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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Westward Ho! (Part 1) 10.27.10

Today, I’d like to bring my blog closer to home and talk about how to save money up and down the West Coast. I live in Portland and, as often as we travel locally, we also travel to locations along the West Coast as much as possible. Traveling closer to home can be less expensive, but it depends how you go about it. I can spend the weekend in Seattle, but unless I do some strategic planning, it can cost me just as much to go San Francisco or Los Angeles, because they can all be equally spendy travel destinations. Because many West Coast cities are popular tourist spots, it’s not always that easy to find “cheap” deals. I think this is because western travelers think that the staycation and short trips will save them more money, they don’t stray too far from home. The truth is, you can spend the same amount of money driving to the coast and staying there for a week as you can flying to another state. Why? Location, location, location. Everyone loves the beach, even in the fall and winter seasons and there are limited hotels, so they can pretty much charge whatever they want. Even in the off-season, you could end up paying almost $200 per night at some of the ritzier “beachfront” accommodations. Here is my #1 rule for budget travelers looking to save money:
Compare costs. Just like you would with anything else you buy, compare your vacation options. Will going to Disney for four days run you the same as a seven-day trip to the beach or mountains? It COULD. Disney always has deals and many sites, such as Orbitz, BookIt and Expedia, have amazing package deals that can save you hundreds of dollars, making it more affordable than ever. Anywhere near the ocean or ski-worthy slopes can and will charge top-dollar if they can get it. The less expensive options always go first, so unless you book way in advance, you may be spending much more than you have to. But this is true with any destination. You always want to pick a few destinations; if you don’t have your heart set on anything specific, and see which would fit your budget better. I mean, if you can spend the same amount to go on a theme park vacation for a few less days than you would to rent a cabin and sit around reading a book, playing Scrabble and antiquing, it’s clear to me how I want to spend my money. I like my dollar to stretch and to get the most out of it I can. I’m packing for Disney.
Another thing to look at is what there is to do there and how much it’ll cost. You can augment your itinerary of must-see things with others that cost nothing or very little and still get as much fun out of your trip. Let’s look at some destinations in the west that might be on your list and things to do there that won’t break your bank at all and will only require a bit of driving or public transportation. 

Seattle: A mere 3-hour drive from me is the birthplace of grunge rock, Starbucks, Nordstrom and Microsoft. Seattle is steeped in history and tradition, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll go broke visiting. Do some of the offbeat tourist attractions for a whole different view of The Emerald City. 

  • Seattle Art Museum – Thursday is a great day to visit some awesome free venues in Seattle, including the Art Museum. The first Thursday of every month, SAM is free to visitors.
  • Experience Music Project (known as EMP) – This interactive museum of music is free from 5-8pm on first Thursdays.
  • Science Fiction Museum & Hall of Fame – The first museum devoted to Science Fiction shares a building with EMP and also has free admission on first Thursday from 5-8pm.
  • Pike Place Market – The market is one of the oldest in the country and is fun to shop or simply walk around and marvel at the stalls, especially the “flying fish” at the fish stall.
  • Coast Guard Museum – Located at Pier 36, explore the free museum of Coast Guard memorabilia.
  • Bainbridge Island Vineyard and Winery – While you’ll have to pay for a ferry ride (which can be super fun) across the Puget Sound, you can take a free guided tour of the vineyards every Sunday at 2pm.
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Vineyards is a short 15 mile drive from Seattle and offers a free wine tour and sampling.
  • Redhook Brewery – For the beer-lovers among you, take a short drive northeast to Woodinville and take a brewery tour with 3-4 samples. You only pay $1 for a souvenir tasting glass.
  • Freeway Park – This amazing park in downtown Seattle sits on 5 acres, overlooks the city, free Wi-Fi, a walking loop and in the summer offers free concerts and theater.

Stay at the Edgewater Hotel for as little as $99. 55% off regular rates, this waterfront hotel is a AAA Four-Diamond property, has been One of The World’s Best Places To Stay by Conde Nast and is super close to tourist attractions. Rates are valid for select date-ranges in November and December. Book by November 2. 

It’s not always easy to find a good deal on a rental car, but Hotwire has one for you. Rent a mid-size from them and only pay $11.95 or $13.95 per day for Seattle and Portland (respectively). That’s less than the cost of normally renting a sub-compact! 

