Budget Guide 2013: Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio, is known as both “Cowtown” and “The Biggest Small Town in America,” nicknames that begin to shed light on the destination’s Midwest charm mixed with big city amenities. Relative to other urban centers, the streets are safe and the people are friendly, yet you’ll find restaurants, galleries, shops and other attractions that have Columbus competing with cities two and three times its size.

Contrary to many other cities across the nation, the population of Columbus has been growing steadily. This influx of new residents has led to many new business openings in the city, and kept healthy competition amongst both old and new proprietors. Here, the average price for a beer at a bar is a modest $3.50, and meals at reasonably priced restaurants will only set you back about $10 per person. The food scene is delicious, there are plenty of attractions to explore, and getting around is simple – whether you’re traveling by foot, bus, bike, taxi or even pedicab.

If you need more convincing, consider this: Columbus has been ranked a top shopping destination by Forbes, a top arts destination by American Style, a top city for biking by Bicycling Magazine, and the city’s Science Center, COSI, was named the number one in the country for families by Parents Magazine. On top of that, National Geographic recently named the city one of the top 10 best fall trips. Spend a long weekend in this city, and you might find yourself wanting to come back for more.


Hotels

The Wayfaring Buckeye Hostel: Columbus is known for its mega-sized university, Ohio State, and this newly established house-turned-hostel is the place to be if you want to stay in the heart of it all. The whole place is ready to party: on the front porch you’ll find a beer pong table, the common area is outfitted with a projector screen for movies and a foosball table, and the back patio frequently hosts music performances. Despite the frat house atmosphere, managers keep the hostel clean, and visitors can also take advantage of free Wi-Fi, bicycle rental, laundry facilities and more. From $25.
WayfaringBuckeye.com 2407 Indiana Ave.; 614-754-0945.

The Lofts: At this recently renovated boutique hotel in Columbus’ Arena District, old meets new: the hotel’s exterior is set in a historic former warehouse, yet inside you’ll find clean, contemporary designed rooms with exposed brick walls. Other amenities include an indoor swimming pool and an on-site restaurant. Be sure to check into package deals, as the hotel has been running a special where they throw in a third night stay for free, bringing the overall price tag way, way down. From $144 (before discount).
55Lofts.com 55 East Nationwide Blvd.; 614-461-2663

German Village Guesthouse: If you’re looking for something a little quieter, the cozy German Village Guesthouse is not only ranked as the top bed-and-breakfast in Columbus on TripAdvisor, but was also voted the “Best Hotel/B&B in Columbus” in the 2012 reader poll by 614 Magazine. Some of the rooms offer great views of the Columbus skyline, and on the ground you can explore the cobblestone streets and lush gardens of historic German Village, a neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Districts. From $195.
GVGuesthouse.com 748 Jaeger St.; 614-437-9712

Eat and Drink

Grass Skirt Tiki Room: The newest oasis in Columbus’ downtown area is this tiki-themed bar, the brainchild of the city’s ragtag group of unorthodox restaurateurs, the Columbus Food League. Here you can chow down on a Loco Moco (traditional Hawaiian dish of burger patties over rice smothered in gravy and a sunny side-up egg) while throwing back a mai tai, or you could head to one of the group’s other restaurants: the Surly Girl Saloon, Betty’s Fine Food and Spirits, or Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails, where you’ll also get a dose of Ohio history.
GrassSkirtTiki.com 105 N Grant Ave.; 614-429-3650

Bodega: Every Monday night hipsters flock to Bodega, when the restaurant offers $1 panini-style grilled cheese sandwiches. What money you save on dinner you can contribute to trying one of the restaurants 50+ craft beers on tap – which, by the way, are also half off from 4 to 8 p.m. Don’t forget to try the local suds, including Columbus Brewing Company, Buckeye Lake Brewery, Elevator Brewing Company, Hoff Hearted Brewing and more. The patio makes for a great spot to people watch, while the interior has an artsy, sophisticated vibe. ColumbusBodega.com 1044 N. High St.; 614-299-9399

