The fascinating history of spring vacation
23rd March, 2023
Spring vacation, also known as spring break, is a popular phenomenon in the USA. But for those of us who are based elsewhere in the world, it is often an unknown concept. In fact, for many of us, it is something that we see only in the movies or on our favourite TV shows (I am a big fan of the famous spring break episode of Friends!).
So what actually is spring vacation and why do we celebrate it? In this article I delve into the concept and explain all…
- What is Spring Vacation?
- Why do we have Spring Vacation?
- What else popularised Spring Vacation?
- Spring Break on the big screen
- The best places to visit for Spring Vacation
- Are there other options for Spring Break?
- Interesting facts about spring vacation
- Spring Vacation: Further reading
What is Spring Vacation?
Also known as Spring Break, the tradition of Spring Vacation goes back to 1930s USA. It is a holiday/time-off period for schools, colleges and universities which tends to fall around Easter.
While the tradition started in America, it is a holiday period that is now observed in many parts of the world. The dates differ slightly from country to country. For example, in Kuwait, Spring Vacation happens much earlier in December or January.
Why do we have Spring Vacation?
Essentially, Spring Break is a chance for students to take some time off, de-stress and enjoy some downtime before heading back to school, college or university for the end of the academic year. The final push of any school year is often the most difficult. This break allows students the chance to come back feeling refreshed and ready to work hard.
But Spring Break as we know it exists partly thanks to Fort Lauderdale and their Olympic-size swimming pool. Built in 1928, it was the first pool of its size in Florida. Because of this, and because of the Florida being the Sunshine State, the pool was a popular place to students to hang out during their break from school at this time of year. College swimmers from across the US flocked to Fort Lauderdale for the College Coaches’ Swim Forum.
This tradition continued well into the ‘60s. By this time, swimmers had started to invite their non-swimming college friends with them to take part in this sunny recreation. Thus, what we now see during Spring Vacation was born.
What else popularised Spring Vacation?
In 1959, Time ran an article titled “Beer & the Beach”. It talked about Spring Vacation in Fort Lauderdale, and the thrills of it all.
Then a year later, MGM released the film Where The Boys Are. Starring Dolores Hart, Paula Prentiss, Connie Francis and more, the film follows four college-aged women spending their Spring Vacation in Florida. It was a film aimed at a teenage audience.
Where The Boys Are was also one of the first films to explore how attitudes towards sex, sexuality and morality were changing among the American youth at this time. The film was, naturally, the first to showcase Fort Lauderdale during Spring Break on the big screen. This, of course, caused a further surge in popularity and visitors continued to flock to Florida every spring throughout the 60s and beyond.
By the time the 80s rolled around, Fort Lauderdale had had enough. In 1985, a whopping 370,000 students descended on the city during Spring Vacation. Robert Dressler, the mayor at the time, imposed stricter laws around public drinking and appeared on Good Morning America to let students know they were no longer welcome for Spring Break. By this point, though, other cities across America were hosting parties and events for students during this vacation period. And they still are!
Spring Break on the big screen
After the popularity of Where The Boys Are back in 1960, it is no surprise that many films over the years have followed suit and featured Spring Vacation.
Spring Breakers (2012) starring Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez features a gang of students who rob a diner to fund their trip.
And Spring Break (1983) sees two students – played by David Knell and Perry Lang – head to Fort Lauderdale for wet t-shirt contests, drinking and plenty of romance.
Cop comedy 22 Jump Street (2014) follows Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum on spring break, too!
The best places to visit for Spring Vacation
While celebrations have moved away from Fort Lauderdale over the years, there are still many places that students (typically American college students) flock to during this week of the year. As mentioned, other countries do have Spring Vacation too.
In the UK, many school boards have renamed the Easter holidays as ‘Spring Break’ – this is because the time off from studying does not always coincide with Easter. Portugal have their two-week Easter Holidays, and for many Catholic countries the time off from education fits around Holy Week.
But when we talk about Spring Vacation, it tends to be the US that springs to mind. So where do students from American colleges and universities go for their Spring Break – and why?
For sun, sea and sand, Cancun tops the list.
Cancun is a popular holiday destination for many, and especially for those looking for an amazing Spring Vacation. With all-inclusive resorts up and down the coast, there are many budget-friendly packages available to students at this time of year. With food, drinks and entertainment included, it’s a definite winner.
The sun always shines during Spring Break in Cancun, too! Sandy beaches and seaside bars are great places to spend the day, while the nightlife is absolutely buzzing. Plus, for those looking to take a little break from partying, there are Mayan ruins not too far away. It doesn’t have to be all about drinking, dancing and debauchery…
South Padre Island, Texas
On the coastal tip of Texas you’ll find South Padre Island.
With warm weather and beautiful beaches, it makes for a popular Spring Vacation destination. There are 24-hour beach parties and plenty of budget-friendly accommodation options, making it the perfect place for students looking to get away.
