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Those small snack plates known as tapas are an art form in Spain. They vary throughout Spain’s regions, reflecting the fruit of the land or sea. They’re often shared, and always delicious. In Spain, where dinner is served late, they make the perfect appetizer, and often come free when you buy a drink. The tradition is built around conversation, with the idea that small, shared plates encourage discussion among friends more than individual meals.

RELATED: Why you should visit Montenegro now

tapas

Tapas, or small snacks, usually come with each round of drinks in Spain. Photo: Salomé Chaussure – Flickr.

The history

The word tapa comes from the Spanish word “tapar” which means “to cover.” Way back in the day, when people traveled through Spain on old Roman roads, and when hardly anyone could read or write, innkeepers would serve their guests small portions of everything they offered. That tradition morphed over the years, and bartenders or restaurant owners would serve bread and meat bites to customers drinking sherry, since the salty nature of the snack made patrons thirstier. People would use the bread and meat to cover (tapar) their glasses of sherry to keep the flies off, and thus the tapas tradition was born.

Best tapas spots

In Barcelona, Las Ramblas is one of the most popular streets in the city, full of places to shop and eat. But it’s very touristy, and also draws pickpockets. Instead, try going to Gracía, a neighborhood with an increasingly hipster bent. Try Restaurant La Pepita or Nou Candanchu.

In Madrid, delicious tapas restaurants are lurking around every corner. Stop in Museo del Jamón on Calle Mayor to get your feet wet and really immerse yourself in ham (really, there is jamón everywhere). Then pick one of thelittle streets of Calle Mayor and wander to a tapas place. If you think there’s no room for dessert, Calle Colorares has a great chocolatería.

Many bars around Spain have gone against tradition, tacking price tags onto tapas. In Granada, though, tapas remain mostly pure and free. Near Plaza de Santillana is Bodegas Espadafor. Not only is its food good, the walls are adorned with art depicting bullfights and the bar has a great sherry selection. Also try Bodegas Castañeda on Calle Almireceros, off Calle Elvira.

What’s on the menu

In honor of this time-honored and delicious tradition, here are some of the most delicious and authentic tapas Spain has to offer:

croquetas

Croquetas have a fried crispy outside with a warm and creamy inside. Photo: Kent Wang – Flickr.

Croquetas — Quite possibly one of the most beloved and common tapas, and often available in tapas restaurants in America. Croquetas are small and often cylindrical, with a soft, warm and creamy inside and a crispy, fried shell. The inside isoften made with flour and cream, or may be made with potatoes. They’re then rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. Most croquetas have some kind of meat or fish mixed in, so look for croquetas de pollo (chicken) or croquetas de jamón (ham), to name a few.

jamón serrano

Slices of jamón serrano are cut from cured pig thighs often seen hanging in Spanish bars and restaurants. Photo: Anne-Arnould – Flickr.

Manchego y jamón serrano — Manchego, a cheese that’s a hard, very salty and not too sharp, is often served alongside jamón serrano, which is ham cut from the pig’s legs you’ll see hanging in almost every restaurant and market in Spain. The flavor combination is perfect, and both pieces of the concoction are very Spanish.

Pan con tomate

Pan con tomate, or bread with tomato, is a popular tapa in Catalonia. Photo: yosoynuts – Flickr.

Pan con tomate — Or bread with tomato, is a very Catalan dish. Catalonia is the region surrounding and including Barcelona, and stretching up into Southern France. They take a tomato and smear it all over some fresh, often toasted and oil-covered bread, throw the rest of the tomato away, and sprinkle some salt over the bread. At tapas restaurants in America, you’ll often find this topped with manchego. It’s a wonderful dish, but in Spain they serve simpler dishes, not weighed downwith sauces and cheeses like we do with much of what we eat here. So make sure to try it in its true form before adding cheese.

Tortilla de España

Tortilla de España is made with eggs and often onion and potatoes. Photo: ornello_pics – Flickr.

Tortilla de España — This is probably one of the most universal tapas dishes in Spain, and it has nothing to do with what we often think of as tortillas. Many menu translations will call it a Spanish omelette, but it’s really more of a thick frittata. Tortillas can be made with many things, but some of the most common are tortilla de papas (potatoes), tortilla de calabacín (zucchini) and tortilla de cebolla (onion), or some sort of combo. Some places serve these cold, so keep that in mind if you’re not into eating cold eggs.

