Category Archives: frugal traveling

Travel Tip Tuesday: How To Save Big Bucks Getting From Airport To Your Destination

One of my road rules is to never fly in or out of New York (or any other metropolis) during rush hour. It can be unpredictable and add undue stress to your trip. But on a recent trip to the Apple, I had no other choice because I needed to make an event. I would have never made it taking a cab or car from the airport into the city – it was that close.

That’s how I discovered NJ Transit.

EWR AND NEC TERMINALThe trick is to fly into Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.  At Newark, the AirTrain Network makes frequent stops at all the airline terminals, rental car facilities, etc. But… it also connects to NJ Transit which has rail lines to take you to Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan.

AirTrain comes every three minutes, except on Sundays, and it takes about 10 minutes to get to NJ Transit from your terminal.


If all goes smoothly – no delays, etc, you can be at Penn Station 40-45  minutes after starting at the airport.

Although you can’t always count on it taking 45 minutes or so to get into the city – always plan for more time just in case – what you can count on is saving money. While a car may cost you $70 to go to the airport or into the city, the train costs a mere $12.50! Round trip that is a nice savings. If you want to stay on the budget route, take the subway from Penn Station to your next destination for $2.50.

photoGranted, if you are out for comfort, or have a lot of luggage, you may want that car or cab. The train isn’t uncomfortable at all, it just involves some shlepping  However, I love the rush of a train station – I’m energized by the hustle bustle, the great people watching, and all the street performers doing their thing underground.

Tip: Buy your round trip ticket on the first leg of your trip so you don’t have to wait in line on the return portion of your trip.

Many other cities offer train service that is cheaper and convenient – BART in the Bay Area, or the “L” in Chicago.

Happy Travels!!


Hotel of the Week: $200 A Night In New York City!

Despite the uber-expensive hotel rooms that proliferate New York City, there are some very affordable, AND clean hotels that are easy on the wallet. You just need to know where to look. Some of these hotels aren’t on the travel planning websites, but some are. I found one I would revisit on Expedia.

When I was in New York last week, hotel rooms were booked solid due to the United Nations meetings.

The Franklin Hotel

The Franklin Hotel

And I am glad, because I discovered the lovely Franklin Hotel on ….THE UPPER EAST SIDE. I know you’re thinking – say what? An affordable hotel in that zip code?

The Franklin Hotel, NY

The Franklin Hotel, NY

Yes my friends – The Franklin is around $240 a night for a single room with king or queen bed. ( The price may vary a little bit depending on supply and demand.) For that amount, you could dip into the rest of your hotel budget and eat at Balthazar every night. It is located on 87th and Lexington – near subways and cute shops.

photoLet me tell you about the Franklin – I do admit I was  a little let down at first. The photos on it’s website make it look super splashy. Real life? Not so sexy, but European charming. So when I walked in the small lobby, I was worried to see the room. European charming can sometimes turn dowdy.

First, though, I was told, I should grab some wine and cheese in the complimentary happy hour in the sitting room. Huh. I grew more pleasantly surprised by the minute.

photoThe room didn’t disappoint – I was relieved. Nothing fancy, but modern, simple, and like I said, clean and quiet.

photoLet me just say though – calling it small is kind. The room left no excess space – only one person could definitely brush his or her teeth at the sink at a time, as it wasn’t part of the bathroom, and practically butted up against the bed.

The room is perfect for one person, could be crowded but doable for two… but if you are spending a lot of time in your room while in New York City, something is seriously wrong. This room is for people who need a clean, quiet place to sleep in an awesome, tree-lined, top-notch neighborhood.

photoThe hotel has charm, and was immaculate- even down to the shower grout (Oh yeah, I notice.) and had nice shampoos. The beds are comfortable, and there’s – FREE WiFi. Uh-huh. You know how I feel about that.

photoThe staff was incredibly helpful and nice… and the next morning? Complimentary European style, self-serve breakfast with a New York Times. Classy.

photoIt really did remind me of some of the quaint smaller hotels in which I have stayed in on budget trips to Europe. It has more personality than a generic chain.

photoLook at the doorknobs on the old elevator – inlaid with what looked like mother of pearl.

