Vacations are all about relaxing and having fun, so the last thing you want to worry about is being in danger. Caitlyn and I have come up with three quick tips to ensure you and your loved one(s) have a safe and fun vacation:
- Avoid pickpockets: Pickpockets are prevalent, especially in foreign countries or even at home if they suspect you of being a tourist. For the ladies, we recommend getting a Pacsafe, a purse that claims to be un-rippable, un-pickpocketable and impenetrable for those looking to steal your credit card number through the use of handheld skimming terminals. Caitlyn took this with her when we went to the Caribbean and we can’t complain of stolen money or identities. The guys have a snazzy way to stay safe, too. Sometimes, I like to travel light, and bring only one credit card and minimal cash, which I can do stowed away in the back of my iPhone case from Speck. The cases go from about $35 retail and either hold up to three cards or a few bills and one card. My usual lineup is one credit card, my ID and my health insurance card.
- Know where you’re going: Look at a map BEFORE you leave the hotel. We’re all accustomed to using our smartphones to find out way around places, but that makes you an easy mark if you’re looking at your phone’s screen every time you get to an intersection. You also don’t want to be flashing your fancy smartphone if you’re travelling through a seedy neighborhood. I like to get turn-by-turn directions between attractions before we leave Indy for our final destination. Travel authorities in most major cities (i.e., Chicago and Montreal) along with Google also have maps that can tell travelers how to take public transit from one address or attraction to another, in addition to listing frequency of routes. I personally enjoy the travel authorities’ websites more, as they also list prices and whether transfers are included in your fare.
Know whose car you’re getting into: Caitlyn won’t ever let me forget the first time we went to Chicago together and, after leaving the Museum of Science and Industry, I flagged a “taxi,” which turned out to be a school bus with negotiable rates and no sign on its exterior. For all we knew, the bus driver could have taken us to Skokie and tore us apart limb by limb. This is one of those “do as we say, not as we do” type moments. We were in Chicago for the umpteenth time, so we knew where we were going if the bus driver all of a sudden made an unscheduled detour. Still, most cities regulate taxi rates and a simple Google search in advance of your trip will let you know what the going rates are.
Next post: Photo Gallery: Columbus, Ohio (from our adventure last weekend to Ohio’s capital)
We’ve done Chicago to death. Caitlyn spent part of her childhood there, I spent a summer at Northwestern University in a journalism camp and we still make our way up there at least once, if not more, each year. In all, the two of us have been there dozens of times; it’s our favorite city to visit because there are so many different things to do and experience than no two trips are alike.
Every time we go, we stay in a different area of town so, suffice it to say, we’ve seen a lot of the city (we’ve even started visiting the suburbs!). There will probably, at some point, be a multitude of posts on this blog about Chicago, but we thought we’d start with a short list of our hidden gems in the Chicagoland area:
Lunch/dinner -If you explore the well-kept suburb of Oak Park visit Munch. Caitlyn still can’t stop salivating over this vegan restaurant, which is a great lunch spot, complete with “B”LTs (the bacon is really seitan) and the “Groovy Plate,” a dish of “beefy” tofu, red quinoa, mashed potatoes and more. Take the green line to the Harlem stop.
Dessert – Like hot chocolate? How about homemade marshmallows? Tempt your sweet tooth at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate in the Wicker Park neighborhood (Blue line: Damen stop). This trendy dessert place (they also serve meals and wine) can get busy in the evenings, but the dim lighting and chic décor make for a romantic night out.
Hotel Lincoln – If you’re staying in Chicago, make a trip to Hotel Lincoln in Lincoln Park. Between plaid carpeting, a lobby desk made of vintage desk and dresser drawers and trendy restaurants and boutiques just up the street, you, too, can be a hipster for a night.
Muirhead Farmhouse – If you’re up for staying in the ‘burbs – perhaps “in the sticks” might be more apropos – spend a night in one of the few remaining Frank Lloyd Wright inns. The Muirhead Farmhouse is a 1950s Usonian-style Wright home that’s been turned into a bed-and-breakfast, complete with heated floors, beautiful architecture and dozens of Wright autobiographies and films in the home. Unfortunately, you’ll also spend a lot of time getting into the city – plan for an hour or more and take a car to get to the L stop. Book a room upwards of a year in advance – there’s one room and it’s in high demand. NOTE: As of this blog post, the home’s website was unclear as to if the owners were still running it as a B&B, however it appears they still do tours.
