Friday, December 19, 2008

Boston HI Hostel

I had a bit of sticker shock staying at the Boston HI hostel, which
charges $40/night. They provide flip-flops for you to keep, but I
think I'd rather keep a few bucks instead. The receptionist did
mention a cool restaurant close by, "the otherside cafe" that offered
20% off on food w/ an HI card. It has a cool grungy vibe that reminds
me of Austin.

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cheap Ride With Car Share

I recently bought a round-trip bus ticket from Boston to Montreal, and I was astounded how expensive it was. Greyhound charged $180 to Montreal and back. While perusing Craigslist "Ride Share" page I noticed a number of people offering the same ride for less than half that price. I will definitely check Craigslist before I charge a Greyhound ticket again.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ryanair CEO Video: Transatlantic Flights for $13



First class will alternatively pay more to get "beds and blowj*bs".

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ryanair Transatlantic Flights for $13

13 might not be a lucky number, but Ryanair has turned that silly superstition on its head by leaking information about transatlantic flights for $13. Suggested US departure points include New York, Florida, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston. With cheap flights all over Europe available from Britain and Ireland, you might soon be able to reach anywhere in Europe for $50! More to come...

[from Boston.com]

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hit the Hay in Germany

I thought I was a pretty seasoned budget traveler, until I heard about German Haylofts. The idea was introduced to me in a podcast by Rick Steves when he interviewed a guy known for Vagabonding. The idea was pretty foreign to me (no pun intended), but certainly intriguing. Fortunately, the NYTimes recently had an article about these Heuhotels. It doesn't take much to provide overnight lodging to the extremely cost-conscious traveler, so a farm with an empty barn and some bales of hay can provide a few dozen accomodations. I don't particularly like the smell of hay or barnyard animals, so I think I would be hesitant to swap a hostel for these. However, if they they had a great location, I would check it out. They seem to usually run about 10-20 Euros for adults, and possibly less for children. Two Hayloft listing sites mentioned by the Times are www.heuhotels.de, www.heuhotelferien.de

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Globe Trekker TV


Globe Trekker TV is the first main stream travel show I have seen where they really capture the back packer lifestyle. The show's host stays in hostels, meets the locals, and travels the world. The host is Australian, an appropriate choice since they are known for taking long trips around the world. The show is shown in Boston on the PBS channel, WGBH (44). This episode chronicles the hosts trip around Australia, and includes a visit to an Opal mine, herding camels in the desert, and a visit to the Indian Ocean. Upcoming shows next month include Tibet and New Zealand, two places I would love to visit. The Pilot Guides channel on Youtube also has some great videos.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Book Review: Travels



Travels by Michael Crichton is a little known auto-biography composed of stories about medicine, travel, and pseudo-science. Mr. Crichton started life as a medical student, but quit medicine to pursue his writing/producing career in Hollywood. As his career peaks, he decides that he needs to make some changes in his life. These changes encompass expanding his world-view in terms of people, places, and ideas. He starts to travel to remote parts of the globe including Africa, Nepal, Jamaica, etc. Like many travelers, Mr. Crichton's adventures challenge him in new ways that he couldn't experience at home.

While the pseudo-science chapters often seem kind of silly, I respect Mr. Crichton for approaching new ideas head-on. He channels spirits, meets Tarot card readers, and sleeps in the desert with a cactus. He clearly takes these alternative views seriously, but it is hard to come to the same conclusions he does. See a Q&A with Mr. Crichton on his website, here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Review: Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story



Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story is the auto-biographical story of Tony and Maureen Wheeler's rise to the top of the travel industry from their first cross-continent trip from England to Australia. It is an amazing story of how they turned a simple guide about this trip into a publishing phenomenon that is known around the world as the guidebook of choice for any traveler. It was clearly a long road for these inveterate travelers, and you have to root for their success as they overcome the highs and lows of traveling, business, and relationships. The names and places can be overwhelming when describing countries that few readers have traveled to, but the book is really about their experiences.

After reading about the Wheeler's adventures, you feel ready to travel anywhere, the more obscure the better. It seems like there is no limit to your travels, and I find it encouraging to overcome fears of the unknown and just go.

Check out Rick Steves' podcast for an interview with Tony Wheeler about the book:
Apple: link
Windows: link
Other: http://podcasts.ricksteves.com/ricksteves.xml

Hostel Review: HI Conway Hostel [Conway, NH]




With the leaves in New England turning the forest into a painted canvas, my parents and I headed upto New Hampshire for a weekend of leaf-peeping. The HI Conway hostel is ideally located near the White Mountains, we headed north in a rented mini-van. We stopped along the way at the Weather Vane restaurant for a couple of lobsters and a lobster roll. Instead of taking the more traditional route of 93N and 112E to Conway along the Kancamagus highway, we drove 95N to Portsmouth, and then took 16N. We passed the Redhook Ale brewery in Portsmouth, but we didn't have a chance to stop. Maybe next time. Concord Coach also offers a bus service to Conway for about $65 r/t from Boston, so there is an option for those with out a car.


We arrived after dark and were first informed that the only rule at the hostel is no shoes in the hostel. The hostel provides a large assortment of cubby-holes to hold your shoes as you walk around in your socks or bare-foot. I found this rule strange, and I more than once looked around the room wondering where my shoes were. However, I got used to it, and chalked it up to an easy way to keep the hostel clean. I had suggested my parents get a room, and I stay in the dorms, but they instead reserved a "family room". I expected the room to include at least one double bed, but instead we had 2 bunk-beds for 4 people. The room included a mini-fridge, but we had to use the bathrooms down the hall. The first night we arrived I cooked a salmon in the well-kept kitchen, and my parents baked an instant lasagna. The common area was full of hostellers, and most were watching one of the Lord of the Rings movies.

That night our room was plenty warm, but it did seem to oscillate between hot and cold a few times. The showers had abundant hot water and good water pressure. I found the hostel a good experience, but I think my parents were disappointed they didn't get a continental breakfast, which was mentioned in their Frommer's guide. The hostel guests were pretty evenly split between respectful foreign travelers and middle-age/older Americans, so I wouldn't call it a party hostel. We were only there Thursday and Friday night, but I suspect it was busier Saturday night. The hostel room cost $48 + $10 (extra person) for the three of us per night. We paid $89 in Woodstock for a normal hotel room with 2 double beds, bathroom, and TV on Saturday.

