Travel Back Thursday: Free Parking

With congested cities trying to promote metro rail, bike share and other forms of mass transit over driving and parking downtown, this photo of an old-school parking meter in Palo Alto, Pennsylvania hearkens back to a different time.

Do you remember coin-operated parking meters that looked like this? When did you last see one in your travels?

We’d love to feature your photos and videos on Gadling, so please add them to our Flickr Pool (with Creative Commons licensing!), tag @GadlingTravel on Instagram or email us at

Free Parking In Chicago And Everywhere Else

I won’t think twice about spending thousands of dollars to travel across the globe, but ask me to pay $20 to park my car and I’ll reach for a barf bag. It’s one thing to splash out on a nice hotel room, a fancy rental car, meal or a nice souvenir, but quite another to fork over a bunch of my money just to park your car. Even the best parking spot doesn’t taste good, look nice in your house or give you a sound night’s sleep.

But I’ve found that if you’re willing to walk a bit, sometimes quite a bit, you can get a free parking space almost anywhere. Take Chicago, for example. In August, while in the process of relocating back to the Second City, we scored a room at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, just off of Michigan Avenue on East Wacker Drive for just $55 per night on Priceline.

I knew the parking would be expensive and was pretty sure I wasn’t going to pay for it, but I almost burst out laughing when the valet told me their policy: $52 a night, valet only. No chance was I going to going to pay something very close to my room rate just to park our car, so I dropped my family and baggage off and drove due west for a mile across the Chicago River. In River West, a neighborhood filled with condos, I found a free, yes free, parking spot on Fulton St., between Union and Des Plaines.

It was a very pleasant 15-minute walk along the river back to the hotel and I safely left the car there for 2.5 days, saving over $100. I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy to score free parking in Chicago – depending on the day and time you’re looking, it can be quite difficult or relatively easy. And sometimes you feel like you need to consult a lawyer just to interpret all the signs. But the point is that if you aren’t hostage to the extortionate rates that hotels in big cities charge.

Now there are all kinds of apps out there to help you find parking, but I’m old school. I like to just look around. And I don’t just boycott paid parking lots in hotels, either. If I’m going on an extended trip, I look for hotels near the airport that offer shuttles plus free parking, which can save you a bundle. For example, before a three-month trip to Europe this summer departing from Dulles, I found a hotel in Herndon that would let us park there for free for the duration of our trip. Sometimes the cost of the room is cheaper than what you’d pay to park.

And over the last 15 years, I’ve attended dozens of sporting events and concerts at major stadiums and arenas across the country and I almost never pay to park in the designated lots. Some venues are harder than others, but I have never paid to park at the United Center in Chicago, for example. I always park in the residential area only a few minutes from the arena and not only is it free, it’s also easier to exit after the event is over. Most people just follow the flow of traffic right into the paid parking lots but don’t follow the crowd. Go your own way and park for free.

[Photo by Alan Cleaver on Flickr]

Hotel Madness: The Final Four

With two rounds in the books, only the biggest, most annoying and burdensome hotel pet peeves remain in our Hotel Madness tournament. The second round featured some of the tournament’s closest contests and featured one impressive upset. Resort fees squeaked by One-ply toilet paper by a mere 23 votes while the #7 seed Bad water pressure dumped cold water on Bad front desk service’s title hopes. We’re inching closer to crowning our champion and learning just which hotel nuisance bothers you the most.

Our two Final Four match-ups are listed below. As always, vote for the ones that bother you the most. The two winners will advance to the championship round to battle it out for Hotel Madness glory ignominy. Be sure to vote in both polls and check back to see who wins.

#1 No free Wi-Fi vs. #4 Resort Fees
Our number one seed continued its dominating run in the second round. No one seems to want to pay for internet access. However, it has yet to face an opponent that also attacks our wallets. That run ends now. The #4 seed Resort fees was far from impressive in the second round but continued to show that hotel guests don’t like added fees, especially when those fees are so ambiguous. So, is it worse to pay for internet access or for whatever the heck resort fees cover?

