Hello! I'm Lauren, a young producer living in Los Angeles, and I'm thrilled to be a new contributor here! This column, PARTY DOWN, will feature ways to save while having fun. Having worked through my own debt, I know how easy it is to feel like you can't do anything or go anywhere or buy anything special while saving. But with a little resourcefulness, I found that I could have a more creative life than ever. Part of why I love And Then We Saved is its emphasis on living well while saving. So PARTY DOWN will include roundups of parties, trips, and everyday adventures, all under the price tag of $100 (so it's in line with Anna's Spending Diet limit for “non-needs”). To begin, I was inspired by my recent trip to New York….
How To Have a NY WEEKEND UNDER 100 DOLLARS…
TRAVEL: Although this budget may not get you very far by air, bus trips are probably easier, safer, and cheaper than you think. Megabus and BoltBus both offer super low rates to a wide range of city destinations if you book several weeks ahead. (Prices start at mere dollars and go up as more people book). My sister made the trip out from Philadelphia via Megabus in just 2 hours. Even if you were able to drive yourself into the city, parking costs alone would be more than this.
If you absolutely have to fly:
- Check out your spendable miles. Those of us with credit card debt (and even those without) might have accrued some free miles to use on certain flights. It's well worth the effort to find out.
- Watch airlines for crazy deals. If you're flexible with travel times, you can find awesome promotions and last-minute low fares. On 12/12/12, JetBlue was offering $12 flights out of Long Beach! Join an email list or two if you have your heart set on going somewhere, and watch for offers like a hawk.
- Pack light and pack a lunch. Most airlines are charging for checked bags and in-flight food now, and we all know how upcharged airport food is. I love this idea for a plane picnic, and this roundup of healthy travel food looks amazing. Also, take an empty water bottle you can fill up after passing through security.
TRANSPORT: As New York an experience a cab ride is, your wallet will be better off foregoing taxis for the extremely convenient Metro system. There are a number of free smartphone apps to help you navigate it, but I found the easiest one to use was actually just Google Maps. You can take 5-6 subway/bus trips on about $15, and embrace the walk for anything else. Because there is so much insane architecture to see in the city, you get the most out of walking anyway.
ACCOMMODATION: My travel philosophy is to go where friends are. Because: 1) They can usually offer you a free place to stay. 2) They can show you all the amazing stuff you'd never discover if you were a lone tourist. 3) When I'm on a tight budget, my priorities–to see those I love–always win out. So obviously, my first recommendation is to crash at a friend's home. If you can't make that happen, this hostel in Brooklyn looks pretty rad. You could stay one night for about $57 after taxes. (NOTE: While I was working on this post, there were off-season weekend nights available at $40. Now there are still $50/night dates, but you have to do some looking and be flexible!) There's free wi-fi, free breakfast, and free fondue or BBQ (depending on season) on Fridays and Sundays. There's even an amazing kitchen that would help you avoid the money trappings of eating out all the time on vacation. Of course if you could save this expense, you could allocate it to an off-broadway play, comedy show, or fancy dinner out. If you don't have the cash or a place to stay, then consider popping into the city for just a day and jam-packing it with activities.
PARKS & MUSEUMS: There are gorgeous free parks parks everywhere in New York, including the iconic Central Park, the The High Line city walk (pic), and the idyllic Prospect Park. On Sundays at 11am-1pm, the Frick Museum, home of stunning European masterpieces, admission is “pay what you like.” You might want to check out special times or student rates at other museums, too. (When I visited MoMA, I considered using my old student ID for $11 off, which reminded me of this post by Anna).
FOOD & DRINK: Obviously, this won't cover the whole of your food for the trip–and hopefully you have some money allocated to your “needs” for weekend eating–but it does hit some important bases. Pizza (pic) is a must. You can find it much cheaper and quicker than at Di Fara, where you might wait an hour for a $5 slice made lovingly by the legendary owner Dom DeMarco, but sometimes when you're traveling, the experience is part of what you're paying for. Pizza still being relatively cheap, and pretty well done in New York, I had it for lunch from different spots every day of my trip. (My favorite was Rubirosa‘s vodka pie). Another quintessential New York meal that doesn't cost a lot is the generous diner breakfast. I fell in love with Johny's Luncheonette, where the owners cook in front of you and know the name and order of everyone who comes in. A breakfast platter including coffee is about $7. McSorely's Old Ale House, a sawdust-on-the-ground bar where Abraham Lincoln is said to have once drunk, offers only 2 types of beer (“light” and “dark”), which come only in pairs, for $5.
SOUVENIR: Westsider Books, a tiny rare and used bookstore is a really cool place to duck into when city streets get overwhelming. Peruse the shelves and pick out a paperback to remember your trip by for $1. (pic)
HOW TO GET THE MOST MILAGE OUT OF YOUR TRAVEL PENNIES
- Consider what you value most in a vacation, and let that guide your purchases. Is it getting pictures with famous spots? Learning new trivia? Just relaxing? For me it's seeing and eating things I couldn't find at home, like historic neighborhoods and East Coast rye and waiting forever just to watch a guy make my perfect pizza. Some will get a lot out of buying the audio tour, and others might just prefer to spend the afternoon at a cool happy hour with friends.
- Come prepared. Particularly, check out things like weather and locations to avoid having to buy things like umbrellas or shoe inserts on the trip. If you'll need a winter coat, make sure you have or can borrow it before you leave. And if you're staying with friends, you can probably borrow a lot when you get there.
- When in Rome. Chances are the people who live in expensive cities have found a way to afford living in that expensive city, so pay attention to the locals. They'll have great recommendations that avoid the cheesy tourist traps and won't blow your savings.
- Pack snacks. A few Larabars or a handful of almonds will get you through those crazy-exhausted hungers that might otherwise have you impulse-buying anything near.
- Read 8 Ways to Save Money While Traveling and 6 More Ways from a previous ATWS guester.
- Parks, you guys! If you're from a big city and visiting another big city, like me, parks provide the loveliest escapes. Parks are plentiful, diverse, and usually free.
How else would you save while traveling? I'd love to hear other tips, tricks, and recommendations!
Lauren Johnson is a filmmaker/producer living in West Hollywood who enjoys a great foreign thriller, leisure beers, and non-primary colors. Lauren is also the creator of LOCONCEPTS.
P.S. I LOVE Airbnb because it lets me feel like a local while also helping me save money on food costs (since I can use the kitchen!) CLICK HERE to get $55 for you to use on your 1st trip!