Traveling to and in Los Angeles on a budget and can't drive.
April 20, 2014 7:53 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to figure out how to get to Los Angeles on a small budget, to visit a doctor for a chronic condition. The condition itself causes difficulty getting around. I need some suggestions on how to make this "work".

I've got an extremely small budget to get to see a doctor who specializes in diagnosing conditions that many doctors overlook. He's a researcher, but sees patients one night a week (Tuesdays). He's in Los Angeles, I'm in Wisconsin. I have a shrinking budget so need to make this work as cheaply as possible. I can't necessarily drive, especially when tired or medicated; both are likely to be the case after a flight in.

I have one friend who lives in LA who has awesomely offered to let me stay at his place and use his car. However, I often can't drive due to my condition, so using his car probably won't work. He said he'd drive me if he can, but he works a hectic schedule, and wouldn't be sure if he'd be able to drive me or pick me up from the airport. He suggested that a taxi or uber might work, and there is a shuttle I can take from the airport to his place. This is an option I'm considering, but I'm worried I might not be able to navigate that. If he's available, he said he can drive, but his job varies greatly and he often doesn't know until the day before or even the day of what his schedule will be like.

Another friend of mind who is local here has offered to come with, pay her own way, and drive me. She has a friend who lives out there, who she wants to visit, so was thinking she could fly out a few days early, visit her friend, then drive me to the doctor as she's driven around LA in the past. But, she doesn't think we could stay at her friends house, her friend is going through a stressful period - which is why she wants to visit, but she is afraid that imposing an unknown guest would be too much for her friend. I am not sure my friend in LA would be okay if she came to stay too. He probably would be, but I feel kind of bad needing to crash at his place as is. But it's a possible scenario.

I also found that LA has hostels, so that might be an inexpensive option.

The last wrench in this work is that I spoke to the doctor's staff about scheduling a trip out there, and they said that because of his other duties, he sometimes has to cancel or change the night he sees patients. It's not often, but they recommend out of state patients to get refundable tickets in case that occurs. So coordinating might be difficult - for example, if my local friend comes with to drive me, and the doctor cancels, she'd be out there and the plan would be ruined. If I go by myself, I'd want to go a day early, so I could recuperate between the flight and the doctor appointment. (I would need the recuperation time to recover enough to think clearly to get there). So flying out a day early could mean ending up out there, and the doctor cancels that day, thus a trip wasted and no money to go back.

The doctor is in Beverly Hills, my friend who lives out there says it's about a 30 minute drive by car from his place.

My budget is really small, I'm basically living off savings. This doctor may or may not have the answers I seek, but he could at least rule out one area of my illness that I have in doubt. I have not found a doctor anywhere close that has the same thoroughness, and people fly all over to see him for his diagnostic abilities in his area of medicine (no, it's not woo; it's endocrinology). If I had to put a number on my budget, it's $1k, but the doctor visit is $450 and the flight is going to eat up $300-$500 of that. I might be able to eek out a couple hundred more, but as I'm living off savings, I'd rather not.

The doctor only sees patients on Tuesday nights. Time isn't a factor for me, so I could in theory say an additional week if the doctor DID cancel, assuming I don't overstay my welcome with my friend out there. But the friend who offered to come out to LA with me has a regular job she'd have to get back to. I have a husband who can help coordinate things from back here, but we want to avoid him flying out because of the cost of an extra flight, a pet sitter for home, possible hotel and possible need of a rental car.

Those of you from LA or who travel there, I'd love to hear some thoughts on how I might be able to travel using various services, or where to stay if I don't say with my friend out there; any Los Angeles related tips to getting around without being able to drive myself.