Papas bravas — Another basic, these are fried potatoes with a little bit of spice. They’re cubed and often served with some sort of aioli or similar dip.

Jamón con melón

Jamón con melón. Photo: yashima – Flickr.

Jamón con melón — A beautiful salty/sweet combination, jamón and melón isn’t quite as easy to find as some of the other tapas for some reason. There’s a wonderful kind of melon available in Catalonia throughout most of the summer that is green like honeydew but is much sweeter. Slice that up and wrap it in a slice of jamón, and you’ve got yourself a little bite of heaven.

Tagged: Food & drink, FREE!, International

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Oh the humble diner, where comforting, hardy breakfasts and hot coffee are always on special. The perfect throwback to a mostly bygone era. Here are some of the best diners in America, by region, in no particular order.

Vintage diner photo

The best diners in the west

Bertie Lou’s Cafe — Portland, Oregon

From its menu to its walls, Bertie Lou’s shows its funky, Portland-esque style without losing that classic diner vibe. Specifically, by proudly displaying napkin drawings as fine art and offering tasty concoctions like the Bertie Crisco, an incredibly hearty sandwich of spicy chicken sausage and pepper jack between two layers of french toast. Unsurprisingly, this place is known for its delicious breakfast dishes, which also happen to be cheap—breakfast or lunch can cost you anywhere between $5 to $10.

Steuben’s — Denver, Colorado

A little bit more of an upscale and modernized take on the classic diner, Steuben’s has been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives for its recreations of American regional classics. Unlike some diners on this list, Steuben’s is notable for more than just its breakfast fare. Early risers can indulge in treats like from-scratch biscuits and gravy and all-you-can-eat buttermilk pancakes. But the lunch and dinner menus also shine, thanks to updated takes on classic dishes, including pot roast, cayenne étouffée and meatloaf. This one’s a bit more of a splurge than the other diners on this list, but the green chili cheeseburger is well worth it.

Golden Coffee Shop – San Francisco, California

It’s not often that you can find a good meal for under $10 in San Francisco. Enter the Golden Coffee Shop: a haven for old-school classics like corned-beef hash and short stacks of buttermilk pancakes, which you can enjoy at its perfectly old-school wrap-around counter. But what really sets this apart are the Chinese essentials you’ll also find on the menu—tuck into some fried rice or chow mein if you’re not in the mood for hash browns. But we’ve got bad news for the night owls: This may sound like the perfect late-night hangout, but it closes mid afternoon. We’ve got a solid silver lining for you, though. Most dishes cost between $6 and $8.

Eggs and hash are a staple at the best diners.

True Midwestern diners

Diner Grill – Chicago, Illinois

This is what it’s all about—the diner’s diner. The diner your great-grandfather would love. The bare-bones, vintage variety that’s been slinging burgers since the 1930’s. Enter Diner Grill’s the Slinger: two hamburger patties on top of hash browns, with two slices of American cheese and two runny eggs, all of which is covered in chili. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s served with a side of toast. But if you’re not in the competitive-eating business, there’s also patty melts and egg sandwiches. You will not have a hard time keeping your check under $10 in this 24/7 former railway car diner, since most of its dishes are around $6.

Fleetwood Diner – Ann Arbor, Michigan

Open since 1949, Fleetwood Diner is known for its hip vibes and its famous Hippie Hash. What is this, you ask? Why, a mixture of homemade hash browns, grilled tomatoes, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and broccoli topped with feta cheese, of course. And this dish is the perfect start—or end—to your day, thanks to the diner’s 24-hour schedule. The menu also boasts the classics, including burgers, milkshakes and omelets, as well as traditional Greek foods and salads. All reasonably priced, so you have no reason not to add that hippie hash onto your meal.

