North American Hopscotch

The continent’s most exciting places to book a spring break trip that won’t break the bank.

Welcome to spring break! Okay, maybe not. ItâÄôs December, which for most people translates into winter, not spring. But while it may seem counterintuitive to lift your thoughts away from eggnog and the iPhone in your stocking, plane tickets for that week off in March are selling out fast. So get out your passport, friend, and fire up your motor home âÄî spring break is (kind of) nigh. Destination One: New York New York City is a spendthriftâÄôs most loyal companion. In this great city, squandering money seems as much a biological function as breathing. Most everything on the isle of Manhattan has an exotic island price tag âÄî ritzy hamburgs can cost upwards of 30 bucks, hotel room rates look more like double mortgage payments, and drinking, well, thatâÄôs not cheap anywhere. But in Manhattan especially, the hooch seems priced only for the rich and powerful. But Joe Six-pack has gotta drink too! ThatâÄôs why A&E is mixing up some advice for getting sloshed in NYC on the cheap. At this very moment in an unassuming upper west side Chinese restaurant, thereâÄôs a phenomenon brewing. It has nothing to do with dumplings, fried pork or sweet and sour sauce. In fact, most people donâÄôt come to this restaurant for the food âĦ itâÄôs the white wine theyâÄôre after: the absolutely bottomless, 100 percent FREE white wine. This is big, people. Free, limitless wine in New York City is like hitting 80 degrees in January in Minnesota. Yeah. Earth-shattering. Okay, so itâÄôs only boxed wine, but college tourists are usually more poor than choosy. The Silk Road Palace, affectionately known by many frequenters simply as âÄúChina Wine,âÄù offers the standard gamut of Americanized Chinese food, along with all the wine your binge-drinking heart desires (craves). The line to get inside typically snakes out the door, but that doesnâÄôt matter, because while you wait you are served glass after glass of horrible white wine. By the time your food hits the table, youâÄôll likely think youâÄôre dining at Le Bernardin or the Chinatown Brasserie , even though the food is most comparable to The Village WokâÄôs . For 12 bucks, this place is easily one of the best drink-and-dine deals in Manhattan. Spending big bread at this next place is almost unavoidable, but since youâÄôve been saving all of your cash by drinking/eating all of your meals at China Wine, you can afford to treat yourself to a couple of beers the way hardcore prohibition-era gangsters would have enjoyed them. 124 Rabbit Club is probably the sneakiest bar on the whole island of Manhattan. ItâÄôs a hidden speakeasy (really, itâÄôs hard to find, and you have to ring a buzzer to get in) sunk into the basement of a West Village building on busy MacDougal Street . Inside this small and gruffly elegant tavern youâÄôll find a list of beers youâÄôve likely never imbibed before âÄî most from Belgium, Great Britain and Germany âÄî all of them trendy and tasty enough to lock your lips to. Prices range from about six bucks to more than $20 per bottle. Go for a beer or two, suck in the surroundings and then head to Washington Square Park to dance with the ghosts of your favorite beat poets. Destination Two: Mexico City Many people think of Mexico as an expansive beach, just south of the United States, where pale-bellied Midwesterners hide from frigid winters and sip watered-down daiquiris from all-inclusive resort bars. And thereâÄôs definitely a lot of that going on in places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen, both tourist hotspots on the Riviera Maya. While thereâÄôs nothing wrong with a little sun and syrup, a few days of all-inclusive isolation can get a little redundant. The best solution may be to plot a vacation a bit more central on the map and head to Mexico City. What it lacks in shore space it makes up for in authenticity layers (literally, the city was built on top of the Aztec capitol) of cultural history. The largest city in Mexico is home to the Frida Kahlo Museum, which is housed in the bright blue home she lived in much of her life. Kahlo, often recognized because of her prominent unibrow and penchant for bright self-portraits with dark themes, painted many surrealist pieces that managed to share her pain from a traumatizing bus accident and lifelong illness. A tour of the house gives fans an even more intimate portrait of her Bohemian intellectual lifestyle. Inside the house is a mirror that Kahlo used to paint her likeness so many times. Be totally different from the Cancun dancing flock by visiting a church on your spring break. Located in Mexico City, the Metropolitan Cathedral is the seat of the Catholic Church in Mexico and is the largest cathedral in North America. Visually, itâÄôs a stunner. Massive and imposing, the cathedral looks like it could be set into an Italian piazza or a Spanish plaza. Inside the church are gargantuan gold altars that practically force reverence and two massive organs from the 17th century. The church is an important part of Mexican history, as it sits atop a former Aztec Temple, showcasing the countryâÄôs shift from its indigenous beliefs to a religion imported from the New World. Though Mexico City might not be the answer for people looking to sun their wind-chapped Northern faces, a few days in the countryâÄôs capitol are a great answer to the depression that an insular resort can incite. Airfare to Mexico City is typically comparable to tickets to beach-y locales. If thatâÄôs not enough of a case to leave the luxury a bit, keep in mind that the drinks in Mexico City are probably stronger than the cocktails on a cruise ship. Destination Three: Winnipeg For all the jokes and mockery America hurls at its brethren to the north, Canada seems to be kicking our asses in quality of life. According to a recent Mercer Consulting rating, Canada lays claim to three of the worldâÄôs top 25 cities to live in: Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto, who all beat out the United StatesâÄô Honolulu, which came in at No.28. We may have more fast food restaurants, murders and hate crimes here in the good olâÄô U.S. of A., but the Canucks seem to have more class, as well as higher air quality, and less traffic congestion :Touché, you hockey-loving simpletons, touché. Canada has long been a frosty spring break destination for University students either shy of the big 2-1, or merely hankering for some fries and gravy. The border of Ontario is a straight shot north to International Falls, some five hours from the cities. However, donâÄôt expect glamour comparable to Vancouver, Ottawa or Toronto just by crossing the border; the closest large city is Winnipeg, a seven hour drive which will take you through magical Fargo, N.D. The 459-mile trek to Winnipeg is enormously more manageable than the 1,000 mile-plus journey to any of the other major Canadian cities. Any hope for a Canadian cosmopolitan vacation aside from Winnipeg is going to demand either a very significant drive or a plane ticket. The good part is, the drive is certainly tolerable and road trips are very much a vacation standby. If one is road-weary, though, plane tickets factor in at about $700. At that point, itâÄôd probably be wise to front the extra $200 and go to Buenos Aires instead for a mean $900. For those who choose the car-bound trek to Winnipeg, its plethora of theaters and museums, bars, restaurants and concert venues are prime entertainment destinations. The city also houses a thriving off-the-beaten-path indie scene (undoubtedly an effect of CanadaâÄôs gracious artist grants). Winnipeg bars and clubs like The Zoo, The Cavern, Royal Albert Arms and The Windsor Hotel may be good places to witness up-and-coming musical acts not yet known by the savvy music bloggers in Minneapolis. Winnipeg has several hotels within the heart of downtown, yet the most suitable for students looking for a good time on a budget may be HI-Winnipeg, a newly constructed guest house and hostel located within proximity to most major attractions. With a price tag varying from $25-$60 a night per person, the hostel route is sure to please even the thriftiest of spring-breakers. With economically manageable accommodations, a relatively easy drive and attractions and culture a-go-go, Winnipeg seems the logical choice for poor students suffering from cabin fever in the cities.