Food Trucks: These days, it seems as though you can’t talk about cheap eats without mentioning meals on wheels. Columbus is no exception to the food truck craze, with nearly 100 roving restaurants circulating the city. Options range from creole to crepes, Indonesian to Italian, pierogies to pulled pork, or Jamaican to Korean, but the trend that has really taken off are taco trucks. More than 40 of these trucks cater to Columbus’ fastest growing population – Latinos – as well as anyone else who wants a quick, tasty bite.
StreetEatsColumbus.com

Budget Activities

North Market: In the late 1800s there were four public markets in Columbus, each with a name paying homage to its cardinal direction. Today, only one remains: North Market. The current 36 merchants inside the building include delis, bakeries, pastry shops, ethnic restaurants, specialty goods sellers, produce stands and more. Even if you only pop in for a taste, don’t miss Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. This creamery takes the label “artisan” seriously, promising “[e]very single thing we put in our ice cream is legit.” Just last year, head honcho Jeni Britton Bauer won a James Beard Foundation Book Award for her cookbook, “Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home” – a great takeaway if you’re looking to bring a piece of Columbus back home.

Experience Cafe Culture: It would be far-fetched to say Columbus is the next Paris, but this city has become obsessed with cafe culture recently. Artisan roasters and craft coffeemakers are popping up all over the city, promising a cafe on nearly every street corner – that isn’t Starbucks. Cafe Brioso and Staufs Coffee roast all their coffees in house, while Back Room Coffee Roasters operates out of a local bike repair shop and Thunderkiss roasts single-origin coffees in less than five pound batches. There are also mainstays such as Cup o’ Joe and Crimson Cup.

Swim with Stingrays: You no longer have to go to a place like Belize’s “Shark Ray Alley” to swim with stingrays. Last year, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium opened a new attraction, Stingray Bay, inside an 18,000-gallon saltwater pool that allows you to get up close and personal with the creatures. Touching the stingrays in Stingray Bay is perfectly safe, and it only costs an extra $3. Even better, you’ll be inside a top-rated zoo that was developed with great help from famed zookeeper Jack Hanna and is currently home to more than 9,000 animals. If that’s not enough, the zoo is adjacent to the Zoombezi Bay Waterpark. A day pass to both attractions is less than $30, and you’ll also save on parking!

Get Around

Columbus is easily walkable, with much of the city centered around the main north/south drag: High Street. Along this road you’ll find some of the city’s best bars, restaurants, art galleries and specialty shops. Several neighborhoods are worth a walk-through, particularly the Short North, the arts and entertainment district. If you happen to visit during the first Saturday of each month, the Short North hosts a free gala on fine art and food starting at 4 p.m., when all the galleries along High Street open their doors to unveil new exhibitions – and many offer small bites and samples of wine.

However, if you need to get from one end of High Street to the other faster than your legs will take you, the #2 bus operated by Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) can get you anywhere along this main artery for $2 per trip or $4.50 for a day pass. Since the city is flat, renting a bike is also a great option, or if preferred you can have someone else do the legwork by taking a ride in one of the many pedicabs that navigate the city.

Buses also service Port Columbus International Airport, which is six miles from Columbus. Use the trip planner on the COTA website to find the next bus, or just pop the address into Google maps to get bus directions to your starting (or ending) location. The next best option is a shuttle bus, of which there are many options to and from the airport.

Budget Tip

If you’re looking for a night out on the town without hurting your wallet, check out the Columbus-based website 20 Dollar Dates. There you’ll find plenty for two people to do, and you’re guaranteed to never spend more than a Jackson. Date ideas range from happy hour specials to nearby hikes to holiday-themed activities.

[Photo credits: Flickr user Jack Zalium (top image) and Flickr user codydean]

Parenting On The Road: How To Connect With Your Kids When You’re Traveling

parentingParenting is a tough job. It’s even tougher if you have to travel a lot for work. Being away form home doesn’t mean that you have to be away from your child’s life, however. Here are eight tips on how to keep connected to the rugrats while you’re on the road.

