I need to go somewhere beyond the MTA subway system.
April 2, 2012 9:20 PM   Subscribe

I desperately need to reset. I need recommendations for beautiful restorative places I can get to cheaply from NYC for a week long vacation that will keep me from looking like someone out of a Jacob Riis photograph.

I live in NYC and realize I have not been out of the City in far too long, and I think it is catching up with me. Also, because I live in this City I am dirt-poor so can't really afford a trip to Rio or something. So, I am wondering if anyone has any recommendations for a reasonably restorative trip I can take somewhat efficiently. By restorative I mean that just by being at the destination it will have a rehabilitating effect on me. So, while I would love to go sightseeing in Rome someday, that is not what I mean. Instead of trying to jet around Europe and see as many gothic cathedrals as possible, I need something more along the lines of laying on my back inside one of those redwood cathedrals.

I would love to go somewhere where I can get some sun, maybe some hiking...but at the very least I just need somewhere that I can be outdoorsy and healthy and just have an overall reset from city-life. I would love to go to California or hike in the Rockies, or sit on the beach in Hawaii or relax at a spa in the desert, but I don't think I can find a way to do any of this cheaply as the constraint is cost. I don't really know what I can say for a price limit. The cheaper the better. Seriously, cheap. I just need any clever ideas: perhaps there is a cheap Southwest route I don't know about, a nearby route I can get to by train, or maybe it is the wrong season at some far-away place where hotels are cut-rate but it is still beautiful. For example, last year, there happened to be an unusually nice weekend around this time and I found a place in the Hamptons that was about 1/10th of the price it would normally be in the summer.

Any strategic clever travelers out there that can help this stranded pale city-dweller?
posted by This_Will_Be_Good to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Traveling doesn't have to be expensive! For a round trip flight less than $600 (kayak!), you can fly to costa rica, mexico, puerto rico, stay in hostels, backpack, and enjoy yourself. Traveling isn't always about 3-4 star hotels, and expensive tourist restaurants. If you want to travel cheap, you've gotta be like the locals: home stays, hostels, etc. From NYC, San Francisco is also a $300 round-trip. Also, heading north Montreal and Quebec City is a nice excursion for 3-4 days. Pick up one of Lonely Planet's "On a Shoestring Guidebooks" for asia or south america to see how easy it is to travel well cheaply. Also, try meet up groups. There are at least 10 meet up groups that do hiking trips around the tri-state area that meet on a semi-frequent basis. Groups meet at Grand Central and take day trips by Amtrak, etc. Give that a try.
posted by syanora at 9:32 PM on April 2, 2012

Best answer: If you have access to a car, I'd spend a week hiking in the Adirondacks.
posted by pete_22 at 9:52 PM on April 2, 2012

Response by poster: I should add that I don't travel a lot, so any specific place/anecdotes may be helpful.

pete_22: It is amazing that you mentioned that, because I asked that question after catching part of some special on the Adirondack Trail. My problem is that I just don't even know where I would start. Like, right now in April, I guess somewhere a bit further South (the beginning), or even places upstate, but have you been on any parts in particular that were really good or that you would recommend? Since I would like to do this in the next few weeks, I would probably not have time to get gear (and learn much about camping), so are there places you would recommend that you could base out of and do day hikes?

And syanora -- that is a great list, but that is where I am getting overwhelmed by choice -- I'll check out the Lonely Planet guides. I had never thought of Montreal or Quebec City, but are they relaxing? Are there specific parts that you would recommend there to reset? Or in the rest of your list, would one of those options be the cheapest (for example, a friend just mentioned that Costa Rica can be done really cheaply).
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 10:05 PM on April 2, 2012

Here are some Adirondacks hikes:

Deepest Daks

Best Hikes Ever: Northville-Placid Trail

(and many more)
posted by jayder at 10:14 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Montreal is chill. It's a nice weekend trip to do in the summer. But if you're in NYC, you probably want a little adventure mixed with great weather to escape the chaos of the city. NYC to Costa Rica is around $400, but you've to hop over to Liberia if you want to get to the beaches. Disclaimer: I've never been to Costa Rica.

