Summer Vacation on Campus

Looking for unique, fun, inexpensive lodging? Stay in a university dorm

The campus of UC Santa Barbara is on the coast at Isla Vista.
The campus of UC Santa Barbara is on the coast at Isla Vista. Image courtesy of Flickr user Carl Jantzen

Even when you find affordable airfare to a great destination, the cost of lodgings—sometimes averaging over $200 a night—can be a deal-breaker. For that reason, I’ve resorted to every scheme I can think of to hold down the price of accommodations, including bunking with friends and apartment swaps. One of the best approaches I’ve found is renting a room in a college dorm when students are on summer vacation.

That’s how I once took a budget getaway up the Hudson River from New York, staying in a dorm room at Marymount College overlooking Tarrytown for $25 a night, clean sheets and towels included. I had fun touring the Rockefeller estate Kykuit and walking the old Croton Aqueduct Trail. But the best part was feeling like a freshman again.

Another college room I rented put me in the heart of literary Bloomsbury, though by comparison with my lodgings at Marymount, the University of London’s John Adams Hall seemed rather worse for the wear. My $35 room there was at the end of a dark hall with a narrow single bed, empty bookshelves and a bulletin board. That was 20 years ago, but the university still rents rooms during summer vacation in six student residences for as little as $90 a night.

It’s not as easy at it once was to find deals on campus like these, though USA Today reports that it’s still possible by getting a list of colleges in the place you want to visit and contacting their housing departments directly; even if vacation dorm rental isn’t part of the program, they’re sometimes willing to consider it in order to raise money.

One extremely attractive option is the little-known UC Santa Barbara Family Vacation Center, headquartered in a dorm with roomy suites on the university’s stunning, waterfront campus in striking distance of state park beaches, Santa Barbara cultural institutions and the Santa Ynez wine country. Actually, frequent UCSB vacationers are happy to stay put because the price ($965 per person for a week, $455 for a 4-night mini-week) includes meals, internet, housekeeping and recreation (tennis, yoga, hiking, mountain biking, infant and toddler care, kids camp), not to mention the good company of other family vacationers, many of whom return year after year.

The Summer Vacation Center has been attracting UCSB grads and their families for 40 years, but you don’t have to be an alum to take part. You do have to plan ahead, however, because reservations must be made by mid January for sessions the following summer that begin in late June and run until late August.

Talk about the benefits of higher education!

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