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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spend St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland 2.29.12

The Emerald Isle is a top destination on many travel bucket lists, but what most of those people don’t realize is that Ireland can be so affordable. For those that want to spend the St. Patrick’s Day holiday there, they can do so on a budget. Aer Lingus Vacations wants to help you make your vacation dreams a reality with this great deal:

Spend six nights in Ireland, complete with daily breakfast, round-trip airfare from New York (other departure cities available) and rental car. All this, including a stay in a castle from just $999 per person. Everything outside of where you stay is up to you. Drive all over Ireland to see what you want. Book by February 29 for this deal. If your budget is fairly limited, you can find some affordable activities:

Visit the national museums – The national museums that are centrally located in Dublin have free admission and they are a great way to learn about the history of Ireland for nothing. National Museum in Kildare Street, National Museum in Collins Barracks and Natural History Museum are just a few of the ones that you can enjoy for free.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral – For just €5.50 admission, you can celebrate the church’s namesake. You can get in for free if you are there to worship, but know that all your entry contributions directly go back into the church upkeep.

Discover the native plants and flowers of Ireland at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. Arrive on a Sunday and get a free guided tour at noon or 2:30pm. The gardens are great any time of year, as there are plants growing all the time, including fruits and vegetables.

The nature preserve on North Bull Island is a little-known tourist destination. Some 25,000 wading birds also reside on the island’s bird sanctuary. You can also visit the Royal Dublin Golf Course, for those of you that like to golf around the world.

Visit and learn about 23 different tourist attractions in Dublin when you board the Hop-on Hop-off tour bus in Dublin. Obviously, I am a big fan of the double-decker bus tours, because you can stay on for one circuit and get a whole guided tour and you can also get on and get off at any of the stops. It helps you save on transportation (or having to drive around and find parking) and tour guides. The bus will run you €16 (€6 for children) and if you buy tickets online, you can save 20% off! You won’t waste any time between stops either, as the bus runs continuously every 10-15 minutes.

If you have a bit more money in your budget, spring for a Dublin Pass and get entry to over 30 attractions and skip the ticket lines. Enjoy activities, like the Dublin Zoo, Christ Church Cathedral, Guinness Storehouse and more from just €35. Each pass comes with a map and guidebook and gets you discounts to shops, restaurants and other awesome things you’ll want to see and do. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

How to Rent a Car on a Budget 2.25.12

Sometimes you just need a car to get around, like Orlando in the off-season. I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but a lot of times you try to book a car and find that the rates are astronomical. What’s that all about? Should you really have to pay the same per day from a normal rental company for several days as you do for a Zipcar for 4 hours? I think not. So, what do you do? You use Autoslash!
Honestly, if Jonathan Weinburg – the owner of Autoslash – hadn’t contacted me to tell me about his new page when it was just starting out, I probably still wouldn’t know about it, but I’m so glad I do. The concept is simple. You look for a suitable rental car for the dates at your destination. You choose a rental rate from the chart of available cars and rental companies. The price you see is the MOST you will pay for your rental. Of course, it may be a bit steep, because that is “rack rate”. You aren’t obligated to go through with your rental, as you never give your credit card info and can cancel at any time.

Autoslash is free and easy to use and they make planning a vacation THAT MUCH easier on you, because while you’re busy deciding the rest of your trip details, they are working hard behind the scenes trying to get you an even better deal. They search every day for discounts that can be applied to your rental, as well as lower rates on the same reservation. When they find one, they tell you, but they also rebook you at the lower rate. You don’t have to do a thing! They will work until the day of your booking to get you the best price. If the rate drops 10 times, they will change your booking 10 times. It’s true!

I booked a 4-day car rental with Dollar through Autoslash. The original price was $210. Ridiculous, right? The next day I checked my email and they had applied discount codes to my rental and it dropped to $145. The next day I received another email telling me that they found a rental with discounts that was just $135! I saved $75 in just two days. I still have two weeks to go before my trip, but even if my rate doesn’t change again, I am happy to know that Autoslash found a much lower rate for me than I could have found on my own, because the cheapest rental I could find – for an economy car – was $190. You don’t have time to keep checking car rental rates and neither do I. Let Autoslash help you out and then tell your traveling friends about the amazing discount you ended up with to spread the word of this awesome company. You can also find them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Spring For a Budget Break 2.22.12

All the kids are counting down to it and so are you, but probably for very different reasons. Spring Break is almost here and that means you have a whole week to think of how to entertain your children (if you have them) or worry about your college student (if you have one) or figure out how to fit your travel plans into your budget (if you have one). Spring is a great time to travel; however, it can get a bit dicey during the month of March, because Spring Break varies across the country, making it impossible to know when you will have to share your space with a bajillion hard-partying college kids – and sometimes those well out of their college days – or have to pay twice as much for hotels and airfare. Luckily, with the economy still kinda sucky, deals are easier than ever to find. You just have to pick one, pay for it and go. But where?

