Last minute flights may be cheaper than the bus

Searching for travel deals feels like playing a game show where how to get a winning number is unclear. It’s like hunting in a jungle where the frequent hunter has the edge. Timing remains the wild card.

Being flexible and not assuming the outcomes makes the difference between snagging a deal or paying more than you feel happy paying. The one that makes you whine.

Case in point: A friend of mine bought a round-trip ticket to New York City from Columbus for $240 two weeks ago for a trip next week. He smacked his forehead when I told him I bought a ticket last Saturday for $138 total. My trip is tomorrow.

The price surprised me as well. Before buying a bus ticket, expecting Greyhound would be much cheaper since it usually is, I searched plane fares last Friday “just in case.” Surprise, surprise.

But, I also learned–again– the importance of not hesitating. I waited until Saturday to buy the ticket while ironing out life’s logistics, thus missed out on the flight I wanted. Delta’s prices had almost doubled.

Another search found the $138 price on American. The hesitation, though, means flying out at 5:40 in the morning. Blech! Still, the less than two hour plane ride is $30 cheaper than the 14 hour bus ride. Factor in the cost of the bus from LaGuardia into Grand Central Station and I’m still $8 ahead.

While hunting for your own deal, keep the following points in mind.

  • Don’t assume you know prices before you check. You may be surprised.
  • The more often you check prices, the more you’ll know what is a price you’re willing to pay. (This is my 6th trip to NYC since June. This is the 2nd time I’ve flown. The bus has been the best option three times and two weeks ago we drove.)
  • When you see a price you want, don’t waffle. Your life can adjust to the decision you’ve made. (The beauty of bus travel is that it’s more flexible than flying.)
  • Don’t pay too much attention to headlines that talk about the price of travel. In the travel business, so much depends upon timing. What’s true in the morning could have shifted by the afternoon. Keep looking. Hunt out every corner of options and stay flexible.
  • If you’re flying to New York City, the airport you fly into can make a difference into the cost of a flight. Pick the option that checks the price of all NYC airports. Once you know which airline has the cheapest price, book your ticket through that airline.

Good luck hunting out the best travel deal for you. It could be the bus.

First snow: Eight winter activities for budget friendly fun

With the first snow comes thoughts of winter’s smorgasbord of budget friendly travel options. Fall festivals and foliage tours are long gone. What was missed has been moved to next year’s got to go agenda.

The first snow is a reminder that winter, like other seasons, has a timetable that waits for no one. To make the most of winter, create a checklist of what you’d like to do. Plan for those winter outings before it’s too late. Don’t be left behind wondering where the winter went.

Here are 8 winter activities to put on your list of things to do before the spring thaw comes and crocus appear.

1. Go tubing: For anyone who wants the thrill of speeding down a snow packed hill, but is not fond of the idea of falling (count me in on this one) tubing is an excellent option. If you have the physical skills to sit on the ground and get back up again with or without help, you can tube. The beauty of tubing is that people of various athletic abilities and ages can enjoy the same experience at the same time.

Many ski resorts have added tubing hills to their repertoire. From the Poconos in Pennsylvania to Copper Mountain Ski Resort in Colorado, the cost for tubing is quite a bit less than the cost of a ski lift pass. Plus, there’s no equipment to rent and you can enjoy the warmth of the ski resort’s lodge like any skier who forked out more money than you did.

2. Take a winter hike: Although hiking might seem more suited for warmer weather, winter hiking offers another look at outdoor beauty. Plus, there’s a level of solitude for reflection, part of what winter months invite. Sections of the Appalachian Trail are one possibility. For options that offer the opportunity to find out more about nature and natural history of an area, check your state’s park system. Many have an organized winter hike like Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio does. This park’s winter hike is January 16.

3. Go cross-country skiing or snow shoeing: Where there is snow, you can cross-country ski or snowshoe. City and town parks, logging roads or trails that have been specifically for either sport are waiting for you. The Enchanted Forest in northern New Mexico is one such place. To see if either sport is a good fit, head to a trail on Winter Trails Day. This winter, January 9th is the day to bundle up and strap on skis or snowshoes. Rentals are available.

4. Build a snowman in an unusual place: Where there’s snow perfect for packing, you can build a snowman. By building a snowman in a place that’s more public than your yard, you add to other people’s winter fun. A favorite memory of mine is watching people build a snowman on the Great Wall of China.

For people who live where it never snows, don’t pass up a chance to indulge in a snippet of childhood if you happen to have traveled to a place where it does–London, England, for example.