And I'm hoping to get some new eyeballs on the resources I have on hand and see if someone else has suggestions for a plan given the limited resources I have.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (23 answers total)
There are world-class academic endocrinologists available for you see in Madison, WI, among other places. I know you feel that this particular doctor half a country away from you may have some special insight that endocrinologists closer to you do not, but I can assure you that this is almost certainly not the case. Use the money you have available for the trip to seek out treatment from docs at academic center(s) closer to you. This trip really feels like it's going to be a waste of your time and money. You can't even get a definite appointment with the guy!
posted by killdevil at 8:20 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try CouchSurfing site. The purpose of the site is different but there are many kind hearted people there. You might be able to find some people to get rides within LA.
posted by WizKid at 8:20 AM on April 20, 2014

Seconding Kill Devil. I also have endrochrinology issues (thyroid cancer) and I have been able to find care in the midwest. There's nobody at say, UM-Madison or even, if you want to get fancy, the Mayo Clinic (3.5 hours away), who can diagnose you?
posted by damayanti at 8:22 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would it be possible to send him your lab work in advance and then do video chat/FaceTime/Skype?
posted by bleep at 8:23 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am hard pressed to think that resources are not available in Rochester at the Mayo--I know this is not what you are asking but that is the answer. I am not at all sure that your trip to LA can be reasonably handled on that budget. Also, if he is doing research and is credible I would suggest you post some information about him.. This could result in feed back that is unwanted (or unwarranted), or perhaps affirming. I have to say--the "only Tuesday nights" and last minute cancellation does raise some flags.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:30 AM on April 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

The doctor is this guy, right?

Anyway, Uber is great in LA. If your city has Uber as well, maybe download the app and do a cheap test run, just so you feel more comfortable. Give yourself more than 30 minutes to get to Beverly Hills though if you're traveling during rush hour.
posted by acidic at 8:50 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, if it is Dr Friedman I would be hard pressed, on first view, to have any reservations. Certainly seems qualified.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:01 AM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, I know people are trying to be helpful but let's take the general "think about trying closer docs" suggestion as aired, and stick to either specific recs or suggestions about how to deal with seeing the LA doc. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:29 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you tell us where your friend in L.A. lives? That would help us give you more targeted advice.

If you go the youth hostel route, here is an inexpensive option for your transportation needs:

You could fly into LAX, take the Big Blue Bus 3 (for a buck or so) to downtown Santa Monica, and stay in the youth hostel there. The afternoon of your appointment, you could take a bus from Santa Monica to Bev Hills (for another buck and change). Hop on the bus in the early afternoon, allowing yourself plenty of time. You can then relax in a coffeeshop or one of the lovely parks in BH until your appointment time. Then take a bus back to Santa Monica, or plan to meet up with your local pal.

This is 100% doable. Don't be put off by myths about L.A. not having good public transpo -- if you base yourself in downtown Santa Monica, you will be very close to many major bus lines that serve Bev Hills.

I don't know how restful staying in the SM youth hostel will be, but with earplugs and a can-do attitude I think you could make it work.

You could meet up with your LA. friend the day after your appointment if your schedules align.

I wouldn't try to factor your WI friend's trip into the logistics. There are too many ways that could go wrong.
posted by nacho fries at 9:36 AM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This sounds incredibly stressful - a doctor's visit and a diagnosis and a tight budget all pile on the stress and uncertainty. If there were a way to include a taxi in your budget, I think the benefits of that would be very high relative to the cost.

I realize you're on a tight budget, but it might make sense to spend a bit more on transportation for this trip.
posted by zippy at 9:37 AM on April 20, 2014

Given that the appointment may be cancelled at the last minute, you pretty much NEED to get a refundable ticket, which is going to be more expensive up front but cheaper in the long run.

Do you absolutely need to be there for more than a day? You could save money by flying in on Tuesday to arrive in the afternoon, go to your appointment and then take a redeye back home right after. Then the only expenses you'll have, aside from the flight, are the taxi rides between the airport and the doctor and possibly a meal.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:37 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would be concerned about how he is going to work you up in one evening - most complex endo conditions are worked up with timed blood tests over multiple hours (dexamethasone suppression test, etc) or scans. It's common where I work to admit patients for a week or so to get these done. Access to these tests is the difficult part of endocrine diagnosis, not interpreting the results. You are unlikely to get a diagnosis from one clinic visit unless it is something really straightforward (in which case why fly over there) or you have already had these tests done (in which case whoever organised them can interpret them). I would hate for you to fly over there and still have no answers.