Somehow, I feel that now that I’m an adult and I want to travel during Spring Break, because I’m not actually getting a forced vacation, like so many school kids and their parents, I shouldn’t have to pay “holiday” rates, because it doesn’t affect me. Too bad that’s now how it actually works: You don’t get Spring Break, so you don’t have to pay Spring Break prices…Until someone figures out how that works, we will have to continue to avoid the crowds and search for discounts. I suppose if anyone shouldn’t have to pay holiday prices, it’s the poor parents that have just come off of Christmas and already dreading planning how to keep their kids out of trouble and entertained for the three months of summer that’s right around the corner, but I digress.

Where to go that’s family-friendly – or at least less likely to get you crushed by drunken 20-somethings – for your free week? One of the best deals I’ve found is for last-minute cruises from Expedia. Last-minute includes next week, next month or two months from now. If you have the desire to cruise and want to visit the Caribbean or Mexico (despite the Spring Breakers), then this is a great time to book one. Rates start at just $219 per person for an inside cabin. Obviously, rates vary by cabin and length of cruise, but if you book by February 29, you are likely to snatch up great sailings, like a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise from Port Canaveral for just $449pp or an 8-night Eastern Caribbean Cruise from Miami for only $499pp. Got more time (and money) on your hands? Check out a 17-night transatlantic cruise from Fort Lauderdale for $799pp or a 21-night cruise from Fort Lauderdale to the Southern Caribbean (ports include Aruba, St. Thomas, Curacao and Half Moon Cay) from $1449pp.

What else is out there? Well, you can always do the old standby and plan a frugal trip to Vegas. I’ll be flying into Las Vegas for my next trip, though I’ll be driving to St. George, Utah to meet up with friends where we will go hiking, visit a ghost town, get pedicures and do family cookouts. I found a great deal on airfare and also a rental car for my trip and so can you. Southwest, JetBlue and many other airlines are offering deals to Sin City. If staying on the Strip, skip the car rental and book an airport shuttle instead. You could save $100+ on a week stay and can take the free tram from one end of the strip to the other instead. Your trip can be super budget if you need it to be. Here are some free and cheap Vegas activities to do while you’re there.

South America is always a great Spring Break destination, because not only is it not a destination college kids look at to par-tay, but it's also budget-friendly. If you are looking to spend about half the price for a vacation, then South America (and even Central America) is where you should look. You'll have a less traditional Spring Break, save some money and help a struggling economy. Brush up on your Spanish and pack your warm weather clothes!

Need a hotel or even a whole package? The CheapTickets Winter Hotel Sale is on through February 29. Save on your hotel or flight & hotel package with big discounts, free nights, resort credits and more. Enjoy some of the lowest rates of the season and also read up on tips that can help save you even more.

Are you traveling for Spring Break? Where are you going?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Affordable Things to Do Over Presidents' Day Weekend 2.18.11

So, I assume many of you are still at home as you read this, trying to think of ways to spend those precious free hours of your 3-day weekend, so as not to squander them on crazy things like housework, homework or yard work! You almost can’t get away from work, but even if you can’t find it in your budget to go on a holiday break, you can always do a staycation and order some take out (or go to some mildly fancy sit-down restaurant). Of course, I also mean you should get out of the house and celebrate our nation’s finest presidents – yes, I’m sure that’s up for debate – with some things you can find in your own neighborhood. Then, if you want to pitch your tent in the backyard and pretend you’re camping on the top of Mt. Everest, because it’s that cold still in some parts of the country.

If you haven’t come up with a better plan than ordering pizza and watching HGTV for the rest of the weekend, maybe some of these budget ideas will make you want to move your backside to do them. Remember, you can always DVR those DIY shows you’ve seen a dozen times. They’ll be there when you get back!

Hit up your local national park. There are so many across this great country, that it’s a shame if you don’t get out to explore and enjoy them. If the nearest park is too far away, look into your city’s Audubon Society or arboretum (that’s a fancy name for a place where they grow a variety of indigenous plants, mostly trees). Sometimes you can take your furry friends, but sometimes you can’t, so ask before you load them into the car and get them all excited for a hearty hike.

