s easy to find budget-friendly hotels and lodges. Alternatively, there are plenty of camping spots to choose from if you’re looking to minimize your budget. Malibu Creek State Park and Arcadia Lake, Oklahoma, are just a couple of the campsites dotted along Route 66.
South Padre Island, Texas
For the ultimate Southern Spring Break road trip, we recommend South Padre Island, Texas.
One of the best drives to South Padre Island is from Houston, and takes about 6 hours if you drive at a consistent pace and don’t make too many stops on the way.
South Padre Island is home to sites such as Port Isabel Lighthouse, and Dirty Al’s, which is known for its incredible seafood.
Animal lovers will have a great time at Sea Turtle Inc., where you can learn about and immerse yourself in the world of sea turtle rehabilitation.
The beach itself is a beautiful location for snorkeling, bike rides, or just relaxing in the sun.
Budget-friendly accommodation such as Surf Motel Padre and Wanna Wanna will help you to keep the overall cost of your trip inside your budget.
Niagara Falls, Ontario
If you fancy a change of scene, Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada, will make for one of the best road trips of your life!
On the drive leading up to Niagara Falls, we recommend stopping at Niagara on the Lake, where you can go hiking in the forest. You should also definitely check out the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens before heading to the iconic waterfalls themselves.
While you’re at Niagara Falls, you can take in other attractions such as the butterfly conservatory, the skywheel, Skylon Tower, and the Niagara Glen Nature Areas. There truly is something for everyone, and it’s easy to find affordable ways to pass the time.
In terms of accommodation, there are several campgrounds in the vicinity, but you can also find budget-friendly hotels quite easily.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is the perfect destination for a Spring Break road trip, combining days of entertainment with cultural and historical significance.
There are many scenic and fun-filled routes you can take to get to New Orleans, with some of the most popular starting at Houston or Nashville. Wherever you start out, though, one thing’s for sure: the hours of driving will be worth it for the final destination.
From museums and walking tours to mind-blowing cuisine and live music, New Orleans is full of life and memory-making potential.
If you’d prefer to visit New Orleans on a road trip outside of Spring Break, we recommend going in February so that you can enjoy the Mardi Gras celebrations!
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway stretches all the way from Cherokee to Virginia. That’s 469 miles (755 kilometers) of road to plan your road trip across, complete with plenty of stops for entertainment, food, and rest.
First of all, the scenery surrounding Blue Ridge Parkway is enough to take your breath away. With waterfalls and stunning mountain ranges to look at, there’s no chance of you getting bored on the drive.
We recommend stopping to take in the Cascades or even to scale Chimney Rock if you feel up to it. Asheville makes the perfect final stop for your road trip because it has amazing art and culinary scenes.
Asheville also offers a selection of budget-friendly hotels and bed and breakfast lodges, with rooms starting from around $58 per night.
Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Washington’s Olympic Peninsula will appeal to college students who want a road trip with a balance between nature and city life.
For the best experience, we advise starting out in Seattle and driving in a loop, making stops for the activities and attractions of your choice.
Given the forest scenery, hiking is a popular activity at the Olympic Peninsula, but if that’s not your thing, you can also drive down to Port Townsend, Sequim, or Port Angeles for a busy and vibrant city experience.
There are also several beaches within driving distance, including Mora and Rialto, and the Ozette Triangle.
During your road trip, you can stay at one of the many cabins and lodges dotted around the area. You can also reserve a spot at one of the Olympic National Park’s campsites for affordable prices.
San Juan Skyway, Colorado
The San Juan Skyway in Colorado is a great road trip route for college students who want to relax and have fun in nature.
San Juan Skyway is also a good choice if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands and want the road trip experience in the space of a day.
You can drive this route either North or South, the beauty being that the skyway forms a loop, so regardless of where you start, you can still enjoy the same sights and it’s difficult to get lost.
We recommend stopping at the hot springs and the Blue Lake Trails if you have the time. Alternatively, you can just enjoy the stunning views, saving time and money.
30A Highway, Florida
Our final recommendation for college student road trips is the 30A Highway, Florida.
30A Highway makes for a relaxing, coastal drive past beautiful beaches. In fact, the entire drive consists of beaches, which means you can soak up the views and stop pretty much wherever you like to enjoy the sea and sand.
Grayton Beach is a particular favorite because it’s within walking distance of amazing restaurants and shopping venues.
If you want to extend your road trip, coastal towns such as Seagrove and Seaside provide affordable accommodation to fit your budget.