Thursday, May 3, 2012

How to Become a Weekender Warrior

Today's travel guide comes from Becky, a journalist and avid traveler. She loves nothing more than planning perfect weekend trips, so today, she presents a guide to weekend trip planning, with Seattle and Portland as her example. — Amber

Matt and me at Pike Place Market, one of my favorite spots in Seattle.

I love to travel more than anything else on this earth, but I’m also super stingy with my time off and with my money. For the last five years, I’ve been working on making the most of my long weekends, by using them to catch up with friends in fun, exotic places, trying amazing new foods and experiencing new things without breaking the bank or draining my vacation time. Here’s how:

Pick a place 
Remember when you swore you’d visit that friend who moved to ____ after college? Now’s a great time to get in touch on Facebook. Mention you’re planning a trip to town, and you’d love to see them when they have a weekend off a couple months down the road. If they’re generous, you might land a couch or guest room during your stay (bring a thank you gift!). 
If not, you’ll at least have a tour guide or get good recommendations for places to stay, eat, hang out. Set dates with your bud, or let her know when in advance when you’ll be in town. Two months notice is great, if you can swing it.

Find a flight
After checking the typical travel sites to see what the going rates are for airlines, double check the specials at regional airports to see if there are cheaper rates there. 

For example, the tiny Allegiant Air gets breaks from bringing merrymakers to Las Vegas, so instead of buying a $200 round-trip flight out of Denver International (the nearest big airport to me), I can get fly on Allegiant from the little regional airport in Loveland, CO for about $70 each way.

Whatever flight you choose, make sure it will allow you to maximize your travel. I like to fly out Thursday or Friday night, so I’m ready to see the sights in my destination first thing.

Figure out how you’ll get around your destination. If you’re in NYC or DC, you examine the subway maps online and buy day passes once you get there. In Philly, expect to walk or cab it around. 

My boyfriend Dean and took a long weekend in Seattle last month to visit our friend Matt, and because we knew we’d be going to far-flung neighborhoods AND Portland, we decided to rent a car. (I wouldn’t recommend a second-city detour like this for beginner Weekender Warriors.) We got lucky and found free street parking most of the time (because of tips from friends), but I had the addresses and numbers of the cheapest 24-hour parking garages near our places of interest.

The produce at Pike Place Market is brilliant and super-fresh.

Wish List
This is my FAVORITE part of trip planning. Essentially, you make a wish list of everything you want to do during your trip. You can throw everything you want on there before editing it down, flagging anything essential. 

In Seattle, Dean and I knew we needed time to hang with Matt, and we also wanted to eat everything that Anthony Bourdain got at restaurants there in the Pacific Northwest episode of “No Reservations.”  Dean loves music, too, so I checked out concert venues. Perusing farmers market postings, the Zagat Dining Guide, Facebook, and alt weekly magazines like The Stranger (Love you, Dan Savage!) helped a lot. 

My ambitious list looked something like this:

- Hang with Matt*
  • Eat at Piroshky, Piroshky (incredibly Russian street pastry)
  • Walk around Pike Place Market*
  • See the Space Needle
  • Eat at Salumi (Mario Batali’s dad’s killer charcuterie restaurant)
  • See Nada Surf play at the Neptune Theater
  • Check out the Fremont Vintage Mall
  • Take a photo with the Fremont Troll*
  • Visit Theo Chocolate Factory
  • Shop at the Fremont Sunday Market*
  • Eat ice cream at Molly Moon’s, as my friend Gina made me promise to do
  • Hike to Puget Sound in Discovery Park

*Signifies non-negotiable activity

Dean and me at the Fremont Troll. While we were there, we were extras in a local pest control commercial with a giant dancing rat.

Prioritize Itinerary
This is where you play Tetris with your wish list. Some of the things we wanted to do had set times, like the Fremont Sunday Market and the Nada Surf show, so those had fixed spots in the itinerary.

Now do your logistical research, checking hours and locations. (Salumi is closed Saturday through Monday, so we’d have to go on Tuesday before our flight.) Also, Google Maps is your friend here. (Piroshky, Piroshky is in Pike Place Market, which is set on Puget Sound. Three birds, one stone.)

FRIDAY: Fly into Seattle. Staying at City Hostel Seattle.

SATURDAY: Sleep in, wander Pike Place Market. Eat at Piroshky, Piroshky. Visit the Space Needle. Grab Dinner. Nada Surf is playing at the Neptune Theater.

SUNDAY: Fremont MarketFremont Troll. Drive to Portland. Dinner with Katie at Apizza Scholls. Drinks. VooDoo Doughnut.

MONDAY: Breakfast. Drive back to Seattle. Grab lunch at Salumi. Visit with Matt? Discovery Park?

TUESDAY: Fly back.