5. Sip hot chocolate, mulled wine or another hot beverage made extra warm by alcohol by a fire crackling in a stone fireplace. This is where you enjoy a winter wonderland by looking out a window. Where does one find such an experience? Ski lodges and hotel lounges and lobbies are perfect places for indulging in an afternoon or evening of relaxation in a comfy chair. Going solo? Bring a book. You don’t have to be an overnight guest to enjoy such pleasure.

6. Visit an historic village to learn about winter life in the olden days. At an historic village, costumed interpreters demonstrate how life was lived in yesteryear. Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts is one of the more extensive historic villages. The sticker price is not exactly budget friendly. For the cheapest option, head to the Slate Run Living Historical Farm in Ohio. It’s free. I repeat. Free.

7. Bird watch at a local park, a nature center, a refuge or another area known for bird watching. Check out Critter Watch, for best winter birding spots in Colorado. In Ohio, the newest bird watching place is the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, one mile from the heart of downtown Columbus. It’s located on an important migration stop next to the Scioto River.

8. Ice-skate at a city’s outdoor rink or a frozen pond. Many cities open skating rinks in their downtown’s to attract people. One of the most famous is the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. There are other less touristy skating options in New York City, however.

If you’re planning to head to any other city, see if there is an outdoor skating rink there. Skating on a city’s downtown rink is an active way to enjoy the city’s architecture while becoming part of the city’s scene. Skate rentals are available.

Some city parks and zoos like Buhr Park in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus Ohio, also offer ice-skating with skate rentals available.

Greyhound bus driver heads wrong way: Where’s a GPS when you need one?

Greyhound bus drivers generally don’t make national news. Pilots who overshoot airports, however, end up having their story told over and over again on about every entertainment vehicle there is. How many places did you hear or read about the Northwest Airlines pilots who missed Minneapolis and didn’t figure out their mistake for 150 miles?

Now, how many of you heard about the Greyhound bus driver who headed the wrong way for more than an hour last week? Yep, last Saturday morning at about 7:14 a.m on October 31st, that’s exactly what happened–a bus driver went the wrong way for more than 70 miles.

Here’s an exclusive Gadling report that has yet to show up anywhere. Gadling knows because Gadling was there.

What started out to be a slam dunk from Cleveland’s bus station to Port Authority in Manhattan turned into a Twilight zone episode. For the band of riders who were heading to New York for a variety of reasons–like the R&B singer who was moving from Michigan to Manhattan to try to make a living, and the young man moving back to Hartford, Connecticut from Cincinnati, the bus was the cheapest travel option.

For this mother and her daughter, it was certainly the cheapest way for a last minute trip to NYC for a Halloween weekend that doubled as a 17th birthday present.

Each of us were initially thrilled to be on the spillover bus out of Cleveland. When there are too many passengers for one bus, another driver is called for a second bus. Riding on the second bus generally means more room.

When the second bus pulled out of the Cleveland terminal at 2:30 a.m. or so, the passengers, mostly with two seats to themselves, settled in for slumber. The bus’ interior lights were off creating an aura of cozy humanity as the bus headed to I-80 east for the trip straight to Manhattan. With the stop in Newark dropped because no one on the bus was going to Newark, this meant arriving ahead of the 11:15 a.m. schedule. Sweet!

At 6:55 a.m., the bus pulled into a truck stop near Milesburg, Pennsylvania. Most everyone got off in search of coffee and a toilet that didn’t move from side to side. Some huddled together for a quick smoke.

By 7:15 everyone was back on the bus, settling in for more shut eye as the sun began to rise. At 8:30 the dream come true ride ended.

The driver’s “Oh, my god! Oh, my god! I don’t believe this. We were almost there,” paired with her frustrated laughter–the kind of laughter one uses when there’s no other possible response because crying would be just too awful, woke up this Gadling rider. From the vantage point of three rows back from the driver on the right side of the bus, it was clear the driver was talking to herself.

Peering out the window looking to see what was up, the first thought was traffic caused by an accident. Nope. That wasn’t it. The highway was clear.

When the bus pulled off the highway, making a jog along a side road, the thought was another rest stop already?

Nope. That wasn’t it either. The driver swung the bus back onto the highway.

When an I-80 east sign appeared, so did a sinking feeling–and an urge to start moaning, “No, no, no!”

When the “Bellfonte 65 miles” (or so) sign appeared, it was clear what had happened. At Milesburg, the driver headed off on I-80 west instead of going east, thus driving back towards Cleveland. We had driven miles in the wrong direction past the State College turn off in the center of Pennsylvania where we had been before.

Unfortunately, it took the driver over an hour to figure out that she was heading away the wrong way.

We would not be arriving in New York City before 11:15. That’s when we’d be hitting the Poconos just in time for Saturday afternoon traffic.

