Watch out for ‘fabulous’ spring break trips

“Bears ‘87” paraphernalia are available at sub-fire sale prices, holiday gifts are now appearing on your credit card statements and your roommate has finally consumed the last of your mother’s inedible Christmas cookies she insisted you take back to school. No doubt about it, the doldrums of winter are about to descend upon us, which also means the imminent appearance of spring break vacation posters and brochures offering escapes to Shangri La—or at least sun, sand and surf.

While most companies offering group tours to Texas or Florida at low rates to students are legitimate and responsible, it still is worth the effort to find out exactly what you are getting for your money,before you sign on the dotted line.

For example, a company might advertise low-priced accomodations in sunny Daytona Beach that include cooking facilities and a beautiful ocean view. In reality, your Daytona “digs” could be miles from where the action is, with cooking facilities consisting of a hot plate and an ocean view from the bathroom you share with the adjoining suite.

Obviously, you can’t inspect the room before signing up for the trip. Talking to friends who have dealt with the company in the past can help, but their experiences might not be yours. The best thing to do is get as much hard information about the basics of the trip as possible, and demand that explicit promises made by the tour company or its agent be included in your written contract.

Specifics should include the exact location and description of your accomodations, the availability and nature of cooking and sleeping facilities, the mode of transportation and what happens in the event you have to cancel the trip. Don’t be surprised if the company tells you it can’t give all the information requested. Often these companies can offer low prices by contracting for large numbers of rooms at the last minute at discount prices. Hence, the company might not know when you sign up which rooms in what hotels will be available come March. If you do learn the name of your prospective lodgings, you can check with AAA or other services to see how it is rated.

In general, realize that you get what you pay for; don’t expect luxury accomodations at discount prices. If you want the security of knowing exactly what you’re getting, consider the more conventional, and expensive, route of contacting a traditional travel agency.

It is also important to understand that tour companies may be independent contractors, and may not be liable if luggage is lost enroute or if a hotel employee walks away with your wallet. Don’t assume that notifying the representative of the tour company about your problem will take care of everything. Report all losses to the tour rep., the hotel and/or bus company and to the local police.

If your luggage is lost, the baggage claim receipt issued by the carrier places a limit (usually not higher than $200) on the amount you can claim per bag. So don’t take along too many expensive clothes. If you take more than one bag, include a complete change of clothes in each bag in case one bag is misplaced or lost. You also should make a list of all clothes and other valuables you’re taking along should later identification become necessary. Finally, Karl Malden wouldn’t lie—use some sort of travelers’ check system rather than hard cash.

Some adventurous types will want to drive the highways and byways from DeKalb to Paradise on their own. As much as the sight of a car full of young men and/or women from Illinois is sure to warm the hearts of local police along the way, don’t assume this goodwill, or your native charm and good looks, will keep you out of trouble. As an out-of-state driver, you will be required to post a substantial bond if you are arrested. Returning to court to contest the charge later will be difficult, if not impossible. Finally, out-of-state traffic convictions, if reported to Illinois, will become part of your driving record here. Obey the law.

The owner of the beatermobile you plan to drive should check with his or her insurance carrier to find out if drivers other than the owner are covered under the policy. Some policies do not cover other drivers if they are under 21 years old. You should also pow-wow about other aspects of the trip, especially financial ones. For example, decide who pays for repairs needed to the car enroute. A memo of understanding is a good idea.

Vacations to new places can clear the mind and cleanse the soul. The right to travel is one of our country’s most distinctive, and grandest accomplishments. Have fun, but be respectful of the places you visit. It’s somebody else’s back yard.