My one complaint, besides the room sizes, with which I can TOTALLY live, is that the hotel charges a “resort fee.” This is clearly no resort, no pool, or gym access – items to which the typical resort fee go.

So – basically, those free happy hours and breakfasts aren’t free, but cloaked in a “resort fee.” Just be honest, and charge me for the breakfast and don’t charge me a resort fee. (Resort fee is $12 a night)

To make things worse – and this isn’t the hotel’s fault – Expedia doesn’t tell you there will be a resort fee. Not cool.

But do check out the Franklin.  If you aren’t spending much time in your room, want a safe location, and want to put more of your trip budget into things to do in New York, rather than where you spend your sleeping hours, the Franklin is where dreams are made of….




Travel on the Super Duper Cheap


Nothing like Hawaiian coffee. I am on the Big Island and it came to me – as a coffee snob, I never really take advantage of the in-room coffee maker. Nope. Id’ rather drag myself out of bed, march down to the hotel coffee bar, and order a $5.00 latte.

But – my tip to you fellow java hounds may be obvious, and I admit, super cheap, but no denying it is practical.

If your hotel provides free in-room bottled water, a coffee maker, and most importantly, GOOD coffee, take advantage of that in-room maker. Especially in a place like Hawaii where so often the beans are local and good – Kona coffee black or with cream?

For a week long trip, it could save you close to $100 for two coffees in the morning, you don’t have to leave the kids to do down to the coffee bar – and quite frankly, depending on your room, it is relaxing to enjoy it from your balcony or overlooking a view.

If the hotel doesn’t give you bottled water, ask if the tap is filtered.

I warned you this was a super cheap tip.

Now – if you want to make your love for coffee a part of your overall trip, many destinations have coffee plantation tours where you can immerse yourself in the local agricultural business.
The tours teach you about coffee from bean to cup. Some are set in beautiful locations like a rain forest. If you want to bring some home, chances are it might be easier to order from the website once you get home unless you have room in your luggage 🙂

Here are some websites to explore for Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii….Now go enjoy your cup of joe.



Happy Travels With My Mom… An Affordable Way To See The World With Grandparents #homeswap

Travel With Family

When I was a young girl, my mom made family trips a priority. Many years later…  and with  three young children of my own, she and her husband were able to come with us to France for the price of airfare only.

Provence, France

See… we did a home exchange in France for one glorious month. The beautiful thing about a home exchanges is that unlike getting separate hotel rooms, you can swap your home for a villa with multiple bedrooms so your family and your parents can all stay together for …. FREE. Yes, no money is exchanged. It is a wonderful way to travel with extended family.

There are many pluses to this….

Our Home Exchange in the French Riviera

First off, some on fixed incomes have an affordable and comfortable  place to stay. Ours in the French Riviera had a guest house – perfect set up for grandparents coming along.

And…not only are the accommodations free, but you have the option of eating meals at home, saving money there too. And you don’t have to sacrifice culture – if you’ve ever shopped in the Parisian markets or grocery stores for a home cooked meal, you know the experience of which I am talking.

Secondly – bringing along Grandma and Grandpa can work out fabulously for some adult time! You have willing and happy built in babysitters for a night out with your partner.

Winetasting in Chateauneuf du Pape

Or, they can be company in fun activities! Since my mom and her husband like wine tasting, they were my company in the world class Chateauneuf du Pape region!

Then there are the benefits for the kids…. they get to share a rare experience with their grandparents… and if you travel to a region of your heritage, grandparents can also provide illuminating facts about your family history.

Home swapping isn’t for everyone, I admit. The most common question I got was – “What did you do with all the stuff in your house” “Did it bother you to have other people stay in your house?” You have to be comfortable with people you don’t know living in your home. I talked to our exchange  family on the phone before hand, and one member even was in LA for business and we had him over for dinner, so I felt comfortable. I looked at it as company was staying at our house.

