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East Coast of USA - trip! Advice please!

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1. Posted by jwen1106 (Budding Member, 2 posts) 17 Jan '11 14:50

jwen1106 has indicated that this thread is about USA

Hi people :)

I am interested in planning a trip to the East Coast of USA for a month during the holidays (July-August) and i was wondering if the readers could give me any suggestions about costs and how practical my plan is.

I'm planning to fly from London to New York around mid-July and was hoping to stay there for around 6 nights.

Then I'll be taking the Amtrak Railway Service to Philadelphia and will be staying there for 5 nights.

Then from there, taking the train from Philadelphia to Washington DC (Amtrak) where i will be staying for 6 nights.

Then from Washington to Toronto - where i will probably be staying over a friends for a week.

Next from Toronto to Boston (I will probably have to change trains) - stay for 6 days

At the end, flying back to London from Boston

I'll will be getting my driver's license for UK this year so i probably wont be allowed to drive in USA so soon after, so my only option is railway to get from state to state. But apart from this, within the states, i will probably be using public transport. Is this a good idea? Is it safe for tourists?

I was wondering if food is expensive in USA/Canada - the places ive mentioned? As we're on a pretty tight budget, i was wondering how much on average would meals cost in a day?
Are they safe places for a group of 2-4, 18 year olds?
How much would transportation cost in each state? Approximately? As im not sure how the transportation system works..
Regarding tipping - how much do people generally tip? and when do they tip?
Are the number of days i stay in each place enough? too little? too much?

2. Posted by cyntiast (Budding Member, 7 posts) 17 Jan '11 15:00

I live an hour west of DC.

Transportation. Try www.megabus.com for transportation (versus using Amtrak) between the cities.

As with any city in any part of the world, there are good areas and bad areas in regard to safety. Staying in groups would be wise. You should feel safe though following common sense rules to visit all the cities mentioned in your post.

July and August are hot months in Philly and DC; it will be cooler the further north you go.

I'm not sure if there are hostels in any of the cities you plan to visit; you can google to try to find that information. It is cheaper to stay somewhere like Newark, New Jersey and take the train into New York City. Also the same for DC; stay out further from the city but near the metro to save money.

Average meal prices. McDonald's - $5 a meal but not too healthy. There are sub shops that will be around the same price and then restaurants can run all the way up the price scale. Best to ask the locals for best priced / good places to eat. You can always pick up food at grocery stores as well. Stay in hotels that offer free breakfasts to help save food money.

Hope this helps some. Good luck on your trip!

3. Posted by jwen1106 (Budding Member, 2 posts) 17 Jan '11 15:24

Hi - thanks for your reply!

I've been looking at the megabus website and im quite confused when it comes to the pricing. It seems that for example: from New York to Philadelphia the price is like 22 USD for 2 seats whilst from Washington to Toronto its says something like 2 USD? umm.. im not really sure why this is the case!

4. Posted by 617jetset (Budding Member, 32 posts) 17 Jan '11 16:51

Hi Jwen:

I live in the Boston suburbs so can give a few pointers about my city.

Boston is very safe and the subway here (called the T) is sufficient for tourists who want to see the highlights of the city. If you plan to go into the suburbs though a car would be best. The subway here is $2 per ride, no matter the distance. If you can get a reloadable CharlieCard (similar to London's Oystercard) the fare is $1.70 per ride (check out www.mbta.com).

Boston is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. along with New York. In fact, the entire northeast region of the country (mainly New England and New York) is rather expensive compared to the south and center regions. Be sure to plan for this as you said you are on a budget.

There are many world class museums here but they are quite expensive (some as much as $20) and you may be sick of musuems after Washington D.C. (at least most in D.C. are free!). Also, hotels in the downtown area are VERY expensive. Plan on AT LEAST $150/night for anything decent...at least 3-4 stars (I am not a backpacker type at all though so we may differ on our views of what is acceptable accomidations; I list en suite bathrooms high on my list of priorities along with at least queen-size beds). If you try Priceline.com's name your own price feature you may be able to get something comfortable like a Sheraton or Hilton for aroud $100/night...it's worth a shot. 5 star hotels will easily be $400-$600 a night here at full rate.