#3 Expensive parking vs. #7 Bad water pressure
Showing just how much people detest paying extra for anything while traveling, our #3 seed coasted into the Final Four. Since many trips simply require a car, guests seem to resent being forced to pay for parking. Meanwhile, the biggest surprise of the second round was #7 Bad water pressure simply annihilating the #2 seed Bad front desk service. Clearly, people value their showers. Whether you’re on a beach vacation or need to look good for business meetings, you need your shower to be on top of its game. Well, which grinds your gears more?

Final Four voting ends at 11:59EDT on Wednesday, March 30.

Catch up on all of the Hotel Madness first and second round action:
The entire second round
#1 No free Wi-Fi vs. #16 Annoying hotel TV channel
#2 Bad front desk service vs. #15 Everything about TV remotes
#4 Resort fees vs. #13 Early housekeeping visits
#5 No airport shuttle vs. #12 One-ply toilet paper
#6 No free breakfast vs. #11 Expensive minibars
#7 Bad water pressure vs. #10 Small towels
#8 Room not ready on time vs. #9 Early checkout times

Follow along with the Hotel Madness tournament here.

Hotel Madness: Second round of pet peeves

After an exciting first round, Hotel Madness moves ahead with some intriguing second round contests. We’re thrilled with the feedback and voter response to our tournament of hotel pet peeves and can’t thank you enough for participating. Apparently, you all really hate some of the things that hotels throw at us! Hopefully, you’ve been comforted by the fact that you’re not alone. If you need a refresher or just want to see how we got here, take a look at the first round.

All of the second round match-ups are listed below. Vote for the hotel problems that bother you the most and the winners will advance to the Final Four! We’re well on our way to crowning the most annoying hotel nuisance. Choose wisely (and be sure to vote in all four polls).

#1 No free Wi-Fi vs. #9 Early checkout times

No free Wi-Fi, our overwhelming #1 seed, enters the second round thanks to a dominating victory last week. People really hate paying for internet access. Meanwhile, #9 Early checkout times squeaked out a minor upset in the closest race of the first round. Is it worse to pay to connect or get kicked out while you’re still in your pajamas?

#12 One-ply toilet paper vs. #4 Resort fees

The first round’s biggest upset was #12 One-ply toilet paper wiping the floor with #5 No airport shuttle. Thin toilet paper really rubs people the wrong way. It ran out to such an early lead that it left skid marks. Meanwhile, #4 Resort fees enters the second round with little momentum. Unlike the other peeves that involve money, few commentators seemed overly perturbed by resort fees. So, which is more abrasive: thin toilet paper or an ambiguous extra room charge?

#6 No free breakfast vs. #3 Expensive parking

This match-up pits our stomachs against our wallets. #6 No free breakfast juiced the competition in the first round while #3 Expensive parking put its opponent in its place. Something’s got to give. Which do you resent more?

#7 Bad water pressure vs. #2 Bad front desk service

Our final second round batter features two nuisances that put us all it crummy moods on the road. Clearly no one enjoys being treated poorly, which explains #2 seeded Bad front desk service easily advances to this round. Meanwhile, #7 Bad water pressure left people soapy and surly. Would you rather be treated poorly or left with shampoo in your hair?
Second round voting ends at 11:59EDT on Friday, March 25.

Catch up on all of the Hotel Madness first round action:
#1 No free Wi-Fi vs. #16 Annoying hotel TV channel
#2 Bad front desk service vs. #15 Everything about TV remotes
#4 Resort fees vs. #13 Early housekeeping visits
#5 No airport shuttle vs. #12 One-ply toilet paper
#6 No free breakfast vs. #11 Expensive minibars
#7 Bad water pressure vs. #10 Small towels
#8 Room not ready on time vs. #9 Early checkout times

Follow along with the Hotel Madness tournament here.

Hotel Madness: Vote for your biggest hotel pet peeves

We launched our Hotel Madness tournament on Monday and the entire first round is now live. If you don’t know what Hotel Madness is or you just need a refresher, check out our introductory post. First round voting is open until 11:59pm EDT this Sunday, March 20. Be sure to vote in each and every match-up listed below. Simply choose the hotel pet peeves that bother you the most. The winners will advance to the second round, which you’ll be able to vote on next week.

Make your voices heard. Vote, leave comments and let us know what you hate most about hotels.

First round voting ends at 11:59EDT on Sunday, March 20.

Follow along with the Hotel Madness tournament here.