Dean got to play a $20,000 Martin Guitar from 1940 at Emerald City Guitars. We were lucky I ever got him to leave.

Refine. Check-in. Refine
When we got in touch with Matt, he was planning to move and hadn’t found a place yet, so we planned to stay in a hostel but held off on reservations. (We ended up crashing with his brother. Thank you gift!) Also, Matt’s band was set to play a show the same night as Nada Surf, so we didn’t buy tickets in advance. None of us had our hearts set on actually going up the Space Needle, so we drove past it and snapped a picture.

Schedule Downtime
You’re getting a lot done this weekend. Give yourself some flex time each afternoon to relax, change, shower. If you don’t need it, you can go to a nearby park or bookstore to veg and recharge.

Be Prepared
Your daily needs don’t take a break during your trip, so if you prepare for them, you’ll avoid spending unnecessary money and taking unwanted pit stops. Pack a water bottle to bring with you. Having my Nalgene (I emptied it before reaching TSA, refilled at the airport) kept me from having to find convenience stores and buying bottled drinks every few hours. I think I saved at least $25. Obviously, it’s wise to bring travel-size SPF and tissues. Also, pack comfy walking shoes AND cute going-out shoes. You don’t want an adorable pair of pinchy boots to ruin your romantic afternoons strolling around the city, or to be compelled to buy a new pair of walking shoes you don’t really like. And don’t forget to pack your phone charger!

Keep your itinerary on hand
Before you leave on your trip, make an itinerary complete with the address and phone number of each location, contact information for your friends, flight numbers and times, confirmation numbers for reservations, etc. Naturally, you can make any changes you need. I included restaurants we never made it to, just in case we needed somewhere to go. If your phone battery dies or you lose cell reception, having a trusty slip of paper in your bag can keep you on track and prevent you from getting lost.

Marilyn Batali makes gnocchi in the window at Salumi. Sweetest. Lady. Ever. Also, the mole salami and mozzarella on Giuseppe bread was the best sandwich I've ever had in my life, and I grew up in the New York metro area.

Mine looked like this:

  • Rental: Alamo at SEA-TAC (confirmation number)
  • Expedia (confirmation number)
  • Impark - (cheap, 24/7 parking): 2231 Sixth Avenue, Seattle (877) 449-7275
  • Mark’s Apartment: (address, phone number)
  • Pike Place Market: 85 Pike street  Seattle, (206) 682-7453
  • Piroshky Piroshky: 1908 Pike Place  Seattle (206) 441-6068
  • Space Needle: 400 Broad Street  Seattle (800) 937-9582
  • Neptune Theater: (Nada Surf at 9 p.m., Doors at 8)
    1303 Northeast 45th Street, Seattle, (N.E. 45th Street and Brooklyn Avenue)
    • Parking: The Neptune Theatre does not have its own parking lot. Parking across the street at the Deca Hotel is $2 after 6 p.m. There are several other pay lots in the area as well as metered street parking (after 8 p.m. and Sundays are free). Parking on the nearby UW campus is free after 8 p.m.
  • Fremont Market (10a-5p): 400 N 34th St (between N Phinney Ave & Canal St)
  • Fremont Troll: N 36th St., Seattle
  • Fremont Vintage Mall: 3419 Fremont Pl N, (between 34th St & 35th St) Seattle
  • Theo Chocolate: 3400 Phinney Ave Seattle (206) 632-5100 (Free samples, tours)
  • Brouwer’s CafĂ©: 400 North 35th Street, Seattle (206) 267-2437 (Beer joint)
  • Silence-Heart-Nest: 3508 Fremont Place North, Seattle, WA (206) 633-5169           (Vegetarian restaurant, run by disciples of Sri Chinmoy)
  • Dinner: Apizza Scholls, 6:15 dinner reservation for 4 people; 4741 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, Portland, OR (503) 233-1286
  • Voodoo Doughnut (two locations)

  • Brunch Meat, Cheese, Bread (open 7am): 1406 Southeast Stark Street, Portland, 
          (503) 234-1700
  • Powell’s City of Books (9a-11p): 1005 West Burnside Street, Portland, OR 97209, 228-0540 ‎

  • Pies and Pints (4p-2a): 1215 Northeast 65th Street, Seattle, (206) 524-7082
  • Molly Moons (Amazeballs ice cream. Gina says salted caramel and coffee are good.I liked balsamic strawberry)
  • Salumi (open 11-3:30): 309 3rd Avenue South, Seattle (206) 621-8772
  • Return car to Alamo

FLIGHT: Frontier #817, Departs 2:51p, Arrives 6:25 pm

This type of planning sounds like a lot of work, but I’ll admit I get a sick satisfaction from this kind of trip planning. But it’s served me really well over the last few years to make sure that when I go on a trip, I’m not stuck without options, and I don’t ever leave disappointed.

P.S. Take pictures!

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