Skype. The greatest aid for the wandering parent ever invented. Why miss story time when you can pack a few of their favorite books and read to them over the computer? One guy I know even puts on puppet shows for his two boys. There’s also a fun coloring tool where you and the little one can paint each other’s faces.

Email. If you want something more old school, get them an email account and send them messages. Attach some photos of yourself on your travels. You can stay current with their schedule too. If you know they have a history test coming up, send them an email the night before wishing them luck (and reminding them to study).

Postcards. Or go classic with postcards! Nothing is more personal than getting a handwritten note from mom or dad with a cool picture on it. Once you’re back you can share your own photos with them.

Studying Maps. Show them where you’re going with an atlas, globe, or Google Earth. My son loves Google Earth and likes to zoom in on the places I am, and he often goes to sleep with his illuminated globe shining Africa or Asia over his bed. You can also use programs like Tripit to show your itinerary so the kids know where you are. One friend also shared that her son has a “huge world map and every time I take a big trip I text him often on the way and he marks my progress. This was a lot of fun when I circumnavigated the globe. He learned about flat maps in a round world!”

Planning for the future. Figure out what to do together once you’re back under the same roof and mark it on a calendar in their room. This gives the kids something to look forward to.

Online Games. Hey, you know they’re playing tons of video games while you’re gone anyway, so why not join in?

Hide things. Gadling’s Chris Owen shares, “I hide things for them to find later, when I am away. Once I folded very tightly a permission slip one of them needed for school and put it in their cereal box..” Libby Zay says, “My mom and I used to tuck notes into each other’s bags/coat pockets/lunch box/purse/wherever. To this day she’ll sometimes put a coat on that she hasn’t worn in awhile and find a note in the pocket from little Libby!” My son does this to me too. I always end up finding one of his toys hidden in my bags. One has even made it onto Gadling!

Put them to work! Give them a complicated puzzle or Lego set to work and challenge them to get it done before they come back. Dave Seminara’s two boys like to be given titles. “Leo, 5, is the man of the house while I’m gone, and James, 3, is the ‘associate’ man of the house. They like these roles and if they do a good job they get souvenirs. Actually, they get souvenirs either way.”

What do you do to stay connected with your kids? Share your advice in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy user woodleywonderworks via Flickr]

Airline Madness: Lack of overhead space vs. Inattentive parents of crying babies

Airline Madness is Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances. You can catch up on all of the previous tournament action here.

gadling airline madness overhead space parents crying babies

The first round of Airline Madness rolls on with #5 Lack of overhead space going head-to-head with #12 Inattentive parents of crying babies. Thanks to baggage fees and idiots who don’t know how to pack properly, there never seems to be enough room for everyone’s carry-on bags. Once the plane takes off, however, we’re often subjected to unprepared parents who don’t seem to care that their baby is causing everyone’s ears to bleed.

Only one of these aggravations can advance to the second round. Read their bios below and then vote for the one that you find the most obnoxious.#5 Lack of overhead space
When did people lose all sense of spacial relations? That massive bag isn’t going to fit inside that tiny overhead compartment. And your jackets don’t belong up there either. Why is the overhead space filled up before even half the passengers have boarded? Baggage fees and the fear of lost luggage have encouraged more fliers to keep their belongings with them in the cabin. However, there’s no place to put everything and too many idiots abusing the space.

#12 Inattentive parents of crying babies
Look, we’re not pointing fingers at the babies here (because it’s rude to point and babies will put your fingers in their mouths). The problem is the parents who either aren’t prepared (with toys, activities, diapers, etc.) or don’t seem to care that their child has become a 110-decibel problem. Take the kid to the bathroom, bounce him on your knee, give him a bottle. Exhaust every option and then start over again from the beginning. Show everyone that you’re aware of the problem and, at the very least, offer some acknowledgement of (and apology for) the disruption.

Do you hate overhead space issues or the parents of crying babies more? Only one of these annoyances will be moving on to the next round. Which one do you think deserves it? Vote and then voice your opinions in the comments.
%Poll-73819%
First round voting ends at 11:59PM EDT on Friday, March 16.

