Budget Travel: Ft. Lauderdale

When we flew into Ft. Lauderdale, our original plan was to stay only long enough to drop our daughter and my dad off at their cruise ship before heading out of town for a couple of days. Instead, on a whim, we found ourselves checking into San Souci Resort Hotel for three nights and looking forward to coming back after a jaunt to Orlando once the cruise ship returned.

For an affordable vacation complete with beaches, places to stroll and shop, excellent food, and easy access to the Big Cyprus Seminole Reservation and the Everglades, consider Ft. Lauderdale as a non-fussy destination option. I didn’t expect to be so pleased. As a note, we were there a few days before Christmas and two days after. This was not the college Spring Break version.

Getting In: With AirTran Airways flights as a choice, Ft. Lauderdale can be a very inexpensive flight. Depending upon when you book, Delta and Continental may also offer deals. We flew on Continental for a song. Greyhound is also an option with a bus terminal that’s open 24 hours a day. You can also get here by train. Amtrak has a station.

Where to Stay: We found San Souci by turning left off of the Intercoastal Waterway to check out the retro style motels and hotels just two blocks away from the high-rise beach front versions. We opted for the kitchenette room which added to our budget since we shopped for breakfast and lunch food at a grocery store.

There are several hotels like this one in addition to more swanky options. According to the owner of San Souci, because so many people come to Ft. Lauderdale as a jumping off place for cruises and don’t stay in town, competition for business is fierce. That’s good news for bargain hunters.

Where to Eat: We found places to eat by asking for recommendations and being on the lookout while driving around in our rental car. Ft. Lauderdale is filled with places to eat, and in general, I’d say the competition keeps prices down.

  • Sukhothai Restaurant on E. Sunrise Blvd. We headed to this Thai restaurant twice. Once for dinner and the other time for lunch. Both meals were superb and I’ve been to Thailand four times, so I know good Thai food.
  • Mi Casa Su Casa on Griffin Rd. We went here based on a recommendation. On Tuesdays the margaritas are $.99 with a dinner entree. On Mondays, kids eat free. One adult meal= one free kid’s meal. Happy hour is 4-8 in the bar.
  • Flanigan’s Seafood Bar & Grill on West Davie Blvd. Ask about special deals. We ordered a pitcher of beer and ended up with a free order of chicken wings. This was a fun place to eat and terrific for kids.
  • Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine on E. Oakland Park. With a hankering for Cuban food, we had to head here.

What to See and Do:

In Ft. Lauderdale:

We spent much time at Ft. Lauderdale’s main beach by the Intercoastal Highway and at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

Besides the beach–there are eight in the Ft. Lauderdale area, head into Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. The park, located across the Intercoastal Highway from the beach, was a tucked in gem that I happened upon. The property used to be owned by Birch, but now offers canoeing, hiking, and places to bicycle and skate for a nominal entrance fee. We rented a canoe for an hour. Birch’s house has been turned into a museum that highlights the nature of the area.

If we had had more time, I would have gone to the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens. Hugh Taylor Birch first gave the property to his daughter as a wedding gift. Her husband, an artist, finished the house after her death from breast cancer. Now it’s on the register of National Historic Places.

Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to take a boat ride along the canals that go from the Atlantic Ocean to the Everglades either. Next time.

Here’s another detail to keep in mind. During March you can catch the spring training games of the Baltimore Orioles at Ft. Lauderdale Stadium.

Near by:

The Big Cyprus Seminole Reservation Along with the Billie Swamp Safari, the reservation boasts the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum with exhibits about the history and culture of the Seminole Indians. Give yourself enough time to walk along the nature trail to the living history Seminole village.

About the Billie Swamp Safari. What a blast! We sprung for the package deal that included the airboat ride through the Everglades, the swamp buggy eco tour and the animal show. The swamp buggy tour goes through wetlands and cyprus where bison, deer, water buffalo, wild hogs, hawks, eagles, alligators and more roam free. Some are native. Others are rescue animals.

Here’s a link of the Greater Ft. Lauderdale’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Web site that lists other inexpensive or free things to do. One item that caught my attention is the Old Dillard Museum, a historic building with exhibits that center on the African American heritage of Ft. Lauderdale.

As a note, if you book a hotel through the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Web site, you’ll receive a free Beach Starter kit that includes a beach towel, beach ball and flip flops.

