–Priceline and Hotwire rock. I’ve always been a fan of “opaque” sites that promise hefty discounts in exchange for keeping the hotel name secret until after you book, and they’ve been a godsend for our frequently last-minute stays. Two examples: Priceline’s $118 Express Deal for Fourth of July at the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan (definitely not four-star as advertised, but we sweet-talked the front desk clerk into a room upgrade) and $71 on Hotwire for the three-star but should have been four-star Stonewall Jackson Hotel in lovely little Staunton, Virginia, just south of Shenandoah National Park.
–Florida is more than beaches, mouse ears and alligators. One of our favorite afternoons was spent kayaking the spring-fed, crystal-clear Weeki Wachee River south of Gainesville – where the evening’s entertainment consisted of watching thousands of bats swoop out of their campus digs over a nearby lake.
Going batty at the University of Florida, Gainesville
–Airbnb has morphed far beyond its hipster urban roots. Though the fast-growing, peer-to-peer lodging service is drawing the ire of hoteliers and tax collectors in major cities like New York and San Francisco, we’ve had great experiences (and cheaper-than-Priceline rates) in rural East Haddam, Connecticut and Tenants Harbor, Maine.
–Thanks to Yelp, we’ve never had to settle for a meal at a chain restaurant. We’ve used several food apps and review sites, from Urbanspoon to IExit, but keep coming back to Yelp for its breadth of reviews and ability to narrow choices based on map view. Two of our favorite finds: the Blue Oar, a BYO, bring-your-own-picnic-basket place overlooking the Connecticut River in Haddam, Connecticut, and Bruce’s Fabulous Foods. Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Marion, North Carolina, the diner offered a perfect combination of healthier fare (roasted beet and jalapeño hummus) and gut-busting cheesecakes…130 varieties.
–No matter how little you pack, it’s always too much. We were feeling pretty smug by paring down our clothing and electronics to that which could fit into two 32-inch suitcase/duffels, two lightweight carryons and two backpacks. But when we needed to consolidate warm and cold weather gear for an upcoming sail on the schooner Mary Day out of Camden, Maine, I realized how few items we’d actually worn over the past four weeks. As long as we have easy access to a washer and dryer (another reason for booking Airbnb or vacation rentals), we could jettison a third of what we’d assumed was essential.