Vintage diner photos

Diners with Southern flair

Danny’s All American Diner & Dairy Bar – Tampa, Florida

Don’tdrive too fast, or you might miss this small, humble diner—which happens to serve up sandwiches that are anything but small and humble. And if you love sports, you’ll love Danny’s All American Diner’s burger-naming conventions. There, you’ll find the Roberto Clemente Burger, the Field of Greens salad and the Pitcher’s Mound sandwich. As well as the famous ‘must-have’ chili, which can be found slathered on various menu items or ordered as a side. The best part? Prices at Danny’s All American Diner & Dairy Bar are a home run, as nothing on the menu is more than $10.

Uncle Lou’s – Memphis, Tennessee

Uncle Lou’s has only been operating for a fraction of the time that some of the diners on this list have, opening in 2001, but has already made an imprint on the Memphis community. Although this diner’s main focus is fried chicken, it also serves several specialty sandwiches and desserts. Uncle Lou’s menu was created with families in mind, offering six different “meal deals” to fit various party sizes. Pro tip: This is also great if you’d like to store 35 pieces of chicken, 12 sides and 18 biscuits for yourself, for future meals. Prices at Uncle Lou’s are pretty cheap and you should be spending around $10 per person… That is, if you share (as you should).

The best diners always serve piping-hot coffee.

Seriously good Eastern diners

Square Diner – New YorkCity, New York

If you’ve ever seen Edward Hopper’s painting titled “Nighthawks,” you’ll swear it was inspired by the Square Diner, which opened in 1945 and was once known as the Triangle Diner. Its exterior is the classic train-car style, but with a unique grey roof. The interior is highly stylized and truly transports you to the diner’s heyday, with wood-paneled walls and ceiling, essential fire-engine red booths and bar ample seating. The menu is full of hardy breakfast and lunch entrees that will give you flash-backs to Grandma’s homey cooking. Eggplant Parmigiana, London Broil and even Gyros can be found on the menu. Prices range, and although it is not guaranteed you’ll eat for less than $10, it certainly can be done, which is not an easy feat in the Big Apple.

Mul’s Diner – Boston, Massachusetts

We bet creme brûlée would not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you gaze upon the big, silver lunchbox that is Mul’s Diner, where the decor screams ‘retro’ from the shiny outdoor paneling to the checkerboard tiles inside. Regardless, bottomless coffee and creme brûlée French toast are what Mul’s Diner is known to do best. Serving a variety of both sweet and savory twists on classic diner fare, Mul’s offers deliciously cheap breakfast and lunch, with only a couple items on the menu that are more than $10: The New York Sirloin and the Irish breakfast, both of which are worth the extra cost.

Vintage diner sign

The Non-Continental

Rainbow Drive-In – Oahu, Hawaii

Welcome to the place that Guy Fieri most likely sees in his dreams. Yes, Rainbow Drive-In was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and for good reason: They serve one of the cheapest and best lunches in all of Hawaii. And its food is, naturally, wildly different from anything else on this list. First of all, you can add mahi to any plate. And what are those plates, you may ask? BBQ ahi tuna, fried rice with eggs and the famous Loco Moco bowl, which is a scoop of rice topped with a hamburger patty, an egg and gravy. If you’re not feeling adventurous, you can still get cheeseburgers, chili dogs and corned beef sandwiches. Plus, you can eat them outside on the giant patio. The average price of a plate at Rainbow Drive-In is roughly $7, so start looking for a cheap flight toHawaii immediately.

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Tagged: California, Florida, Food & drink, Hawaii, New York City

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When you’re in a new city and hungry for a way to explore and snack on a budget, there’s no beating the humble (or not-so-humble!) American hot dog. Grab one of these tasty sausage sandwiches, which are undoubtedly among the best hot dogs in the country, and fill yourself up without breaking the bank.

portillos-chicago

Portillo’s | Flickr CC: star5112

Portillo’sChicago, IL

No questions about it—Chicago is America’s hotdog headquarters. You’ll be spoiled for choice in the Windy City, where it seems like there’s a hot dog shop on every block. But while there are plenty of specialty options, there’s a right and a wrong way to eat a Chicago hot dog. Portillo’s simple Hot Dog ($3) gets the recipe exactly right: a steamed poppy seed bun holds a dog dressed in mustard, neon green relish, celery salt, and raw onions with a garnish of fresh tomato, a kosher pickle and a pepper. Want ketchup? You’ll get laughed out of the building.

