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How to travel to New York City on a budget

Airplane

"I'm in a New York State of Mind" - Billy Joel

Empire State Building

October 18, 2003

All about:

New York State

New York

Three major airports serve New York City, John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark International Airport, the latter located across the state border in New Jersey. I flew in to John F. Kennedy International Airport, which is located in Queens, the southeastern borough of New York City. It is about 15 miles from midtown Manhattan. On our approach to the airport, this flight provided a picture perfect view of Manhattan Island, the heart and pulse of New York City, with the city surrounding the large green area of Central Park. I would visit Central Park later. But first, I had to pick up my rental car and drive it to the motel room that I had reserved in Framingham, Massachusetts.

To some people, travel sounds expensive. That can be very true, but it doesn't have to be for those of us with meager incomes. Cheap travel does take some planning and great creativity.

Airline fares can vary widely. It pays to shop ahead and purchase your ticket as soon as you know you are going to travel. My technique is to spend a day or two shopping various travel and airline web sites such as Travelocity.com, sidestep.com and UAL.com. I choose UAL.com only because I have been using their mileage program for a number of years. With the other two web sites, you can get an idea of which airlines offer the cheapest fares and perhaps get a better fare by going to that airline's web site. My favorite feature of Travelocity.com is that you can set it up to e-mail you when the fare prices to your favorite cities go down. It so happened that at the time I was planning this trip, bargains were to be had for flights to JFK airport, so I was able to fly from San Diego for a great price, and my sister, Jennie, was also able to fly in from Detroit for a good price to eventually meet up with me during this trip.

It also pays to shop around for rental cars in a similar manner. In my experience, I find that Alamo and National Car Rental usually offer the best prices. It is also important to me that the rental car company offer unlimited mileage. I don't have a favorite car rental company. I favor the one that offers the best price at the time I am making the reservation. I stay away from those that do not offer unlimited mileage. Also, when making reservations at the car rental company's web site, you do not have to pay in advance. This makes it easy to cancel the reservation if you find a better deal later on.

Rental car


Motel

"A hotel isn't like a home, but it's better than being a house guest." - William Feather

Motel bed

I also shop around for great rates on hotel and motel reservations. Motel 6 is my favorite for offering acceptable rooms at bargain rates with all the needed amenities. They are almost always the cheapest in price of motel and hotel options in all the locations where they are located. One may be able to find less expensive non-chain motels, which are also great options, but you can always depend on the reasonable quality of a Motel 6.

With some creativity, one may even be able to find a place to stay at almost no cost. For example, if a good friend or a relative lives in a place that I am visiting, and I feel comfortable asking them for a place to stay for the night, I will do so. That would not work for a lot of locations, though.

Along a similar line, I found the web site, hospitalityclub.org, which offers a free network of travelers from around the world who offer free hospitality exchange and accommodation. I thought I would try the web site for this trip. I found a couple of people in the Boston area where I was heading for the start of this trip. A few days in advance, I e-mailed two people to see if they would be willing to let me crash for the night. One responded that they were busy for the weekend. The other was a retired teacher who apparently appreciated my quick story of plans to travel to the Boston area to search further for my genealogical roots. She did offer her place, but because she was late in responding, it did not work out.

So I ended up keeping my reservation for the Motel 6 in Framingham, MA. I skirted Manhattan Island and avoided the heaviest traffic by taking interstates through the Whitestone Bridge, with plans to get on US Highway 1 as soon as possible so I could get a close up view of cities and towns along the way. I made my way through part of Connecticut on this highway, but the day was late and time was short, so I traveled the interstates once again to travel to this motel located on Interstate 90 on its approach to Boston and the neighborhoods of my ancestors. By this time it was getting late in to the evening, so it is a good thing that Motel 6 promises to keep the lights on for us.


As I was driving through Connecticut on my way to the motel in Framingham, I realized that I had not had dinner yet. Earlier in the day, I had thoughts of slow food and looking for some unique place to eat some type of unique food. But this evening, I was hungry, anxious to get to my resting place, and I wanted to be sure I went to sleep full and content.

For a tasty, quick, inexpensive meal, my favorite fall back is McDonald's. They are everywhere, except for remote small towns of the country. All over the country and even the world, they offer the same, popular menu items, along with some items that are unique to a particular region. Relatively new at McDonald's is the "Dollar Menu". There, for example, you can purchase a double cheeseburger, small fries and a soda for a total of $3.00. Or if you want to eat something more healthy, you can exchange the fries for a great side salad with Paul Newman's Own salad dressing. Or if you want to create your own combo, there are a number of other items to choose from. My personal favorite is the double cheeseburger along with a side salad and a cup of water, for a great $2.00 meal. Often, I choose to do without the sugar and caffeine that comes with the small soft drink for $1.00, I'd rather have 2 apple pies for the same price. So yes, I admit it, I ate at McDonald's. At least it is sure food.

But that does not mean I want to eat McDonald's every day. I'd prefer as little as possible, so that I can enjoy the variety of slow food that this country has to offer.

Clip Art Cheeseburger

Clip Art Soft Drink

Travel Tip #1: Fast food may not be the best thing for you, but it is fast, it can be had in countless places around the country, and it is comfort food. That being said, it does have some nutritional value and can easily keep you from going hungry on a long road trip, and for a great price. This is why I often find myself at McDonald's to take advantage of their value "Dollar Menu" with a variety of menu items for $1.00, including double cheeseburger, small fries, small soda and a great side salad, among other items. Wendy's was the first restaurant to create a value menu in 1989. Since then, other fast food restaurants, including Burger King and Jack In The Box have created their own version of a value menu with menu items for around one dollar. Whichever fast food restaurant is your favorite, if you select from its value menu, you generally can't go wrong in taste, and you can create your own combo for a lot less than the price of a typical fast food combo meal. If your favorite fast food restaurant doesn't have a value menu, perhaps you are paying too much.



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