Budget Travel: Boston

Though it seems a world away from the paradise I live in now, Boston was my home for three great, memorable years, and continues to hold a special place in my heart. Often regarded as America’s true college city, “Beantown” (named because of the city’s influx of baked beans during the “triangular trade” when molasses was plentiful) is alive and kicking. Where else in the States is finance, literature, sports, and education so vibrant? No where. Kick it in Boston in the dead of winter or the height of summer – any time, freezing sleet or blazing sun, this city is packed with awesome history, sights, and sounds.
Getting in:
By bus/train – Boston is essentially the hub of New England, so that means nearly every bus or train line will at least make a pit stop in South Station. There are now cheap $20 one-way bus fares to and from New York City where the motor coach is complete with movies and wi-fi. Expect trains to take the same amount of time (if not more), but twice the price. (I found my last train journey to Boston six months ago to be quite miserable, so would advise taking the bus instead)

By plane – Hooray for Virgin America (my new favorite continental airline)! There are plenty of flights to Boston through this awesomely comfortable, low-cost carrier, or there are tons of flights to Boston on United.

Where to stay:
A most comfortable and surprisingly affordable option in the North End (or Little Italy), one of Boston’s gastronomy centers, is La Capella Suites. There are three nicely decorated suites available on the 4th and 5th floors of this 70 year-old chapel (thus, its name). Rooms start at just $100 in the winter or $140 in the summer. The city’s best Italian restaurants and nightclubs are just steps away.

The cool 19th century townhouse Encore is the other great option in Boston’s gay-friendly South End. There are four guest rooms that are comparably priced with La Capella.

Both of these accommodations are on T-lines, and close to the center of town.

What to see:
Faneuil Hall – Clam chowder, lobster bisque, Urban Outfitter, the Freedom Trail, Duck and historical tours… Also known as Quincy Market, Faneuil has it all. It’s just as popular among Bostonians as it is tourists.

The Freedom Trail & the Boston Common – There is no other place in the United States where you can learn about America’s Revolution. The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that leads you to 16 nationally significant historic sites, every one an authentic American treasure. Take a stroll along the Trail on your own using a handy online map, or have a native Bostonian guide you and tell you the dramatic story of America’s freedom from Britain.

Newbury Street – If you didn’t get your fill of shopping at Quincy Market, browse the hip boutiques along Newbury Street in the Back Bay, the quintessential Bostonian neighborhood. You can protect your pocket by sidling up to one of its many sidewalk cafés and people-watch your day way.

A BoSox game at Fenway Park – Don’t be daunted by the ridiculously steep ticket prices. If there’s one thing you must experience in Boston, it’s a Red Sox game. There is something totally electric about being in Fenway Park. Where else in the world is there so much baseball history in a single team and a single ballpark? Babe’s curse has been reversed, but the Green Monster and Pesky Pole live on. Even if you’re not a sports fan, you will be a Red Sox fan once you set foot on Yawkey Way.

Budget Travel: Seattle


Mention “Seattle” and what’s likely to come to mind are coffee, microbrews, and weather. But look a little closer at the local’s city, and you’ll find a place appreciated for the arts and green space. Defined and inspired by its waterways, evergreen forests, seven hills, and mountains on either side, the Emerald City is a place that begs to be explored by land and sea. It may have a reputation for having the most literate population in the US, but the city is just as unpretentious as it is metropolitan. It has a reputation for its weather, but Seattleites will tell you that it’s not really as rainy as you might expect. Just the same, it’s a city that’s not as expensive as you might expect–Seattle can be a budget destination after all.

Getting In:
You can fly into the Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA) on a number of major airlines, including American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, and United, but you’re most likely to find a deal on Alaska Airlines/Horizon or Southwest.

Amtrak trains offer another option–they’ll drop you off at King Street Station in the International district.

Rather than take a taxi from the airport, get dropped off downtown by the Gray Line Downtown Airporter, which departs every 30 minutes (between 5:30 a.m.–11 p.m.). You’ll only pay $11 one-way, or $18 round-trip. Those with a more adventuresome spirit (and a slimmer wallet) can catch the Metro bus ($1.50 off-peak/$2.25 peak hours)–near door 6 of the baggage-claim area.

