Money-Saving Strategies From Other Places That Work For Airports Too

Money-Saving Strategies

As much as we might not want to admit it, many of us enjoy the whole process of flying. Maybe it’s the thrill of the hunt when exploring a complex matrix of flights, airlines and prices. Perhaps exercising the survival skills that find power for electronic devices we bring along satisfies a primitive need. Whatever the reason, we like to fly. Some travelers like to fly so much that we spend more than we need to. A good battle plan combined with budgetary prowess learned from other activities can go a long way.

Eat before arriving
Frugal grocery store shoppers know that arriving hungry can lead to impulse buying, and most don’t even eat what they select until later. Arriving at the airport famished, maybe a bit earlier than normal to make up for sequester-induced lines, has trouble written all over it. Airport food courts are grounds for impulse buys. Forty pounds ago, I used that as an excuse to overdose on food I would have had serious guilt issues with if consumed elsewhere. A decent airport app like FlySmart can offer healthy suggestions.Bring an empty water bottle
Heading out on a hike, camping or just the drive to work, eco- and budget-friendly travelers bring a reusable water bottle. Head to the airport and many forget or don’t know that the same reusable bottle will indeed make it through the security screening process. In most cases, the $4 bottle of water at the conveniently located kiosk by the boarding gate costs more than a whole bunch of reusable water bottles. Concerned about the taste of that tap water found after screening? Go crazy and buy a self-filtering water bottle.

Let an expert help
This could be the “insert name of travel agent here” part of the story and, for many, that might be a good idea. Those comfortable with using an attorney for legal matters, an accountant for taxes or even a good mechanic for auto repairs could easily buy into that notion. For air travel, many of the sources we feature here like AirFareWatchdog, Kayak and others can go a long way to maximizing savings on airline fares – obviously a big ticket item in the whole scheme of things. Better yet, ask a local travel blogger based out of your hometown airport. Odds are they have it down to a science.

Leave time for the satellite lot
When going to a concert, major sporting event or local convention center, penny-wise drivers park remotely, realizing that convenience equals higher prices. Parking close to the terminal at almost any airport will cost dearly compared to the price of a secure, remote lot. AirportParking boasts savings of up to 70% off the price of terminal parking, and allows reservations and payment in advance. In Orlando, for example, terminal parking is $10 per day; remote parking from a number of lots is less than half the price.

The whole idea of applying money-saving strategies learned from other activities to air travel comes with a bonus too. We’re already comfortable with the process so applying does not require learning a new skill or forging a new path where no one has gone before.

Looking for some other money-saving ideas to use when at the airport? Check this video:


[Photo credit – Flickr user Grant Wickes]

Eating Out In Chicago For $3.49

annapurna indian food in chicagoIs it possible to get lunch in Chicago for $3.49? That was the question I sought to answer on Friday at Annapurna, an Indian vegetarian restaurant on Devon Avenue, in the heart of Chicago’s largest South Asian neighborhood. Whenever I need a quick trip to a foreign country but can’t make it to O’Hare, I gravitate to one of my two favorite ethnic enclaves in Chicago: the Arab corridor of Albany Park, on Kedzie Avenue between Wilson and Lawrence, or the South Asian section of West Rogers Park, on Devon Avenue near Western.

Devon Avenue is filled with exotic delights: women wearing the niqab, men in the traditional shalwar kameez, sari shops, Hajj travel agencies, and endearingly bizarre little shops like the House of 220 Volt Appliances, which sells ridiculously large suitcases, tiny little microwaves and everything in between. On one side of the street, a storefront advertises Islamic mortgages right across the street from Gandhi Electronics. On the subcontinent, India and Pakistan are geopolitical adversaries, but on Devon Avenue, Indian and Pakistani immigrants coexist peacefully, even if in parallel universes.

I’ve been eating at the Indian and Pakistani restaurants on Devon Avenue for years but, as a devoted carnivore who is addicted to dishes like Butter Chicken, Vindaloo and Korma, I’ve never been tempted to try any of the street’s vegetarian restaurants until I saw a sign outside Annapurna advertising a $3.49 lunch special. I’m a bargain hunter – in Virginia, I used to patronize a Korean beauty school for $5 haircuts, and I’m not put off by a language barrier.

But I have an above average appetite, so I was skeptical that a three-dollar meal at a vegetarian restaurant would leave me feeling satisfied. Nonetheless, the price was irresistible, so my wife and I tried the place for lunch on Friday.
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Annapurna’s décor is surprisingly smart for a place whose menu is filled with items that cost less than four bucks. But it is indeed like going out to eat in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and have no idea what to order. There are no descriptions of any of the items on the menu and we were the only gringo diners on a day when the place was packed with Indian regulars who knew the menu well and didn’t need to ask questions.

I knew I was going to try the dirt-cheap lunch special, but wanted to ask some questions about what we were ordering and some of the other menu items, but the stern-faced, attractive woman working the counter seemed less than eager to talk to us about the menu.

