Flashpacking from the Golden State to the Empire State!

 “Let’s tour the East Coast! Let’s tour the East Coast!”- this was my husband on one of the Friday evenings when his excitement levels are pretty high and I am already sinking into the weekend mode, feeling relaxed on our couch. However, since the East Coast trip had been on my bucket list for quite some time, I pulled myself up with excitement and we browsed through the tickets. The airline prices were skyrocketing and our excitement levels plummeted looking at them. We had almost dropped our plans and were thinking of a plan B, but then hubby dearest took some efforts to do a better search and came up with a good deal and plan. What followed was loads of planning to make the best out of the trip and Oh boy! we did have an awesome experience and returned with a bundle of memories 😀 Read on to know about our experience and for some cool travel tips!!

We started off from San Francisco on a Monday- our flight was around midnight. We had booked our first segment of flight to Chicago. We were ‘Basic Economy’ travelers, so planned to travel light. Each of us carried a normal sized backpack (laptop bag to be precise!) and we could fit in all our essentials for a week in it and carried some gadgets like iPad and mobile phones. (Hence I can call us Flashpackers and not Backpackers!). We took the BART to the airport and completed our security check pretty soon. Our flight was delayed by 30 mins and we had a lot of waiting time. Anticipating this, we had already saved some of our favorite movies and shows on Netflix and enjoyed watching them.

Day 1 (Tue): We landed in Chicago around 6 a.m. local time.  We were visiting a friend there who had offered to be our city guide too 😉 We headed to his place to catch up on some sleep and after a lip-smacking brunch, headed straight to the Skydeck. It was a wonderful experience looking at the whole city from the 103rd floor and after some mandatory pictures, we proceeded to the Cloud Gate, also popularly known as ‘The Bean’.IMAG1082With a 97F and high humidity, Chicago was indeed draining our energy levels. After the bean visit, we broke for lunch and planned to try the famous Deep Dish Pizza @ Lou Malnati’sAfter having to our heart’s fill, we took a stroll by the Chicago River. By now, the weather had become very pleasant and it was soothing to spend time on the river bank. Our next plan was to take the Architectural Tour cruise in the river. unnamedIt was one of the best parts of our Chicago tour, as we got to witness the beautiful skyline of the city along with its history. Following this, we walked the Magnificent Mile and reached John Hancock Observatory, also known as 360 Chicago. The night view of the city was simply scintillating and we stood dumbfounded. We did take the TILT ride, however, it wasn’t much adventurous and not my personal favorite. With this, we wrapped up our Chicago trip and headed to our Motel near the airport.

Tip:  (i) Visiting the Skydeck at night is recommended, so that you can get the night view of the city as well as Skydeck experience in one single go, thus saving some $$ rather than spending at both the Skydeck and 360.

(ii) Our Architectural tour cruise provider was Wendella Tours and they were amazing.  Remember to carry your student IDs, if you hold one, for some great discounts on Tuesdays!

Day 2 (Wed): Next, we flew from Chicago to Washington D.C. We landed around 10:00 a.m. and had already booked our rental car. We picked our car and headed straight to the White House. We were lucky in terms of parking as it was a weekday without much travelers around. IMAG1123We covered The White House, National Mall, US Capitol, Lincoln & US Marine War Memorial in one go. Having been a great fan of the movie National Treasure, my husband was excited to visit the National Archives Museum and wanted to see the Declaration of Independence. We covered all the places by foot and the weather wasn’t great here either with a scorching and humid 95F. Our plan was to head to Jersey City to crash in for the night. My husband suddenly was up for a night drive, so we changed our plans and reached our next stop, Buffalo after a 7-hour drive.

Day 3 (Thu): Buffalo was my hubby’s home for almost 2 years during his Masters’ days. I admired the city’s well-planned layouts. Visiting this city pretty much meant a trip down the memory lane and thus visited few of my husband’s favorite eating spots- the first one being Amy’s place. It was a cozy and inexpensiveIMG-2112 place that had an array of options. Once our tummies were happy, it was time to visit one of the finest masterpieces of nature- The Niagara 😀 My my! what a beauty she was! There were two main trips- Cave of the Winds & Maid of the Mist and each one provided a surreal experience for a lifetime. Being just 20 ft away from the gigantic falls,  experiencing her force was one hell of an experience! We were done by around 4pm and were famished. There were a lot of food trucks nearby and we had one of the best Kathi rolls ever! We spent the evening strolling through my husband’s alma mater, University at Buffalo (UB).