July and August are quite hot and humid in Boston and New England weather is notoriously fickle; it can be a lovely 73F one day and then a disgusting 95F two days later...it really can be quite crazy. That said, on a comfortable day the Public Gardens and Boston Common are nice to stroll through and various street vendors are in the Common where you should be able to get a hotdog and a soda for less than $5. Also, Chinatown offers a vast array of decent food in large portions at decent prices...you can get away with less than $10 for lunch and less than $20 for dinner here. You should get one nice seafood meal when you are here though as this area is known for seafood; even though you may spend $30-$40 for a good place at dinner without alcohol. I'm somewhat of a foodie so my prices my be higher than what you could find if you really search hard but I would plan on at least $50 a day to eat well in Boston.

Tipping is always 18-20% of the pre-tax amount in restaurants (waitresses here rely on tips and thus get a VERY low hourly wage so tipping is quite important). Hotel maids should get about $2 per room per night. Hotel bellhops/airport porters get $1/bag.

About your Megabus find: sometimes they offer a limited amount of EXTREMELY low fares like $2 a trip if you book far in advance. If you plan to take the bus you may want to grab any deals that you see for so cheap.

Enjoy your trip! I hope you love Boston as much as I've loved all my trips to London! :)

5. Posted by SeeTheSky (Respected Member, 557 posts) 17 Jan '11 23:09

There are hostels in New york and boston i know for sure.. they're not bad and their significantly cheaper than other relative lodgings..

your plan sounds fine, just know that DC to toronto is going to be a hike, and toronto to Boston will be too but not as bad.

public transit is fine, just kinda boring and sometimes they'll be shady but i wouldn't be worried about personal safety or nothing. no big deal.

i know there are buses from chinatown NYC to Boston for like 5 dollars or less, though i've never taken it myself and its not exactly a well organized operation (and besides i dont think you said you're going from NY to BOS)

food can be real cheap if you do fast food or real expensive if you go to restaurants all the time..

tipping is only really for waiters and bartenders.. and a good tip is usually just 2x the tax which should be on every check

public transit in major cities (trains/subways etc) are generally pretty cheap, a few bucks though NYC subway system is notoriously complicated and sometimes confusing so be prepared to ask people where the fuck to go and stare at subway maps for hours

new york, boston, philly, dc, they're all great cities, if your willing to go out and about and go to bars and clubs or just sightsee. but its all pretty frenetic and high energy (esp NY and DC) so just go with it and have fun.

if you're going to improv going somewhere, from NY penn station you can get a train to basically anywhere

enjoy, have fun, live it up

6. Posted by antoniab (Budding Member, 3 posts) 18 Jan '11 04:58

I live in DC. There's a *huge* amount of free stuff - all the Smithsonian is free and there are lots of free concerts etc. Check the Washington Post's thursday 'weekend' section online when you come - you can specify free. You'll be amazed at what's out there. In my old home I used to host b&b. This might be a good option for you, especially as the hosts usually are very helpful. I did this through airbnb.com and roomorama.com. The host would probably let you put things in the fridge and do some basic cooking, I know I did!

All the cities you mention have good public transportation.

You can eat really cheaply and healthily in the US. Food here is much less expensive than in the UK - both at the supermarket and eating out. Yes, these are expensive cities for the US - but the food is still cheaper than the UK. You might also look into staying at 'suites' where you have a small kitchen - literally a fridge, cooker, sink, microwave. That way you can go to the store. Do not stay anywhere without air conditioning - as others have said, it will be hot. Even if you eat out, it will be cheaper than in the UK and also you can find cheap options in immigrant parts of town that are healthy and not chain/fast food. I'm talking $5-$10 for rice and beans and chicken - a healthy, solid meal. I'm sure you can scout out these places.

The cheap buses are a great way to get around. Don't take the chinatown bus, it has a terrible safety record. There are loads of bus companies that go between Bos/NY/DC and some that also do Philadelphia - more names:
megabus.com
bolt.com
dc2ny.com
washingtondeluxe.com
I have taken all these and they are good.

Don't forget to look into greyhound. I've taken them between DC and NY. They are very safe and have dropped their prices because of the competition.

US cities are fine - you'll be safe. Just know where the bad neighbourhoods are, as they really are dangerous. More-or-less anywhere you'd stumble around will be perfectly safe. As a European you won't be worried.

Good luck!