We had a car, and it wasn't clear how far you could get from the Hostel w/o a car. The local attractions are the outlet malls, the Conway train, and the White Mountains Park, which aren't exactly close to the hostel. I will have to explore the public transportation the next time I go.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Airport Transfer Deals and Directions

An important connection during any trip including an airline flight will be the transfer to and from the airport. Many airports naturally herd tourists to expensive cabs or shuttle buses, but often there are cheap alternatives that require a little work to recognize or discover. Arthur Frommer recently blogged that the reason most airports offer a budget option is that the workers at the airport need an inexpensive option to travel to and from the airport, everyday. I personally like to research this leg of the trip before I leave, so I am not stuck with a huge cab bill. A cab from the airport in Boston today costs me $60, compared to less than $2 on the subway/bus system. An important consideration when using public transportation can be opening and closing times, such that flights may leave or arrive when the trains/buses aren't running.

Hostels generally include directions to travel by public transportation to and from the hostel. The Barcelona Dream Hostel offers directions through a Photo Guide, a handy idiot-proof guide to reaching the hostel. (mentioned on the hostelmanagment.com forums) This photo-based guide is a remarkable improvement over the simple text directions found on many hostel sites. The future of travel directions may be short videos that can be uploaded to Youtube for easy dispersal. Another option for quickly traveling to a destination could include using mobile phones or other devices, but I haven't found these quite as effective yet for public transportation. I think preparing directions before you go is crucial, and you can augment this with a device when the original directions are not sufficient for arriving at your destination.

Work at a Hostel


The Student Travel Blog mentioned a few days ago that opportunities to work at a hostel are available, you just have to ask. A site like hostelmanagement.com hosts some job listings, or you could contact hostels directly. In exchange for a room and some spending money, hostels may also hire you on the spot to clean, perform maintenance, or any number of needed chores. The Martha's Vineyard hostel on Cape Cod, among others, used to expect backpackers to help with chores at the hostel, but those days are long gone. Hostels generally are professionally run, which requires a staff of people to clean and maintain the hostel.

The Hobo Traveler seems to have made a living of exchanging room and board for a mention on this website, hobotraveler.com.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

FYI: Europeans Drinking in the US


This weekend, Harvard Square was hosting a local Oktober Fest, and I met a few Europeans at the John Harvard's Brew Pub. They wanted to sample a few of the local brews, but were turned away by the bartender. Many bars will not accept any foreign forms of identification other than a passport. The patron was baffled by the bartender's insistence that he show his passport, which he was not carrying on him. Unfortunately, even though he didn't look anywhere near 21 years old, US liquor laws can put a great burden on bar owners and their employees to strictly enforce age identification laws when serving alcohol. Perhaps, one day American culture will change to yield more common-sense alcohol policies, but until then knowing the law is important to enjoy a cold brew.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Boston Staycation

I blogged last month about the ridiculousness of "staycations", but I now have to admit that I just took one this weekend. My family was in town for a week, so I spent a few days exploring another side of Boston with them. I stayed at their hotel in Dorchester, and we had dinner in the North End. I had forgotten what a zoo the North End can be on Saturday night. We waited an hour and a half outside the "Daily Catch" for some of the best seafood and pasta in Boston. Everyone was pretty cranky by the time we were seated, but the quick service and excellent food was well worth it. I watched the UT/OU game with my mom, and we had a blast watching UT beat OU, again. I guess once again, I have to agree with old adage, "Don't knock it until you've tried it".

The only frustrating part of my staycation was my inability to recharge my iPhone and capture more pictures around town. I was able to snap this picture of the bar at 224 Boston, a nice restaurant in Dorchester.



I had a great salmon and spicy rice, that came with a small fruit salad. I also had a pumpkin-tini, which was on their drink specials list. It had some spices on the top, but I never seemed to be able to taste them since they would float in the middle as I drank from the side of the glass. Maybe, if drank it in one long gulp, the momentum would push it into my mouth. I have a lot to learn about drinking these crazy martinis.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Currency Exchange Rates

With the recent resurgence of the US dollar against other currencies, traveling to a number of countries is much cheaper than a few months ago. Arthur Frommer recently highlighted a few countries who's currencies have depreciated against the dollar. They include Australia, Mexico, Thailand, Bali, Iceland, and Canada. Today, I was checking out the accommodation options on Bali, which the Lonely Planet Bali book describes as not exactly backpacker-budget friendly. However, there are a few budget options including some hotels with dorm rooms, and a few camp-grounds.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Website Review: Digital Nomads


What is a Digital Nomad?
In the Connected Era, Digital Nomads will Rule - Redefining productivity - placeshifting and timeshifting. Their devices won't wait to connect - they will simply be connected. Always. Everywhere. Business as usual will become business unusual. Welcome to Digital Nomads - a community to learn new things, share ideas and connect with others. [Digital Nomads]

huh?



In this new era, a person's knowledge is their greatest resource, and their physical presence is no longer a requirement. By taking the "work from home" trend to the next level, "work from anywhere" is now a viable option for knowledge workers. With the Internet now ubiquitous and cheap no matter where you are, the right technology can create your office in any corner of the globe.

DigitalNomads.com claims to be a blog dedicated to the people and their technology that have created a nomadic lifestyle in their work-a-day lives. They cover some emerging technologies that make mobile computing more user friendly, such as these cool USB rechargeable batteries, and it also a lifestyle blog about how to live and work on the road. Unfortunately, it isn't quite clear how genuine this blog is with so many references and links to Dell computers. This blog is probably a Dell marketing front, but it has some useful info.

I think this introductory post Where Do You Work? I Work Everywhere. really sums it up. They also have a interesting introductory video from TreeHugger Founder: Graham Hill.



I became convinced living a digital nomadic life is possible in my last few trips to Europe. No matter where you go, there are plenty of "Starbucks-like" coffee shops with a quiet and relaxing environment to work in. They offer the same environment I could get here in the US.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Book Review: Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?