More Airline Madness:
#1 Annoying passengers vs. #16 Disgusting bathrooms
#2 Legroom vs. #15 Inefficient boarding procedures
#3 Lack of free food/prices for food vs. #14 Cold cabin/no blankets
#4 Baggage Fees vs. #13 Obese people who take up two seats
#6 Change fees/no free standby vs. #11 Lack of personal entertainment/charging for entertainment
#7 Rude airline staff vs. #10 Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff & landing
#8 People who recline their seats vs. #9 People who get mad at people who recline their seats
Hotel Madness: Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances

Catch up on all the Airline Madness here.

Knocked up abroad: baby shopping in a foreign country

baby shopping
Knocked up abroad has been on a bit of a hiatus as my travel schedule has slowed and the due date has sped up. Feel free to catch up with posts on pregnancy travel, Turkish superstitions, medical care, and naming children.

I’m into the final month of my pregnancy in Istanbul and that means the countdown is on to get stocked up with wee tiny baby things, garishly colored toys and furniture, and gadgets I never knew I would need. If you’ve ever been baby shopping, either for yourself or for a gift, you know it can be intimidating. Specialty boutiques and megastores are overrun with all sorts of contraptions and devices, in many varieties and brands, organized in ways that are overwhelming to all but the most seasoned of parents. Now try doing this shopping in a foreign country, in another language, with very limited space, and a semi-nomadic expat lifestyle and you’ll understand why I’ve put it off until, as the Turks say, the egg is at the door.

My “home” is in Brooklyn, New York, but I’ve spent less than a week there in the past 14 months. My current home in Istanbul is very small but fully furnished and outfitted with many storage cabinets (Turks dislike visible clutter) but little floor space. My husband and I have been heresince last April on an open-ended work assignment with no end date in sight. We may end this year back in Brooklyn, still in Istanbul, or in another city and country altogether. Given our situation, I’m trying to accumulate as little as possible and try to cut through the “must-have” baby lists to the bare essentials and stuff I won’t mind leaving behind in six months.

%Gallery-126823%In many ways, Turkey is a great place to have a baby, as Turks adore children and are happy to cater to them (someone should commission a study on the correlation between Mediterranean countries and baby-craziness, there must be something in the olive oil). Most malls have an area if not a whole floor of stores dedicated to kids, including local chains like Joker and E-Bebek (that’s e-baby), as well as many branches of UK chain Mothercare. While they all carry most of the same brands as in America and western Europe, the websites and store info is generally in Turkish, meaning a lot of time spent with a dictionary and translation site when researching products. Also unfortunate is the usual Turkish sales approach of hovering. Generally when you walk into a store in Istanbul, a sales person marches up to you, says “hoş geldiniz” (Turkish for welcome) and then proceeds to silently follow you around the store until you ask a question or flee the shop in paranoia (I usually flee in search of a shop with sales help who can’t be bothered to look up from their texting). This is the practice in nearly every store other than touristy carpet shops, and Turkish friends will tell me they are expecting me to take the lead and tell them my needs or tell them to buzz off. I found this hard to do in baby stores and instead tried to do much of my browsing online so I was prepared to purchase in stores.

The big ticket item on my list (as with many other expecting parents) is a stroller. I wanted something that could work from birth to toddlerhood, that could serve as a sleeping bassinet for the first few months (no room for a crib now) and be versatile enough to travel the world. Earlier in the pregnancy we contemplated a shopping trip to somewhere relatively nearby like Amsterdam or Barcelona where they must sell the chicest and most practical of European city strollers, but ended up deciding to buy something available in Istanbul that we could get parts and service for nearly anywhere in the world. We don’t own a car in either Istanbul or New York (in fact, I’m in possession of a soon-to-expire learner’s permit), but we got a car seat from a Turkish colleague to use on taxi rides and future road trips that can fit onto many strollers with an adapter. For Istanbul, the stroller needed to be tough enough to handle many hills, uneven sidewalks and cobblestone streets, but be light enough to tote up New York subway stairs and navigate narrow supermarket aisles. After researching dozens of strollers, spending many soul-destroying hours watching demo and review videos online, and testing a few out in person, I have determined the Perfect Stroller does not exist. Since I have no nursery to decorate and few other things to buy, I was able to splash out on a tricked-out Almost Perfect Stroller (I won’t name brands until I have a chance to test drive, but it’s one you will see in most yuppie coffee shops around the world) and will buy something cheap and lightweight when I am back in a city without metro station elevators and helpful Turks.