Happy Fatz – Houston, TX

Not only is this specialty hot dog restaurant also a bakery, but it’s housed in a quaint cottage with a distinctly neighborhoody feel. Walk in and order The Clucker ($8), a dog with hash browns, bacon, grilled onions, and a fried egg topped with secret Clucker sauce. Or gnaw on a Texas Chili ($8), a frank garnished with homemade chili, melted cheddar, and Fritos. Bonus: there are giant cake slices for dessert.

Nathan's Famous, which makes some of the best hot dogs in the country

Nathan’s Famous | Flickr CC: owlpacino

Nathan’s FamousBrooklyn, New York

Look, you can eat a hot dog or you can eat The Hot Dog. Chomp into one of Nathan’s Famous World Famous Beef Hot Dogs, thatched with sauerkraut and drizzled with mustard, and you’ll be chewing on a piece of American history. That’s right—Nathan’s is 100 years old, and it’s home to the world-renowned Hot Dog Eating Contest, where contestants from around the world gather to cram these franks down their throats next to Brighton Beach.

I Dream of Weenie – Nashville, TN

Most people don’t think of Nashville as a major hot dog capital, but that’s fine with us—we want to keep I Dream of Weenie all for ourselves. This adorable vintage VW van/sausage shop is parked at Five Points and has its own tiny patio, where you can chow down on the Flamin’ Frank, an ultra-hot dog with spicy chili, cheese, jalapenos and hot salsa, or order one of their tasty daily specials (jumbo smoked sausage with BBQ-marinated onions, anyone?)

Lafayette Coney Island-detroit

Lafayette Coney Island | Flickr CC: Rex Roof

Lafayette Coney IslandDetroit, MI

You cannot have a hot dog when you’re in Detroit—you must have a coney dog (if you have any respect for yourself at all.) And if you’re looking for the best coney dogthere is, march yourself over to Lafayette Coney Island, where a Coney Island dog ($2.60) will rock your world with its meaty, chili-covered frank, chopped onions, and mustard-slathered recipe. The no-nonsense, classic diner vibes are worth a visit alone.

franktuary-bogota and bangkok hotdogs

The Bangkok (front) and Bogota hot dogs from Franktuary | Photo courtesy of Molly Lindsey

FranktuaryPittsburgh, PA

This award-winning eatery with two locations and two food trucks uses locally-sourced and ethnic condiments to create lavish, memorable hot dog experiences. Try a Bangkok Frank ($4.25), with Thai peanut sauce, carrots, red cabbage and cilantro. Or nab a Bogota Frank ($4.25), a hot dog creatively covered in pineapple sauce, slaw, potato chips, and “pink sauce.” Oh, and don’t forget to get an order of poutine while you’re there!

Dapper Dog – San Francisco, CA

Picture it: you’re in the Castro, a neighborhood in one of the most expensive cities in America, and you’re hungry. The only sensible thing to do is to head to locally beloved Dapper Dog, where you can eat a specialty frank for less money than you’ll pay for…almost anything else in San Francisco. Try a Napa Dog ($6), dressed with arugula, blue cheese, diced dried apricots and apricot sauce, or go for the Banh Mi Dog ($6), which boasts sliced cucumbers, pickled carrots, chopped peanuts and sriracha mayo. On second thought, better get more than one, in case you’re hungry later! 

Pink's Hot Dogs

Pink’s Hot Dogs | Flickr CC: Ken Lund

Pink’sLos Angeles, CA

Dolly Parton, Tyra Banks, Kim Kardashian—these celebrities (and dozens more) have eaten hot dogs at Pink’s in Hollywood, an iconic stand that’s been around since 1939. Soon, you’ll join the ranks of the rich and famous, when you order a Lord of the Rings Dog ($5.75), a BBQ sauce and onion-ring-topped 9” frankfurter. Also noteworthy is the Martha Stewart Dog ($7.25), a relish, onions, bacon, sour cream and sauerkraut-covered work of art. It’s a good thing!

DanDan Dog

DanDan Dog | Photo courtesy of EatsPlace

Haiyo DogWashington, D.C.