If you have had all the tests done locally and your own doctor has asked Dr Friedman for advice, maybe just your results could be emailed over? We do this all the time, we don't drag the patients across the country unless it's absolutely necessary.
posted by tinkletown at 9:40 AM on April 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't exactly have the answer to your question. Your budget is bound to be too low though. I just wanted to give you some input on Dr. Friedman. As someone who was scammed out of a lot of money by a Dr. in Northern CA, I feel obligated to warn you. I read up on Dr. Friedman and there are many red flags. The fact that he only takes appts one night a week, prefers that he receive his money through Paypal, he sometimes takes weeks to get back to his patients regarding test results and med problems, he charges such a large fee basically for a consultation and does not take insurance, he orders tests that are not covered by insurance, he has no problem canceling or arriving to his appts very late, he must be reached by email, etc.

In short, this man has no regard for his patients. This is all about $ and research to him and he could care less about your well being. There are several top rated endo centers in the US and several drs who specialize in many different issues, Cushings included. Just because this man has an impressive resume does not mean that he is not a conman. I learned that the hard way.
posted by GrapCrap at 9:46 AM on April 20, 2014 [11 favorites]

You could fly into LAX, take the Big Blue Bus 3 (for a buck or so) to downtown Santa Monica, and stay in the youth hostel there. The afternoon of your appointment, you could take a bus from Santa Monica to Bev Hills (for another buck and change).

Was just coming here to say this! Here's the hostel info, and here's a PDF of the Metro Rapid schedule that goes from SM to BH on Wilshire.

I just made the trip from that neighborhood to a BH doc a few weeks ago. It took around 40 mins each way during morning rush hour and was less stressful than driving and paying for parking.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:50 AM on April 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The only way to make this work, in my opinion, is to stay somewhere walking or very short cab/uber/lyft distance from the doctor's office. I wouldn't rely on a friend who can maybe drive you who lives a half-hour away.

Staying in Santa Monica and taking the bus to Beverly Hills might also be an option if you are mobile enough to deal with buses and make the walk from the bus stop to the doctor's office.
posted by Sara C. at 10:09 AM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, it is Dr. Friedman. I didn't want to go into detail specifically because I didn't want to make this about who I was going to see and if I should go. Having spend years getting bounced around to doctors and doing it the "right way", I'm doing this my way now.

I haven't flown since before I started having health problems and I don't think I can manage flying in and out on the same day. If I knew the area, I might. But I'd be afraid of getting lost/not being able to focus/being in a strange city and having no idea where I am or how to get there. If I can rest up before hand, I am more likely to be able to manage finding my own way.

It sounds like airport -> bus -> hostel -> bus -> doctor -> bus -> hostel -> bus -> airport.

I can walk, the problems I am worried about are pain, fatigue, and confusion. The worse the pain, the less I can think clearly. For example, if it is familiar territory, I would be able to push through and get where I am going. But in a strange city, I don't know.

I think I can handle the noise of a hostel. To be honest, I'm sort of excited there IS a hostel there. If I was feeling better, I'd stay longer just because it's a hostel, and that's cool. I've never stayed in hostels so how are they in regards to safety, and what about things like bedbugs or even lice?

