Travel tips to discover the local treasures hidden in your backyard!
For as long as I can remember I have had the Travel Bug, my Dad calls this my “itchy feet” since I could never stand still. I loved going on road trips and vacation getaways with my family as a child, then exploring on my own as I got older. I was excited to get my Passport so I could travel to distant lands and experience the World!
After two trips outside the United States I realized that my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona was an exotic location for many people. The locals that I was visiting were just as fascinated by USD currency, desert climate, and the “wild, wild, west” as I was with their home. Some of my new British friends even made the trek out to Phoenix to see for themselves. Treating my home as base camp, we explored my neighborhood through tourist eyes. And I discovered treasure in my own backyard!
Hiking is one of my favorite free activities in Phoenix. Our desert valley is surrounded by mountains providing stunning views and wildlife. South Mountain Park/Preserve in the heart of Phoenix is over 16,000 acres, approximately 20 times the size of New York’s Central Park, it is the largest municipal park in the country! Now is the perfect time to Go Take a Hike!
South Mountain Park is easy access from anywhere in metro-Phoenix and offers trails for every level of athletic ability. Horses, dogs, and mountain bikes are all welcome on the trails.
With nearly 60 miles of trails, I like to map out the hike before heading to a trail head. Most trails are easily followed with metal signposts along the trail as a guide, and many of these were recently updated with trail name, QR code, elevation, and specific trail post information. I always bring a hard copy trail map of the area I plan to be in. A recent hike with friends was so beautiful we decided to add another couple miles to our hike, which was easily accomplished with a brief look at our trail map.
Pima Canyon entrance is accessed from I-10 and Baseline road, just off of 48th street and Guadalupe. This popular parking lot is usually packed with cars, and offers restrooms, water fountains, shaded benches, and areas for cooking/grilling.
Desert Foothills Parkway is a smaller parking lot located at the Southern tip of the park and offers shaded area, water fountains, and portable toilets.
Recently, we downsized to a smaller home and made other frugal lifestyle changes. I like the The Dollar Stretcher statement, “Frugal is Using Money Thoughtfully”. Spending money (or not) should be a well thought out decision, rather than merely a reaction or just picking the cheapest option.
First, the difference between being frugal versus cheap. While attending University, I was broke and the cheapest options were the only way to keep food in my tummy and a roof over my head, in order to not incur massive student loan debt. I lived in the least expensive (and terrible) neighborhood close to campus and made every sacrifice in comfort. When you are broke, often the only choice is whatever is the lowest price option or do without when that is even too much money. After graduation, my career took off and I left cheap behind! To me, being frugal is all about priorities and choices, cheap is settling for what is left. Like most people, my lifestyle was cheap due to my own decisions and priorities. I could have lived in a beautiful apartment for the same price as my tuition!
Being frugal is searching for the best value option, while cheap is the sacrifice of quality and value.
My current frugal lifestyle is extravagant luxury compared to those years in school. I eat very well, travel, buy nice cars, and can afford activities like scuba diving. I still consider myself frugal, and consider how and why I spend money. Paying off all (interest bearing) debt was a priority for me, and here is how I paid off all of my debt. I do not owe creditors, and I certainly do not pay interest to borrow money.
I look at frequency of my spend (weekly habits really add up) and reoccurring expenses. Monthly cable bill is a luxury that I do not need and more savings ideas here.
I do not clip coupons or worry about a few pennies here or there, the payoff is not worth my time.
I stock up on my regular items during a sale, and I buy non-perishable (toilet paper and consumables) items in bulk for cost savings.
I join rewards programs for grocery stores, food, clothing, hotel and travel, and “regular” purchases, even if only once a year.
Then I stay informed on perks and promotions from those loyalty programs to score my airline upgrades, free hotel stays, bulk sales, clothing discounts, and other money saving offers.
I compare prices. When out shopping I will double check prices on Amazon and eBay compared to in store. Sometimes Target really does have the best price, and I can take it home immediately! Whatever the item, I buy with confidence that I got a good deal.
New York City is a busy, loud bustle of activity and I love it! Coming from the hot, dry desert, NYC is especially magical in the Winter. I never stay as long as I want, nor do everything on my travel list, since NYC is so expensive.
Here are my favorite, and best value, activities for NYC in the winter.
First, the FREE stuff!
Grand Central Station – Officially known as Grand Central Terminal, this may be your first stop when arriving in NYC. A major hub for trains, this busy station is a destination for most tourists. Take a moment and look up at the elaborate astronomical ceiling in the Main Concourse, clocks, and sculptures throughout.
Rockefeller Center – Check out the world famous Christmas tree (perfect for selfies), golden sculpture of Prometheus, and Ice Skating rink. Do not let the crowds scare you away, add people watching to your activities at the center.
Department Store Window Display – Walk down 5th Ave and check out the Window displays starting at Bloomingdale’s (closer to 3rd Ave), and moving on to Barney’s, Tiffany’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks, Lord & Taylor, and Macy’s Herald Square. These are no ordinary displays! Every year these stores create an impressive display of movement, animatronics, light shows, music, color, and imagination!
Empire State Building – Visible all along 5th Ave, the Empire State Building is best viewed from Herald Square, a perfect accompaniment to the Window Displays. There are restaurants, shopping, and elevator rides to the observation decks (not free, not cheap, but a bucket list item for many people).
Central Park – Walk around and take in the NYC skyline view from the park. Wear comfortable walking shoes to explore tip to tip of this impressive park. Bundle up and check out all the spots featured in TV and Movies. The best time to go is after fresh snowfall, it is simple stunning!
Times Square – No trip to NYC is complete without walking through Times Square. Known as the Crossroads of the World, so many activities will lead you to Times Square, in fact, it is difficult to visit NYC without passing through.
High Value Activities (do whatever your budget allows)
Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular – The best seats to see the entire show, and intricately choreographed Rockettes dancing, is from the First Mezzanine. There are several shows per day, and the earliest and latest shows tend to be less expensive. These tickets sell out fast, so buy your tickets as soon as possible.
Broadway Show – This is where travelling solo really has advantage, buying a single ticket is easier and you get better seating for one. Check out show availability and prices, certain nights and showtimes are cheaper than others. I scored 6th row center seats to Lion King for Thursday night, when Friday was completely sold out!
Russian Tea Room – Stop in for Breakfast, 3 course lunch, Pre & Post Theatre 3 Course Dinner, or between meal time for a drink (hot or cold, plus full bar). The decor, ambiance, and amazing artwork is well worth the visit.
NYC Observation Decks – Rockefeller Center offers views at Top of The Rock, Empire State Building, One World Observatory all require (pricey) tickets to access the observation decks. I paid to visit one observation deck years ago, now I try to book reservations at restaurants that are on high floors of skyscrapers.
Hotels, Food and Drink are more expensive than comparable cities throughout the US. Less expensive deals can be found, do your research and assume that if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is in NYC. Above all, take advantage of all the free and fabulous sights the city has to offer!
Want more? Wanderlustingk has are even more tips for Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, and holiday activity around New York!