Drop what you’re doing and book a plane ticket to Washington, D.C. this instant. These hot dogs are that important. You’re about to sink your teeth into an Asian/American fusion sensation: House-baked Asian milk bread cuddles local Amish beef, chicken, or organic tofu dogs crowned with condiments such as avocado and spicy mayo or kimchi and edamame. Get the Dan Dan Noodle Dog ($6), which features knife-cut noodles and Sichuan peppercorns, or upgrade to the Shot-Dog ($12), your choice of any dog on the menu with a daily liquor shot special.

Chili Cheese Mad Dog, one of the best hot dogs in America

Chili Cheese Mad Dog | Photo courtesy of Bukowski Tavern

Bukowski TavernBoston, MA

Not only does this iconic, red-painted tavern have an enormous selection of craft beers and a Boston-y surly attitude, it also has a (bargain alert!) $1 hot dog or burger special, Monday-Friday from 11:30 a.m to 8 (!!) p.m. That is ONE DOLLAR, folks. One dollar to be surrounded by Boston’s finest (and we mean the best hot dogs). In addition, Bukowski’s offers a chili cheese edition and sweet potato tots! What are you waiting for?

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Tagged: California, Cheap Tips, Family, Food & drink, L.A., New York City, Tips & advice

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Memphis, Tennessee is the spitting image of its namesake in Memphis, Egypt. In both locations you will find an astonishing man-made pyramid, a long and winding river, and plenty of blues and barbecue…Okay, maybe the last two are a hard sell in Egypt.

But either way, the stateside Memphis is a great destination for travelers who want to eat, drink and party—which also makes it college students’ paradise if they can find a way to afford it. So here are the best things to do in Memphis if you’re traveling cheap.

See the Great Pyramid of Memphis

A broke student’s guide to doing Memphis on the cheap

The Lookout at Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. Photo credits: Allen Gillespie and Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau

We weren’t kidding—there’s actually a pyramid downtown. And admittedly, it’s one of the weirder things to do in Memphis. The iconic structure did a stint as a sports stadium and a concert venue, but its unique shape made it difficult for the building to find success (as it turns out, pyramids do not have very good acoustics). Locals say this modern-day replica of its distant Egyptian cousins sat empty for years before it finally found its true calling: becoming a Bass Pro Shop.

Now, the 32-story steel pyramid is home to the United States’ tallest free-standing elevator, hundreds of live animals, and even a hotel. All of this is surrounded by a countless racks of outdoor merchandise, including yachts and boats that actually float in the stream that winds through the store. In this stream you can see native fish that will astound you with their size and willpower to not eat the smaller fish. A stroll around the store also offers tropical fish aquariums, actual alligators, and an impressive array of “stuffed” animal specimens… not the kind you want to hug and cuddle with.

After seeing the indoor zoo and walking through the heaps of merchandise, make your way to the enormous 28-story freestanding elevator—it’s pretty hard to miss. For just $10, you can take the tripup to the lookout and see Mississippi like those who built the Egyptian pyramids saw the Nile during their (probably awful) work day.

Pro Tip: There’s a General Store in here, too. Before heading to the elevator, stop in for some sweet treats like roasted nuts or gourmet fudge for the trip up. There’s a restaurant at the top, and this will help keep you from being tempted to sit down for a steak.

Where’s the party?

A broke student’s guide to doing Memphis on the cheap

A broke student’s guide to doing Memphis on the cheap Crowds on Beale Street. Photo credits: Andrea Zucker and copyright Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2011, all rights reserved.

Beale Street, that’s where, and it has been since the birth of blues music. This cobblestone street, located in the heart of downtown Memphis, dates back to 1841. It’s where you’ll find three blocks of restaurants, nightclubs, live music and museums, as well as street performers that can really rock it, and without you having to pay a dime in cover charge.

But beware: Recently, Memphis put a $10 cover charge on Beale Street, which takes effect at 10 p.m. every night. Although this might be a bit of a bummer, entrance to the street is free before 10 p.m. and you’ll likely want to leave around then anyway…

Pro Tip: Beale Street security might be enforced at 10 p.m., but there is a larger crowd at this time, making it easier for thieves and pickpockets to maketheir way through. Stay alert and consider leaving before it becomes overcrowded.

