03/07/2012 07:02 am ET Updated May 07, 2012

Minus The Subwoofer: Off The Beaten Path Spring Breaking

My most memorable spring break was at Lake Powell in Northern Arizona. It was the late '90s, and the trip was a highly anticipated break from another long semester at Arizona State University. We had a boat, two jet skis and what we thought were all the essential items for a week on the lake. However, I neglected to bring one vital item: sunscreen. I looked like bad retro burnt orange carpeting, not the best way to pick up the ladies, and certainly not the healthiest choice for long-term skincare.

At the time, skin damage prevention was not high on my list of priorities, but it should have been. You might like the Jersey Shore tanned look now, but it's later you should be thinking about. Wherever you plan on having fun in the sun this spring break, pick up an adequate amount of sun protection. Remember, if the bottle has more than three ounces, pack it with your checked luggage.

Nowadays, I prefer spring break spots that are out of the mainstream. Whether you're an adventure-seeker or just prefer peace and tranquility, you've come to the right place for travel advice. One of my top insider tips is that you don't have to break the bank or travel to far-off places to see some of the most striking natural wonders or kick-back in a serene landscape. Often, you can fly into those same spring break destinations where everyone else is going, and take a detour to a virtually forgotten land.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico is an hour bus ride or 45-minute car ride from Cancun, only it's much more low-key. I prefer this area over Cancun because of its more quaint and authentic vibe. It has the same beautiful beaches with excellent snorkeling and scuba diving, only with far less crowds (picture nice, white beaches minus the subwoofers).

From Playa del Carmen, it's only an hour and a half drive to the ancient Mayan ruins or a 45-minute boat ride to Cozumel, where you can catch some divine diving. Plus, you don't have to scratch nightlife off the list entirely, as there are still plenty of clubs and bars along the main thoroughfare, La Quinta Avenida. My preference for accommodation is Hotel Eclipse, a quaint and affordable boutique hotel.

Playa Brasilito, Costa Rica is a sleepy surf town off the Guanacaste Coast, one of a shrinking number of vacation destinations that is still a best-kept secret. You can fly into Liberia direct from New York and head away from the tourists and into paradise. Nestled between the slightly more populated areas of Tamarindo (having gained popularity following the surf movie "Endless Summer II") and Playa Flamingo, Brasilito offers an ideal location for barren beaches and super inexpensive accommodations with easy access to the restaurants, bars and people-watching in the nearby towns. You're also just a day trip away from the stunning rain forests of Costa Rica.

I recommend staying at Hotel Brasilito, where rooms start at just $40 USD a night. The only thing close to a loud party scene in Brasilito is the call of the howler monkeys. I was startled awake the first night by the loud and thunderous roar of the otherwise harmless, pint-sized primates.

Vieques and Culebra, Puerto Rico are two islands just off the coast of mainland Puerto Rico that provide a polar opposite alternative to some of the busy beaches in San Juan. The islands are small and easy to navigate, offering aesthetic vistas and optimal settings for relaxation, all just a short ferry ride from the mainland. One of the top bioluminescent bays in the world is located on Vieques, and I highly recommend a nighttime kayak tour to see the surreal bright green glow in the water just below you caused by tiny dinoflagellates.

I recommend using Vacation Rental By Owner (VBRO) for accommodations. You can find really good deals on condos and bed and breakfasts that are much nicer than any of the hotels. My personal favorite place to stay is Hectors by the Sea, where you can rent little casitas that house up to four people for less than $150 a night. Wild horses roam the island freely, giving it a very natural feeling.

Remember, flights are usually full during spring break, so leave plenty of time to get to the airport and through security to your gate. Pack lightly and keep your carry-on as small as possible so it can fit under your seat, because overhead space is bound to fill quickly.