Start spreading the news … traveling on a budget

Mike and I stand in line to get into “The Late Show.”

The first part of our trip nearly scared me to death. Woodstock Independent news editor Mike Neumann and I sat in an Airbus A330 on its approach to New York’s LaGuardia. The plane was being raked by 30-mph winds — we were constantly dipping, rising and making stomach-churning rocking motions as we could see the runway. For a moment, I thought our trip — the whole reason for which be- ing cheap tickets to New York — would end as a pile of seats, engine pieces and $7 mixed drinks scattered around the tarmac.

But luckily we landed, and the cabin burst into a round of applause. The first step of our traveling-on-the-cheap vacation was a success (mostly). Most people might think budget vacations sap the fun out of a trip, but our experience was just the opposite. We were able to carefully control our costs while still do more activities than we thought possible.

Other than airfare, the biggest cost of any trip is lodging. Mike did a fair amount of research and came upon the Broadway Hotel and Hostel — an establishment with stripped-down utilities but in a great location. For tourists going to cities like New York, which have inherently high lodging costs, hostels are great options. Travelers willing to put up with cardboard-hard beds, no closets and shared bathrooms will find hostels to provide an amicable place to sleep. The Broadway was a quarter the cost of nearby hotels.

Another way to keep costs down is to take advantage of free activities. Mike and I began our first day by walking through Central Park, taking in the sights of the reservoir, the castle and the duck pond. We were on our way to see a “live taping” (a somewhat contradictory television term used by the staffers) of “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

I would recommend going to see a taping of a show to anyone who hasn’t done so — it’s quite an experience to wait in a line packed like cattle for half an hour while continually being told to “be happy” and to “look like you’re having fun because Dave feeds off that.” It was as if Letterman were some kind of chipperness-fueled demigod.

It was surreal to see a show live that I’ve been used to seeing on a television set. There were times when I forgot I wasn’t staring at a screen and that there were real people in front of me.

After the show, I experienced another free part of the trip — I was told I look like Brad Pitt for the third time in my life. This time, it was from a home- less man trying to sell me Oreos.

What money Mike and I did spend, we spent wisely. We went to the top of the Empire State Building for $20 and saw a comedy show for $15, which was almost three hours of entertainment and included a random appearance by John Mayer. The next day, we spent $13 on the ferry to take us to Liberty and Ellis islands, an activity that lasted nearly the whole afternoon. The whole time, we never took taxis because New York has an excellent public transportation system.

All in all, our two-day, three-night trip to New York cost less than $500 including everything — flights, lodging and entertainment. We both came home feeling content about everything we had done and happy the plane ride back had the smoothest landing we’d ever experienced.

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  1. A very Hoosier weekend, Part 1 « Melrose Place

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