Discover the Home of the Blues

And the Birthplace of Rock’n’Roll. Meaning the bars along Beale Street are far from the only places to catch some live music here. Memphis has plenty of other options for great music and a good time.

For instance: Right on Beale Street and 3rd is Handy Park. Here, you can find free concerts in the afternoons that are open to the public. There’s also Bluesday Tuesdays in Overton Square, where every Tuesday is a chance to enjoy free authentic blues and breathe in some fresh air. And from June to September, the Memphis Blues Society hosts an evening of blues music in the Tower Courtyard at Overton Square.

Indulge in an all-American sport

A broke student’s guide to doing Memphis on the cheap

The Triple-A Memphis Redbirds play baseball at AutoZone Park. Photo credit: Craig Thompson

Memphis is home to the bat-swinging, base-running, baseball-playing Redbirds. There’s almost nothing as nostalgic as a good old-fashioned baseball game. And even if you’re far from local, the friendly hometown crowds here can make you feel like you belong.

As a bonus, tickets for a Redbirds game can cost as low as $20. Meaning you don’t need to feel guilty about splurging on some peanuts, cracker jacks, hotdogs, nachos, beer and whatever else you might require to enjoy this American pastime.Pro Tip: People-watching at sporting events can give you some excellent insight into what it means to be from that city. And it’s always fun to play along, if you’re up for it.

You can’t miss the Mississippi River

A broke student’s guide to doing Memphis on the cheap

Aerial View of Mud Island River Park. Photo credits: Jack Kenner and copyright Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2011, all rights reserved.

If you’re looking for some history and culture beyond great music and great food, head to Mud Island River Park.

On the Mud Island Riverwalk, which is free to the public, you can see an exact scale model of the Lower Mississippi River. You can also enjoy the life-sized version of the river just by walking around the grounds of the park.

The park itself is made up of 18 galleries and exhibits that cover 10,000 years of Mississippi River history. For $10 you can have access to all of these exhibits, a guided tour of the park and a round-trip ride on the monorail.

The food is totally worth the money

If you’re going to splurge on something in Memphis, we highly recommended that you splurge on food. Specifically, the city’s famous barbecue. Your taste buds, and your tummy, will thank you.

The best part about this “splurge” is that it is not even a huge one. Many barbecue joints in Memphis are very reasonably priced, and beyond that, they’re completely worth theprice you pay. That said, don’t be surprised if the meal is served on paper plates with plastic utensils.

Which restaurants should you try? Well we’ve got a shortlist right here: Tops Bar-B-Q, Central BBQ and Charlie Vergos’ Rendevous.

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Tagged: Cheap City, USA, Tips & advice

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Cobblestone streets and pre-Civil War houses. Warmth, sunshine and salty sea breeze all somehow wrapped up in Southern hospitality. If you’re looking for a last-minute gift for mom this Mother’s Day, we’ve got one suggestion: Go see Charleston in May. Head south and toward the ocean to explore this history-steeped city, which is chock-full of southern delicacies, food havens, and nearly tropical flora—all just a hop, skip and a jump away from countless beaches.

 

CARTA bus

North Charleston Area Shuttle (NASH), a CARTA bus linking hotels, restaurants, retail and Charleston International Airport. Photo: North Charleston – Flickr

Plane, train or automobile — Driving into Charleston is lovely. You’ll likely pass through the mountains on your way, a bit of a strain but beautiful at this time of year. Plus, you’ll have a car to help you get around and to the beach if you so choose. Otherwise, fly into Charleston International Airport. There’s a shuttle that will take you downtown for $14, or catch a Charleston Area Regional Transport Authority (CARTA) bus. It’s $3.50 per person, nonstop to downtown and the busses come often. 

Bikes in Charleston

Bikes in a row in downtown Charleston. Photo: James Williams – Flickr

Cheap local transit — The CARTA transit system is pretty comprehensive throughout the city, and only $2 per ride. But if you’re celebrating Mother’s Day and want to treat your mom to some magic, pop into one of the many bike rental shops and tool around on a couple of those for the day.