Truth be told, I talked to so many different potential Europeans about staying in our house, and discovered that most of them just want to use your home as a base to travel around, and quite possibly wouldn’t be there most of the time anyway.

There are many different companies that offer home exchange opportunities – usually you have to pay a nominal  yearly membership to have access to the listings. A couple that I have tried,or know someone who has tried are: and

Two bits of advice: Plan ahead – many of the better houses started making plans 10-12  months before the trip. Also – get traveler’s insurance. I did have one house cancel on me… luckily, I had enough time to find a replacement, but had it been closer to the travel time, it would have been much more difficult.

It is more work than simply booking a hotel – but worth it. I know my mom would say so 🙂

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!


Travel Tip Tuesday: Think You Can't Use Frequent Flier Miles Last Minute? Think Again!

I just booked a flight 30 days out using my frequent flier airline miles. No – that’s not a typo – only 30 days out, to the day.

It reminded me of a tip I often give: If you have an account with an airline, let’s say American, don’t just check with American to see if there open seats for using ff miles. Check all the partners – For example, American is partners with Air Tahiti, which has flights to Paris from LAX. Who would have thought to check with Air Tahiti to go to Paris?

Auckland, New Zealand

American is also partners with Air Pacific, and Qantas….. so if you are flying to New Zealand, you have more than one option. Air Pacific doens’t only fly to Fiji! You could book a departing flight on Air Pacific, and returning on Qantas.

THe catch here is that you have to go to mulitple websites because one airline doesn’t show its partners availabilities.

I realize this involves soem finesse, and it often gets complicated doing all the research about partner airlines and available flights to frequent fliers.  So in this instance, I would recommend calling the airlines., Yes, there will be a $25 or so fee for doing so, but if you can save $1000 on a flight and book with your miles, it is worth it.

Happy Travels!



Travel Tip Tuesday: Getting the Best International Fare


Thinking of taking a trip abroad soon?

Well, according to some travel research, there is a better time to do your ticket shopping.

According to Kayak travel website,  international airfares are at their lowest 34 days before the departure day. Another research group from Expedia found them to be lowest between one and three months out.

I found Kayak’s results to be true recently, but I am clearly not a scientific sample, it was just one incident.

Whatever you do, try not to wait until the last week – that’s when fares typically rise.

So according to the number crunchers, if you are thinking about a trip to Europe over spring break, this week will be the good time to look! (Another reason this is a good time is that airfare to Europe is most expensive in the summer.)

Happy Travels!


Would You Travel During Hurricane Season? Here's a Smart Way To Do It

"Hurricane Sandy"

Hurricane Hits the Caribbean from

Hurricane Sandy is on the East Coast….heading for the North Atlantic… after blasting the Bahamas and Cuba.

Cruise Ship

Cruise Ship

Dozens of cruise ships have rerouted itineraries…. and ships that port in New York are heading northward to beat the storm.

But what if places you wanted to visit are eliminated due to bad weather? It is not exactly the same cruise for which you paid.

This is a chance we travelers take when we book travel  near the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico between July and November. There are plenty of good reasons to travel during this period – prices are generally lower because it is hurricane season, and in many places not much rain.

One way to protect yourself, and I am a big fan, is to buy travel insurance. Some insurance providers sell a plan called “Cancel For Any Reason, ” which really follows it’s name. If your cruise ship is rerouted to places you’ve already been and don’t want to see them again… or some other reason….you can usually cancel two days before departure. It depends on what kind of plan you bought as to how much money you get back.

Hurricane Sandy in Florida, from Orlando Sentinel

Even if you don’t think anything could happen to you on a “safe” trip, there could always be a health issue or disruption from home that may preclude you from your plans.

Typically, you should count on insurance costing about 10% of your trip.

Here is an example of one policy that I found, so you can see if it would be valuable to you.

