Finding the Best Price

So I was alittle bit surprised when I talked to friends a few months ago that said that they use Travelocity to book their travel.  Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t have anything against Travelocity.  It’s a fine site.  My shock was in that they weren’t using one of the many search engines that search other search engines for their travel planning.  Why only use one site when with just as much effort you can search like 20 or 30?

So people, please use the following resources when looking for airfare, hotels, rental cars, etc.  They search the other search engines or have some other money saving feature.

1.  Kayak.com – this is my go-to site.  Why search expedia, hotels, orbitz, etc.  individually when kayak will do it for you and about two others?  Downside here:  they don’t do Southwest.com  – you must compare.

2.  Mobissimo – Same premise as kayak.com.  Searchs other sites and then you just pick the deal you want and go there through links on their site.

3.  Hotwire – I love hotwire when I need a cheap hotel in the last minute.  I use this all the time for Manhattan hotels.  YOu can hear about the hotel so you know it’s not total trash and get the benefit of cost when you don’t pick it directly.  Only downside – only guarantees 2 people occupancy per room.

4.  VBRO – Vacation rentals by owner – who says you have to stay in a hotel?  Especially when you have a larger group or more than 2 in NYC this is a winner.  Sometimes it’s cheaper than hotels.

5.  Priceline – I know it seems scary – but I’ve used it for hotels and had fabulous results.  I got the Sheraton Manhattan in the heart of Midtown for $80 per night a few years ago.  You can’t beat that.

6.  Travel agents – I know they are a dying breed – but they can come in handy when you are going somewhere unstable or things could change (like southeast asia) you can’t call Expedia and expect them to help you.  But a good travel agent will be much more helpful and accomodating.  One of my travel agents got me an upgraded room at the Peninsula in Bangkok because their agency books so much with them.  It doesn’t cost that much more and sometimes the insurance of a person on the other end makes all the difference.

That’s all I got right now of the top of my head.  But I’ll keep you all posted.

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New York – Getting There

So I am on the train to New York City and now seems like a perfect time (2 hours and 45 minutes) to sit down and bang out some posts for my blog.  It’s been harder than you think to blog.  It’s very time consuming.

 

So since I am on my way to New York – let’s talk about how to get there.  Believe me – I’ve tried almost every combination of transportation possible to get there and if I haven’t tried it – I probably know someone that has.

 

Disclaimer: So if you are coming from anywhere farther south than Richmond Virginia, anywhere west of the northern and mid-atlantic states of the Eastern Seaboard or from outside the US, the journey to New York is quite time consuming.  You know this – depending on your financial situation, you can fly to one of the airports, take a very long train or bus journey or drive yourself there.   Any of these works – you have to know what works best for you.  If flying or driving and looking to save on cash, getting at least within my area laid out above may help tremendously.  Parking in Manhattan is extremely expensive (at a minimum $25 – 35 per day) and driving can be very hazardous to your sanity, especially if you are not used to driving in a large city and all the extra observation and concentration that entails.  So people outside my normal realm of being are just going to have to piece it together.

 

Now the real meat of my posting –  how to get there cheaply.  I know a lot of newspapers have covered the basic info – but it helps to know the inside track from people who have tried it.

 

Planes

 

So the airports in NYC are not easily connected into the subway – stinks.  I know.  I always fly into LaGuardia (it’s the smallest) and it costs me at least $35 to get into Manhattan in cab fare.  Although for the first time this summer, I took an airport shuttle bus and let me tell you it was pretty good.  You need extra time to spare because it works on a schedule – but the buses were clean and people were nice and the price was right.  It drops you off at either Grand Central (eastside) or Port Authority (Westside) – from one of these you can easily get on the subway or bus and get where you are going.  They have the same shuttle at all the airports but they don’t go from one airport to another.

 

Trains

 

Oh Amtrak – it is a love/hate relationship that we have with you.  Your trains are so nice and you can walk around and it doesn’t take so long to get there – but why oh why are you so expensive.  For anyone who has taken trains anywhere else in the world – there is usually an economy class that is affordable to the every man.  Not in the US northeast corridor.  I am currently on Acela (the express train between DC and NYC or Boston) and it has cost my company $350 round-trip for my seat.  And it’s only business class.  All I get is a seat and a power outlet.  That’s outrageous.  So plan on the regional train costing for an economy seat between $100 and $200 roundtrip (depending on your travel dates and times).  There are some deals – but they are few and far between because even though it is expensive – the train between Boston and DC is really popular.  Sad as it is, often now, flying is cheaper than taking the train so a lot of people fly – including myself.  With getting out to the airports and security, it takes about the same time – you just have to factor cost of cabs in to see if it works.  The plus for Amtrak on this is I had my first cancelled flight this summer out of LaGuardia for rain and the trains definitely still go in the rain.

 

I have also taken the drive/train combo – not bad.  It saves on parking in the city and the hassle of driving but it takes about the same amount of time as driving.  I recommend parking and getting on NJ Transit at Metropark if coming from the south or New Haven or Stamford if coming from the north and heading on Metro North.  I’ve done both – they are both fine – on your standard regional trains.  Note – these trains tend not to work late at night so don’t plan on getting home on them after a late night out in the city.