Tip: As an alternative, you may witness the beauty of Niagara at night along with their daily fireworks. Check here for their fireworks & illumination schedule.

Day 4 (Fri): This day was mainly reserved for driving to New Jersey. We grabbed donuts and a hot beverage from Paula’s and bid adieu to Buffalo. We had opted for non-toll routes to NJ and were bowled over by the bucolic views that Upstate New York had to offer! It was so refreshing that we totally loved the drive. We just stopped over at Philly in the evening and visited the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall before reaching our accommodation at Newark, NJ.

Day 5 (Sat): Our plan was to cover NYC for the next 2 days and we returned our rental car as we had planned to cover by public transport and foot only considering the traffic and tolls in NYC. First, we visited the American Museum of Natural History (Yes, you are right! The one from Night at the Museum) and Central Park. IMG-2114After lunch, we walked to the 9/11 memorial, One World Trade Center and Wall Street. After snacking at an HSB truckwe were all set to visit the world-famous Statue of Liberty. We took the Staten Island Ferry that runs free services every 30 mins between Whitehall Terminal and Staten Island. We took both the to and fro service at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to experience the daytime and nighttime views with a well-lit skyline. Finally, we walked to the Brooklyn bridge and caught a beautiful glimpse of its entirety. The view was super pretty and there are enough spots to sit and admire its beauty in a relaxed state.

Tip: (i) If you have a BofA/Merrill Lynch credit/debit card, be sure to know about the program Museums on us’ which provides free entry to select museums on the first weekend of the month. We visited the Natural History Museum for free under this program (that’s a $40+ saving!)

(ii) To get a closer view of the Liberty Statue, ensure to take the ferry from the Whitehall Terminal where you get to see the statue from the starboard side at a closer level.

Day 6 (Sun): Our accommodation was quite close to the NJ transit bus stop and we took a bus directly to the Port Authority terminal. The first on the agenda today was to visit Times Square in the morning. It was good to see the place in pleasant weather and IMG-2115a mediocre crowd at first. We then walked and covered the Grand Central Terminal and the New York Public Library. Pocket-friendly and a wonderful lunch at The Kati Roll company gave the energy to visit the Empire State building and then back to Times Square to experience its nightlife. Having found a great deal on Groupon on the City Night Tour, we decided to take it before proceeding to the JFK airport to board an early morning flight. It was totally worth it to witness the nighttime energy of Times Sq sitting on the upper deck. Other notable things included the color change in Empire State (reflecting the US Flag), facts about various other buildings and the view of the Brooklyn Bridge along with the skyline in total while the bus drove over the Manhattan Bridge. Sorry, no commercial vehicles allowed on the Brooklyn!

Tip: If you have checked out your hotel room and have luggage, you may drop them at any of the luggage drop off locations in Times Square through Vertoe and they have rental rates as low as $5/day.

(ii) The City Night Tour is a hot-selling cake and please expect wait times up to 1 hour to board the bus on weekends. The Ride offers a unique experience with its coliseum seats and worth a shot if you have a little-relaxed budget.

With this, we completed our trip and headed to JFK airport for our SFO bound flight. The trip was very satisfying, provided value for money and gave us a good flashpacking experience. We wanted to cover the attractions predominantly by foot and on looking back had walked a good distance of 40 miles (~64 km) 🙂 – my gym shoes was my best friend in this 😉

General Tips:

(i) We found this season (Aug end-Sep start) to be a good time to tour the east coast with pleasant weather predominantly. If you are interested in viewing the fall colors, then Sep end would be a good time.

(ii) If you need to take cabs to cover certain places, Via would be a much cheaper option against Uber/Lyft. They do have a lot of discounts and referrals going on and saved us a lot of money in times of need.

(iii) Airbnb is highly recommended for their price and quality. Please ensure to look 2 weeks ahead for great deals (under $40/night for a comfortable stay)

(iv) An ideal round-trip flight cost would be between $250-$300/person and you may get even better deals if booked in advance/if no long weekends are around.

(v) Driving with ‘avoid tolls’ did not make much of a difference in travel distance/time for us, but actually, saved us a lot on $$ and rewarded us with scenic routes as well.

For any tips on packing/Airbnb details, leave a comment and I will get back to you. Also if you have any saving tips, feel free to share them so that I can learn from you.. Adios Amigos:)

** Opinions in this blog are totally my own and I am not sponsored by/affiliated with any of the service companies mentioned**

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