Enjoy complimentary admission to your favorite museum. Maybe. Many museums across the land will be offering free admission on Monday. Learn the history of your state as well as that of the United States and other parts of the world. Call the ticket office or check online to see if you can skip paying for tickets to get in. Spend that money in the café or gift shop!

Finally see what the Historical Society is all about. Nearly every big city has a historical society. Learn all about your city and state and its great leaders. They may or may not have become presidents, but if you’ve never been to your local society, now might be the time to check it out. Some run on donations, so drop a couple bucks in the jar to help preserve the history for future generations.

Order some apple or cherry pie. If you’re more ambitious than I am, you can also make your own pie, but the most effort I will put into pie-making is to go buy one and put it in the oven. I know this really has nothing to do with Presidents’ Day per se, but you can claim you are celebrating America or that you are honoring that whole chopping down the cherry tree incident.

Visit a historical monument or presidential landmark. Bonus points for you if that includes something like Mount Rushmore. If you live in a state that doesn’t have big presidential history, don’t worry. You can find all kinds of historical landmarks throughout it. Drive around, get out, read a plaque, takes a bunch of pictures and then make yourself an album entitled “The President Probably Stood in Some of These Places”…or something more appealing. If you live in the Washington, DC area, check out my previous blog post for things to do that are affordable.

Sit through Abraham Lincoln’s speech in the Hall of Presidents. Everyone has memories of the Hall of Presidents (now Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln) at Disney. If you have a trip planned to either Anaheim or Orlando, take half an hour to honor all our presidents and marvel at the creepy awesome animatronic technology. It might be the only way you will ever find yourself in the same room as President Obama…and you have to admit, it’s sort of hard to tell he isn’t real – as in the imagineers at Disney are fantastic, not that I think real-life Obama seems like a robot. (When you’re done with that, go see how real the Captain Jack Sparrow addition to Pirates looks!)

Watch a parade. Nowadays, there are parades for everything, so I’d be surprised if you couldn’t find one revolving around this national holiday. If not, pull one together in your neighborhood. You can easily find a George Washington wig at your local party store. Grab a can to use as a baton and have him (or her) head up the parade. Get the local kids to dress patriotic and march down the street after Washington. Toss some candy and copies of the Declaration of Independence and play the presidential anthem (or something “American” like Born in the USA) and have a good time. It doesn’t have to be a long parade either. Set up a lemonade stand and sell it up and down the block. You can use the proceeds to pay for your wigs and candy or donate it to your local historical society (see above). Make sure to take lots of pictures…and if you actually do this, I want links to the photos (or them posted to my Facebook page).

While you sit around trying to decide which of these sounds the most fun and plan your day out with your family, take a look at this trailer from what’s surely going to be a summer blockbuster, starring our 16th president: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. I mean, how can you not want to see it? I discovered its impending release through my most-frequented movie theater and decided I didn’t care who was in it or how bad it was, I was going to be there on opening weekend. It’s June 22nd for all of you who love a good (or bad) vampire flick and still have a little twinge of sadness every time you hear the name Buffy.

And if that doesn’t look fun enough for you, download the Presidents vs. Aliens game from iTunes. Test your presidential knowledge while defending the earth from aliens! Only $.99

Don’t forget:
  • Take a moment to enter to win a pair of CityPASS passes to the city of your choice, courtesy of CityPASS.
  • Downloadable packing lists will be available for download until the end of the month through newsletter subscriptions. If you haven’t yet, subscribe now. It’s easy and free!
  • Learn how to get around your vacation destination for less with my guest post on CheapOAir, where I will be a regular subscriber from now on (hooray!).
  • Coming soon: a guest post on green budget travel.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: CarryOn Free Bag

I don't believe you can purchase these bags any longer. It is rumored that Spirit Airlines actually bought out this company, but it may be that they are always sold out due to high demand. It has also been brought to my attention that Spirit has changed their baggage allowance.

Looking for a flight to Las Vegas several weeks ago, I came across a deal on Spirit Air, but I didn’t quickly pull the trigger on it, because I knew that I would have to pay for whatever luggage I brought, whether it was carry-on or checked. While I understand that Spirit is a low-cost carrier, I also don’t think I should have to pay for a carry-on. It would not have made my airfare cheaper than other fares I found, so I ended up booking through another carrier. Looking through the fine print on the Spirit Air website, it appears that any carry-on you bring that fits under the seat in front of you is actually free, though they don’t advertise this in an easily accessible way and most people have enough trouble packing light. Packing an even smaller bag may seem a lot more daunting and stressful.

