Best Spring Break Locations

Spring Breakers on Miami Beach

Spring Breakers on Miami Beach

It’s time again for Spring Break. With Samford’s break having just wrapped up and UAB’s about to start, Birmingham students join the ranks of the nation’s college students looking for a break from studying.

Where do these students go for this time of relaxation? With so many options for a warm retreat, “U.S. News and World Report” created a ranking system for Spring Break locations based on a college student’s ideal place being one that is “affordable, accessible, popular among their peers and adheres to a party mentality.”

Using that criteria, here is the list that they came up with.

  1. Miami Beach: Affordable compared to other Florida beaches, lined with clubs and bars and pleasant beaches make this location easily slide into first place.
  2. South Padre Island: A tiny island on the tip of Texas, this location is an affordable and lesser-known Spring Break island.
  3. Cancun: Why mess with the classics? This has always been known as one of the most popular spring break locations.
  4. Puerto Vallarta: More than just beaches, this area offers hidden coves to explore. It is an ideal location for students who love the outdoors.
  5. Bahamas: The allure of Caribbean culture draws students in, and the cheap housing options seal the deal.
  6. Jamaica: Another well-known Spring Break location, Jamaica offers all the fun of the beach with a mood that is a bit more relaxed than U.S. coasts.
  7. Puerto Rico: While not a stereotypical spring break spot, Puerto Rico is still famous for its beautiful beaches and music.
  8. San Diego: This location offers sand and boardwalks at a much milder temperature than other places.
  9. Cabo San Lucas: For those students who are willing to pay steeper hotel prices, this location is considered the party capital of southern Baja.
  10. Daytona: A spot that was once more popular with spring breakers, many students are still drawn in by its affordability. Not to mention, you can drive on the beach!

Dangerous missions: Kayla Mueller and young charity workers abroad

Caroline Noland in Pakistan

Caroline Noland, rear center, with Pakistani women and girls she met during her work with the Primary Education Project.

by Sydney Cromwell

The death of Kayla Mueller on Feb. 6 highlights the worst fears of young humanitarian workers and their families: A 26-year-old American woman, working for Support to Life in Syria, who was kidnapped by a rising terrorist movement and ultimately killed by an airstrike on the terrorists’ base.

“It always is our tendency to be horrified when someone is killed by an act of violence, but it’s compounded when someone is so young and has lived so altruistically,” Samford University global involvement minister Renee Pitts said.

Mueller had worked with a variety of charity organizations in the U.S. and around the Middle East and Asia before being captured by ISIS while leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital. Pitts said the tragedy of her death was brought into sharp relief by her role both as a mother and a counselor for students looking to do global mission work.

“Kayla was really living on the edge in the most war-torn area of the world,” Pitts said. “We have a lot of students like that with hearts of compassion.”

One such student is Caroline Nolandd, a 2012 graduate who spent around two years in Pakistan. d worked for the Primary Education Project, building schools in rural villages and emphasizing girls’ education. Pakistan is the same country where Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai was shot by members of the Taliban for promoting female education.

Noland said she has always had a passion for female education and empowerment. She decided to go to Pakistan because of its low rates of schooling for young girls. Before she arrived, Noland was actually more worried about socializing in a community that did not speak English than about her safety.

“I think as people of God, the places we should be are some of the hardest,” Noland said. “I wanted to go to the places where other people wouldn’t go. Or maybe I was just stupid.”

On her first night, however, Noland heard repeated gunfire and slept under her bed, convinced the Taliban was coming to kill her. She later found out the gunfire was part of a wedding celebration.

Noland also learned that during the 2013 general election, a nearby city shut down about every other week and residents would set fire to cars and protest in the streets. When that happened, teacher training would stop and she couldn’t leave the house to go to the grocery store or the bank. Eventually, the sound of gunfire no longer bothered her.

“Instead of feeling dangerous, mostly it was just an inconvenience,” Noland said. “You have to assume it’s not dangerous to keep going.”

Despite the risks, Noland stayed safe and found the community she’d been hoping for. She said many people hesitate to go to places like the Middle East because they have a false sense of security at home.

“I don’t want to not fully experience and live life because I’m scared something would happen,” Noland said.

Both Noland and Pitts said fear should not override a passion for service, but careful thought about motivation and clear-eyed risk assessment are critical for anyone considering perilous humanitarian work. An outcome like Mueller’s is never entirely preventable, but young aid workers can reduce their danger and be certain that their cause is worth the risk.

“Don’t go somewhere because you think it’s sexy. Go somewhere because you think it’s meaningful work for yourself and others,” Noland said. “The thrill will grow dull, and all you’re left with are the people you’re surrounded with, God and the work you do.”

Winter driving


With winter weather approaching and last season’s “Snow-pocalypse” fresh in the city’s collective memory, safety concerns are more serious than ever. Drivers should adapt their driving techniques to the weather’s compromised roads.

An ice scraper, blankets and reflective markers or flares are all essential winter items to store in the trunk, according to Wayne Pittman, chief of the Samford Police Department.

“In the wintertime, don’t let your gas tank get down to empty before you fill it up,” Pittman warned. If you do have a problem, you’re not going to have any gas to keep yourself warm.”