To focus your list, I'd first pick a region and purpose for your trip. Also, how do you want to travel. As a cheap, shoestring backpacker or as an expensive tourist? Are you traveling alone? Do you want to chill on beaches for a week, or go trekking through jungles and do some scuba diving? Plan $400 for round trip to Costa Rica. Next expense is going to be lodging. You can probably find accommodations for $20-$30 a night on hostelworld.com staying at a cheap guesthouses (avoid hotels, always). So probably $200 for accommodations. Then budget food. Maybe $150 (max) or so for the week. A backpacker budget for Costa Rica for 1 week could be < $800. Next, I'd check out the suggested itineraries in any Lonely Planet Guidebooks. That should give you an idea.

If you have more time, I'd recommend Southeast Asia but that's going to be hard if you have only 7 days. :-(
posted by syanora at 10:19 PM on April 2, 2012

Best answer: Adirondacks: I've spent the most time in the West-Central part, around Old Forge and Inlet and Big Moose Lake. It's a great area for relaxing and scenic hikes but doesn't have the most strenuous ones. The High Peaks region is better for hiking, although when I've been there I felt like there were fewer options for accommodation.

You don't need much gear -- I think even the most difficult of the high peaks are just long strenuous hikes, no real bushwacking or technical climbing. And you can do them each in a day if you start early, so you don't have to camp.
posted by pete_22 at 10:20 PM on April 2, 2012

Best answer: The Poconos are a cheap 90-minute bus ride away from NYC, full of beautiful scenery, good Appalachian Trail hikes and canoeing. And nothing there is very expensive.
posted by malhouse at 10:39 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I haven't been, but a friend has a few times and I've seen pictures of St. Mary's Sewanee. It doesn't require you to be religious, just in search of some peace.

From their site:

As regards travel, the nearest airports are Nashville and Chattanooga. Nashville is 90 miles away, but has two advantages - more and cheaper flights, and it is in the same time zone as Sewanee (Central). Chattanooga is about 60 miles, but has fewer flights and, if you use it, you need to take into account the change in time zone, as Chattanooga is in Eastern. We recommend that if possible you rent a car from the airport to Sewanee. There is also a shuttle from each airport to Monteagle (the Smokehouse), operated by Groome Transportation (http://www.groometransportation.com). 
posted by PorcineWithMe at 4:18 AM on April 3, 2012

Vermont! Amazing landscapes, delicious local food, nice people, hiking, farms, etc. It's about a 4 hour drive from NYC to southern Vermont; Greyhound and Amtrak also go there (I think it's cheaper to take Metro North to New Haven and Amtrak from there, rather than the whole way from Penn). As for lodging, there are a ton of B&Bs and camping but Couchsurfing might be your best bet.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:45 AM on April 3, 2012

Best answer: A couple of weeks ago, seeking similar restoration, I took the train from Penn Station to Kingston, RI ($55 each way), then a bus from the Kingston Amtrak stop to the Point Judith ferry ($2 each way), then the ferry to Block Island ($11 each way) then rented a bike for a few days ($20 each day) and had an amazing time. My accommodation (1661 Hotel) was less cheap but still extremely good value thanks to being out of season. I think this still applies in April, but I'm not sure.

This is smaller-scale than some other suggestions but the beach walking is quite something.
posted by oliverburkeman at 4:51 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are some great, affordable bed&breakfasts and spas in upstate New York, with access to hiking if that sounds appealing. You could take the train halfway and get a rental car somewhere along Metro North if you want to save yourself the trouble of driving out of the city. (I recommend Enterprise, because they'll come and pick you up at the station.)

My husband and I stayed at one of the smaller rooms at The Roxbury Motel for our anniversary a couple of years ago, and we had a fantstic time. Picked a car up in Poughkeepsie and spent the weekend relaxing in saunas, eating some surprisingly delicious food from the restaurant next door, wandering around the woods and going on long scenic drives.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:39 AM on April 3, 2012

Best answer: How about The Catskills? You can get up there on a bus for fairly cheap ($75 round-trip can get you pretty deep into the Catskills), there are some youth hostels at a couple of the bigger towns, and you seriously cannot throw a brick without hitting places to hike.