Museum – Everyone goes to the Museum of Science and Industry, Field Museum or Shedd Aquarium, but the really cool museum for history buffs – especially adults – is on the north shore in Lincoln Park. The Chicago History Museum does exactly what its name says: Educates visitors about the rich history of Chicago’s many ethnic and diverse neighborhoods. You can also sit in an old seat from Wrigley Field, step onto an early “L” train car and take in any of the special exhibits, which change several times each year. The museum is located off North Street, a couple blocks north of the red line stop at Clark/Division.
Theatre – Not into museums? Catch a play on the far —and we mean far — north side of the city limits in Rogers Park at the Lifeline Theatre. Built in what appears to be an old warehouse, the heating can be spotty at times, so either bundle up or borrow one of the complimentary fleece blankets on each chair in the theatre. Snuggle up with a loved one and it’s just like watching a movie at home – but the movie is alive! Take the red line to the Morse stop.
What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?
Next post: 3 ways to stay safe on your vacation
Exploring Indy: Fountain Square
Thus far, we’ve been all about the “roving,” but not so much the “recluse”-ing. Sometimes Caitlyn and I (and especially Jackson) are just as content sticking around our hometown of Indianapolis than hopping in the Prius for a road trip.
If you’re not from Indy, then you’re probably like we were prior to moving here in 2009: Isn’t the only thing to do there to go to the racetrack? Well, yes, that is one thing, but, as I’ve learned over the years, what the travel guides and brochures say is true: Indy has a small-town feel but all the amenities of a big city.
We live in one of the Indy’s five cultural districts, Fountain Square. Located just southeast of downtown, the area has been undergoing a rebirth the last few years, as the hipsters have moved into the area, meaning more fedoras, bicycles and craft beers. We are only “one-quarter” hipster, but we still find Fountain Square interesting and are proud to call it home. Here are some reasons why you should come to Fountain Square to get your hipster (or non-hipster) on:
End of the Line Public House – Formerly the Shelbi St Diner, this revamped restaurant in the lower level of the Fountain Square Theatre building, offers delicious comfort food, pizzas and burgers. TIP: Pony up the extra dough for the pretzel sticks, which come with beer and dill cheese dipping sauces.
Pure Eatery – Locally and organically sourced (when available), this establishment’s menu lives up to its name, delivering healthy, guilt-free dishes. Find it in the old Murphy Arts Building off Virginia Avenue. You know it’s trendy because the locals just call it “Pure.” TIP: The Southwest bean wrap is amazing.
Maria’s – The pizza is good but it takes a while to come out to your table, so don’t go here if you’re in a hurry. Located off Prospect, just east of the two fountains. TIP: Make sure to also get some breadsticks with garlic butter (can you tell I like bread in stick form?).
IndySwank – This store’s popularity is backed up by a new, second store in Circle Centre Mall in downtown Indy. Chances are, if you’re a hipster, you dig cute T-shirts or can pull off skinny ties, then you’ll fit right in at this trendy boutique, which sells vintage and new clothing and accessories. It’s located by Pure Eatery.
Rogue Décor – The new kid on the block, Rogue Décor is the place to go for artwork or interesting conversation-starters that will make that wall or table look less vacant. A giant six-foot-tall sock monkey greets customers in the front window off Virginia Avenue and might also look good next to a vacant table or wall …
Mass Ave Knit Shop – If you’re into knitting (and what respectable hipster isn’t?), this is a great place to pop in for some knitting needles or miscellaneous items for a project. Located off Virginia Avenue (contrary to the store’s name), just south of the I-65/I-70 interchange.
Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art – Make sure to visit on “First Fridays,” which, un-coincidentally, is the first Friday of each month where galleries and music venues have exhibition openings, many of them free. iMOCA is free all the time and located in the old Murphy Arts Building off Virginia.
Duckpin bowling – The Fountain Square Theatre Building is home to not one, but two duckpin bowling alleys. What is duckpin bowling, you ask? Imagine someone stepped on traditional bowling pins, squishing them down to the size of garden gnomes. Swap out a traditional bowling ball for a bocce-sized ball and tack on a third roll per frame and you have duckpin bowling. TIPS: You will likely suck at this your first time, even if you’re a 300 bowler. Grab a coupon online and book your lane in advance, especially for Action Bowling, the cooler alley of the two.
Truly Moving Pictures – Also on First Fridays, Truly Moving Pictures, which puts on the annual Heartland Film Festival, shows short films for free in its viewing room. Film lovers can even purchase popcorn and beer before the film.
Next post: The Windy City: Hidden Gems
Let’s get real: Unless you win the Price is Right, vacations cost money. Thankfully, there are a few tricks to saving money out there. Here are five we’ve taken advantage of over time.