7. Posted by antoniab (Budding Member, 3 posts) 18 Jan '11 05:00

Pricing on buses is just about availability. It's strange but true

8. Posted by jeantyc (Budding Member, 68 posts) 18 Jan '11 06:47

subway system in NYC is perfectly safe cost is $2.25; like anything is life don't go flashing items you don't want stolen and be alert; you can access all the transportation listed from everyone in NYC, plus amtrak; I've used the megabus no problems love it, you get free wifi during your travel

9. Posted by zentric (Budding Member, 17 posts) 18 Jan '11 17:15

Glad to hear you're exploring the east coast! I'm in DC and although I've never actually traveled DC to Philly on one of the buses, I would suggest checking into it, as they would probably be less expensive than Amtrak (although take longer, so it will be a trade off).
Agree with antoniab - I've never heard good things about the Chinatown bus, but BoltBus and Megabus all get good reviews from my friends. If you Google "DC to Philly bus" you'll get some options to look at.

Public transport in DC is super easy and not too expensive -- can I just ask one favor? As a "traveler good-deed", when you're using the DC Metro and you're riding on the escalators, stand on the right, walk on the left! :) Metro personnel and the unhurried folk on the trains are normally very helpful. The metro and buses will definitely be crowded during rush hours (7:30-9:30am and 5-6:30pm seem to be the peaks).
www.wmata.com This is the metro website, and you can figure out the exact fare of where you'd like to go.

You can find inexpensive food options in DC - actually, I can even recommend most of the food carts that are stationed around the city. Lots of my friends from work frequent different carts when they're near our office, and most of them are awesome. Use this site to find them: http://foodtruckfiesta.com/

If I had to guess, I would say one day of food can range anywhere from $20 to $50, just depending on how much you're willing to go cheap.

Take the tipping advice from SeeTheSky - cab drivers will expect a tip, but it doesn't sound like you'll be using taxis.

Being from DC, I can of course come up with enough stuff to occupy you for waaaaay longer than 6 days. :) But it seems like you have a good balance. Just be sure to figure in that alot of the trips, whether you go by train or by bus, are going to be pretty far, we're talking 2-3 hours MINIMUM.

Hope you have an awesome trip, and post some pix up here for us!

10. Posted by fivekitten (Budding Member, 2 posts) 24 May '11 06:32

I'm definitely a Megabus.com fan - although I never had any luck with wifi on the buses I've been on.

Ideas I've used to save money (I'm doing an East Coast bus trip as well with my daughter):

1. Take a bus that runs from 11pm to 9am or something and sleep on the bus while you travel, you'll save yourself hotel fare. Well, I guess there's luggage storage to consider...(I have kids along the Eastern states so I can just backpack it and wash my clothes there :)

2. Union Station at DC has Mcdonald's and they have a dollar menu. Plenty of people sleep in the chairs at the Amtrak waiting area. Au Bon Pain is in there and is open all night and you can get wifi but they have no plugs. There are plugs at Union Station in the large pillars that surround the Amtrak waiting station. But some in the back by the phones don't work. There's wifi at the Amtrak waiting area.

3. At Union Station they have a place that will hold your luggage while you sight see - although it's expensive in my book. (Think it's $30 a day or $6 an hour or something like that...goes by size.)

4. Every major city has a metro bus website. I like to download and print schedules and maps before I go. DC metro is soo confusing to me!! But cheap and very convenient.

5. Every major city has a McD and they have a dollar menu. Most chain restaurants have a dollar menu now. (Although I highly recommend local food!!!)

All the national museums and zoo in DC are free. Personally, I'd go with the American History Museum and Space Museum first. We can usually only do one museum in day. In NYC, pay attention to whether the entrance fee says "suggested donation" - meaning paying is optional, you can throw in a dollar if you want. I started making a list of free things to do in NYC...here's some websites I had: Seems lots of places have "free" days or times. I'd definitely do the whole Staten Island Statue of Liberty thing and Central Park. (Staten Island Ferry is free...long lines though.)

http://www.newyorkology.com/archives/2009/03/free_hours_at_m.php

http://www.newyorkology.com/archives/cheap_stuff/index.php

http://www.theskint.com/2007/01/free-museum-hours.html

http://www.sonywondertechlab.com/visit_swtl.html

http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/city-guides/free-new-york-city-traveler/

I've also found that yelp.com is a good source for finding things and reviews. And the city-data.com or topix forums sometimes are.

Bus search site:

http://www.gotobus.com/

http://www.apexbus.com/