Once you reach downtown, you’ll definitely want to make friends with the bus. Sure, you could hoof it, but why bother when buses are free within the Free-Ride Area, anytime from 6:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m.

Where to Stay:
The only hostel downtown is Green Tortoise, but what a great location it has–right across from Pike Place Market. Their recent relocation has made a huge improvement in facilities and cleanliness, and they offer free breakfast daily (with waffles and eggs), and free dinner three times a week. Dorms come in at $25–36, and rooms are $77–90. Check out their current special: save $4 on the fourth night in a dorm room.

For another reasonable option, head to the College Inn Seattle in the University district. The historic building that dates back to the 1909 Alaska-Yukon Exposition is big on atmosphere. You may have to share a bathroom, but that’s what brings the rates down to $55–90.

What to See:
Here’s a newsflash: there’s more than one viewing tower in town. Everyone knows about the Space Needle ($16), but for half the price you can get a tip-top view of the city from Smith Tower ($7.50). The view from the 35th floor observation deck may showcase more of downtown than the Queen Anne district, but the price is right. Check the calendar in advance to make sure that it’s open.

Spend a weekend morning browsing one of the area’s farmer’s markets–especially the University (year-round on Saturdays) and Fremont districts (year-round on Sundays), where music and crafts are as much of the experience as the fruit-sampling. And of course, there’s the most famous market in town: Pike Place–theatrics and tourists aside, it’s a lively place to find everything from produce and seafood to flowers and crafts.

Pick a day of the week, and you’re likely to find an art walk. Tour the different neighborhoods while you tour the art:

First Thursday: Pioneer Square
First Friday: Fremont
Second Tuesday: Capitol Hill
Second Thursday: West Seattle
Second Friday: Belltown
Second Saturday: Ballard
Third Thursday: Upper Queen Anne

Local museums also help you save a few dollars, but you have to know when to find their free days. The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is free on the first Thursday of the month (and to seniors aged 62+ on the first Friday, and to teens aged 13–19 from 5:00–9:00 p.m. on the second Friday). The Seattle Asian Art Museum is free on the first Thursday of the month (and to seniors aged 62+ on the first Friday, and to families on the first Saturday). The first Thursday of the month (5:00-8:00 p.m.) is the best time to visit the Gehry-designed Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum. Frye Art Museum is always free–every day.

Grunge may be dead–even here in its birthplace–but Seattle still loves its music; and it shows in the music festivals–several of which are amazingly free. Northwest Folklife Festival, which will celebrate its 100 anniversary in 2009, runs every Memorial Day weekend and showcases ethnic, folk, and traditional arts. If you’re in town in June, you’ll want to join the Fremont Fair, which rings in the Summer Solstice with a parade, crafts, music, and food. The popular Bumbershoot–every Labor Day weekend–may not be free, but $80 is well worth the range of bands that you can take in with the 3-day pass.

Fresh air is free and boating options are abundant in outdoorsy Seattle. The easiest way out on the water is by taking a ferry to Bainbridge Island ($6.70 round-trip), where a front-row view of the city skyline is guaranteed. Bring your bike with you for an extra dollar, or rent one on the island. Or else, propel yourself on the water. Combine a trip to the Washington Park Arboretum or Gas Works Park with a kayak rental through Agua Verde Paddle Club (single $15/1 hr; $25/2 hrs; double $18/$30) or a canoe/rowboat rental through UW Waterfront Activities Center ($7.50/hr; closed November–January). For a free alternative, set sail on a classic wooden boat through the Center for Wooden Boats–half-hour rides are free from 2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. every Sunday.

Budget Travel: Detroit

Editor’s note: Today’s Budget Travel post comes from guest contributor David Landsel, editor of the New York Post’s travel section.


Detroit is a place of big doings. Everything it has ever done, it has done spectacularly, from meteoric rise to the total cratering that has left the city half empty, more than sixty years after the unstoppable decline began.

But the Motor City, the land of the Model T, Motown and Madonna (and other famous musicians too numerous to mention) isn’t just an empty shell. Nearly a million people still live here, for starters. As startling as its collapse is the fact that the city continues to move on as if things were almost normal. For sure, this is a place of grand ruins, hopeless politicians, monstrous mansions and grinding poverty, but somehow it all just works. Sometimes just barely. Sometimes surprisingly well. There simply isn’t any place like it. Not in the Rust Belt, not in the Midwest, not anywhere.