After the stroller was chosen, there are a few other items necessary to many new parents and designed well for travelers. As is common in many modern Istanbul apartments, we have no bathtub (Turks see them as unclean, and even the traditional hamam bath is more about the steaming than soaking) and tiny sinks in our bathroom and kitchen. I was resigned to buying a big plastic tub that I would eventually leave behind, but then found this cool device by American design company Puj. It’s essentially a glorified piece of foam that folds into a seat you can wedge into the sink, but unfolds flat and can be hung on a wall to dry. I imagine I can also pack it in the bottom of a suitcase for travel. One item on my list for my next US visit is the Nest from Phil&Teds: a rather ingenius travel carrier that can carry all the gear and then work as a bed or cot at night. Our parents would say a suitcase and pillow could serve the same purpose, but this meets more safety standards than a Samsonite and fits in the overhead bin too. Finally, we also wanted a baby carrier to go hands-free and stroller-less when traveling. There are upteen options out there, and we ended up with a Sleepy Wrap (another glorified bit of fabric with a nice label on it but several friends swear by it) purchased at a terrific speciality shop in Singapore. Fun fact: the Turkish word for baby carrier is kanguru.

The most fun things to shop for are, of course, baby clothes. Few people can resist tiny t-shirts, onesies, and dresses, and most parents can expect to receive many items as gifts. I stocked up on the basics at Mothercare and other clothing stores (we do have Baby Gap and even Baby Zara in Turkey), but discovered a treasure trove of baby shops recently in Eminönü, a crowded shopping area between the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. In these local shops, I found a range of clothes from the adorable to the downright odd, some with Turkish phrases and many more with strange “Turk-lish.” Check out the gallery above for some of the best.

Now that my apartment is filling up with baby things, I feel just about ready for my due date on July 20 without feeling weighed down by useless gadgets. Any other expat or frequent traveler parents out there who can recommend products? Feel free to leave them in comments below.

Stay tuned for a final pre-birth Knocked up abroad (pending baby’s cooperation, but they say first babies are usually late) on Turkish vs. American attitudes toward babies and pregnant women. Until then, catch up on the other posts here.

Galley Gossip: Four year-old kid discusses airport security & TSA pat downs


The following video was created for parents traveling with small kids who might be a little nervous about subjecting their children to the new TSA procedures. Regardless of how you may feel about the new enhanced security measures, there’s no need for children to be scared. My son will explain to them what a pat down is and even share a few tips. But first a few things the TSA would like you to know about going through airport security with children…

  • TSA will screen everyone, regardless of age, including babies.
  • NEVER leave babies in an infant carrier while it goes through the X-ray.
  • All children must be removed from strollers and slings when passing through the machine.
  • All children’s items must go through the X-ray; diaper bags, toys, strollers, slings, etc.
  • If any of your items do not fit through the X-ray, a TSA officer will physically and visually inspect it.
  • If your child can walk through the metal detector unassisted, TSA recommends you and your child walk through separately.
  • Do not pass your baby to a TSA officer to hold as you walk through the X-ray machine.
  • If you choose to carry a child through and the alarm sounds, TSA will check both of you.
  • Medication, baby formula, food and breast milk, and juice are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding 3.4 ounces, and are not required to be in a zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint.
  • Children under 12 who require extra screening will be subjected to a “modified” pat down. It’s less intrusive than what an adult might receive.
  • Click the link for information regarding children travelers with special needs or medical conditions.




Photo courtesy of Tatiana Mik