In the middle of trying to find out more about the Spirit Air carry-on rules, I found a link on one of my favorite travel sites, FareCompare, in an article talking about Spirit’s constant complaints of the new airfare rules that let me to info about Brent Hopkins, a frequent traveler on Spirit, and his new bag that conformed to their free carry-on rules. I was intrigued. The CarryOn Free bag sounded like a bag that could be perfect for business travelers, weekenders, and those that want to travel with just a carry-on and can’t lift their bags into the overhead bin without help (or find that it’s always full). 

I was pretty thrilled to get the chance to review this bag, as I thought it would be a benefit to many of my readers, especially those with children that need to cut down on transit time and baggage fees on several bags can be totally unaffordable and unrealistic. This bag is so compact, that even little ones can pull it around behind them and it won’t be cumbersome if parents find they have to carry more than their own.

Spirit Air’s underseat dimensions are just 16″x14″x12″. (Technically, these are the free allowance dimensions. Your CarryOn Free bag won't actually fit under the seat on all planes, but will still fly for free.) While this seems small, just think of how much you can usually cram into the normal carry-on you bring to fit under the seat. Working with these dimensions, Brent set out to design a bag with specs that would conform to the “bag sizer” they have, and use, at boarding. What was born was the CarryOn Free bag. It comes in six different designs and doesn’t waste space with unnecessary pockets and dividers. Here's what you can save on just Spirit flights with this little bag: carry-on bags going in the overhead - $20-45 each way. Checked bags - $18-33 each way.

While I was a little disappointed to see that there were only two pockets on the whole bag – one inside and one outside – I was genuinely surprised by the capacity of it. Each bag is built a little bit different, so there’s going to be one that is aesthetically pleasing to you, as well as fitting for your travel style.

I received Vermillion, which I was eyeing to begin with. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know full-well that I love a bag that is unlike others and a color other than black is usually at the top of my list. If you don’t like it, it’s okay. There are five other bags with less wild fabric choices. And if you like black, you should be happy with the selections. I was eager to test out this bag and see if you could get enough in for a weekend, since the videos I found of others who packed it, they didn’t include underwear or toiletries or shoes. I don’t know about you, but those are pretty imperative to my travels. Brent claims the bag has been successfully tested to hold up to 10 days’ worth of clothing. I also realized that if I was only allowed one free carry-on, then I would have to use this bag as my purse, too. I like a challenge. I set out to pack it as I would for my four day trip to St. George next month.

Seems like a lot of stuff, right? Well, you're right. I am ambitious. It will be varying weather in  St. George, so I packed two sweaters, two long sleeve tops, two t-shirts, a tank top and shorts for sleeping in, two pairs of long pants, a pair of packable boots, my GPS, iGo and tips, toiletries (including my 3-1-1), my netbook and charger, a small purse, a pair of flip flops, socks, underwear and some snacks (because you know how I love my munchies). I will wear my coat and sneakers on the plane. Here we go:

The big items go in first, as they take up the most room and can't be folded to fit better. I put my toiletry bag on the bottom and then my boots. All my clothing was rolled - as usual - and packed in the layer on top of the shoes. Obviously, this left a few pockets of room, which I quickly filled with socks and underwear.

In the layer on top of the clothing, I added my iGo and tips, GPS (since I will be renting a car) flip flops (because you never know when you'll need them), 3-1-1 bag and small cross-body bag. With a little creative packing, I was able to fit my netbook and charger in the provided pocket (below). You could also use this for your iPad, ereader or anything else that you'd like to be protected and easily accessible. 

In the front pocket, which I thought would not be useful once the bag was packed, proved to be another surprise, I fit my slim wallet in there, which would hold my passport (if needed), most useful credit card(s), boarding pass and any cash. Aside from that, a few 100-calorie packs and a box of candy fit in there. Perfect for small gifts for your host! 

If you're a bit of an organizational nut, I tested this out with one of my Eagle Creek Pack-It cubes (the smaller ones might be more suitable for this) and was able to fit all my clothing in the half cube, which you can see below.

It fit pretty much perfectly in the bottom on its side, then the toiletry bag and boots were put in, for maximum free space. In the open spots, my iGo, underwear, socks, flip flops and GPS were easily packed. 

