Travel Sidekick: The Fine Print of Bargains

In the spirit of embracing cheap opportunities to travel, I accompanied my husband on a whirlwind 2-day business trip to New Jersey a while back. We stayed at the Residence Inn in East Rutherford, which I would highly recommend – free breakfast, lovely rooms, and right across the street from a bus stop into Manhattan.

This brought to mind an important consideration for budget travel planning. Unless you’re the extreme budget traveler who would embrace sharing a bunk in a hostel in the middle of New York City, your best deal could be staying outside the city and using public transportation to make your way into the city. Before you make that decision for any destination, however, spend some time looking up local transportation costs.

I’ve noticed that many times travelers grab a great deal – whether on airfare or hotel – only to wind up spending more on the total trip than they might have otherwise. For example, the bus fare into NYC from our hotel was $8.50 round trip. Say you have a family of four sharing one room. Suddenly, the hotel that cost $120 a night in New Jersey is actually costing $154 a day for you to get downtown. In this case, it’s still probably cheaper than you’d find for a room in Manhattan, but that might not be true with other cities. You are also giving up the convenience of popping back to the room for a clothing change or nap (especially important if you’re traveling with children). A few more examples:

  • Consider the cost of parking and fuel when deciding whether to rent a car or use public transportation, and how far out of the city to stay. If you’re in the position where your time is more valuable than dollars, you should also consider the time lost commuting to your sightseeing destination versus what you’d save.
  • That red-eye flight at a discount price might look good, but you probably won’t be able to use public transportation to/from the airport in the middle of the night, and thus will be paying for a cab or parking. Same thing with flying back a day later/earlier for a cheaper flight – you’ll be adding on the cost of extra hotel, car rental, and parking fees (plus kennel fees, if you’re boarding a pet).
  • Packaged tours can be a great option if you don’t have the time or knowledge to search for all of your trip components individually. However, make sure you don’t wind up paying for features you wouldn’t have used otherwise. You don’t want to waste your precious three weeks a year going on tour of historical homes (or worse, visiting an extra city you’re not interested in) if you really don’t care about them, just to save $10 overall on your trip package.
  • Look for hotels with free breakfasts. You not only save $5-15 per day per person, but it’s so much more convenient to eat before you head out for the day. Plus, they often have fruit or small packaged items that you can take with you for a snack later.
  • If you’re not a foodie, consider spending an extra $10-$20 a day for a place with a small kitchen. You can find a local market and get supplies for sandwiches, which can be thrown into your bag and enjoyed for lunch.You could even have a few dinners in the room, which can be a nice break in the middle of the trip.

Bottom line: Think big picture before you grab up a great-sounding deal. Sometimes the fine print can add up in both money and convenience.

My First Wedding Coordination

I served as day-of coordinator for my friends Allison and Dave back in May 2012. It was such a fun event to be part of because I had worked with both the bride and groom for years (where they met) and had truly watched their entire relationship unfold. It was wonderful to see them so happy as they exchanged vows. At the time, I had no aspirations of starting a business or working on weddings, but I was working full-time at a trade association managing programs and events. I guess Allison saw something in me I hadn’t yet!

Allison is incredibly organized and has great taste – she made wedding planning look like a piece of cake. So there weren’t a lot of obstacles when the day came. As usual though, even with the best-laid plans, a day-of coordinator stays very, very busy!

I got to the venue at 1pm and set to work putting out place cards, strapping a baby seat to her nephew’s chair, directing the florist/baker/DJ where to go, etc. When the ceremony time came, I directed each of the wedding party members when to go down the aisle. During dinner, I made sure the vendors had a bite to eat and then helped direct people inside for the cake-cutting and first dance. I stayed on the clock until the boxes were being packed up at the end of the night. Mr. Sidekick even chipped in by being my Sidekick and filming the wedding on a FlipCam (so 6 years ago!)

But we were also guests, so we had a blast, too! We danced and imbibed and ate delicious food. I was sore on Sunday from all the dancing. It was a truly beautiful wedding. The venue was James Monroe’s house, a big townhome in DC, that is now used as an art gallery. There was a centerpieces-lincoln-mason-jarsclassy and subtle Presidential theme – the tables were named after presidents, and letters between John and Abigail Adams were read during the ceremony. It tied in perfectly with the venue and the couple’s love of history and politics. The ceremony and dancing took place inside and dinner was in a huge courtyard out back, with perfect weather. Read more about their lovely event here.

It was really an honor to be there for them, and I’m so glad I was able to make their day better by taking care of the little stuff. When I thanked Justin for the 5th time for offering to work the camera, he said, “I like having a purpose.” Ditto!

What I’m Working On: April 15, 2016

Spring is here, obvious not just because of the unpredictable weather and flowers popping up everywhere – but also the amount of time I’m spending on wedding prep! This week’s activities include:

  • Finalizing programs for a rustic chic wedding in Texas
  • Making final updates to the plan for tomorrow’s classic DC wedding
  • Creating a timeline for a wedding next month on the water in Alexandria, VA

In between all the weddings, I’m also working on some travel itineraries and milestone-birthday details. The most unique request? Finding a copy of a hometown newspaper from 1916 for the 100-year-old birthday boy!

What I’m Listening To: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’ album, so I can be a worthy sidekick for one of my best buds – a HUGE Bruce fan – at an upcoming Springsteen concert!

A Beach-y Good Time

I’ve had a built-in Sidekick for a few decades now – my baby sister, Erin. She’s getting married this year, so I’ve gotten to pour my Sidekick energies into making it a great experience for her! We celebrated Erin and her fiancee Clayton with a beach-themed wedding shower. Erin has always loved the beach, and the couple will honeymoon in Florida, so it was a natural fit! To complement their wedding colors (turquoise and coral) and tie into the theme, I went with a sand-and-sea (blues and golds) color scheme.

Our space was a meeting room in an office building, which means the upside was a blank slate to decorate, and the downside was making it look a little less business-y and a bit more beach-y. The extra challenge was planning the shower from 1300 miles away – I shipped some things and brought the rest in a suitcase! Luckily, with several family members nearby, I was also able to raid their supply of dishes, platters, and nautical looking decor the day before the shower.

The event turned out great and the guests were kind and generous – the couple was definitely feeling the love!

Without further ado, the photos!

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‘Two Less Fish in the Sea’ – custom-made banner

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Salt Water Taffy Favors

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Clothespin Game and Advice for the Couple

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The card box was repurposed – Erin asked us to be bridesmaids with a few little gifts inside this box!

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Swedish Fish on the cupcakes

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My favorite part – the ‘crab’ sandwiches!

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