WHERE THE BUYS ARE
Many people look forward to spring break, but perhaps no one relishes the time off more than college students escaping the library stacks. If a sunny destination beckons this year, set yourself up for a fun trip -- and head off mishaps that could ruin your break -- by packing these 10 things under $25.
For a warm-weather vacation, sunscreen should always be at the top of the packing list. To shield the skin from harmful ultraviolet rays and painful burns, sunscreen should be applied liberally at least once every two hours. Many skincare experts recommend a bare minimum of SPF 15, and the American Academy of Dermatology suggests an SPF of 30 or higher. No-Ad SPF 45 ($8.50 from Walmart) is a top pick from Cheapism.com.
ALOE VERA SUNBURN GEL
Even if sunscreen is applied judiciously, long hours spent outdoors can inflict damage that may go unnoticed until long after the sun sets. For pain relief, return moisture to inflamed skin with fast-absorbing, natural aloe vera. In online reviews, consumers have high praise for Fruit of the Earth 100 percent aloe vera gel (about $9 on Amazon). Australian Gold, Tropical Seas' Reef Safe, Solarcaine, and Sun Bum also make highly rated, low-cost options.
Music makes everything better, whether it's poolside lounging or solo shower karaoke. Inexpensive waterproof speakers can play songs wirelessly from a device connected through Bluetooth. The Boom Swimmer Bluetooth speaker from Polk Audio (available on Amazon for less than $25) is built to withstand shallow water for up to a half-hour and is resistant to shock and dust. Other speaker brands with well-reviewed models under $25 include Mpow and Seedforce.
A chilled drink is incomparably refreshing in hot weather. Keep sodas, water, and beers in a dependable cooler that can be transported easily and stowed in a car trunk. For a few hours at the pool or beach, try the Coleman 9-Can Soft Cooler (starting at $13 on Amazon, where more than 1,200 reviewers give it an average of 4.5 stars). For larger groups, the Coleman 16-Quart Wheeled Cooler (about $17 at Walmart, where nearly three-quarters of reviewers give it 5 stars) holds 22 cans and is tall enough to let 2-liter bottles ride upright.
Skip the cheapest flip-flops, because the low price won't make up for the pain and hassle when a strap snaps or detaches from a flimsy sole. Instead, spring for Reef Ginger Drift flip-flops for women (starting at $11 on Amazon) or Teva Classic Flip sandals for men (starting at $9 on Amazon). In online reviews, consumers praise the arch support of the Reef flip-flops, cloth straps that don't chafe, and a foam sole that conforms to the foot and holds up well on rocks. Buyers of the Teva flip-flops like the thick sole, all-day wearability, and quick-drying material, according to reviews. Both footbeds are made of EVA, which is flexible, soft, and tough.
It's easy to misplace keys and wallets amid crowds at the pool or in the mess of a motel room. A small Bluetooth-powered tag such as StickNFind, Protag Duet, or Trackr, to name a few, attaches to an item (or a car) so it can be tracked with a phone or tablet. It comes in handy for locating valuables such as a camera bag and should last long after spring break is over. Bluetooth trackers vary in size, range, alert capabilities, and price. Tile, for example, starts at $25 on Amazon, but the price drops when purchasing packs of four, eight, or 12.
SPORTS FOR THE POOL
If poolside tanning and floating around becomes mundane after a few hours, break out a volleyball net or basketball hoop. Inflatable game sets make a day at the pool more fun for everyone, and they're inexpensive at big-box retailers as well as online. Intex makes colorful, inexpensive sets available on Amazon for volleyball ($10) or basketball ($11).
DRINKING GAME SET
Walk into any spring break beach party or bar and there is likely to be a beer pong match in progress. Bring the classic drinking game to the pool with a 5-foot inflatable "table" from Pool Party Pong ($20 at Walmart) or a set of two floating GoPong Pool Pong Racks ($17 on Amazon) with room for six cups each.
For hydration and refreshment during the day -- and, according to some, help with hangovers -- stock up on drinks with electrolytes. Sports drinks and coconut water can cost $2 to $3 each at a local deli or mini-mart, but spring breakers who drive to their destinations can beat that price by buying beforehand at bulk retailers or online. A variety pack of 28 12-ounce bottles of Gatorade is a little more than $14 at Jet, bringing the cost to about 50 cents a bottle.