- Coupon codes: Coupon codes aren’t just for shopping at The Gap and Crate and Barrel. RetailMeNot, CouponCabin and several other sites also list hotel and even ticket broker (i.e., StubHub, Razorgator, etc.) coupon codes that you can use on websites to get great rates. Just Google the name of the hotel or show and phrase “coupon codes,” and you’ll see a slew of deals pop up. Some might be expired deals, but odds are you’ll find at least one valid deal.
- Third-party lodging websites: As mentioned in a prior post, Hotwire, I feel, gives you the best bang for your buck. You can get a fancy room or great location for cheap – if you’re willing to not find out your hotel’s name until you’ve already purchased the room. If you work for a larger corporation, don’t forget to take a peak at your company’s employee perks website, which often has deals comparable to AAA discounts on lodging.
- Allocating part of your paycheck to the vacation fund: No matter what, I try to set aside at least roughly $200 a month to the vacation fund, which is a separate account from those of my checking or other savings accounts. Just remember to shuffle the money from your vacation account to your credit or checking account once you’ve used that money!
- Scout Groupon/Living Social in advance. Don’t be resigned to getting emails only for your hometown; sign up in advance of your trip to get Groupon or Living Social deals for your destination city or cities e-mailed to you, too! Also, look for other similar websites in your destination city, as many cities have Groupon-like websites you’ve likely never heard of. We actually just scored a Groupon for more than half off a vegetarian restaurant in Toronto we had been eying for weeks.
- Research. Much like in public relations (my day job), every good campaign begins with research. I almost always start with Kayak, which lists hotels or flights on all the major airlines in a matrix with prices. From there, I can see what my realistic options are and start to set a budget (and determine if I need to book through Hotwire to save a few bucks).
How do you save money on your trips?
Next post: Exploring Indy: Fountain Square
In my last post, I talked about just a sliver of the great food options that Columbus, Ohio has to offer, but did you know that there are more things to do there than just eating and taking in a college football game?
My picks of 5 things to do in Columbus:
Watch a play: I used to be a theater nut, so I still enjoy seeing a good show and living vicariously through those who suffered through years of waitressing before “making it big.” Shadowbox Live is a cozy theatre downtown where you can munch on popcorn or dinner while watching a musical or play at a table with several other strangers. Caitlyn and I saw a great production of Chicago, although, the food was average at best, which is disheartening given the higher-than-average meal prices. Tips: Grab a drink before the show in the bar area, which sometimes has free pre-show entertainment (an opera was being performed when we arrived for our show). Also, eat dinner elsewhere and only get dessert or a snack during the show.
Take in a hockey or soccer game: Columbus is home to two professional sporting teams: The NHL’s Columbus Bluejackets and MLS’ Columbus Crew. The Bluejackets play at Nationwide Arena, a lovely, modern space with affordable tickets and the option to score a box of Timbits, Canadian doughnut chain Tim Hortons take on Dunkin’ Donuts’ “Munchkins.” Yum! (Bonus fact: Tim Hortons is named after former Toronto Maple Leafs great Tim Horton)
Browse The Book Loft and German Village: The Book Loft is truly a treasure in Columbus. It features dozens of rooms, with each room having a particular genre of books for sale. Word of warning from Caitlyn: If you see a book you like, buy it, because even Amazon might not have it (we’ll get you some day, knitting book). Another perk: It’s open 7 days a week, which means it’s a great place to swing by on your way out of town on a Sunday morning of an extended weekend trip. The Book Loft is located among the cobblestone streets of German Village, one of the oldest preserved downtown communities in the Midwest. Take a stroll and marvel at the 19th century architecture. Tip: Go to the Book Loft’s website in advance for money-saving coupons.
Explore the Wexner Center for the Arts: From pop art superstar Andy Warhol to the provocative photography of Annie Leibovitz, the Wexner Center routinely brings in big-name exhibits to this modern museum located on The Ohio State University campus. The walk can be a bit much from downtown, so consider hopping a bus or wearing comfortable shoes.
Shop in the Short North or at Easton Town Center: Dig boutiques, art and fancy chocolates or ice creams? Then hit up the Short North, the name for High Street between downtown and Ohio State. If you’re from Indy, think of it as an elongated version of Mass Ave. Prefer big-name retailers? Hop on 270 and visit Easton Town Center. Imagine what would happen if a lifestyle center had a baby with a traditional mall … and that baby was hepped up on steroids. That’s Easton Town Center. If the store isn’t there, then it doesn’t exist. Tips: Stop by Cheryl’s for a brownie and park in exterior lots, which are free. You’ll have to pay if you want to park right in front of your store in the lifestyle center part of the complex.
