Discovering towns, or entire countries, that will hustle for your business…
By Brad Beckstrom
I was in a jam. I usually take the family away for a few days around my birthday. This year some plans fell through and we skipped it. I was getting some heat from SuperK about getting away for a few days in July. The reason I was getting heat wasn’t because we don’t travel, we travel a lot. However, lately I’ve been visiting cities like Bangkok, New York, Seattle, Portland, Baltimore and Fargo as part of my creative quest to photograph 1000 different places in 100 different cities. The family was feeling a bit left out.
So, I wanted to make good on my promise and scrambled to find something very quickly.
I’d been out with some friends who were talking about the same thing. We joked about how difficult it is to find something for a few days in the middle of summer at popular resorts in the area. This is even more tricky traveling with a couple kids. Even marginal hotels will run you nearly $300 per night, peak season, in popular beach resorts. And don’t forget about the 20% in resort fees, occupancy taxes, parking, which many of these hotels don’t include in their listed prices. Seaches on kayak and hotels.com confirmed this.
At first I thought I could just jump on AirBnb and search for some empty condo at the beach with a pool, and walking distance to the beach. Or maybe something on a lake (that idea was shot down very quickly because the wife fears lakes, it didn’t matter because there was little available)
Then a buddy of mine mentioned how desperate for business they are in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I scoffed at this at first. I don’t gamble and I certainly don’t want to drag the kids around a cheesy boardwalk full of casinos. I knew there were a lot of great small beach towns just south and north of Atlantic City. Unfortunately, everyone in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey knows this as well. Same circus, different clowns.
Then I remembered a non-casino hotel I stayed in for business a few years back that was clean, oceanfront, and had a pool. It was at the less popular south end of Atlantic City just blocks north of Ventor City NJ on the boardwalk. I did a quick search on Hotels.com and, holy crap, they had a family special for $159 a night. There was a catch, this rate was only available Monday through Wednesday. They were throwing in all kinds of extras, meal vouchers, drink tickets, beach setups. Apparently the casinos often do this, and they need to to compete.
Great secrets of frugal travel
One of the great secrets of frugal travel is to go where other people are not going, when they’re not going. This place was probably party central on weekends so a Monday night and Tuesday night would be just the ticket.
The Chelsea Hotel, worked out fine. We turned in the beach vouchers for a two umbrella, four chair set up on the beach and we were good to go. The staff were super attentive. Our two teenage boys got an eye full of the cast of characters on the AC Boardwalk. Our youngest noted that there were more crazy people on the Venice Beach Boardwalk or wandering around North Beach in San Francisco. Our oldest was fascinated with a few of the huge abandoned casinos on the boardwalk that left everything behind, including all the back lit liquor bottles behind the bar you could see through the dirty windows. This image from the window of the closed Trump Plaza.
There’s still plenty places to eat. We stumbled upon the Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill. My son Peter was excited to meet head chef Meghan Gill, a winner on the popular Hell’s Kitchen TV show. If the chef is coming out to The Frug’s table these folks definitely want our business. I was sure to take care our waiter for lining that up.
On the way home, we were reintroduced to parts of I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike that we had sworn not to visit again. Thankfully, the delays were only roadwork and we were at able to jump off I-95 for some waterfront dining in Port Deposit MD on the way home. On a weekend, the story would’ve not ended so well.
Here’s a few tips for last-minute family of four peak season travel.
- Try to schedule your travel early in the week. Avoid Thursdays and weekends.
- Don’t follow the crowds. Is there a town that’s a bit down on its luck, maybe not in the middle of everything?
- If others are going east, look west. If you need to travel on a major artery like I-95 do it at oddball times on a weekday. We got a late start and missed two rush hours.
- Not your kind of people? That’s a good thing. Our kids got a little taste of what hustle looks like. The good kind.
- Use quick searches in Kayak.com, Airbnb and Hotels.com to screenshot some options and save them into Evernote, you may want to revisit these later.
- If it’s really last-minute, I like hoteltonite.com for last-second deals. I try to get their best rates even when booking in advance.
- Not entirely what you expected, go with the flow, you may never be back at this place again but you may be creating some memories with the experience.
I’m already working on next summer’s travel plans. We’re going to apply the “go where your wanted” philosophy to a struggling country with high unemployment, a devastated economy, bank closings and angry protesters. We will most likely be traveling there on an Norwegian Air, they are cutting European fares in half by connecting through less traveled European airports in places like Norway, Turkey and Croatia. Will be visiting Greece.
Photo Credits c Brad Beckstrom