I initially noticed this book in the travel section of the Harvard Co-op, and I'll admit the title intrigued me. I started reading the first chapter, and the idea of a playboy travel writer sounded like fun. I didn't finish the chapter, but I made a note of the book in my iPhone to get a copy. I purchased the book, and after receiving it, read it the next day, cover-to-cover. Through the first chapter, I really didn't care for the writer; the stories of public drunkenness, fist fights, and heavy drug use didn't seem all that glamorous. I really couldn't relate. Once the author ditched his job, his girlfriend, his mundane life for backpacking in South America, I was hooked. The stories of embracing life as an adventure, whatever may come, makes any working stiff's life seem like Bill Murray in Ground Hog day where he wakes up to the same nightmare over and over and over... I thought the writers observations about budget travelers and hostelling were right on the money, and it was clear he was trying hard to maintain his professionalism in the face of impossible demands. One of the biggest disappointments I came away with from this book was that Lonely Planet has to trade up to the mainstream hotel/resort travel market to be successful. The mainstream travel market is inundated with poseurs hawking resorts, cruises, and weekend getaways that aren't about discovering new people, cultures, and ideas, but are more about insulating people from new experiences. The moment you step outside of your comfort zone (your milieu), you learn something new about the world and yourself.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hostels in the News: Chicago on the Cheap [Chicaco, Il]

CNN.com/travel today featured HI Chicago in their Chicago on the Cheap article. Compared to high price hotels they mentioned the HI Chicago hostel "operates an all-ages building in Chicago's Loop with 500 beds. Prices are between $28 and $34 a night." Additionally, they noted Chicago's availability of public transportation makes it affordable to get around. My roommate recently returned from Chicago, and raved about the Architectural boat tours that run up and down the Chicago river. The John Hancock tower also offers panoramic views of the city for the price of a few drinks at the bar. Hot dogs, a staple of any budget traveler, can be purchased for under $2 at "The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium", and don't forget to load up on condiments. (they're free!)

The article includes a number of other great deals in Chicago, so take advantage of some of them before "The Windy City", becomes "The Ridiculously Cold Artic Blast City" in a few months.

Travelzoo also has some last-minute weekend deals to Chicago for under $200, so forget about the stock market for a few days and spend that last $300 in your account on a weekend in Chicago.

Chicago Hostel Map: here

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hostel Review: Snuffel Backpacker Hostel [Bruges, Belgium]


I visited Bruges in late March of last year, and came away with a love for Belgian beer and waffles. Bruges is a beautiful old city with canals running throughout the city. The Snuffel Backpacker hostel a short distance outside the central square, I reached by walking down a narrow path along a canal that felt like a fairy tale. (see picture) The hostel like a neighborhood dive bar, was filled with more character than amenities. You take a spiral staircase from the first floor upto the dorm rooms, which surround a common area with big lockers. My room was in the back of another room on the second floor, and was relatively small with only 3 bunk beds sleeping 6 people. Unfortunately, the hostel only had one bathroom on my floor, and the bathrooms showers weren't great. Although, I found people in the hostel friendly, freely chatting in the lounge downstairs and around the lockers upstairs. At night the lounge became a local bar with cheap drinks and a cool vibe. The bar had a great selection of Belgian beers, and it was there that I fell in love with the doubles, triples, and quadrupels for which they are so famous.



After returning from this trip, I discovered "The Monk's Cell" at "The Publick House" restaurant in the Brookline neighborhood of Boston. This bar captures the vibe of the Snuffel Backpacker Hostel bar and having a Belgian beer at this bar allows me to relive the time I spent in Bruges.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Website Review: Sleeping in Airports


Public transportation in many cities is unavailable during the morning hours, which can make it expensive to arrive early for a morning flight. To avoid taxi costs and the prospect of over-sleeping a flight, I have on occasion slept in the airport the night before. I don't recommend this, but there is an Internet resource available to prepare you if you plan to do so: http://www.sleepinginairports.net

With some of the best airports for sleeping over, offering comfortable chairs, showers, and Internet, skipping a night at a crummy hostel might be the best move you ever made. During the night, security will ask for proof that you have a flight the next day. So be sure to have a ticket or reservation available showing your departing flight or you will be kicked out. Also, keep in mind that many airports do shut-down, and sleeping over is not always an option.

The only US airport to make the top 10 worst list is Chicago O'Hare, long known for stranding airline passengers during the winter months. Check out the comments about O'Hare here.

If traveling by ground transportation, this site also includes some train and bus stations, so be sure to check these out, too.

Website Review: Travelzoo Top 20


If you are not on the Travelzoo Top 20 email list, you are missing out on some of the best travel deals on the Internet. You could scour Kayak, Expedia, Frommer's, airline websites, travel discounters, and the blogosphere for the cheapest flights, hotels, and cruises on the internet, or you could have them delivered weekly in your email in-box. Travelzoo has been the leader in cheap travel deals for ten years, and they continue to provide timely discounts that are unbelievable. I have booked over half a dozen flights to Europe from the US East Coast and none have cost me more than $350 roundtrip.

Travelzoo has an interesting history, whereby it offered 5,155,874 shares to "netsurfer stockholders" to initially promote their business. These shares went to those who signed up themselves and their friends as the business was starting. The stock (TZOO) spiked in 2004, taking these investors on a wild ride up and down.

Today 12 million users receive the Travelzoo Top 20 email list, well above the 5 million users who frequent the Travelzoo website each month. The Top 20 list has expanded outside of the US, and Travelzoo is bringing travel deals to all corners of the globe.

Here is a cool video about the making of the Top 20 list:



Interestingly, the NJ to Cologne deal mentioned in the video is one I jumped on last year.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hostels in the News: Miami, FL

ABC Action News just discovered an insidious plot to keep money in your pocket while you hit the beach. So, instead of spending a load of cash on a resort-style hotel room, you can blow it on having a good time. (pun intended) There are at least four hostels in Miami, with beds as cheap as $18. Keep in mind that hurricane season isn't over, yet, so you might want to wait a month on this deal. With most discount airlines flying to Florida from all over the US, combining a flight deal with one of these hostels could probably keep your trip under $200 for the weekend. Check out a map of the four Miami hostels here.