Of course, you’ll need lodging while you’re in town. I recommend the following two places:
The Lofts: Exposed brick walls and pipes, as well as high ceilings truly give you an “urban” taste of city life. Located in the arena district, it’s a short walk to the Short North. I was lucky enough to snag this hotel for cheap on Hotwire (see previous post).
Crowne Plaza: The Lofts’s sister hotel, the Crowne Plaza is especially worth it if you can stay in an executive club room, which gets you access to the “concierge lounge.” Each of the upper floors has access to this special room with free drinks, snacks and magazines, as well as a nice view of downtown. Rooms are definitely more designed for the business traveler, but the beds are extremely comfy and, during some promotions, you can get free breakfast at the Max & Erma’s downstairs.
Next post: 5 easy ways to save for your next vacation
I grew up half an hour from Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, so, needless to say, I was born with a general disdain for not only THE Ohio State University, but also Columbus and, by extension, the entire state of Ohio. Even in Toledo, the least Ohio of Ohio cities, that was still considered “the South” to a Michigander like myself.
Regardless, the allure of visiting a relatively unknown, large-ish city (Columbus is Ohio’s largest city. Who would have known?) was too much to pass up, so I took a trip by myself there after the 2008 election. That trip was a dud, largely because I didn’t plan well enough in advance and the pool at my hotel, the Best Western “Plus” Columbus North, also doubled as a community pool for children’s swim lessons. There’s nothing more deflating than seeing a pack of 5-year-olds swimming better than you in an adjacent lane.
Still, years later, when I saw my favorite hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, was coming to Columbus, I kidnapped Caitlyn and the two of us made the 2-hour-and-45-minute trek east from Indy to take in some professional hockey. Since then, we’ve returned to Columbus. Between my three trips there, I’ve learned a lot — too much to fit into one post! This first installment is on food; the second will focus on lodging and attractions.
Food: Caitlyn and I are vegetarians, but that doesn’t mean we eat at exclusively vegetarian or vegan restaurants. In fact, Columbus is home to two fantastic, affordable eateries for carnivores and herbivores – North Star Café and Betty’s Fine Food & Spirits.
North Star Cafe is a modern-looking local chain with several locations, especially in the trendy, artsy “Short North” district, which is located just north of the Arena District downtown. Expect lots of delicious dishes, including the Square Meal, which is spicy black beans, avocado, cheese, sour cream, sautéed peppers and onions and artfully displayed tortilla strips over brown rice. There’s even a free magazine rack that would give Barnes & Noble a run for its money if you’re travelling solo and need to catch up on the latest edition of Dwell or The Knot while downing your square meal.
Betty’s, meanwhile, is a sassy hole-in-the-wall where, if you dine at any normal time, you’ll have to wait to get a seat. If you like sassy 1950s pinups and the comic book-punk style wall art in the bathroom, you’ll fit in well here. First, the food is stellar. There’s no shortage of comfort food-style meal options, including Betty’s Beer Brats and a veggie melt or mac n cheese for us vegetarians.
Need a sweet treat to end the night? Visit one of the many Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams locations; there are two downtown – one in the Short North and another in the popular North Market. Both have unusual flavors of ice cream like salty caramel, guava cloverton or sweet potato with torched marshmallows. Expect to wait in line, especially if you hit up the Short North location after dark. Live in Indy and want a sweet treat but can’t or don’t want to travel to Columbus? Pick up a pint of Jeni’s at Georgetown Market or The Fresh Market.
If you’re on the move, you might check out the aforementioned North Market, which has a bevy of food stands, butchers and produce growers that are available to satisfy all your foodie and on-the-go needs. Located just south of the Short North, this gem also has artisans sell their wares outside the market on Saturdays. Get there early: It will get busy, especially on a Saturday.
Next post: Welcome to Buckeye Country Part 2 (lodging, shopping and sightseeing
There’s a time and a place for spending an ungodly amount of money on lodging – wooing your significant other, making up for irritating your significant other and being close to a particular area of town. But more often that not, you can save money AND still get a great room with a little detective work.
Take, Caitlyn and me: We’re visiting Montreal and Toronto this spring. For Montreal, I booked a room directly through the hotel’s website because, hey, Montreal is the Paris of Canada and that just screams “woo me.” Toronto, on the other hand, while a very cool city, you really can’t go wrong with booking a room through one of the many third-party travel sites out there because, no matter what, you’ll be close to either the subway or all the action.
But between Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and Hotwire, just to name a few, where does one start? Each has its merits.
Priceline: Lets you make an offer for a certain class or star-rating of hotel, but you don’t get to see the name unless the hotel and you both accept the bid. Reports are that Priceline is phasing out this approach for a more traditional Expedia-like format.
Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz: Will sometimes provide extra incentives, like on-board credit if you book a cruise room through them. Unlike with Priceline’s “name your own price,” you get to see profiles for each hotel.
Hotwire: Like to throw caution to the wind? Go with Hotwire, which doesn’t tell you the name of your hotel until you pay, rather, it just tells you the area of town and star rating. The trade-off with Hotwire is you can often land a much more swank room than your budget would normally allow.
I’m a bit of a hotel snob, and will refuse to book anything less than a 3.5-star (out of 5 star) room, but I like to be frugal with my lodging, so my preferred site of choice is Hotwire. I’ve had nothing but great experiences booking through Hotwire, staying at the swank Omni in Pittsburgh, hipster-friendly Hotel Lincoln in Chicago and in a couple months, the modern (exterior excluded) Hyatt Regency in Toronto — the latter of which saved us several hundred dollars off another comparable hotel I was looking at booking through the hotel’s website. It also helps if you’re a procrastinator, as hotels will sometimes put rooms on Hotwire at continuously deeper discounts the closer it is to your travel date.
Not much for taking a leap of faith when booking a hotel room? Follow these four steps to put your mind at ease with Hotwire:
- Hotwire lists the names of some major hotel partners for each star rating and area of town, so you’re not “completely” blind. But that’s only a partial list; more and more independent hotels have been partnering with Hotwire in recent years, so predicting your hotel isn’t as easy as it once was.
- Pull up Google Maps and learn what hotels are in your desired area of town to narrow down the possibilities before sealing the deal with Hotwire. Then research those hotels and see if you would be disappointed with any of those, should they end up being your Hotwire hotel.
- Some message boards feature “spoilers” from recent Hotwire customers naming the hotel they received based on the star rating and area of town. NOTE: This is great, but usually only if you’re booking within the same time frame as the poster.
- Once again, I never, ever get a Hotwire room that is less than a 3.5-star hotel. The one and only time I booked a room below that rating threshold was a less-than-stellar hotel. The reason for my rule is that Hotwire doesn’t always have the same standards as AAA for grading hotels, thus, a “4.5-star hotel” on Hotwire might, in reality, turn out to be more like a 4-star or 3.5-star site.
Feel free to post your Hotwire experiences below.
Next post: Welcome to Buckeye Country, Part 1 (food)
I admit it: I’m one of those people who constantly uses travel or restaurant review websites like TripAdvisor or Urbanspoon and never actually posts a review myself. Even with my bad travel karma and Internet etiquette, the travel Gods haven’t smote me with food poisoning or sent me home with a brood of bedbugs … yet. Consider this blog reparation for three decades of relishing in my own travel discoveries … and then not sharing them with you.
It’s not that I’m hopping in my car or booking a plane every weekend to go to some exotic location (Madrid, St. John) or un-exotic location (my wife probably won’t let me lead her through parts of downtown Cincinnati ever again), but I think I’ve learned enough over the years to know what to do (like how to get from one attraction to the next BEFORE you arrive in your destination city) and not to do (like rent a dirty villa in the Caribbean). Not only can I offer tips on restaurants, hotels and attractions we frequent on vacations, but also reviews of places in our recently adopted home of Indianapolis.
Don’t expect this to be a Frommer’s or Fodor’s guide to the world, rather, a collection of thoughts more focused on North America. While my wife and I like to travel, we haven’t gone across the globe quite yet and we equally enjoy hanging out together at home or in Indy. I tend to always be “on the move” and she likes to stay at home, hence our blog name.
But before we get going, I should probably introduce you to the “Rover and the Recluse” gang:
Caitlyn: This 20-something is sassy, opinionated and knows what she wants. Caitlyn is an artist and historian and likes to visit museums. She’s the street-smart one in this relationship. She also keeps a watch on the bank accounts to make sure her dashing husband (me) doesn’t spend asinine amounts on things like nosebleed seats for a Maple Leafs-Canadiens game in Toronto.
Kristofer (me): Early thirties and a public relations guy by day but, by night, borderline obsessive-compulsive trip planner. Chances are, I’ll be looking at travel ideas even while in the bathroom. TMI? There’s NO REST for the successful traveler … unless a beach is involved, then it is all about rest. Married since September 2012 to Caitlyn, my No. 1 travel buddy.
Jackson: Our little stray that showed up on our porch four days after Caitlyn and I married. Cute kitten must have known true love when he saw it – well played, cat. Any typos you see in blog entries are likely a result of him walking over our laptop keyboard while one of us is writing them.
That’s it for now, so sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Next post: Hot deals on hotel rooms