For two people traveling on a trip that costs $2000 per person, here is the coverage PER PERSON, even though the cost covers both people. This is one of the more comprehensive coverage plans:

Cost: $429 for the two travelers.

What it provides:

–$1,000,000 in emergency evacuation

—75% non-refundable costs if you employ “cancel for no reason”

–$50,000 in rental car collision

–$2,000 in trip cancellation

–$3,500 in trip delay

Plus, baggage coverage, regular medical coverage that doesn’t involve evacuation, etc.

If nothing else, wouldn’t the $429 be worth the peace of mind?

There are plenty of websites to help you:, and are just two.

Have a great weekend, and you on the East Coast, stay safe.

Travel Tip Tuesday: Book Flights Now For Thanksgiving


If you are planning on traveling for your turkey, and haven’t booked your airline ticket, you should do it ASAP to save money. According to Cheap Air, ticket prices are already 6% higher than the same time last year. Fares will only go up as supply dwindles.

According to a spokesman at FareCompare any ticket for 500 miles that is $120 or less is a TOTAL bargain. For 500-1500 miles, $300 or less is cheap.


Of course, keep in mind the old travel secrets for the busiest travel days of the year – if you can be flexible in your booking dates, that can pay off. Leave Tuesday or Thanksgiving morning  instead of Wed evening if possible…and come home Saturday or Monday.

Try to book the first flight of the day  and fly non-stop so you don’t get caught up in delays that may occur as the day goes on.

By the way – if you are one of those who likes to collect free tickets, then book during the busiest time possible – you are more likely to be asked to volunteer your seats in exchange for airline credits or tickets! I have seen this happen many times flying over Thanksgiving.

Most of all – good luck getting to where you want to be…with whom  you want to spend time. 🙂


Travel Tip Tuesday: Work Your Hotel for Better Prices and Experience

There’s some good news/bad news for we travelers who like nice hotels.

Ravel Hotel, Long Island City, NY

Good news: Hotels are spending $5 billion in improvements in 2012…. renovating lobbies and rooms, and installing flat screen tvs, high speed internet service, and nicer beds. Yay!

Some higher end hotels like the Bel Air in Los Angeles, the New York Mondrian SoHo, some in the Four Seasons’ chain are even adding iPads – a nice convenience that allows guests to order room service, call for a taxi, set a wake up alarm, or request a bill for check out.

The bad news: Why are they doing all this? Hotels have seen higher occupancy than in years past, and are charging higher room rates and fees. So the average traveler needs to be equipped with road warrior knowledge to make smart travel decisions:

–When booking a room, instead of settling for high prices, do a little homework without spending way too much time. If you find what you think is a good price on a travel website, call the hotel desk directly – not the 800 number – and ask if they can do better. They have access to exactly how many rooms are left, and a manager can make a pretty good assessment if they are going to sell out – or if he or she should cut you a better deal to get your business.

Those travel websites take a mark up, so you won’t be paying for that by going directly to the front desk.

–Also – when asking for recommendations for activities or restaurants, use a reliable website like Trip Advisor or Yelp to read reviews from locals. Or ask someone at the hotel other than the concierge. I have found concierges often recommend the same places… and aren’t always the better ones, just ones who are marketing to the concierge, or places they have known about for years and haven’t bothered to update their repertoire. Many times, they are more expensive.

Have a great day!




The Best Time To Book A Flight

I am often asked the best time to purchase an airline ticket. Although is is impossible to be totally accurate, since sales can happen at a moment’s notice, a recent study sheds some light on ways for you to save money on air tickets. found that booking flights 21 days before departure will garner the best prices. A study back in January said 6 weeks in advance brings you the lowest prices…. however, this more current study found tickets about $28 dollars cheaper 21 days before.

One thing both studies did agree on: Booking the week of travel is when tickets skyrocket – by around 30%. With airlines cutting back on flights, there is more demand and less supply, so they can raise prices.

Even considering the 21 day better fare conclusion, I still would suggest getting your holiday plans together now since that is a crazy-busy time to travel!

Anyone going any place interesting?