Even as times get tougher, there are so many reasons to drop in on Detroit. You can come for the music, for the art, the bars, the history, the cars. Come for the gambling, or the grand architecture. Don’t be surprised, though, if you leave most impressed by the people.

Some of the most genuine folks you’ll find anywhere in the country live in Detroit. Sure, the streets may appear mean, but mostly, the people are anything but. So, talk to strangers. Ask them questions about the city. Find out where they like to go drinking. Don’t worry about coming off like a crazy person – around here, that can often work to your advantage.
Getting in
With the automotive industry so influential in the greater Detroit area, large scale public transportation never took real shape in the city. Metropolitan buses are available, but routes are anemic and schedules sparse, so if you’re going to visit the city you’re almost certainly going to need to rent a car. Luckily, vehicle rentals are fairly inexpensive at Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) and around the city.

Northwest Airlines’, hub at DTW can be a mixed blessing. While one can access almost any city in the country in one stop, prices can be monopolistic and expensive, and therefore it can sometimes be difficult to find a budget fares into the city. Luckily, Spirit Airlines and Southwest Airlines have recently paid closer attention to the city, and routes that compete with their cities are often very inexpensive.

Chicago, Baltimore and Washington DC are all places from which you can reach Detroit for often around $100, and on a good day you can visit from New York for about $150. From the west coast, prices sneak in around $250 – $300.

Amtrak will lead you into the city center as well, where the closest stop to downtown is on Woodward in the New Center area. [thanks to Michael Kellermann for the coordinates]

Where to Stay
While the city is 143 square miles massive, most of the action in the city is centered either in or near the downtown area, a one mile-square, very walkable area that sits on the Detroit River, facing south to Windsor, Ontario. Conveniently for visitors, Downtown is not only the safest place in town, it also happens to contain the city’s best hotels, some of them quite expensive.

For example, the sparkling new MGM Grand with its top-notch, Tony Chi-designed spa, commands rates of $259 and up, while the beautifully renovated Book Cadillac hotel, a local institution that is up and running again under the Westin flag, often goes above $200 a night. (Stop in at the Motor Bar for a pint of locally-brewed Ghettoblaster Ale, even if you don’t stay over.)

To find bargains, though, you don’t have to resort to the mediocre, or the frightening. The Doubletree Suites Fort Shelby (another historic renovation, just completed) offers rates under $150 at non-peak times, as do the reliable Hilton Garden Inn and perfectly fine Holiday Inn Express, both conveniently located right in the city center.

For more unique lodgings, head for Midtown. Just north of the center and walking distance from most of the city’s main cultural attractions, the inspired Inn on Ferry Street is spread out among a handful of grand old mansions along a peaceful block just around the corner from the massive Wayne State University campus. You can find rates around $150 online when they’re not busy.

What to See

The best way to see Detroit is with people who know the surroundings, mostly because the city is more interesting when you’ve got a Detroiter to show it to you, whether we’re talking downtown’s appealing architecture or the city’s diviest dive bars.

Inside Detroit offers weekly tours of downtown highlights for $10 as well as custom tours of anything (anything legal, that is) within city limits that piques your interest. Co-founder Jeanette Pierce grew up on Detroit’s East Side and has a seemingly limitless supply of local know-how. Even if you don’t take a tour, stop by the Welcome Center at 1253 Woodward Avenue, for advice, maps and brochures.

To focus strictly on architecture, look into the summer tours offered on Saturdays and Tuesday evenings by the folks at Preservation Wayne, most cost just $10. For even more adventure, Wheelhouse Detroit re-opens in March, offering bike rentals (just $10-$15 for two hours), regularly scheduled tours, group rides on Wednesdays, as well as custom outings on request.

While getting the local perspective is always recommended, there’s plenty you can do on your own around town. Here are a few must-do activities to get you up and running.

DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS The star of the Cultural District (pictured, right) is home to Diego Rivera’s remarkable Detroit Industry murals – a must see for any fan of the Mexican artist’s work. The DIA, though never quite as flush with cash as it would like to be, has managed to complete major improvements in recent years, presenting a treasure-trove of art in an almost celebratory way. Admission is just $8. The museum hosts an excellent film series and an occasional “Brunch with Bach” in t
he museum’s beautiful Kresge Court.

