Advice for a memorable spring break

While most companies offering spring break vacation tours to students to Texas, Florida or the Caribbean are legitimate and responsible, it 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 accommodations in 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 tour company in the past can help, but their experiences might not be your experience. Probably the best thing to do is get as much hard information about the basics of the trip as possible, and demand that promises made by the company or its agent be included as part of your written contract.

Specifics should include the following: the exact location and description of your accommodations, the availability of and nature of cooking and sleeping facilities, the mode of transportation and what happens in the event you have to cancel out of 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 accommodations at discount prices. If you want the security of knowing exactly what you will be 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 en route 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 $200.00) 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, use some sort of travelers’ check system rather than hard cash.

If you plan to drive the highways and byways from DeKalb to the sun and sand on your own, realize that 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 charges later will be difficult, if not impossible. Out-of-state traffic convictions, if reported to Illinois, will become part of your driving record here. Obey the law. You should also check with your insurance carrier to find out if drivers other than you are covered under the policy. Some policies do not cover other drivers if they are under 21 years old. You also should decide among yourselves about other aspects of the trip, especially financial ones. For example, decide who pays for repairs needed to the car en route. A memo of understanding is a good idea.