As you can see, this left enough room for my handbag and 3-1-1. There was still enough space in there for a book or a few games if needed. If not, you have space to bring home some small souvenirs. Obviously, I may have made a bit of extra room by using the inside straps and compressing items a little more.

With my extra room, I packed my iPad in with my netbook. They both fit easily in the inside pocket, so they are both protected from all my other packed items, but also accessible for when going through airport security. I was able to pack enough clothing for a week, including extra shoes, toiletries and gadgets. Had I needed to, I could have replaced one of my sweaters with a lightweight skirt and top or even a dress. If traveling in the warmer months, you could pack a week's worth of clothing in shorts, t-shirts and tanks and have plenty of room left over for your sun hat and bathing suit. As compact as this bag is, it has enough room for all of your essentials. Each traveler can bring their own and be able to waltz right off the plane and on your way to your hotel.

The CarryOn Free bag is not only perfect for business travelers and those that regularly fly on Spirit Air, but it is also fantastic for those that just don't want to be weighted down by their "stuff". Tight connections are a breeze, because you can weave though airport foot traffic with ease with this compact traveler. You'll never have to loiter at baggage claim, waiting for your suitcase. And if heading straight from the airport to a business meeting, it won't be an obtrusive third wheel, as it can sit, unnoticed near the door or under the table at a restaurant. Save all that money on baggage fees while also feeling less like you have "baggage". 

                                     Jet Black CarryOn                              Pro CarryOn
                                 Tan & Copper CarryOn                         Chic CarryOn

What else you need to know about these bags:

What are the CarryOn Free bags made of? The outside of the bag is either made of polyurethane or reinforced polyvinyl chloride that is resistant to scrapes and tears. 
Where can you buy it? Right now, you can only buy the CarryOn Free bag on the CarryOn website.
How much is it? As of right now, all bags are $54.99 each (plus shipping).
Other specs: Each bag weighs 7-8 lbs empty, comes with a combination lock, a rear name tag, 23" telescoping handle and convenient padded handle on top for pulling out from under the airplane seat and carrying.

Disclosure: I was provided a CarryOn Free bag for the purposes of this review, but all opinions and thoughts (and most photos) are my own.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

CityPASS Giveaway - ENTER NOW!

The wonderful folks at CityPASS have generously offered to give away a pair of passes to one lucky STC reader. Use it on your next vacation or around your hometown. I love that you can skip the ticket queues and save a bundle on a whole slew of activities. I have talked about the awesomeness of CityPASS before and am thrilled to have a reader check it out for themselves. Choose from any of the cities if you win (sorry, the Southern California pass is not included in this giveaway) and hop from activity to activity for FREE! You're gonna love it!

Cities where CityPASS is available:
  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Hollywood
  • Houston
  • New York
  • Philadelphia
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Toronto
Entries will be taken through February 29th and winner will be chosen and contacted on March 1. You will have 48 hours to respond before another winner will be chosen. Good luck!

    Saturday, February 11, 2012

    Presidential Day Trips 2.11.12

    Presidents’ Day is fast approaching and I know that many of you are wondering what to do with your three-day weekend. Not like you don’t have a million ideas for what you would like to do and then when you realize you can’t fit your whole list into just three days, you just decide to rent a movie and sit on the couch. I know the feeling. I do it many weekends, though I’m always planning a trip of some kind on the side or doing one of my many things off my to-do list to help you guys take fun and affordable trips. So, your “Woohoo! Three-day weekend!” isn’t followed by “meh…” and instead by “Let’s go do this awesome thing I read about…” Better, right?

    I know Presidents’ Day doesn’t sound all that exciting, but since we can’t make every president’s birthday a national holiday – well, I suppose we could, but then no one would work half the year – we celebrate with the first president’s birthday, George Washington, on the third Monday of the month, which is almost never on his actual birthday. And, I should add, we throw in a bit of honor for our awesome 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, because he freed the slaves and was pretty amazing…and because his birthday is on the 12th, making it an easy tie-in. He may not be the father of our country, but he made the most of his years in office, which I think deserves quite a bit of credit.

    If you aren’t plotting your course for hitting as many sales as you can next weekend, then possibly you would rather spend your money on something a little more enriching, like a trip that can be fun and educational (super for kids!). Today is all about things to do for fun and cheap in our nation’s capital: Washington, D.C. I have been there once, in my former years, and it was a disappointing trip all around. We drove from Virginia, mostly without stopping, only to get stuck in rush hour traffic and see very few buildings as we inched along at 3 mph. I did see the White House, but as there were renovations being done, the majority of it was covered in plastic. The next thing I remember was turning around and going back home. I didn’t even get to go to the zoo, which I distinctly recall being asked about before we left. You don’t want your trip to be like mine, and I hope that my next trip – which is something that will happen – is a lot more fun and I even get to get out of the car at some point!

