We’re gearing up for lots of festivals and trips in the next few months here at WanderLang, but I figured you all would enjoy some travel tips in the meantime. So today, Cody will share his advice on seeing Boston without going broke!
Ask anyone from the East Coast and they’ll tell you that “Boston is beautiful in the fall”. Last year I wanted to see for myself, despite being strapped for cash. Now I’d like to share with you how see the Autumn foliage in Boston on a budget!
Boston on a Budget
Step 1: Getting there
Arguably the most costly part of travelling is the actual “travel” portion. Plane tickets aren’t getting cheaper any time soon, and gas prices aren’t much better. Even if you did foot the bill of driving yourself to Boston, parking fees would quickly eat up any savings you may have had over flying. It’s not uncommon for parking in some neighborhoods to cost $80 daily for parking. Here’s a great site for checking parking prices so you can see for yourself.
If you’re in the United States, and are looking for a less expensive method to visit Beantown, I suggest either using Amtrak, or Megabus.
MegaBus is, in my opinion, one of the best-kept secrets in travel. It is a bus system with incredibly low prices for travel between major cities. On weekdays, fares into the city could be as low as $5 from other cities on the East Coast. On weekends they may range up near the 20’s. Connections can be made from most cities at hubs like Chicago, making it accessible for a fraction of the cost of airfare, if you’re willing to have a longer ride to and from.
The same routes on Amtrak could be found for a slightly higher cost ($49 for the same dates from New York City) but with the benefit of having more room to move around.
If you’re lucky, and live near some of the larger cities, flights ARE an option if you reserve your tickets far enough in advance. From Chicago you can find round-trip flights for less than $200, and from as far away as California for under $400.
Step 2: Staying there
Hotels in Boston are EXPENSIVE. Something as basic as a 2-3 star room in the city will run $300-$400 per night. You’d be hard-pressed to find a room for under $150 that’s anywhere near downtown.
If you’re trying to do Boston on a budget, when it comes to accommodations, I highly recommend staying at a hostel.
(Great site to compare hostels: http://www.hostels.com/)
Hostels, for those unfamiliar, are like dormitories. You pay for a bunk in a room that you share with other travelers like yourself. Many have common areas that have televisions or games that you can play when you’re done with your exploring for the day, and showers/bathrooms to maintain your hygiene.
The best part of hostels, is the price.
I stayed at the Hostelling International in Boston, which is located right in Chinatown, within walking distance of plenty of fun.
Before I went, I became a HI member for $28 (I planned on doing plenty more travelling, so the initial expense was well worth it).When I did that, they sent me a voucher for a free night. A bunk at the hostel cost me $44 for the night, and the next night was free. So basically I stayed in downtown Boston for a weekend for under $80. The hostel also had a kitchen for eating breakfast, free internet, a laundry room, a game room, a cafe and air conditioning. My bunk was arranged so that I had a cubby in which to charge my cell phone and my laptop, had a reading light that wouldn’t bother my fellow roommates, and a large cupboard-style locker to store all my belongings in, provided I brought my own padlock (which I did). The sheets were clean, the bed was comfortable, the rooms were warm, and the bathroom was shiny. What else could you want as a budget backpack traveler?
You tend to meet some interesting people at hostels, as they tend to be the favorites of backpackers. Many hostels have policies that they will only allow guests who are coming from a minimum distance away from the hostel, to ensure that they don’t become filled with locals looking for cheap lodging. When I stayed, I was bunk-mates with a man who was conspicuously well-dressed for a typical hostel patron. When I talked with him, it turned out he was a European diplomat who was in-town for a global conference of some kind. You never know who you might meet.
Step 3: Enjoying your visit
There’s plenty to do in Boston, especially if you’re a history buff like me. Boston is steeped in U.S. colonial history, and the city is proud of its heritage. The Fall weather is typically quite beautiful in the city, and so walking around is a great way to spend your daylight hours. There is a red-lined path made of bricks known as “The Freedom Trail” which connects 16 historical sites in the city. It’s 2.5 miles long and visits Bunker Hill, the USS Constitution, the Old North Church, the Paul Revere House, the site of the Boston Massacre, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, and several other locations. There are several museums along the way which are either free or have a minimal admission cost.
One of my favorite things about The Freedom Trail, is the fact it allows a person to explore the city on their own, without fear of becoming lost in any way. So long as you follow the red line, you’re sure to make it to each of the locations and back without fail.
Also it’s free, which definitely helps a person backpack Boston on a budget.
Given my own personal interest in history, I found the Paul Revere House, the Old North Church, and the USS Constitution museums to be the most exciting parts of my stay. Getting to see Old Ironsides up-close, and walk in the very hallways that the founding fathers themselves had walked is a humbling experience. At the Bunker Hill monument, you can choose to climb 294 steps to the top and see across the city, which is nice if you’re in shape and want to take some pictures. I was too tired to try.
Of course, history lessons can only go so far for some travelers, who may wish to partake in some slightly more touristy activities. You may want to check out the New England Aquarium, which has an IMAX theater inside. Tickets for the aquarium run about $27, or $32 with the IMAX experience. The Museum of Science is another option which costs about $35 if you want to do everything (there’s an IMAX, a planetarium, exhibits, butterfly gardens ect.)
When all that is said and done, you’re probably going to want something to eat and drink. Given that Boston is a city that people actually live and work in, your options for dining are pretty much unlimited. If you’re staying in a hostel, you may have use of the kitchen and dining room facilities, in which case you may just want to buy food at a grocery store and prepare it yourself. If you don’t feel like cooking, but also don’t want to shell out big bucks for cuisine, there are of course numerous fast-food options. There are even McDonalds in Chinatown, so you can pretty much eat whatever you feel like. However, Boston is home to a very large population of Americans with Irish heritage. As such, you can be sure to find numerous pubs on the back-streets which will be willing to serve you a pint and a proper dinner at the end of the day.
For example; standard bar fare can be expected to run $4-8 per dish at places like The Corner Pub (a watering hole near Chinatown that I frequented on my weekend visit).
If you find yourself spending more than $20 a day on food, you’re doing it wrong.
Boston is one of the few cities in the United States that has a decently established public transit system. There is a subway system – the MBTA – that runs throughout the city, and connects with the airports and the Amtrak stations. The subway costs $2.10 – $2.65 to ride and will take you within walking distance of most attractions in the city. It’s unlikely that you should require any transportation beyond what is provided by the underground rails.
Travel on weekdays – everything is cheaper
Bring your Student ID – There are plenty of discounts at the historical locations
Dress in layers – the weather can be cool in the mornings but warm in the afternoons, especially in the Fall
Fall Colors are at usually their peak in mid-late October
Weekend backpacking in Boston cost breakdown
Hostel, 2 nights – $90
Bus from NYC – $10 round-trip
Subway Fare within city (4 rides) – $10
Food and drinks – $40
Paul Revere House Admission – $3.50 ($3 if you bring Student ID)
Charlestown Navy Yard Admission – Free
USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) Admission – Free
USS Constitution Museum Admission – Free (Suggested donation $5)
Old North Church Admission – Free
Old South Meeting House Admission – $6 ($5 if you bring Student ID)
Bunker Hill Monument Admission – Free
Bunker Hill Museum -Admission – Free
Copps Hill and Boston Massacre sites – Free to visit
Total cost for the weekend – Under $160
Now obviously, your own spending habits, chosen dates, and distance from the city will affect your total, but you can see that it can be incredibly affordable!