The lunch special changes each day. The Friday special is masala rice and curry soup, and it comes with a glass of buttermilk, chilies, and a small tomato, onion and cilantro salad in a plastic container. The rice dish was nicely spiced and came with potatoes and onions mixed in it. The soup was very sweet and tasted a bit like coconut to me, though the woman at the counter said it was made with yogurt. Either way, I thought that both dishes were delicious, though my wife thought the soup was “peculiar.”

But we both agreed that the buttermilk, on the other hand, was revolting (see video). It was lukewarm, salty and intensely sour. The look on my face when I took a gulp of the stuff would have made for an entertaining passport photo. Still, I felt satisfied – not stuffed, but content – and we had spent a total of $7.66 for two meals, including tax. You can’t get one meal at Panera for that price, let alone two.

I’d had enough to eat, but in the spirit of adventure and gluttony, we decided to split one more dish, a chickpea-based dish called chole bhature, which came recommended by a group sitting near us. At $3.99, it was a nice little splurge and came with two pieces of what tasted very much like the kind of fried dough you’d find at a state fair. It was greasier than Paulie D’s hair, but it tasted damn good.

annapurna chicago specialsWhen the line evaporated and the place started to thin out, I asked the woman at the counter to write down what the special is on each day of the week (they are closed Tuesdays). None of what she wrote means a thing to me, but I’ve included a photo of what she wrote here in case you’d like to try to decode it. I’ve also included the restaurant’s menu, which isn’t available online, in case you’d like to Google these menu items before trying the place.

All in all, it was a tasty and economical outing. We learned that you could indeed eat out in Chicago for $3.49 at 2608 W. Devon Avenue. If you want a tasty, dirt-cheap lunch that comes with that pleasantly helpless feeling you get when out of the country, try it yourself.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

Santa Fe On A Budget

santa feSanta Fe has a reputation for being pricey, what with all the art galleries, boutiques, jewelry stores, restaurants, and hotels. And while it’s true you can blow a wad of cash there without even trying, it’s just as easy to enjoy Santa Fe if you’re on a budget. It just depends upon your priorities.

If you can live without purchasing a life-sized bronze sculpture of a bugling elk or Native American art, and you’re more interested in a cultural experience than shopping, Santa Fe is infinitely more affordable than many holiday hotspots. Even on a shoestring, you don’t have to miss out on the many incredible sights and experiences this small city has to offer, with the possible exception of a spa treatment or an overpriced, underwhelming meal.

Unlike many cities with a lot of money and cultural attractions, Santa Fe is all about casual. Locals are more concerned with comfort and self-expression than trends, so don’t worry about buying a new wardrobe for your trip or lugging lots of clothes with you. Bring a pair of beat-up cowboy boots and jeans or a long skirt, and you’ll fit in just fine.

Read on for tips on how to do Santa Fe right, local-style.

%Gallery-166201%santa fe farmers marketSleeping
The biggest secret to saving money in Santa Fe is staying at one of a handful of little-known hotels in the downtown area. Sure, you can crash Super 8 or Motel 6 on the outskirts of town (I’ve done it), but you’re going to wind up paying just as much for a crappy, generic room that requires a car in order to see any of the sights.

Instead, spring for a stay at an adorable, pueblo-style hotel, like the following:

  • The Old Santa Fe Inn is a family-owned property just four blocks from the historic Plaza. A single queen averages $89-$209 low/high season, and includes a full breakfast and complimentary parking; pet friendly.
  • The Santa Fe Sage Inn (free parking, continental breakfast, shuttle, and pet-friendly; double queen $45-$135 low/high season) is located across the street from the thriving Railyard Arts District/farmers market near downtown and the Plaza.
  • The Santa Fe Motel & Inn has free parking and full breakfast, and is a homey little gem near the Plaza and Convention Center, for $89 to $145 a night (standard room; low/high season rates).

Note that low season in Santa Fe is between November and March, excluding major holidays, but can start earlier, depending upon the hotel property. Be sure to ask when making reservations; click here for information on year-round specials.

Eating and Drinking
Everyone loves to splurge on a great meal, but New Mexican cuisine is about as rustic and homely (in the true sense of the word) as you can get. It’s also insanely delicious, addictive, and filling, so those with small appetites can easily get by on one big meal a day (if you count your free hotel breakfast). Gluttons like me still have to work at finding room for three squares, but given the plethora of excellent restaurants in town, you’ll want to pace yourself. And be aware that the hole-in-the-wall spots are where the locals prefer to eat on a regular santa fe plazabasis. The farmers market, which runs Saturdays year-round, is world-class.