 

Automobiles (and Buses)

 

Let me tell you if you are going to Manhattan – once you get there you have no need for a car.  As a result, the parking garages will charge you up the wazoo for them basically doing nothing and you will be bitter when you have this huge bill for a few days of fun in the city.  I don’t recommend driving into Manhattan the cost is not worth it.  If coming from the south, the tolls round trip per car are $50 – 60.  From the north there are also tolls, but not as many.

 

So there is a new alternative – a throwback.  We are going retro.  It’s the bus.  That’s right – the bus.  Let me tell you all the cool kids take the bus and they all sit in the middle (who wants to sit next to the bathroom in the back).  It’s about as fast as the Amtrak regional train or as fast as you can drive and the price is cheap.  I have personally ridden the Vamoose bus several times (including when my flight was cancelled for rain) and it is clean and full of professional people (mostly young, but some older) who are just looking for a convenient and cheap way between cities.  I’ve also heard great things about Bolt Bus.  The ones I recommend are quiet and clean; allow food and even sometimes show a movie.  Depending on which bus you choose, time and date, and when you book, it can cost you between $1 and $25 for a one-way trip (that’s the cost of tolls for driving).  The Chinatown and Greyhound buses are alittle more for the adventuresome.  You won’t find me on one – more so due to the location of the pick up points in DC but still.  I have friends who have ridden both and it is a mixed experience.  It’s a cash and carry establishment – no money needed to reserve but you better have cash when you get on the bus.  The best buses leave from the side of Madison Square Garden/Penn Station and you will find there buses going to Boston, Baltimore, Philly, Delaware, DC, Richmond and places in between.  I usually make a reservation (even day off) but last time just walked up and they had room so I got on.

 

I think I have covered all the truly viable options.  I know there are others – helicopter, sailboat, hitchhiking, biking – whatever floats your boat – but this should get you started. 

Summer Nights

 

National Seashore

National Seashore

So where to begin.  Let’s start with the one of the last vacations I took.  In July, a great friend and often travel companion, Jenn, invited me and other friends to her family beach house in Avon, North Carolina.  Every summer during my childhood, my family would spend a week at a condo in Ocean City, Maryland.  Those were great vacations, but as I got older, the beaches of the Atlantic coast didn’t hold the exotic appeal of Europe and Asia.  But back to the beach in the summer of 2008 – you can’t turn down a free place to stay at the beach and I had just bought a house – money was tight.

 

The southern towns of the Outer Banks are awesome.  I’m such a believer.  It was like stepping back in time.  I was suddenly 12ish years old – enjoying the summer without a care in the world.  The towns of Rodanthe (yes, where the movie is set), Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras are quintessential small towns.   You will see locals everywhere.  There is one local grocery store in each town where after a few days, the teenagers at the register recognize you (ok – I go to the store alot – it’s a weird travel habit).  

The beach is long and the sand is soft.  There are no lifeguards, but the surf is manageable.  The beach is a national seashore, but one of the perks is that you can drive your 4x4s onto the beach.  Nice for not having to lug everything onto the beach.  The towns are not that big due to the narrowness of the islands so the beaches are not crowded.  A huge plus in my book.  

There are enough restaurants and other amusements in the area (movie theater, mini golf, cute local shops) to get you out of your house or off the beach for a few hours or nights.  Nothing monumental – but hopefully you are too tired from swimming and sunbathing.  If deep-sea fishing or scuba is your thing, you will not be disappointed.  There are tons of boats for charter and you can dive the many wrecks just off the coast.  It is called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.  A great excursion we took was the ferry to Ocracoke Island – it has the best beach of 2008.  It is only accessible by ferry and has an awesome bar and restaurant called Howard’s Pub – we met the nicest and friendliest people there – both tourists and locals.

I hope I get invited back next year – I wouldn’t miss it.

 

Pluses:

Beaches are clean, beautiful, and not crowded

Towns are not large – you have a small town feel and locals are around

The atmosphere is relaxing and fun – lots of outdoor activities to do

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Quality family/friend bonding time 

Ocracoke Island and its ferry (the hour long ferry is free and the island is charming and quaint)

Minuses:

No nightlife – most bars are in restaurants and there is no hard alcohol served in establishments (don’t worry it can be purchased for home consumption)

Not many indoor activities (it’s the beach – what do you expect – Avon does have a movie theater)

Family and friend bonding time (know who you are going with and your interaction threshold or rent a really large house)

Hello world!

Welcome!  So before a glass of wine at the local wine bar, friends suggested that I start a blog about travel.  I thought it was alittle crazy – but it was before any wine.  So I thought about and decided I would go for it.  I’m going to write about places where I have been, places I’d like to go to, give advice and even let others tell their travel stories.  This blog is meant to help you out there in cyberspace find a new place to visit or make you excited to visit somewhere you have already decided to see.  So feel free to ask questions, post comments, or just sit back and dream.