EASTERN MARKET Many cities have used their historic market districts as a major driver for tourism; in Detroit, the sprawling wholesale food district just northwest of Downtown just happens to be there. That’s not to say Eastern Market is not loved. Every Saturday, in good weather or bad, it seems like a whole chunk of the regional population is waiting in line for breakfast at one of a handful of worthy venues. There’s always something that’ll catch your eye, whether it’s gizzards for sale in the Gratiot Central Market building or the array of spices at one of the local shops. In season, though, make sure to look for the gardeners behind the budding Grown in Detroit movement, selling their parsnips (and the like) here.

BELLE ISLE While Frederick Law Olmsted is best known for his work on New York’s Central Park, Detroiters known him as the architect of their favorite park, Belle Isle, which is roughly twice the size of Central Park and receives a fraction of the visitors. In the middle of the Detroit River, accessible via bridge from Detroit’s East Side, Belle Isle is, like Central Park, so much more than a patch of grass. It comes complete with a zoo, aquarium, conservatory, a stand of thick forest and a long, sandy beach. (Now, ask what percentage of the amenities on the island are still in operation.) True, today’s Belle Isle is running at half mast, if that, but a loyal group of supporters has ensured that the park receives as much love as possible. Key stops include (in season) Cass Gilbert’s whimsical Scott Fountain (pictured) and the year-round Whitcomb Conservatory, with its modest orchid collection. In warmer months, the beach scene heats up, and there’s even a rather impressive water slide. Central Park can’t boast that.

AFFORDABLE JAZZ You’d have to really work to find a night when there isn’t something cool to do around town, and whatever your tastes, there’s a venue for you. Notably, though, Detroit is a great place for jazz lovers. Baker’s Keyboard Lounge — just one door down from 8 Mile Road — is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year; it offers a good schedule, as well as soul food dinners for under $20. Downtown, the much newer Jazz Café sells advance tickets for as little as $15, while over on Park Avenue, Cliff Bell’s, the well-executed revival of a famed 1930’s venue, has affordable cocktails and a lot of covers under $10 – when it charges a cover at all.

David Landsel is Travel Editor at the New York Post. He lives part-time in Detroit, because he has grown accustomed to its face (and affordable drink prices.)

Budget Travel: Boulder, Colorado

If there’s any city in the US that you could compare to Amsterdam, Boulder might be it. Located about forty-five minutes from Denver, Colorado, Boulder is widely known as a hippie hang-out and boasts some of the most liberal laws in the country. But like Amsterdam, there’s more to Boulder than it’s tie-dyed, dreadlocked image.

Fantastic outdoor activities like hiking, rock-climbing, bicycling, and white-water rafting lie within easy reach of the city, which is situated at the foot of the unique Flatiron rock formations (see below).

Boulder is also home to the main campus of the University of Colorado, which ensures that there’s never a shortage of cultural activities. A Shakespeare festival is held on the college’s campus each summer, and the Pearl Street Mall (below), a four-block pedestrian walkway in downtown Boulder, is home to street musicians and artists of all kinds, as well as some great local bookstores. The Boulder Farmers Market takes place on 13th Street between Canyon and Arapahoe on Wednesdays and Saturdays between May and October; don’t miss it.

Also located on 13th Street, the gorgeous Boulder Teahouse, a gift from Boulder’s sister city of Dushanbe, Tajikistan, is also well worth a visit. From 1987-1990, the ceilings, tables, and columns of the teahouse were all hand-painted or hand-carved in Dushanbe, and they were then flown to Boulder where they were eventually assembled. (Boulder, for its part, opened an internet cafe in Dushanbe, albeit 20 years late.)

Sounds great, right? But can it fit your budget? Of course it can!

If you plan on visiting Boulder during the summer, my advice to you is simple: rent an apartment on Craigslist. Thousands of students abandon their apartments during summer break, and many of them would be glad to rent them out for a week or two for even a nominal fee. Couchsurfing is another great (cheap) option, and there appear to be plenty of available hosts. For something more upscale, try the historic Hotel Boulderado. Built in 1909 and with the original Victorian interior, the hotel is simply stunning.

Boulder’s vibe is youthful but not immature, artistic but not pretentious. It’s a great destination for anything from a family vacation to a solo camp-out– and best of all, it doesn’t have to break your budget.