Miami Hostels
Tropics Hotel & Hostel, 1550 Collins Ave., http://www.tropicshotel.com
Jazz on South Beach Hostel, 321 Collins Ave., http://www.jazzhostels.com/
South Beach Hostel, 235 Washington Ave., http://www.thesouthbeachhostel.com
Clay Hotel and Hostel, 1438 Washington Avenue, http://www.clayhotel.com

With trendy art deco architecture, and some of the hottest nightlife in the country, Miami has exploded on the party scene. I have never been to Miami, but these hostels look nice. I am definately putting this on my TODO list. Check out the Hostelbookers video:


Hostels in Miami : Video of Miami Hostels - Watch the top videos of the week here

Henri Bardouin Pastis from Provence



Pastis is a refreshing apertif popular in the Provence region of France. I visited Provence in March 2003, and brought back this bottle without trying it on my trip. Henri Bardouin (HB) Pastis is considered one of the best Pastis available. When I got back and opened the bottle, I found Pastis to be a very herbal-tasting drink. It reminded me of Absinthe and Sambuca, but with a little more variety in the taste. This site suggests it is made of 50 different plants and spices, which include Star Anise, Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Tonka Bean, Nutmeg, Sage, White Pepper, Cardamom, Clove, Centaury, Artemisia, and Melequeta Pepper.[1] The drink is pretty potent in flavor, so you can mix it with water which turns it an interesting milky color.

1. Crillon Importers, Ltd. http://www.crillonimporters.com/Pastis/HB/hbpastis-1.html

Travel Deal: Hostelsclub $1=1€ Hostel/Hotel Deal


I received a comment from Johann from Hostelsclub.com, a hostel booking site based in Venice, Italy, about a $1=1€ European Hostels Offer. That sounded like a pretty good deal with the $1 currently trading at 0.72€ on the commodities exchanges. This deal is only for US citizens to entice them to travel to Europe despite the dollar being at historical lows against the Euro. Ouch! I have never used this booking site, so I decided to look up some hostels I have stayed at. I found the Meininger City Hostel & Hotel Cologne on this list which I stayed at last year. The discount was offered for only single rooms at this hostel/hotel. The website, although it is named "Hostelsclub" includes a mix of hostels and hotels, and the discount was also available for this mix. As an independent traveler, I prefer websites that focus more on hostel beds than hotel rooms, however, checking for this discount is a "no-brainer". I wish I was heading to Europe in the near future, because I would definitely take advantage of this deal. Many hostels are offering it through this spring so start making some plans now. With some hostels offering beds as cheap as $13/night, such as at SEI-Hostel in Leipzig, you wonder how Americans would take a "Staycation". This is another great example that if you buck conventional wisdom, you can really get a great deal.

Note: I added this deal to the right-side set of great travel links.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

USA Hostel Map



I have always liked the HI booklet, which let you browse through all of their hostels around the country. Many of the websites with hostel listings seem to have clunky maps or only show one hostel at a time, so I decided to start a Web 2.0 map with links to hostel pages.

The map is available here. It isn't finished, but I started it with a handful of hostels.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Online Petition: What is a Hostel?

Everyday I get an email from Google Alerts about what is new on the Internet about hostels. The alert usually contains about 6-9 links to web pages in India or Pakistan talking about school dormitories. The rest of the links are usually of interest to me, because they contain new information about what is going on in the hostelling/backpacking world. So, from this view the word "hostel" can have several meanings. Most dictionaries include multiple definitions that encompass these, but usually they are dry interpretations that don't convey the social aspect of hostels. An example from the Oxford English Dictionary is
1 an establishment which provides cheap food and lodging for a specific group of people, such as students, workers, etc.
2 an inn providing accommodation.
HostelWorld has created a petition to rectify this, choosing to promote the following definition:
Budget, fun, sociable accommodation for people of all ages

I whole-heartedly agree with this and have signed the petition here. I urge you to do the same.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hostel Review: Buffalo HI Hostel

I flew into Buffalo on my way to the Toronto Film Festival. At that time it was cheaper to fly to Buffalo and catch a bus to Toronto, than it was to fly to Canada directly. From the Buffalo airport you can catch a bus downtown that connects with the local light-rail that runs through the city. The Buffalo HI hostel was a nice, friendly hostel conveniently located at one of the light-rail stops. Everything was going good at this hostel when I arrived. I went over to the Anchor Bar to sample the "Original" Buffalo wings, and I gave my extra wings to a guy that showed up after the kitchen closed. He was pretty friendly, and offered me some pot when the bar closed up. The area didn't seem all that safe, so I headed back to the hostel as quickly as possible. It wasn't until the next morning that I found out that the train outside would honk it's horn every time it passed the hostel. This was due to the train coming out a tunnel less than a block away. I had a bunk in the front room, and I couldn't sleep through that so I fell asleep in a bean bag chair in the basement of the hostel. I couldn't wait to get out of that hostel, and I caught a bus upto Toronto the following day.

The Buffalo HI Hostel was my first hostelling experience, and I haven't looked back ever since. The staff was very friendly, and I learned a valuable lesson about always bringing ear-plugs on my travels.

Note: I stayed in this hostel in Sept. 2002

City Review: Atlanta, GA

I have traveled to Atlanta at least twice, and I have good memories of the experience. My first trip through Georgia was along my cross-country drive from Houston, TX to Washington DC. I was starting grad school in Jan 2003 at The University of Maryland-College Park, and I packed all of my stuff in my car for the trip. I decided to avoid driving through any snowy regions of the Appalachian mountains by driving up the Eastern coast. This plan worked out well, and the roads were easily navigable by my 1995 Ford Mustang.



This peach water tower was one of the cool road-side sights along my drive. I found some parking near the Atlanta International Hostel and checked in for the night. [check back for my hostel review]



It was already late in the evening, and I decided to seek out "The Varsity", a famous eatery for Georgia Tech students. The servers will always ask "What'll ya have? What'll ya have?" Here is a video with a little of the history:



The next morning I got an early start for the rest of my trip to DC.