Pittman’s first advice for winter driving is simply preventive: “If you don’t have to drive, stay home — that’s the number one thing right there. Any time you get out on roads that are icy or there’s snow on them, and they’re a little bit slick, there’s an increased potential for something to happen.”

Drivers that are unfamiliar with icy roads often panic and react poorly to skidding tires. Instead of slamming on the brakes, allowing the tires to slide, drivers should gently let off the brake pedal and allow the wheels to spin again on the road. Once traction is regained, resume braking cautiously.

Bridges typically ice over before roadways. Steady driving will bypass any ice or slick spots, even on exposed pavement.

“When you go over a bridge, maintain your speed and keep going straight,” said Pittman. “Don’t accelerate or hit the brake, because if there is ice, you’ll definitely start sliding on bridges.”

Leaving a vehicle behind in a snowy lane may be a last resort, but there are steps to be taken beforehand that many drivers don’t consider.

“If you’re on a slight hill and you’re close to home, you might consider letting some air out of your back tires so they flatten out just a little bit for some more traction to possibly get you up the hill,” Pittman suggests. “Once you get home, make sure you get them inflated again before you do very much driving.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monitors traffic conditions for the entire country. Drivers can check with NOAA, their local news agencies or various smartphone apps to stay updated and informed.

How to pack a carry-on, the right way


From foliage festivals to family reunions, there are many reasons to in the fall, and as the holidays quickly approach, now is the time many are preparing for fall travel.

You might have been there before—standing in line with your shoes off, waiting in frustration as the poor person two people ahead of you argues with the TSA agent about the size of their contact-lens-solution. Combine this with expensive food options, overbooked flights, the child that won’t stop screaming in your ear and getting hit in the head with a laptop case, and you are exhausted before you’ve even had time to buckle your seatbelt.

However, knowing how to pack your own carry-on luggage correctly can keep you from being that person in line, and can relieve some of your stress.

Here are some tips to help you speed you through the scanners and aisles and into your seat:

  1. Know what you can and cannot carry on.

Can you carry on granola bars? Yes. Golf clubs? No. The rules can change often, and there are myths about prohibited items that are actually allowed. For a comprehensive list, visit, and here are a few of the most interesting:


-Pets—You can carry Fluffy through the scanner with you.

-Knitting needles—These and sewing equipment are allowed, except for thread cutters or scissors, which need to be in checked bags.

-Disposable razors

-Snowglobes—Allowed if under 3.4 liquid ounces and fit in the plastic bag with the rest of your liquids.

Not Allowed:

-Paintball guns—Can be in checked baggage.

-Self-defense sprays

-Hockey/lacrosse sticks or baseball bats

-Replicas of explosives—even if it’s a souvenir that is 100% fake, it will be confiscated. You will also be publicly shamed on the TSA’s Instagram:

You don’t want to be that person that holds up the security line because you forgot to empty your water bottle. No, you cannot stand there and drink it, and you will be forced to go back to the end of the line and start the process all over again.

  1. Pack with security in mind.

If you are taking liquids or a laptop, keep these items in an easily accessible compartment of your carryon. This will allow you to easily navigate security and avoid digging through your socks to find your toothpaste.

All liquids and gels must be in containers 3.4 oz or less, and in a 1 quart plastic bag.

All liquids and gels must be in containers 3.4 oz or less, and in a 1 quart plastic bag.

  1. If you can’t carry it, you shouldn’t carry it on.

Even if a bag adheres to the carryon size limit, if it is too heavy for you to lift above your head, think twice about trying to take it on an airplane—the person in the seat in front of you will probably not appreciate it landing in their lap. You also may have to carry your bag a long way, especially if you have a connecting flight.

  1.    Pack light.

If you are traveling to a destination that hosts cooler temperatures in the fall, it may seem impossible to avoid packing bulky sweaters, boots, hats and scarves. In a standard carryon, these items take up precious space. Instead of these items, consider thinner clothing that can be layered. Even if your departure point is warm, wear your jacket or coat on to the plane—once you take your seat it can easily be stored at your feet instead of filling up half of your suitcase. The same goes for hats, scarves and shoes. If it won’t fit in your bag, but you still feel like you must take it, wearing it can save you space.

  1. Pack smart.

-Try rolling your clothing to make better use of the space in your bag. To avoid an angry call from your mom about a wrinkled shirt, take clothing that is wrinkle resistant, utilize wrinkle-release sprays or many hotels offer an in-room iron.

Pack thinner items that can be layered to save space.

Pack thinner items that can be layered to save space.

-Use a distinctive luggage tag, even if you aren’t checking your bags. Chances are high that your bag will not fit in the overhead compartment directly above your seat. If you are among the last to board, airlines will often require bags to be checked at the gate. Distinctive and humorous tags can be found at sites like, or you can use a colorful bandana to set your bag apart.

-Prepare for the worst. Even if you plan on carrying on your luggage, pack a change of clothes in your personal item if possible. This way, if the airline requires you to check your bag at the gate, then loses it, you aren’t stuck wearing the same t-shirt for three days.


Travel doesn’t have to be unpleasant. While you can’t control everything and everyone else, by following these tips you can ensure that you have everything you need without being the person that the flight-staff tell their friends about.