As you may or may not know by now, I love CityPASS. It gets you a huge discount on what you would pay for all and, in most cases, even half of the attractions/merchants if you paid for them separately. Seattle CityPASS is no different. For just $59 ($39 for kids 12 and under) per pass, you save 47% over the price of the 6 attractions it is good for (including the Pacific Science Center, a Harbor Cruise and the Seattle Aquarium, which is amazing all on its own). If you only make it to 3 of them, you’ve already gotten your money’s worth. The Seattle CityPASS is valid from 9 days when you first use it, so whether you stay for a week or a weekend, it’ll work for you! 

 Portland (Oregon): I consider Portland my true hometown, even though I have only lived here a little over a decade and I, technically, grew up in Tucson (which will always have a place in my heart for the friends I have and the experiences that turned me into who I am today). Portland is where I belong. The city is beautiful, the people are polite and it’s so close to everything, whether it’s the beach, the desert or the mountains. It’s pretty awesome. Aside from being a dog- and bike-friendly city, we were also voted #1 Summer Travel Destination by Travel + Leisure Magazine. 

  • Saturday Market – Hundreds of local merchants sell their wares on Saturdays and Sundays. You can find handmade clothes, pottery, jewelry and more. There is always live music and street performers can be found amusing shoppers. 
  • International Rose Test Garden – For those of you that love flowers, this garden is open daily and has 8,000 rose bushes to marvel at. 
  • Powell’s City of Books – Literally, an entire city-block devoted to books of all kinds. You can seriously get lost in Powell’s and there are maps available to guide you through the stacks. While not the only Powell’s Bookstore in the metro area, it is the largest. You don’t even have to purchase books here. You can sit in chairs provided and read, get a coffee or catch up on some email. 
  • Brewery Tours – Portland has a large community of micro-brewers and most offer free tours. Among them include: Widmer, Portland Brewing and Bridgeport Brewing. You may have to sign up to get on a tour, but that’s pretty easy to do. 
  • Pioneer Courthouse Square – Smack dab in the middle of downtown, the Square offers a Starbucks, several food carts at lunch, a place to buy event/show tickets and fantastic people-watching. It’s also right across the street from major shopping venues, like Nordstrom and Macy’s. 
  • Multnomah Falls – A quick 40 minute drive east of the city on I-5 is one of the largest year-round falls in the country. Strap on your hiking shoes and bring your camera, hike partway up to gawk at the beauty from the bridge or hike all the way to the top if you’re up to it. When you make your way back to the bottom, enjoy and espresso drink at the coffee shop, grab lunch at the restaurant or browse the information center and gift shop.
  • First Friday – If art’s your thing, the first Friday of every month is devoted to it. Get into the galleries for free in the evening (generally 6-9) to see the latest art exhibits. Many galleries offer free appetizers and wine/champagne.
Portland is home to some great culinary gems: food carts. We're famous for them, actually, and you can save a bundle on dining by sampling some of the different foods they offer - crepes, hot dogs, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hawaiian, sandwiches and oh so many more! If you want it, it can be found on the streets of Portland.

Don't miss out on our best deals! Portland Perks has awesome 2-for-1 deals and more on everything you can find in the city. Great for dining, entertainment, personal services, etc. Get half off on paintball sessions and then take half off your beer tab! Pick up a half-price pizza and get a whole haircut at 50% off! Portland just got WAY more affordable!
It may be fall/winter in the Northwest, but for us that means rain. This may bring some people down, but it's still a great time to visit! Bring a raincoat and head on out like the locals do. A packable rain jacket is my best friend. It is lightweight and stuffs into a very small pouch, so if you don't need it, it's not cumbersome. Columbia has a nice range of them, like the one below. 
Restaurant.com is having a heck of a sale! Buy dining certificates for your trip and eat for practically FREE! 80% off until October 31st with the promo code: TREAT (order by clicking through Ebates and get 15% cash back on your whole purchase, too!)

Southwest has a fantastic 3-day sale ending Thursday at midnight. One-way fares starting at just $30 between select cities. Deals are $30, $60, $90 and $120 each way for travel Dec 1-15 and Jan 4-Feb 16. Book now, before seats sell out! 

Stay tuned for Part 2 on Saturday where we will travel down the coast and find out how to save and what freebies you can take advantage of south of the Oregon Border.

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