I came back to Atlanta about a year later to meet with some colleagues at Georgia Tech, and I stayed in the same hostel for a few nights. I was able to take the CNN tour, and go see an Atlanta Braves game. The baseball tickets were less than $5 and hardly sold out, eventhough the team was #1 in their division.



Atlanta is well known for its history in the civil rights movement. A number of local tourist sites are a great opportunity for young people to learn about the nation's history.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Lonely Planet Empire

Rick Steves, last november interviewed Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet. Mr Wheeler had recently released a new book, "Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story." The book is an account of Mr. Wheeler's travels and the creation of the Lonely Planet empire.

The interview included a discussion of "travel guilt", a guilt common in Britain among travelers who regret traveling because it causes global warming. Carbon credits have become an important issue for travelers concerned with their carbon footprint. You can alculate your travel carbon footprint here.

I was so intrigued by the interview I purchased the book from Amazon.

I personally have always relied on Rick Steves' guides for the lists of museums, churches, and other tourist sites with his simple rating system. I have found that many more tourists travel with the Lonely Planet guides, but I find them a little too wordy on history and events. Rick Steves really "cuts to the chase" of where you should go and why. However, as I start to travel outside of Europe I expect Lonely Planet will be my best option.

Note: The interview from November 24, 2007, is also available as a podcast on iTunes.

News: Ryanair may offer cheap flights to Europe

Ryanair plots transatlantic price war
24 Sep 2008

Ryanair, this week, released some of the hottest news for the budget traveler looking towards Europe. With Aer Lingus sputtering like most big carriers, Ryanair is reinvigorated in taking it over. Ryanair could turn international travel between the US and Europe on its head and usher in a new era of cheap flights to and from Europe. A few years ago, I traveled to Europe via Ireland, and it was a great hopping point. Once in Ireland, I could pick from any number of countries that Ryanair flew to for less than 50 Euros. While this deal is not finalized and the new flights are still years away, budget travelers can take comfort in the future of cheap travel during the days of sky high gas prices.

Ryanair: Website

Hostel Closing: HI Galveston Hostel

The HI website recently announced due to the extensive damages caused by hurricane Ike, the Galveston, TX hostel will be closing permanently. The only other HI hostel in Texas is the Austin, TX hostel.

City Review: Atlantic City [Daytrip from Washington DC]



Greyhound offers the Lucky Streak® Service to Atlantic City, NJ Casinos from DC. The fare includes a cash-back bonus in the form of a voucher for casino chips. I gambled my casino chips at the nickel slots at the Trump Taj Mahal in order to win a free lunch buffet. I found the free lunch deal on the Fatwallet Hot Deals forum a bulletin board of great deals I have used on other occasions to buy cheap jerkey and computer parts. I had to keep playing the slot machine for an hour on my casino card, so I slowly inserted the nickels and hit the spin button at the slowest rate it would allow. The only annoying part about this plan was waiting inline for my free buffet coupon, while I listened to other people's stories about sitting through Time-share hard-sell pitches to get a $100 check. I stuffed myself with crab and desserts at the buffet before walking down the boardwalk.



The Taj Mahal had all sorts of carnival games on the pier by the casino. This seemed apropos considering these games are well-known for swindling the players out of their money. I spent the afternoon roaming the boardwalk.



That evening along the boardwalk there was a free jazz concert that I was able to watch before catching the bus back to DC.



After going to Las Vegas a few years before, I was pleasantly surprised with Atlantic City. Outside of the casinos, there is a busy boardwalk along the beach, where you can swim, shop, or just people watch. Atlantic City has something to offer besides blowing your money in the slot machines.

Note: I took this trip in 2003.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hostel News: Hearing for New Hyannis Hostel Delayed

A new 47-bed hostel in Hyannis, MA, is in the planning stages, and requires a change in the zoning of the property to move forward. The building was formerly the home of Ruth Rusher, who left it after her death to be turned into a hostel, run by HI. Ken Komenda of the neighboring, Cape Cod Harbor House Inn, voiced opposition to the rezoning, wanting “no youth hostels next door with inebriated individuals” who may be “creating a disturbance right next to our property.” [1] The Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce also opposed the rezoning for the hostel. Attorneys for the Ruth Rush Trust and a rep. of HI, expected a tamer clientele, such as Girl Scout and church groups.

City zoning is just one of the obstacles to starting a hostel, and it isn't surprising neighbors and competitors will use the stereotype of rowdy, drunk hostelers to keep them away.

Another take from wickedlocal.com: here

1. The Barnstable Patriot 2.0, "Hyannis hostel proposal moved to Oct. 2 council meeting", Sept. 26, 2008.

Friday, September 26, 2008

HostelWorld Travel Videos: What is a Hostel?

HostelWorld recently released a series of travel videos from their around the world traveler, Colm Hanratty. Here is a great introductory video to hostelling:

What is a hostel?




A hostel is simply a hotel with shared dorm-style rooms sometimes with an available kitchen, but really it is so much more. The best hostels nurture a friendly atmosphere of camaraderie between travelers where they share information about their travels, themselves, or life in general.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rick Steves Thought of the Day

I have always identified with Rick Steves' ability to find and use hidden gems of knowledge about a city. He litters his books with tips and tricks that save time and money that many guides overlook to pontificate on some factoid that will be obvious once you actually visit.

I found this great quote from The Zen of Journaling on his blog:

Your journey is a facet of your broader life. Journaling thoughtfully relates your travel experiences to your life in general. It brings meaning to eurekas that might otherwise have eluded you. Collecting intimate details on the road and then distilling them into your travel journal sharpens your ability to observe and builds a souvenir you'll cherish for a lifetime.


