Where should we go now, where should we go..
June 7, 2009 4:36 AM   Subscribe

In the middle of a great obligatory family tour, we have 3-4 days where we can go off and do something fun somewhere in America. Somewhere not too far away from Philadelphia would be good. We were thinking NYC, but is there anyway to do this on a SERIOUS budget? And if not, where else should we go? Criteria within.

The days in question are Tuesday 13 of June to Friday 16 June. We don't want to spend a lot of money at all - so a hotel costing 150 bucks a nite would be good.

We want cool experiences, outre shit, amazing people watching, architecture, free events, but want to save money in all other ways. We don't drive so reliable public transport a must.

I would like to have a metafilter meetup somewhere, we would like to do some walking in interesting surroundings, and we would like somewhere safe, quiet and clean to sleep at night where we can securely store passports and a laptop computer. We are okay with a hostel if it TRULY is these things, private room a must and Internet would be nice.

So, should we do New York? Or is there somewhere else that would be good for a few days?
posted by By The Grace of God to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How many, and how old, are you?
posted by mdonley at 4:49 AM on June 7, 2009


Use priceline or hotwire. Try biddingfortravel and betterbidding. Both will get you an idea what other people have bid on rooms (and ben denied or accepted.)

Take the bolt or megabus up and back (~$12 per person.)

I'm sure a bunch of the NYC mefites can help with 'what' to do in - but you'll find tons of things to do for near next to nothing; the big issue would be to use the subways and eat frugally.

FWIW, a week car rental is around $100 (the cost up and back from NYC for 4 people via either bus service.) Sure, you have to deal with gas + tolls, but that opens up all sorts of smaller towns on the east coast (from western PA, all the way up almost to boston...down to southern virginia - all within a 6 hr drive.)
posted by filmgeek at 5:47 AM on June 7, 2009

Do you mean 16-19 June? The 13th is a Saturday.
posted by essexjan at 6:14 AM on June 7, 2009

I'm with filmgeek, NYC has what you're looking for, especially because you don't drive.

Once you're in town, NYC Transit is a huge bargain. You can buy a 1-day unlimited fun pass that works on the subways and buses for $7.50. You must buy it from the machines in the stations, which all take debit/credit cards.
posted by pianoboy at 6:26 AM on June 7, 2009

Yep, I do mean 16-19... thanks Jan!

There are two of us and we are late 20sish.
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:28 AM on June 7, 2009

There are several cities within two hours of Philly you could visit using public transportation. I recommend DC, Baltimore, and NY. However, New York literally sucks money from your pockets as you walk down the street. I might get slammed, but I feel that if you've seen one metropolis, and have budget constraints, New York isn't all that special.

You could go to Amish country in Lancaster County. It's a couple of hours from Philly. That might be a memorable event worth renting a car for. On the way back you could hit Hershey, PA, home of Hershey's chocolate if you have kids.

In the other direction, you could do the beach in Delaware or (shudder) New Jersey if that's your thing. Trains and likely buses run to the major destinations.

Atlantic City is accessible by train and bus. It's a very depressing, horrible city, nothing like its exciting cousin Las Vegas.

If I were you I'd go to DC. You will not run out of things to do. A lot of them are free!

Connecting all of these cities are cheap bus services collectively referred to as the "Chinatown Bus." They are clean and infinitely more reliable than Amtrak, the train system. The buses cost several times less than Amtrak as well. DC has a subway system so you can navigate museums and attractions via public transportation within the city.
posted by vincele at 6:38 AM on June 7, 2009

I should probably clarify - we CAN'T drive, i.e. we don't know how!
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:41 AM on June 7, 2009

Try vrbo.com for renting condo/ room directly from owners. My sister visiting from Finland got a room at nice lady's SoHo artist loft for less than $150.

Good tactic is to contact multiple owners at same time and start with low offer -- someone will take it.
posted by zeikka at 6:43 AM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you should definitely do New York, especially if you've never been. You really can't beat it for awesome things to do in all the categories you mentioned.

For cheap rooms in NYC, you can check out AirBnB.com -- this site is one of my new favorite things. For cool free stuff, check out Time Out. For super cheap food, check out Cheap Ass Food, or just hit up a grocery store when you arrive and make some meals yourself.
posted by rachelv at 6:47 AM on June 7, 2009

Definitely NYC. There are so many cheap/free things to do there (a quick askme search will give you lots on this topic) and a great, cheap way to have fun in the city is to just pick a few neighborhoods to walk around in. Base those trips around a cheap eatery or two so that you're not tempted to overspend on food. Somewhat counterintuitively, NYC is one of the best places for cheap eats. Also, there are little grocery stores everywhere, so you can easily make picnics.

Also, if you're in Manhattan and you like to walk, then you won't have to spend much on transportation. And my favorite cheap touristy thing to do in the city is to take the Staten Island Ferry at night. You get to see the Statue of Liberty all lit up - it's pretty stirring.
posted by lunasol at 7:23 AM on June 7, 2009

I'm just back from NYC. There are tourbuses every weekend that leave your town at 6 am, take you to NYC, dump you at Macy's, then pick you up at 6 pm. If you're in Philadelphia, you're closer than I am, and will have more time in the city and it will cost less (for me, it's $60 round trip). I do this twice a year and go to a different museum/store/restaurant every time. It's cheap and fun, but it's one day. Go somewhere else on your upcoming trip, but keep this in mind for another time.
posted by acrasis at 8:29 AM on June 7, 2009

Come to NY - you can't see America and skip New York. Also you will have a blast.

This is my new favorite site - a listing of free or super cheap things to do in NYC, most of them very eclectic and fun. I plan to spam every upcoming NYC askme with this: The Skint.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:42 AM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

A great, cheap way to have fun in the city is to just pick a few neighborhoods to walk around in.

