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.,
Jazz on South Beach Hostel, 321 Collins Ave.,
South Beach Hostel, 235 Washington Ave.,
Clay Hotel and Hostel, 1438 Washington Avenue,

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.

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

I received a comment from Johann from, 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.