I always get a virtual high when I travel to a new place, and revisiting my journals is a great way to reproduce that feeling once the vacation is over. On a previous blog post I have mentioned the same phenomenon with collecting souvenirs of my travel, and thinking more about that I realized a big part of reliving the experience is based on sharing the stories of my travels with other.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Beach a Block Away [Freeport, Grand Bahama Island]

Airtran started flights to Grand Bahama Island while I was living in DC, and I picked up some of their really cheap, introductory flights about 5 years ago. Airlines often offer discounted fares when they are starting a new route,and I also picked up a similar deal on my flight from NYC to Cologne, a new route from Continental. GBI doesn't have any real character, but they have some nice white sand beaches. The flight was probably about $110 round-trip, and with a $75 hotel stay, $200 for a trip to paradise is unbeatable.

beach

My hotel, a block away from the beach, didn't have a view of the beach, a pool, or even working lights in my room, but it only charged me $25 a night. I found the hotel on a hostel booking site, and I suspect they were desparate to book any rooms. This was a steal compared to the resorts around the island. Before booking I checked google maps normal and satellite view to make sure I wouldn't be sleeping away from the tourist areas. I was on the first floor of the hotel shown below.

hotel

The hotel was across the street from a much nicer hotel, and the beach above was in front of that hotel. The hotel required a boat ferry ride to get to and from the town center, and I rode many of the local "buses" to different corners of the island. On the north side of the island they fished the meat from these conch shells.

conch shells

A nice perk of traveling to the carribbean is the availability of Cuban cigars and Havana-Club rum, and I enjoyed these in the evening while waiting for the ferry back to my hotel.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Are Staycations Here To Stay?

"With research showing that many households plan to cut back on summer travel — a Rand McNally survey found two-thirds plan to shorten or cancel summer road trips". [USA Today - 5/24/08]

About a month ago, Good Morning America featured a writer from "Travel" magazine who suggested checking-in to a local hotel as a way to get away. I am not sure why a travel magazine would stoop so low to get on national television, but I can sure savor the irony.

The summer is over, and gas prices have pulled back 15-20% from summer highs. Hopefully, "staycations" and all of the marketing dollars behind them will die their well deserved death. I also can't imagine how sleeping in a different bed and flipping a remote attached to the night stand could be construed as a vacation.

Salon.com had a great piece on staycations. Ugh...I cringe every time I type the word.

The recent economic turmoil and high gas prices are a great opportunity for the budget travel industry. While campsites, hostels, budget bus services, and other members of this group don't have a large marketing budget, the internet is really the key to attracting customers. I am not sure there is a place that can put all of the budget travel pieces together for new or experienced budget travelers.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Brother, can you spare a dollar?

BusinessWeek recently featured an article about discount bus operators, BoltBus, DC2NY, Vamoose, and Megabus.

The new competition in the inter-city bus travel industry is pushing prices as low as $1 for a trip to NYC. While I suspect you need sniping software to get this cheap fare, many seats are available much cheaper than you can find on Greyhound. I found some for $6 in November on MegaBus [NYC <-> BOS]. The buses even offer such amenities as power plugs and Wi-Fi for techno-travelers.

While NYC may not be at the top of your list of desired destinations, it can be a great launching point for cheap flights around the world. I have personally flown out of NYC after arriving on the bus from Boston and DC, and I saved hundreds of dollars on European flights. These bus companies are expanding, so hopefully they will start offering similar fares to international hubs like Houston, Miami, and Los Angeles.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Travel Tips: Souvenirs

Souvenirs are a great way to memorialize a location, event, or experience on your trip. I love to purchase posters of maps of the cities I visit, and also local liquers that I can drink at home while reminiscing about my travels. However hauling them around in my luggage can be ... well, simply a drag. On my last trip to Europe I decided I didn't want to carry my purchases around for 3 weeks, so I mailed them home when I came across a post office. This plan was a godsend, and left me free to roam new cities with out needing to immediately drop my stuff at the hostel or at the train station, which I would later have to return to to collect my things.

HostelBookers Hostel Videos

HostelBookers has uploaded an impressive set of hostel videos to the TripAdvisor site, including a number of hostels I have visited: Camping Village Alba d'Oro (Venice), Four Courts Hostel (Dublin), The Bulldog (Amsterdam).

Check them out here.

Hostel News: 747 Converted into Jumbo Hostel [Stockholm, Sweden]



Jumbo Hostel
http://www.jumbohostel.com

The Stockholm-Arlanda Airport will soon have a new lodging option for weary travelers, but this isn't any ordinary over-priced airport hotel. The Jumbo Hostel is an 85 bed hostel contained inside a converted 747 jumbo jet, if you can believe it. With 3 bunk beds per room the jet has a total of 25 rooms inside. I've spent my fair share of nights "sleeping" in an airport lobby, and I can say this is a great option if you are flying out of Stockholm. In case you haven't tried sleeping overnight in an airport before an early morning flight, it usually involves being awaken repeatedly by security guards to verify your departing flight.

The hostel contains a cafe, and the website suggests visitors can also heat up any food they bring on. That's some real "old-world" charm circa 1976.

The one caveat I was reminded of when reading about the "de luxe" suites in the airplane cockpit is the fact that airports are just about the noisiest place in any city. Although you might have a comfortable bed, you will probably need to sleep with the super-protective headphones worn by the airplane ground crews if the hostel is anywhere near a runway.

The hostel is not open, yet, but check their website if you are heading to Sweden in the future.

Found on Tree Hugger

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Boston Hostel in The Boston Globe

There was a great article Sept. 12 in The Boston Globe about the Boston HI Hostel. Last year, 32,800 hostellers came through Boston, a 60% increase over 1995 numbers, and the hostel is expanding the number of beds from 205 to 375, an 80% increase. A visitor was even quoted as describing the hostel as "quiet, [...] clean, [and] reliable". The article also mentions one of the biggest driving forces of hostelling in the US is foreign travelers taking advantage of the weak dollar.

With the media promoting "stay-cations", hostels are a great alternative that I don't think many Americans know about, yet. This article filled with useful facts and a glowing endorsement of hostelling is great publicity for local hostels.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Website Review: HostelWorld.com

HostelWorld.com is the first place I go to book hostels online. The site has a large selection of available hostels with an easy to navigate result listing that includes availability, price, and a feedback score. I have booked hostels in the US and Europe on this site, and I have always found the hostel had my booking when I arrived. While not totally comprehensive, many smaller hostels are available for reservation. One of the nicest things about HostelWorld is the lack of bogus listings for hotels that clutter up the hostel results like on other sites. If I wanted to book a cheap hotel there are plenty of other sites that can provide that service.