Exactly! New York is one of the great walking cities. When I was a kid in NY, I had a job as a messenger. One of the best jobs I ever had.

You can walk through or alongside central park. Walk down 5th avenue. Stroll through Greenwich village.

Or start in Battery Park and walk north. Here's a google search for walking tours NYC if you want to have a guide.

Or save the money and skip the guide. It's good exercise and there's no better way to get to know a city than to walk through it.
posted by cjets at 9:35 AM on June 7, 2009

I wish the transit was better in this country, and I could suggest a place for you to hang out besides NYC because it can be a bit pricey.

If you do end up in NY, take full advantage of public transit.

Pack a picnic. Take the 6 to 96th st. If you walk into the 97th st and 5th ave entrance to central park, there's a good spot for a picnic lunch, as well as a playground that has a bathroom. Wander from museum to museum*, until you get tired, then...

Hop on a bus and ride down 5th ave. You'll see Rockefeller center, the diamond district, Bryant park, and the big Public Library. (Maybe not in that order) from the comfort of your very own air-conditioned bus. After that it gets a little dull so get off. Lots of stuff on 42nd st.

Take a train/walk to Grand Central station (42nd). Take the S train (an experience in itself) to Times Square. The closer to rush hour that you go to Grand Central the crazier (better?) it is. Wander around the Times Square subway station, it's HUGE and on weekend nights it's really hopping. There are bathrooms there if you're really brave, they have call buttons, they're a bit of a trip. Bring some $1s to tip any performers you like.

For great seafood, hop on the 7 train out to Queensboro plaza. You'll see a great view of the skyline (and during the day, some awesome graffiti). Transfer to the Queens-bound N train and there is a great affordable seafood place called Taverna Klycades. (spelling?) Can't beat it for the price. Be prepared to wait a bit at dinner time but there are plenty of affordable bodegas for snacks. Don't be tempted by Mezzo Mezzo across the street, it's really overpriced. There is a Starbucks nearby, you can pee there if you need to, they're nice.

Take the Roosevelt Island tram. There is a little bus that drives around, bring quarters for it. There are spooky ruins and stuff there. The diner there is OK. Again, Starbucks if you need to pee.

Take the Staten Island Ferry. Free. Very cool and they have hot dogs and beer on the ferry. That's right, I said beer. Sometimes you'll see deformed pigeons in the station (awesome!). The South Street Ferry 1 station is brand new and kinda cool. You can take it to Times Square.

* Pay what you can afford at the Met and get into other museums for free, woo! $20 is just the "suggested" price but you can pay $1 if you want.
posted by kathrineg at 11:48 AM on June 7, 2009

I would suggest a guidebook like the NFT guide, it will be worth it's money. Something that shows all the coffee shops/grocery stores in an area is invaluable. The most money you will spend is wandering around, hungry, thirsty, and needing to pee. You will end up in a shitty overpriced restaurant out of desperation, or in a cab, because you really can't hold it any longer and you're going to starve to deathn or faint or something.

This is ESPECIALLY a problem in touristy areas. Avoid it if at all possible by being prepared.
posted by kathrineg at 11:52 AM on June 7, 2009

I've stayed at the Marrakech Hotel in NYC for $110 a night. Rooms are small but you won't be in it for most of the time, anyway. It's completely decent and perfectly adequate for a young couple on a short stay.
posted by The Straightener at 12:26 PM on June 7, 2009

I lived in Philly for years. And I visited NYC several times.

I advise against going to NYC if you really are trying to save cash. Even when I had friends to stay with, took the Chinese bus*, avoided tourist traps, hung out in Brooklyn, swindled free drinks, didn't shop, brought my own tobacco, and assiduously avoided taking taxis, I invariably came home at least a hundred-fifty dollars poorer.

My friends and I talk about Going Out The Door Tax. This is the minimum amount of money that one finds he pays, on average, regardless of destination or activity, in the course of doing something around the city. You need a hammer? Bus + hammer + oh yeah I need cigarettes + bus ≥ $30. You wanna see a free show on the outskirts? Train + bus + bottled water + falafel + bus + train ≥ $30. Philly has about a $30 GOD Tax, NYC's seems to be more like $50.

Have you explored Philadelphia? I imagine that you've done the Center City thing. But, have you explored West Philly? I once heard it said that, "In New York, being weird is a profession. In Philly, people are just weird." There's so much bizarre shit happening in West Philly on any given day that your head would asplode if you attempted to take it all in. There are certainly neighborhoods you should avoid while you're out there, but if you stick close (but not too close) to the University of Pennsylvania, you'll likely be fine.

I also really like Washington DC. You can easily catch either a bus or Amtrak from Philly to DC. Then, once you're in DC, you have an astoundingly awesome Metro system to move you around. I believe they have buses and regional rail as well, but I've never needed to use them. While I like the art museums better in NYC, DC has the National Gallery (or whatever it's called). But it also has the Smithsonian, and the Air and Space Museum (the annex at the airport is, I'm told, where all the cool stuff is), and the National Archives, and the Library of AlexandriaCongress. And if you walk even two or three blocks away from the tourist destinations, the prices on things drop enormously--it's quite inexpensive.

*The Chinese bus used to be a great deal. I think I paid like $14 round trip. However, word on the Chinese bus has gotten out, and so they've raised the prices to $20 one-way. Greyhound tickets go for $19. And Greyhound doesn't smell quite as horrific [NOT BUSIST].
posted by Netzapper at 3:37 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

hi guys! dad chipping in for hotel so we are staying at the 414 Hotel - see you over in the meetup thread! the links here are amazing though, many thanks and will save them for our trip!
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:52 PM on June 8, 2009

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