How is getting a cab in someplace like LA? My experience is Milwaukee, where you have to call in advance and they're pretty pricy and Chicago, where you can pretty much flag them down most anywhere. I'm thinking if there is a significant walk between the bus and his office, maybe a cab would make sense for me.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:13 AM on April 20, 2014

Response by poster: (For those of you were wondering about the tests, they're done there, immediately after your appointment. If further tests need to be done you can choose to fly back out or coordinate with a local facility. I don't know that he'll be able to help me, but I do know he's helped patients that have spent years being dismissed by the system and more "traditional" endocrinologists.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:21 AM on April 20, 2014

Based on your doctor's office location, if you stay in Santa Monica, you'd probably want to take the Big Blue Bus #7 PDF. You'll have to evaluate for yourself it it drops you close enough to his office to be workable for you. The trip will be about an hour on the bus, plus walking/waiting for bus.

One note on that SM hostel: it ain't cheap. For a shared bunk room, you're looking at about $50 out the door once you add in taxes. Something to consider as you run the numbers on your various lodging/transpo options.

Re: cabs: there's nothing magic or special about L.A. in that regard. You can book a traditional cab in advance by phone. But I will say this: if you end up staying in the SM hostel, and are taking a cab eastbound at that time of day, it is going to be a long and potentially stressful ride.
posted by nacho fries at 11:35 AM on April 20, 2014

I stayed at the HI Santa Monica hostel and while I'm usually not a big fan of hostels (finding so many overpromise and underdeliver), it is a great hostel and is very clean. I got a good deal on a private room, but I'm sure the dorms are fine too. It is so close to everything in Santa Monica, so you could easily spend a day relaxing to recover from your flight.

The bus ride from the airport is fine - you first take a bus from the terminal to the Big Blue Bus stop which is in one of the parking lots. Here are instructions with pictures of the signs you need to look for. The walk from the bus to the hostel is only a few minutes.

An alternative is to take a shuttle as your friend suggested. These are shared ride buses which will cost you about $20 and will drop you right at the door of your destination (you can also use them to get to the airport). Big warning is that they can take a long time as they meander around dropping people off and sometimes you have to wait a while for them to depart the airport. But they are really easy to find at the airport.

Another accommodation option would be to look at private rooms on Air BnB - there are rooms in the Beverley Hills area for about the same price as a hostel bed and you could then just have a short bus ride to the appointment (when you might be more stressed about getting there on time), or alternatively for closer to $100, there are options very close to the doctor, such as this one where you could possibly walk or take a very quick bus ride. Of course, there are also plenty around Santa Monica too, if you like the idea of staying there. Check the cancellation policy of each host and look for ones with a flexible policy.

For flights, the cheapest Southwest fares will still let you cancel and reuse the money within 12 months and they have at least one direct flight a day (layover/changing planes can be tiring and will make the trip much longer).
posted by AnnaRat at 4:48 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've never stayed in hostels so how are they in regards to safety

I can tell you that the SM hostel is in a very safe neighborhood. I see the guests coming and going all the time and they seem like nice, ordinary tourists. Definitely not a wild, spring break atmosphere. (And if you wanted a cab, there happens to be a taxi stand down the block on Santa Monica Blvd. at the Promenade.)

I would check Yelp for reports of bedbugs, lice, and general sanitary conditions.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:05 PM on April 20, 2014

I've been to the Santa Monica hostel. Struck me as totally safe, clean place. It is in a decent neighborhood too. My shared room was bunk style, and the place had a dorm feeling to it.

Still, I'd second considering AirBnB places near your doc if the costs and stress tradeoffs seem worth it.
posted by zippy at 7:02 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

What if you stay at your friend's place, then read the AskMe post immediately before this one where the girl is trying to make some money doing odd jobs in LA - see if that poster would be your chauffeur for a few days to make some money.
posted by CathyG at 7:11 PM on April 20, 2014

Response by poster: Just for anyone who finds this in the future, I decided that the plan was unworkable, as much as I wanted it to be possible. I was trying so hard to keep costs down that I realized I could end up there and unable to coordinate my trip. I'm still flying alone, but I am staying at a hotel that is across the street from the doctor's office. It's about doubled the cost, but there isn't much I can do about that. I did find that there is a medical discount with the hospital he is associated with, so I was able to take advantage of that and shave off about $100.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:39 PM on May 24, 2014

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