Don’t miss these classic, uber-affordable spots:

  • Johnnie’s Cash Store: Serving Santa Fe’s best tamales since 1946, for under $3 a pop.
  • Bobcat Bite: The best green chile cheeseburger in town.
  • Santa Fe Farmers Market in the Railyard: The adovada breakfast burrito is a $6 bit of heaven, and coffee is only a dollar. Located inside the Market Pavilion, at the Farmers Market Cafe concession stand; open Tuesdays and Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • Tia Sophia’s: Escape the tourist hordes at this under-the-radar, just-off-the-Plaza eatery, beloved for its posole, green chile and breakfast burritos. Breakfast and lunch, only.
  • Pantry Restaurant: It’s not near the Plaza, but this down-home diner is a local favorite for all things New Mexican.
  • Casa Chimayo: Owned by a long-established local family, the posole is delicious, and service warm and friendly.
  • Roque’s Carnitas: A long-standing food cart on the Plaza, and a great lunch stop.
  • Evangelo’s: About the only true dive downtown (although regrettably, it’s been spiffed up a bit so it’s not as skanky as it once was) with strong drinks and live music most nights. Always a host of local characters (some more derelict than others). There’s also The Matador, right across the street and down a flight of stairs. If it’s Happy Hour specials you want, talk to your hotel concierge or front desk.

Things to do

  • Go museum hopping: Many of Santa Fe’s museums offer a free or discounted day; check individual websites for details. Two of the most popular, the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, and the New Mexico Museum of Art, are free on Friday evenings, from 5-8 p.m.
  • Take a cooking class: The Santa Fe School of Cooking is relocating this week to a new, much larger space, which means more classes. Hands-on classes and workshops start as low as $50.
  • mountain bikingHike or ride: There’s hiking and mountain biking in Santa Fe proper, on the Dale Ball Trail System, and Nature Conservancy Trail. if you really want to get out into the woods, however, try the Santa Fe National Forest, Hyde Memorial State Park, or Santa Fe Ski Basin.
  • Go for a walk: Santa Fe is one of the nation’s most walkable cities, with miles of creekside bike/pedestrian paths and enclaves of adorable neighborhoods made up of adobe homes festooned with chile ristras and flowers. I’ve literally whiled away entire days wandering the city. The city also offers a multitude of free walking tours focused on everything from coffee and chocolate to literary landmarks.
  • Dance: The Plaza is buzzing most evenings during high season with live music, festivals, and often, dancing. When I was in Santa Fe in August, the gazebo was full of couples practicing tango. You never know what you’re going to find, but call the Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-777-2489 if you want to plan ahead.
  • Windowshop: Even if you’re not in looking to buy, Santa Fe offers world-class window shopping, especially amidst the galleries and boutiques of Canyon Road.
  • Visit a pueblo: Although not walking distance, there are eight pueblos located just north of Santa Fe. Spend a morning or afternoon talking to the various tribes, explore the dwellings, purchase handicrafts, or attend one of the weekend Indian Markets, seasonal pow-wows, or other cultural events. Be open to talking to the residents; when I visited the Taos Pueblo, I ended up helping to construct a traditional adobe horno, or outdoor oven.


Getting there
Skip the rental car (which is unnecessary if you’re staying downtown). The shuttle from the Albuquerque airport, an hour away, is just $47/pp/round trip. Ultimately, it comes down to what you’re planning to do while you’re in town.

Food poisoning! What to watch out for in 2012

food poisoningFor many people–myself included–one of the most enjoyable aspects of travel is experiencing how other cultures eat. Even if you’re only traveling as far as the other end of the state, chances are there’s a regional specialty, street food, farmers market, or restaurant that’s a destination in its own right.

Sometimes, however, the pickings are slim, or no matter how delicious the food, the odds are just stacked against you. As Anthony Bourdain put it on a recent episode of his new series, The Layover, “…if there’s not a 50-percent chance of diarrhea, it’s not worth eating.”

Gross, perhaps, but gluttonous travelers know there’s truth in those words. Bourdain happened to be referring to a late-night drunk binge at one of Amsterdam‘s infamous FEBO fast food automats (above), so with that in mind, I present this photographic homage to the things we eat on the road, despite knowing better. Walk softly, and carry a big bottle of Imodium

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[Photo credit: Flickr user .waldec]

The king of the food trucks in Los Angeles, California

As the food truck craze continues to grow in Los Angeles, California, it can be difficult for business owners to stand out from the swarm of the moveable eateries. This challenge was taken literally by Travis Schmidt and Jason Freeman, owners of World Fare busTAURANT, who bought a Vintage Double Decker bus to house their mobile restaurant. While the bottom level of the bus holds the kitchen, the top deck is filled with tables so diners can relax and take in the view of L.A.

Patrons can enjoy cuisine prepared by culinary masters, such as Executive Chef Andi Van Willigan, who has worked with the likes of Gordon Ramsey and Michael Mina. Some busTAURANT fare favorites include Truffle Mac and Cheese Balls, Red Velvet Cheesecake Bunnies, and Braised Short Ribs.

For a better idea of this unique concept, check out this video: