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September 29, 2009

BusJunction.com Adds Yelp Ratings for Bus Lines


Busjunction2

In April, we wrote about a new player in online bus-travel ticketing, BusJunction.com. The site has since gained positive reviews from publications including The New York Times and The Washington Post for its utility in navigating the profusion of budget bus providers, particularly for popular routes up and down the East Coast. Last week, BusJunction.com launched a new feature on its website enabling travelers to view star ratings from Yelp users about the listed bus companies, taking some of the guesswork out of the travel experience once you hop onboard. Think of it as TripAdvisor product reviews for the new generation of bus-goers.

Have you used BusJunction.com to book a bus trip? Have any stories to tell about bus journeys you have taken? Tell us in the comments section.

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Related Topics: Budget Travel · Travel Websites

September 18, 2009

Phu Quoc: Vietnam's Best Beaches



By Guest Blogger
09/18/2009

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Phu-Quoc-sunset-over-Gulf-oSunset in Phu Quoc (Mike Sieburg)

Introduction
For a country with a mainland that stretches for nearly 4,000 kilometers along the South China Sea, I find Vietnam’s most beautiful beaches to actually be on the island of Phu Quoc. Set in the Gulf of Thailand just west of the Mekong Delta and less than 20 kilometers south of Cambodia, Phu Quoc is home to vast, lovely stretches of sandy unspoiled beaches, and dotted with towering palm trees overlooking turquoise waters. Dense forests and pepper plants line the slopes of the island’s mountainous interior, while a rugged dirt road hugs the coast. With most of Vietnam’s coast facing east, the island of Phu Quoc is one of the country’s few beaches that offers views of the sunset.

Activities
The seas surrounding Phu Quoc offer excellent diving and snorkeling, especially in the quieter waters of the dry season. Most hotels arrange boat trips out to popular snorkeling and dive sites. The interior of the island has trails, allowing for jungle hikes through dense foliage to waterfalls and mountaintops with views that stretch to the Cambodian mainland on clear days. For those wanting to explore the outer reaches of the island, it is possible to rent a motorbike for the day. The island’s main road follows the coast, making for stunning views throughout any drive.

Continue reading "Phu Quoc: Vietnam's Best Beaches" »

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · Budget Travel · Exotic Escapes · Trip Ideas

August 18, 2009

Budget Accommodations: The New Way to Travel



By Erin Pak
08/18/2009

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Paris
SWEET DIGS: A Paris apartment for rent (courtesy, HomeAway)

In today’s dire economy, travelers with all types of budgets are looking for ways to trim back on their travel expenses. Even if you usually prefer to bed down in a Four Seasons or a Fairmont, finding cheaper accommodation is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. But just because you’ll no longer find mint chocolates on your pillow doesn’t mean you have to scrimp on comfort and safety. In fact, now’s a great time to try out some alternative approaches to finding vacation lodging, approaches that will not only save you money but that will also offer interesting cultural interactions that your usual hotel accommodations can't match.

Couch Surfing
Ever since couples have been fighting, and friends have crashed after a long night out, there have been couch surfers. The idea is simple: If you have a couch, you've also got a place to host someone for the night.  However, fairly recently, couch surfing has extended beyond the friend’s couch to strangers’ homes in foreign countries. According to couchsurfing.org, the purpose of couch surfing is “to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance, and facilitate cultural understanding." It may seem a bit strange—even somewhat scary—at first glance, but travelers have direct access to locals and their knowledge of a destination, and couch surfers and hosts are vetted and vouched for. Even more fabulous, couch surfing is totally free. And in this economy, that’s just too good to pass on.

Continue reading "Budget Accommodations: The New Way to Travel" »

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Related Topics: Budget Travel · Places to Stay · Travel Tips · Travel Trends

August 13, 2009

Last Chance for Fee-Free National Park Weekends



By Karen Chen
08/13/2009

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WY,-Yellowstone-National-Pa
Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park (Adam Jones/Photodisc/Getty)

The Obamas are doing it—why wouldn't you?  This weekend, August 15-16, the First Family will visit two iconic national parks in the Mountain West and Southwest—Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park—just in time for the last fee-free weekend of the summer. The trip is meant to highlight the country's extensive park system, and to encourage Americans and visitors alike to get out and explore the national parks.

As part of a national trend, Yellowstone broke its own visitation record in July—typically its peak month—when 900,000 tourists visited the Wyoming park. Another park heavyweight, Yosemite National Park in California, also reported the highest visitation numbers in June and July for the last decade.  The national park system has seen increased traffic this year across all of its 391 sites, including national parks, historic sites, battlefields, and seashores. National Park Service officials credit the better-than-average year to lower fuel costs and the affordability of park vacations. 

This weekend will be the last of three weekends when entrance fees to most national parks will be waived, so get out and take advantage of the great value!  If you want to avoid crowded trails and campsites and traffic-choked roads, check out our picks for the Top Ten Alternative National and State Parks.  These alternative parks will afford you a little (or a lot) more elbow room to explore.

If you're heading out to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon any time soon, find our recommendations for four quintessential lodges in these two national parks after the jump, plus a link to a photo gallery of the country's most classic national parks lodges.

Continue reading "Last Chance for Fee-Free National Park Weekends" »

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Related Topics: Budget Travel · National Parks · Outdoor Adventures · Travel Trends · Trip Ideas

August 12, 2009

Beach Bytes: Free Fun in Atlantic City


NJ_Atlantic-City-Boardwalk_
Atlantic City, with boardwalk in background (courtesy, Atlantic City CVA)

Can you have fun in Atlantic City without spending money? You bet! Atlantic City beaches are free and have designated sections for surfing, fishing, kayaking, and windsurfing. Grab some sunblock and spend a day on the sand, in the water, or on the city's lively traditional boardwalk.

A premier destination on New Jersey's coast, Atlantic City is a sizzling summer spot for family fun, especially attractive because of all of its low-cost offerings.  The city's boardwalk has long been an entertainment center, with varying dynamics over the years as it grew into a gambling city, a convention hub, and an important golf destination. The boardwalk provides a central point for accessing piers, hotels, casinos, shopping, dining, antiquing, and entertainment lining the beach.

The city offers a lot of great, free, and fun events over the summer, including the Atlantic City Air Show, “Thunder Over the Boardwalk,” on August 19.  The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds headline the show, which begins at 11 a.m. The airshow will include the U.S. Army Parachute Team and dozens more aerobatics, demonstrations, and flybys. If the boardwalk is crowded, the aerial acts will be easy to view from anywhere along the beach.

Continue reading "Beach Bytes: Free Fun in Atlantic City" »

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Budget Travel · Family Vacation · Free Stuff · Trip Ideas

July 30, 2009

Annapolis: The Perfect Day Trip



By Karen Chen
07/30/2009

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Annapolis,-MD
Storefronts and boats at City Dock, Annapolis (Karen Chen)

If you live anywhere within a few hours drive from Annapolis, Maryland, I'd highly recommend taking a weekend or day trip there. The charming city is the state's capital, but surprisingly, does not rank as one of the state's ten largest cities. Instead of a booming metropolis, it's a slice out of a time past, with colonial brick buildings and churches, sailboats floating in the harbor, quiet streets lined with quaint rowhouses and brick sidewalks, and one main street spanning only about four short blocks that's perfect for shopping for souvenirs or knick-knacks, people watching, or making a pit stop for homemade ice cream or fudge.  A city of about 37,000 people, Annapolis is small enough to explore on foot, and parking is exceptionally easy to find.  Here are some suggestions for some things to do and places you'll want to check out while in the city:

- One great (and green!) way to traverse the city is by bike.  Free Wheelin' offers free bike rentals from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. seven days a week, from June 1 to October 1. They're located at the Harbor Master's office at City Dock, above the Visitor Information booth. And even better than free bike rentals? Free bus rides! All Free Wheelin' customers get to ride any Annapolis Transit bus for free as well; all buses have bike racks.  Be sure to explore the quaint side streets—you'll find interesting stores and cozy neighborhoods you wouldn't otherwise notice.

- Situated on the Chesapeake Bay, the city is perhaps most famously known as the "Sailing Capital of the World" and boasts a rich maritime heritage.  It's nice enough just to stroll along the docks and admire the regal sailing vessels anchored in the harbor, but there are tons of ways to get on the water, too.  Dozens of companies rent sailboats and/or kayaks, or board a ferry for a guided tour around the Chesapeake.  Check the Annapolis tourism website for all the different options.

Continue reading "Annapolis: The Perfect Day Trip" »

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Related Topics: Budget Travel · Family Vacation · Travel Tips · Trip Ideas

July 23, 2009

Moon Travel Guides Wants to Know: What's Your Favorite City?



By Karen Chen
07/23/2009

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Denver_Moon-guide Everyone's trying to cut corners these days, including those who are trading in summer vacations abroad for trips closer to home. But whether you decide to take off on a road trip, discover your backyard mountains, go on a weekend getaway to the local lake, or revisit a big city near you, you'll likely find that there's tons of summer fun to be had—right here in the U.S. of A.

To help inspire these summer adventures, or help you plan the logistics of your trip, Moon Travel Guides is giving away 50 of their U.S. guidebooks in 50 days.  They will also be featuring all U.S. destinations on their website for the next two weeks, including guest blogs from guidebook authors about their favorite American cities. To win a book, all you have to do is answer one simple question: What's your favorite U.S. city?  Tell them in 100 words or less what you love about your top city, and send your entry to giveaway@moon.com. All submissions must be mailed between now and September 7.

We want to know about your favorite city, too!  Is it the nightlife or beaches of Miami?  The public art and cafes of Seattle?  The free cultural activites in Washington, D.C.?  Or the easy access to wildlife and outdoor adventure of Anchorage?  Tell us in the comments!

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Related Topics: Budget Travel · Free Stuff

May 08, 2009

Top Ten Cheap Vacations



By Karen Chen
05/08/2009

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Hungary,Budapest_Fishermen'
CHANGE OF SCENERY: Enjoy a meal in Budapest with the Hungarian Parliament Building in the background (Martin Child/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty)

I don't need to tell you why traveling on the cheap is so necessary nowadays. It's pretty impossible to ignore all the signs of economic woe around us—bailouts, high unemployment, and bankruptcies. It's enough to make anyone want to take a vacation. But don't feel guilty about wanting to hop on the next plane out of town. For every dream destination, you can find an alternative that will help you pinch pennies but give you the same qualities you were looking for, all without feeling like you took the budget option. Here's our list of the Top Ten Budget Vacations. Be sure to add your own recommendations in the comments!

10. Berlin, Germany

9. New Bedford, Massachusetts

8. Dalmatian Coast, Croatia

7. Riviera Nayarit, Mexico

6. Zambia, Africa

5. Panama, Central America

4. Aegean Coast, Turkey

3. Willamette Valley, Oregon

2. Cambodia, South East Asia

1. Budapest, Hungary

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Related Topics: Away.com News · Budget Travel · Top 10 Lists · Trip Ideas

April 28, 2009

My Top Five Surprises About Miami



By Karen Chen
04/28/2009

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Miami-Beach
Miami Beach, surprisingly devoid of other people (Karen Chen)

For some reason (wait, I know why—it's portrayed this way in all of popular media) I imagined Miami to be the East Coast equivalent of Las Vegas, minus casinos, plus the beach: a celebrity playground with lots of bright lights, and people throwing money around as if it was chump change.  But I was in Miami this past week and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there: a convenient beach locale not very far from home with beautiful public beaches, decent dining options, cool art spots, and an interesting "scene"—all for a rather affordable price, which equal the right ingredients for a good beach vacation if you ask me.  Here are some of the nice surprises I found when I visited Miami:

1. The beaches there are awesome.  Granted, they might not compare to the "most secluded" or "most exotic" slices of heaven they call beaches in the Caribbean or the Pacific Islands, but for a place you can get to for about $160 round trip, they aren't bad.  In fact, they're better than just "not bad": The soft, nearly-white sand is edged by clear, bright teal Atlantic waters. For families, or people who aren't as fond of the ocean as they are of the beach, the warm shallow tide is perfect to play around in, and you don't have to worry about cutting your feet on rocks, coral, twigs, or other debris (not to mention the absence of sea critters that have always contributed to my fear of the deep blue). A nice cooling sea breeze also keeps you from roasting in the sun—though I can't say the same would be true come summer.

Continue reading "My Top Five Surprises About Miami" »

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Budget Travel · Florida Vacation · Food and Drink

April 24, 2009

Sites We Like: BusJunction.com, a New Player in the Bus Wars


Busjunction

The East Coast bus wars just found their Switzerland: BusJunction.com, a new website that combs through discount fares on a dozen of the big bus lines that ply the major routes between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston (as well as further west in hubs like Cleveland, Buffalo, Chicago). As founder Matthew Keller told us in an email, "We think it's a lot like Kayak.com, but for bus tickets." Well put, and like Kayak.com, its secret lies in its simplicity. Plug in your desired route and date, and the results page outputs your options in a cleanly designed interface that lists price, departure time, journey duration, and whether or not the bus has add-ons like WiFi or power outlets. As a test, we plugged in a last-minute escape to NYC from D.C. for tonight and got a fare on MegaBus for $19; you can search further out (up to six weeks) and score fares for as little as $5. The site launched on April 8 and is still in beta mode but we like what we see so far (it would be nice to be able to search on round trips instead of just the existing one-way option, but we suspect that's in the pipeline). Of course, while we can vouch for the middleman, we won't speak to the variable quality of service on some of those bus lines once you hit the road. Note that bookings are made on the bus lines' websites, so no worries there regarding credit-card security or ticket authenticity.

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Related Topics: Budget Travel · Travel Websites
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