It also has family friendly options, with plenty of activities for kids of all ages. Dolphin spotting, after sports and more are all on offer in this sunny part of Texas.
South Padre Island is only a day’s drive from cities such as Houston or Dallas, so local students who don’t want to splash out on flights tend to head to South Padre Island to soak up the sunshine.
Key West, Florida
Florida is still home to plenty of popular Spring Vacation destinations. Key West is one of them, with a huge array of bars and hotels ready to cater to students at this time of year.
Go snorkelling in the crystal clear blue water, or take a champagne sunset cruise. There are also national parks, museums and places to shop if you fancy a day off from drinking and sunbathing! Hot weather, endless beaches and affordable accommodation make the area a firm favourite with those looking for somewhere to spend their Spring Break.
There are plenty of all-inclusive packages available for Key West, too. Some of these are specifically aimed at students, meaning they are often much cheaper.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Located in the Caribbean, many head to Punta Cana for hot weather and beautiful scenery.
With over 24,000 hotel rooms, Punta Cana caters well to those looking for all-inclusive partying without having to venture away from their accommodation for the most part. Bars and restaurants sit within hotel grounds, opening out onto soft sandy beaches that lead into the most beautiful blue sea.
Water sports, beach volleyball and plenty of sunbathing spots? It’s no wonder that this is such a popular destination. There is also an exciting nightlife in this Caribbean location, and student packages are available for Spring Vacation too.
Daytona Beach, Florida
The ‘Sunshine State’ really is the home of Spring Break. With 23 miles of beachfront, Dayton Beach is still incredibly popular with students.
This popular Spring Break destination is only an hour north of Orlando, so many combine their party time with a trip to one of the many theme parks nearby. But Daytona Beach itself is definitely all about the atmosphere.
Spring breakers can purchase a Golden Passport offering entry to the most exclusive clubs and bars in town as well as daily pool parties; it also gets students free drinks in many places. Many hotels here offer brilliant student deals, making it an amazing option for those planning a Spring Vacation.
Are there other options for Spring Break?
Of course, the typical Spring Vacation isn’t for everyone. There are those who don’t drink, aren’t into partying or simply wouldn’t feel safe heading somewhere where there is so many people drinking, dancing and getting too close to one another.
For American students who want to spend Spring Break with their family or simply want somewhere quieter, there are definitely other options!
With beaches offering sun and sand, and plenty of history to be found, Panama is an amazing country. Its capital, Panama City, has plenty to see and do.
The region is made up of a small cluster of islands offering tropical weather and beautiful views. It isn’t as busy as many other Central American destinations, but is still well worth visiting.
There are places to party, of course, but as it isn’t one of the popular Spring Vacation locations, you won’t have to be crammed into bars every night.
South Carolina is an up and coming destination for Spring Break. In particular, Charleston.
Charleston has an elegant French Quarter, which is why many liken it to New Orleans – another popular and busy Spring Break destination.
But Charleston is incredibly charming and much quieter, and if you do want to visit the beach then Sullivan’s Island is only a few minutes away by car. Charleston has a rich history and great food scene, and makes for a lovely calm Spring Vacation.
Cuba is another Caribbean location that has plenty to offer.
There is nightlife and beaches as is typical with Spring Vacation destinations, but it’s never as busy as many of the places mentioned above. There are places you can stay that are super quiet!
Try some famous cigars, explore limestone mountains and marvel at the stunning Spanish architecture. Cuba is full of stunning places to visit, and there really is so much to do here.
Interesting facts about spring vacation
- Spring break started in the 1930s as a swim coach’s idea to have his team train in Florida during their school break.
- The most popular spring break destinations for college students in the US are Cancun, Mexico, and Panama City Beach, Florida.
- The term “spring break” is used primarily in the United States and Canada, while other countries refer to it as Easter holiday, March break, or mid-term break.
- The number of people who travel during spring break has increased dramatically over the years. In 2021, the travel industry expected approximately 79% of Americans to take a spring vacation.
- Spring break is not just for college students. Families with children often take advantage of the school break to travel and spend quality time together.
- While spring break is traditionally associated with warm-weather destinations, some people choose to go skiing or snowboarding during this time of year.
- The concept of “spring cleaning” also originated from the idea of cleaning out one’s home during the springtime, often during a break from school or work.
- Some cities, such as New Orleans and Austin, have their own unique spring break traditions, including Mardi Gras and South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival, respectively.
- Many companies offer discounts and promotions specifically for spring break travelers, including airlines, hotels, and rental car agencies.
Spring Vacation: Further reading
Now that you understand the concept of the Spring Break, you can start to plan your perfect trip! Or why not go somewhere different? Here are some of my favourite travel destinations below!
- Costa Rica
- Jeju Island, South Korea
- Cape Town, South Africa
- Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
- Shanghai, China