    Get half-price and discount theater tickets to performances at the Signature Theatre, the Kennedy Center, Folger Theatre, Imagination Stage and more. You can get them same-day or in advance.

    Take a free tour of (some of) the White House. Get there early, though, because this is always a popular activity and wait times can be long. You might even catch a glimpse of Obama doing presidenty stuff: taking phone calls, concurring with people ideas, signing documents, wearing a suit, walking purposefully down the hall. Things like that!

    Pay homage to our veterans who have passed on with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. You can visit John F. Kennedy’s grave, along with Jackie O, their two children and his brother Bobby, the Unknown soldier and see the changing of the guard throughout the day.

    Wish our 16th president Happy Birthday with a stop at the Lincoln Memorial. Then take a tour of the other famous stops in DC: the Washington Monument (closed for renovations due to earthquake damage), the reflecting pool, the Vietnam Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, DC War Memorial, Eisenhower Memorial, Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Women in Vietnam Memorial and a whole lot more. You could spend three days just visiting these sites. Go here for a map of the most popular and to start planning your trip.

    Print out free walking guides for your trip. Almost 20 different guides are available, so whether you want to stroll the Botanic Garden or visit the Smithsonian, you are covered!
    Save money and skip the ticket lines by purchasing a DC Power Pass. Valid from 1-5 days, it enables you to see Washington DC to the fullest. Over 20 attractions are included in your price as well as discounts for shopping. Passes start at just $64.99 and if you buy before day end on February 13th, you can receive 5% off!

    About.com for DC has some fantastic solutions for dining on the cheap. For info, including addresses and phone numbers, view the whole list here. The following are local favorites, so you won’t be eating at Burger King or similar fast food venues. You’ll be saving money and eating like the locals do:
    ·         American City Diner
    ·         Baja Grille
    ·         Ben’s Chili Bowl
    ·         Bullfeathers of Capital Hill
    ·         Cactus Cantina
    ·         Capital Q BBQ
    ·         Couscous Café
    ·         Hanks Oyster Bar
    ·         Lauriol Plaza
    ·         Surfside Restaurant
    ·         Zorba’s Café
    ·       And if you’re looking for late-night dining: The Diner 2453 18th St NW Washington, DC (202) 232-8800 An upscale diner that’s open 24 hours.

    Stroll along the C&O Canal. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal used to be a waterway where goods were shipped to the Potomac River. Historic!

    Ever seen an aquatic garden? Technically, it’s a marsh, but Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens sounds a lot better and prettier than Kenilworth Marsh. It’s the last natural marsh in Washington DC and you can see amazing water plants and flowers, as well as dozens of species of birds…and it’s all free!

    Let someone else show you around the city with the Hop-on Hop-off Trolley. I’m dying to go on one of these and think that my next trip to a big city that has one at a reasonable price might be reason enough to hand over my hard-earned money. For $35 per person ($25 for kids) you can sit back and take pictures and listen to the narration, then get off and back on at any of the stops all day long. The ride covers over 100 points of interest and stops at 20 locations, including the White House Visitors Center and Ford’s Theatre. The full loop takes 2 hours if you don’t get off anywhere, but why wouldn’t you? Book your tickets before March 15 and get use of the trolley for three days instead of just one!

    Here’s one to splurge on: Have you ever wanted to be a spy? I mean, like not get shot at and stuff, but be secretive and carry important information? The Washington DC Spy Tour will have you itching to get your hands on that Top Secret envelope full of the country’s secretest secrets! You’ll discover the city’s spy secrets, mysteries and deceptions on this tour and then take part in a secret “mission”. I’ve been dying to do this tour since I saw Samantha Brown do it on her Weekends show. Your $58.99 will also get you VIP admission to the International Spy Museum for more about espionage, traitors, gadgets and more…if you know the secret password! You even get to meet former intelligence officers. Awesome, right?

    Even if you aren’t planning to travel to DC over Presidents’ Day Weekend, don’t forget that there are so many amazing things to see and do there for the next time you’re stumped for an affordable trip. Make DC your home base and then take day trips to Maryland or Virginia, too. But, for the love of travel, wherever you go, get out of the car!

    Do you live in the DC area or have you vacationed there? What are your favorite tourist spots and eateries?

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