Also, if taking the bus frees up a lot of your budget, you can find some great AirBnB places and rental cottages all through there (I can recommend one owned by some friends, in fact). Or you can stay in the funky cabins that Kate Pierson runs upstate.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:49 AM on April 3, 2012

Best answer: Hither Hills is a beautiful state park where you can camp for a week for under $250. You can hike from there across the park to the Sound side of Long Island, but mostly of course the campground is good for days of lying on the beach and nights falling asleep to the sound of the waves.

You say you don't have much in the way of gear, but this is camping-lite; you'd need a tent and a campstove and other miscellany (memail me if you'd like to discuss). Unfortunately you'd also want a car, which is sounds like you might not have.
posted by torticat at 5:54 AM on April 3, 2012

I had never thought of Montreal or Quebec City, but are they relaxing?

They can be. Quebec City, for one, is quite small and scenic. Then again, I had a pretty relaxing trip to Rome. The key is to go with the mentality that you're just there to take it all in, and not cram as many sights into each day as humanly possible. Wandering around a city can be quite relaxing, if done properly.

That said, if you're in the mood for some country stuff, the region around NYC has plenty of options, most of which - the Adirondacks, the Catskills, the Poconos, Vermont - have been mentioned in this thread. I'd probably go with Vermont, but they're all quite nice.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:59 AM on April 3, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, a lot of great ideas here -- I just marked the ones I may do soon. I would have never found that Sewanee place. I think my ideal trip now would be some combination of the hiking tips for the Catskills of Adirondacks, or even somewhere like Block Island, but combined with a stay in a hermitage-style spartan cabin. I would love to find a bare rickety cabin in the woods, from which I could base hikes over the course of a week.

In the meantime, based on all the advice here, I was super stoked and went to Grand Central and hopped on a train to Cold Spring, and hiked the Breakneck Ridge trail. As crazy as it sounds, that one day right there seemed to reset about 6 months of city living in one shot. I am sore as hell, a bit sunburned, and I feel great. I think I have a few leftover endorphins leftover!

If anyone stumbles upon this looking for something similar, this is what I did:

I took the Metro North to Cold Spring. There is a stop at Breakneck Ridge, but they only stop there a few times on the weekends, so I got off at Cold Spring instead which has regular stops. From Cold Spring, I just walked up the road (9D) a bit to the trailhead at Breakneck Ridge. It is only about 2 miles north of Cold Spring, and there are other people on the road and everyone seems pretty active there, so you won't seem odd. The trailhead is just north of a tunnel -- the shoulder is actually wider in the tunnel than the rest of the road, so don't worry about that.

The "trail" at Breakneck Ridge is ridiculous. As you walk north before the tunnel you see the ridge and a teeny tiny flag pole way up the ridge. You will be there soon. Seriously. I put "trail" in quotes because it literally goes straight up the rocks. I was cracking up because there are trail markers painted on boulders. You climb up boulders and rocks....it is just so far and away from where you were in the City just a few hours before that you can't even believe it. And everyone is doing it and making fools out of themselves and helping each other since everyone is thinking, "wow, I can't believe all of us total newbies are scaling boulders along this ridiculously precarious cliff! oh well!"

I picked up a good map from the NYNJTC at REI and planned the hike the night before. The topo maps on the Open Street Map Cycle map also have the trails marked, and seem pretty good. I hiked the Breakneck Ridge trail and then met up with the blue-blazed Notch Trail for a while (past the ruins of some old mansion and over some brooks...awesome!). Then, I met up with the white-blazed Washburn trails up and over Mt. Taurus and that took me all the way back down to 9D. From there, you are just a short walk back into Cold Spring where you can grab a beer and wait for your train. The trains seem to run every hour there.

That hike took about 5 hours at a pretty good pace. It is strenuous. It was awesome. How awesome? I saw a lizard. I was sitting in my tiny apartment that morning. And just a few hours later, I saw a friggin' lizard on a rock on a mountain. I had no idea there were lizards in this State. I think I might even have a few left over endorphins to last me another couple days!
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 5:58 PM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

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