If I find that a hostel on this site doesn't show available beds, I have in the past called the hostel directly and booked over the phone. Additionally, I have booked beds directly through a hostel's website or over email when a hostel is not available on HostelWorld. So, there are a number of options available for making reservations besides this site. While many people have in the past (including myself) just shown up at a hostel without a reservation, I wouldn't suggest it since I have been at many hostels where people are turned away. (usually at some ridiculous hour in the morning) The peace-of-mind of a reservation can be nice especially at the beginning of a trip to Europe when you are tired from the jetlag and just want to get some sleep.

One of the most annoying problems with hostel reservations is the inability to cancel at the last minute. Like any other frequent traveler, I have been burned by the canceled reservation charge. Usually amounting to one nights stay, this can be an annoying charge, but the opposite scenario of having to stay at a hotel when no beds are available can be even more expensive. The one time I did have to cancel a reservation the reception guy offered me a free beer as a consolation, which was a kind gesture even though I was out $25. On the other hand, when I arrived in Milan with out a reservation, I ended up having to take a night train to Rome packed on fold out seats with 4 other people. I wouldn't recommend it to my worst enemy.

Note that hostelworld usually charges a 10% deposit fee, so it is good to bring a copy of your receipt to the hostel so you are not charged the 10% again when you check in. I am sure I have been burned by this before, but couldn't prove it because I didn't have the booking receipt with me. Some hostels will charge a few extra dollars if you are not a member of HI/AYH, which is not usually represented in the HostelWorld bill. I have tried over the years to get a membership by collecting the membership stickers often available at European hostels, but usually end up going to several hostels that have run out or are unaffiliated before the stickers expire.

Note also that hostelworld charges a booking fee of $2 unless you are a gold member, which costs $10 for a year-long membership. I received a gold membership a few years ago, and have been booking hostels ever since.

HostelWorld.com now contains many more features including social networking, frequent travel points, etc., but I haven't used many of these. However, I did notice they have a blogger named Colm who travels around the world and writes about his experiences. That's a sweet gig.

Hostel Review: The Circus Hostel [Berlin, Germany]

I arrived at The Circus Hostel late in the evening after missing my earlier flight from Madrid. I like to arrive at a hostel during the day due to some having lock-out periods and it just makes it easier to find. I wouldn't suggest wandering around a new city at night. Check-in was easy, and I grabbed some food from the chatty vendor across the street. He asked me about the Red Sox, but I had to admit I didn't pay attention to that. I bought an awesome gyro for a few euros, and ate it in the downstairs bar of the hostel. Much to my surprise the bar was dedicated to David Hasselhof. I remember it having some sort of shrine, and they were playing old episodes of Night Rider on a projector. The hostel offered a free drink at the bar (awesome!), and I headed to bed shortly after.

The hostel was very modern and clean with large rooms. There is a small lounge in the entrance with an attached cafe that offers a breakfast for a few Euros. The hostel advertised cheap (bus?) rides between cities that seemed like a great deal. I met an interesting girl at breakfast who mentioned how difficult it is to navigate in China due to the signs and maps not being in a language with recognizable characters. It sounded like quite a challenge. Another girl had a Sony UMPC that looked really handy for going online while traveling. I have since bought a Nokia N800 and iPhone, both of which have been useful companions on my travels. I can't imagine lugging around a full-size notebook.

I only had about a day before I needed to catch a train back to Cologne, so all I remember doing was having some tasty hot dogs and beers before I went to see the piece of the Berlin wall that was still intact.

I didn't take any pictures of the hostel, but this video has a great review. (albeit in german)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Website Review: Hostel Management

Hostel Management
http://www.hostelmanagement.com

HostelManagement.com has an interesting look at the business of running a hostel. I was intrigued to read about people who had started hostels. Check out this interview with a hostel owner in Silverton, CO who turned a poorly managed hostel into a thriving business. I have only ever stayed at one hostel where I recognize the problems this guy was having. The Key West hostel had many drifters, and a guy was arrested in my dorm for drug posession one night. (I slept through it due to my ear plugs :) Keep posted for my hostel review of this dive.

They also include a great News section about new hostels, contests, and related travel news. This article suggests there is going to be a new hostel opening on the cape!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Video: AT&T Commercial, The Techno Twins: Vlad and Dieter



I always crack up when I see this commercial about being stuck in a crummy hostel.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Royal Navy Toasts



Monday: Our ships at sea
Tuesday: Our men
Wednesday: Ourselves (as no one is likely to concern themselves with our welfare)
Thursday: A bloody war and quick promotion
Friday: A willing soul and sea room
Saturday: Sweathearts and wives may they never meet
Sunday: Absent friends and those at sea

The iphone camera isn't great for close focus pictures.

British VI Rum



I picked up this cool flask of rum on the British VI. Interestingly, it is ceramic and has a cork under that metal cap.

Paradise for Pennies [St. John, USVI]



St. John is one of the most beautiful islands I have traveled to with lush vegetation, bright white beaches, and crystal clear water. Most of the island is a national park kept pristine from commercial development. The island is a quick boat ride from St. Thomas, and it offers affordable camping at Cinnamon Bay. When I visited, I wasn't able to stay overnight on the island, but I will never forget the remarkable difference from St. Thomas. While St. Thomas is where most tourists visit as a stop on a cruise ship, St. John is the real crown jewel of the US Virgin Islands. I hope to camp on the island in the not too distant future, which can run from $30/night for a bare camping site to $100/night for a cabin.

The above picture of the harbor was taken from the trail to a deserted beach. I remember it being incredibly hot, and we were anxious to cool off in the water.

After writing this post, I was reminded of the popularity of eco-tourism, and I wonder if the US National Parks are taking advantage of this trend. The park system offers some of the most affordable and easy access to our nation's natural splendor.

Website Review: Hostel Bloggers

http://www.hostelbloggers.com/

Hostel Bloggers is a blog site (affiliated with hostelbookers.com) I came across while searching for other bloggers discussing cheap travel. I was keen to read their review of Leiden, a city in the Netherlands I visited last year. The review accurately reflects the city, but it didn't persuade me to see or not see the city.

