"Getting Away": A Qualitative Inquiry Into the Spring Break Experience

Open Access
Author:
Ribeiro, Nuno Filipe
Graduate Program:
Recreation, Park and Tourism Management
Degree:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
March 19, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Careen M Yarnal, Thesis Advisor
Keywords:
  • leisure
  • qualitative research
  • spring break
Abstract:
Spring Break, a yearly week-long North American college vacation period, is one of the most popular holiday activities amongst college students, with 2.4 million spring breakers reported in 2005. Thanks to the media and the marketing efforts of a number of companies that quickly tapped into the Spring Break market, Spring Break is now firmly entrenched in the imagery of both college students and the public at large as a “Spring Bacchanal”. Missing from the literature are studies that allow spring breakers to describe the Spring Break experience in their own words, their reasons for going and the meaning that such experience has for them. In an effort to bridge this gap in the literature, and to further existing knowledge of Spring Break, this study sought to gain a deeper understanding of the Spring Break phenomenon, by seeking answers to the following questions: “Why do college students go on Spring Break?” and “How do spring breakers perceive the Spring Break experience?” Fourteen undergraduate students from a large Mid-Atlantic North American University, who were going on their first Spring Break experience, were selected via random purposeful sampling, and interviewed before and after Spring Break. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and the resulting transcripts were analyzed using the software program NVivo© version 7.0 until a clear picture of the spring breakers’ experiences emerged. The results revealed a stark contrast between the participants’ perceptions of what Spring Break is and the reality of their own Spring Break experiences. Participants’ perceptions of Spring Break, in consonance with the media-propagated image of this phenomenon, were defined by words such as “drinking”, “crazy”, “girls”, “beach”, “bikinis”, and “party”. The majority of the participants’ own Spring Break experiences, however, had little in common with this stereotype. The “typical” Spring Break for these participants, revolved around rest, relaxation and escape from school’s responsibilities. Challenging both commonly held beliefs and existing scholarly research on Spring Break, it is proposed that Spring Break should not be easily equated with a “Spring Bacchanal”. It is likely that the media (of which MTV is a prime example), along with the marketing efforts of a number of corporations, have combined to create a distorted image of a fake rite of passage, complete with its own history and tradition(s), through a process similar to what is deemed the “invention of tradition”. It is further proposed that, rather than regarding Spring Break as an excuse to drink, have unprotected sex, etc., without restrictions, college students merely see Spring Break as the continuation of practices that they already engage in during the rest of the year, lending support to the notion of a tourism-leisure behavioural continuum. Implications for leisure research and future directions for scholarly work are discussed.