The R&B singer’s friends who were at Port Authority to meet the bus called her wondering where she was after the first bus showed up on time. They told her that they had to go to work and would not be able to help her with her luggage after all.

By the time the bus pulled into Port Authority at 1:30, more than two hours behind schedule, five people felt steamed up enough to head to Greyhound customer service to complain. That meant filling out paperwork describing the event and leaving contact information.

For Gadling, the mistake meant two less hours in Manhattan. For others, it meant missed connections that ended up costing money and a travel headache they hadn’t counted on. The R&B singer had Greyhound comp her the price to store her luggage until she figured out how to get it to her new digs. When we left the customer service counter, the young guy was still trying to figure out how to get to Hartford and contact the people who were to meet him there. He was hoping Greyhound would put him on the train.

Greyhound customer service is going to let us know if they’ll be any ticket compensation once the incident is investigated. A voucher for future travel on Greyhound would be nice. You never know what kind of adventure you’re going to have when a bus pulls out of a station. I’m thinking about taking my son to Manhattan the middle of December to take in the holiday lights.

As for the ride back, the bus pulled into the Columbus, Ohio bus station right on time–7 a.m. on Monday morning.

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Gadling Take FIVE: Week of July 25 – July 31.

The end of July is here. This is also the last day of Gadling’s “Hotel Month” and time to vote for the winner of Gadling’s Perfect Road Trip contest. The voting for the contest goes through next week, but why wait?

With vacations in mind, here are posts that offer a mix of where to go, what not to miss and details worth knowing.

  • Luxury train travel is one of the most elegant ways to go across Australia. Kraig gives an overview of “The Ghan,” a wow factor passenger train that on August 4th will have been in service for 80 years.
  • A trip to New York City should include time to see “Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia.” Sean’s post on the exhibit is a thoughtful glimpse of what makes this a must-see happening. Later, head to the beach. Jeremy has five suggestions for beaches close to Manhattan.
  • Tired of the bar scene where it’s hard to hear a person talk or to relax? Katie offers a solution in her post on speakeasy lounges. Her favorite is The Violet Hour in Chicago.
  • To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Hostelworld is offering a contest. Alison has the scoop on how to win a golden ticket and the great prize it will get you.
  • If you need a reason to buy trip insurance, the statistics from Tom’s post on how airline cancellation fees mean big bucks for the airlines might be it.

Along the Hudson: The Hudson River School and top places to see the paintings

Four hundred years ago, when Henry Hudson first saw the river that was named after him, I imagine he felt inspired by its beauty. The river not only captivated Hudson’s attention motivating him to take a look-see far up into its reaches, it has also inspired artists to capture its essence, literally and figuratively.

There are places along the Hudson River’s shores where you can imagine painters who developed The Hudson River School sitting with their canvas creating their masterpieces. Unlike how it sounds, The Hudson River School is not a place at all, but an art movement that occurred during the 19th century, and the first to be deemed American.

With the festivities happening in the towns and cities along the Hudson this year to celebrate it’s discovery, it seems fitting to give a nod to these artists who were inspired by the Hudson’s beauty and used its images as a metaphor to express ideas about what the United States represents. What are the themes? Discovery, exploration and settlement. Head west, and you’ll see these themes over and over again. These guys were onto something.

The scenes you see in the paintings, however, are not exactly as is. The artists took parts of scenery that they had sketched in their travels and put them together in such a way to make their point that nature, and people’s communion with it, are testaments to God’s glory. Communing with nature, therefore, is a way to experience God’s power.

The painting Kindred Spirits by Asher B. Durand is such an example. The two men in the painting are of the artist and Thomas Cole. You can read what the painting represented to Cole in this overview of The Hudson River School by Thomas Hampson.

As Hampson explains, such themes are also expressed in the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau who helped found Transcendentalism. To them, and to these artists, what better place to be a witness to the power of God and the human ability to feel and become empowered by it, than in the natural world found in the the American landscape?

Not only the Hudson River is depicted by Hudson River School artists, most notably Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand, but so are the White Mountains in New Hampshire and other areas of the Catskills.

For a close look at one of the later Hudson River School painters who helped develop the art movement called Luminism that developed from the Hudson River School, visit Olana, Frederic Edwin Church’s home along the Hudson River not far from Hudson, New York.

Here, Church and his wife raised their family and created a home that is a visual masterpiece. When I visited Olana, I was intrigued by Church’s treatment of the landscape. He had certain trees cut down along the river banks near his home to create a certain look to the scenery and better highlight the Hudson River’s beauty.

Olana is merely one place to see Hudson River School artwork. Several museums have pieces in their collections.

If you are walking in the mountains and along the river that were the inspiration for this artwork, see if the muse strikes you. Maybe another art movement is percolating.