The site reviews many cities, events, travel deals, and of course hostels, but it doesn't seem to have any real character. All of the posts are unattributed, thus suggesting it is an edited mix of marketing materials and travel guides. I hope my blog can represent something about myself that is unique from this site.

I plan to bring more interesting and elaborate stories from my travels to this blog over the coming months.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hostel Review: Eastener Hostel [Berlin, Germany]

Eastener hostel is a small, inexpensive hostel with a kitchen and friendly atmosphere in Eastern Berlin. My room was smaller than the others, and luckily I had it all to myself during the week. The hostel also includes a public PC, kitchen, and there is a grocery store nearby. It was within walking distance of bars and cool music clubs. I saw a cool punk band at one bar, and a local tourist pub crawl came through the bar. Another band did a cover of Michael Jackson, something I have almost never seen in the US. A number of the bars/clubs were located in cool underground vaults and offered plenty of cheap beers. I was amazed when I walked in late to one of the shows, and they actually cut the cover charge in half. The eastern part of the city had a cool, young vibe, and I also stayed later at "The Circus" Hostel in Berlin.

Note: I visited this hostel in April 2007

Hostel Review: Bull Dog Hostel [Amsterdam, Netherlands]



The Bull Dog Hostel also affiliated with the Bull Dog "Coffee Shop", is the most commercial and character-less hostel I have ever stayed at. It is located in the Red-light district, convenient for tourists looking to take part in the vices of Amsterdam. I went to see a Jazz band playing in the Red-light district, but I turned out to be one of the only 5 people who showed up. I also went to see a show at Paradiso, which featured an opening rock band that was cool. There was some loud dance stuff playing after that, so I left early. I attended a film screening at the new Amsterdam concert hall that offered free drinks and h'ordeurves. I think it was a restored silent film, but the introduction was all read in Dutch. Luckily the film was captioned in English. I loaded up on free drinks, which was an awesome deal.

Hostel Review: Flying Pig Beach Hostel [Noordwijk, Netherlands]



I arrived at the Flying Pig Beach hostel over Easter Weekend, since the Amsterdam hostels were full. It's location also offered a quick trip to see the beautiful tulips that were blooming. The hostel was close to the boardwalk and the beach, and the hostel bar offered a great happy hour deal. The hostel had a very friendly atmosphere and contained a small kitchen for cooking while also offering a free breakfast. The hostel was small and didn't have many bathrooms, but had a certain gritty charm. The hostel was accessible by bus from Leiden, but wasn't exactly an easy find.

Boston boats

Boston Hostel

The Boston hostel located near the Berkeley School of Music was my first home in Boston while I frantically searched for an apartment. I would park downtown a few blocks away and hope all of my posessions would still be there in the morning. My job in Burlington offered me a reverse commute, but I would spend my evenings driving around Medford looking at places to sublease for the summer. The hostel reminds me of the uninspired decorating of a college student, but it did offer a nice breakfast to lift my spirits for the journey out of downtown boston (no small feat for someone w/o GPS). The people I met at the hostel seemed mostly on the way to somewhere else. Either they were headed to the hustle of NYC or a camp in Maine. I see Boston the same way today, a stopover in life.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Brugge, Belgium [Bruges]



Bruges is a beautiful old city with canals and cheap beers to die for. The local brewery is "De Halve Maan" brewery that offers what I think was called "Brugse Zot" that had a dancing jester on it. The hostel I stayed in, Snuffel Backpacker hostel, wasn't the greatest hostel ever, but it had a bar with cheap beers. (and you don't have to tip the bartender!!) Scratch that, it was the greatest hostel ever. The town, easily previewed by watching the film "In Bruges", has an old world charm and cheap spaghetti in a cup. A few girls I met from Britain informed me of the spaghetti deal. This was the first city I experienced the wonders of Belgian beers, and it will always remind me of that "ah-ha" moment when I found I truly love beer.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Spanish brandy



A tasty brandy I probably bought at the Madrid airport as I was leaving. The bottle doesn't really have a very interesting story, but it reminds me of the streets of Madrid. There was something about Madrid that made it seem dirty, not in a extreme sense, but more raw than many other European cities. The only other bottle I bought in Spain was a cheap wine at the grocery store for a few Euros, that was unforgettable at best.

The best drinking experience I had in Madrid was at a restaurant near the Modern Art museum. I ordered the "Grande" sangria with a girl I had met at the hostel, but she didn't seem too interested in having some. So, I had a whole pitcher of Sangria to myself, and three quarters of the way though it I was feeling pretty good.

Hostel Review: Wombat's Hostel [Vienna, Austria]

Wombat's Vienna Hostel
I learned about the wombat's hostel from a Top 10 list of hostels on Hostelworld. This hostel was one of the nicest and cleanest hostels I have ever stayed in. It felt new and clean, and the rooms were large with accompanying bathrooms. I traveled there probably in the summer of 2003 or 2004, after visiting Venice. The hostel was kind of out of the way, but convenient to get to tourist destinations. I enjoyed Schonbrun castle and the musical film festival they held. Vienna was a nice city, but I wouldn't put on a top ten list. The hostel had a bar and outdoor lounge, but I don't recall a kitchen.

City Review: Las Vegas

Don't bother; crass to the extreme.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hostel Review: Cat's Hostel - Madrid




Cat's Hostel in Madrid is one of the most beautiful hostels I have stayed in. It isn't much to look at from the street, but inside is a 17th century palace with a great courtyard and mosaics. It is located within a few blocks of the subway, and it is within easy walking distance to a grocery store. The hostel also includes a bar in the basement which hosts local music groups. They had a cheap payaya night that was very tasty, and they served a free continental breakfast when I was there. They also offered a beer vending machine but no kitchen. The hostel had 3 computers with internet access that were often in use, but there was also free wifi in the hostel.

I think the biggest drawback to this hostel was the small room size, and I would recommend getting a room with the fewest possible number of beds. The beds were about 2 feet apart, and my room contained a snorer as usual.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Summer concerts

The Boston Landmark Orchestra performed a concert dedicated to Red Sox and Apple Pie. I only recognized Sousa and Leonard Bernstein on the program, and Bernstein because of "the maestro" on Seinfeld.

Sent from my iPhone

Red Sox Concert

Boston Landmark Orchestra