Visit the Charleston City Market Great Hall.

Visit the Charleston City Market Great Hall. Photo: North Charleston – Flickr

Make your way through City Market — The Charleston City Market Great Hall is stocked with plenty of tasty eats, and is one of those rare places where locals mingle with the tourists. It wasn’t always like that though. It was known as a tourist destination until 2011, when the Great Hall was renovated. Upon reopening, the locals started flocking back, and never left. Make sure to grab lunch or dessert here, and sample as much as you can as you stroll through the food stalls with mom.

Visit the Magnolia Plantation

Visit the Magnolia Plantation

Marvel at Magnolia — Most people buy their moms flowers for Mother’s Day, but you could get her miles of Southern flora at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Or, at least you could buy her a ticket. Here, thousands of vibrant flowers spill onto the walkways andbeautiful Spanish moss drapes the old trees. Magnolia Plantation was founded in 1676 and is the oldest public garden in America. Admission is $15 per adult.

Isle of Palms

Isle of Palms

Bop over to the beach — There are dozens of beaches around the city. Isle of Palms, just to the north, has several public beach options, and many of them are rife with places to pop in for a meal or seaside drink. This timeof year won’t be too busy at the public beaches, since school is still in session and summer break hasn’t hit full velocity. The best thing about a day at the beach is that it’s nice and free. Pack a picnic to save an extra penny.

Morris Island Lighthouse

Morris Island Lighthouse near Charleston, SC. Photo: sjg08 – Flickr

Lay eyes on a lighthouse — Morris Island Lighthouse sits several hundred feet offshore, near the entrance of Charleston Harbor and south of the city itself. It was actually 1,200 feet from the water when it was built in 1876, but jetties constructed nearby altered the ocean’s currents so much that by 1938, the shoreline had reached the lighthouse. It was decommissioned in 1962.

Charleston's French Quarter

There are plenty delicious places to brunch in Charleston’s French Quarter. Photo: Nicki Dugan Pogue – Flickr

Brunch by the water — Blossom Restaurant is an American-style eatery in the French Quarter, located mere blocks from the water. Any meal here would likely prove delicious, but Mother’s Day calls for a brunch by the water. And trust us, she’ll feel so much more appreciated over plates of applewood-smoked bacon dip, pulled pork hash or crawfish and shrimp étouffée. 

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Tagged: Beach, Family, Holidays, Off-season

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It’s easy to drop a lot of money in the Big Easy, largely due to *ahem* adult beverages. The good news is, it’s also pretty easy not to. The city’s overflowing with cheap eats and things to do, meaning you can pack your itinerary as much as you want. Here’s what to do with 24 hours in New Orleans without breaking the bank.

Start your day with an iconic New Orleans breakfast (7:15—8:15 a.m.)

Yes, 7:15 is early, but the early start—and coffee—will help you get everywhere you want to go today (and account for lines at this famous hotspot). Tuck into some beignets at Café du Monde while sipping a steaming cup of chicory coffee. The pastries’ sweet powdered-sugar blanket will give you plenty of energy for sightseeing, and this cheap breakfast will only set you back around $5–$6.

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Meet some talented locals and catch up on NOLA history (8:15–10:30 a.m.)

Thanks to the St. Louis Cathedral and the beautiful Presbytere, strolling around Jackson Square is sort of like stepping into a fairy-tale world. But in true New Orleans fashion, you’re likely to run into jazz musicians, artists, human statues and other performers along the way—all of which are free to watch, but tipping is the norm. After enjoying a little artistry with your vitamin D, head to the Presbytere museum to learn about Mardi Gras and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city ($6 admission).

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Explore the ‘cities of the dead (10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.)

Next up is one of the city’s creepier attractions: its cemeteries. Stroll over to St. Louis Cemetery 1, home of the famous Madame Laveau, or hop on the bright red Canal Street trolley ($1.25 for a one-way ticket) for a quick, cheap trip uptown to St. Louis Cemetery 3. Whichever you choose, you won’t spend a dime tiptoeing around the ornate ‘cities of the dead’ and their crypts and monuments.

Eat a po’boy (12:30-1:30 p.m.)

It’s good, it’s cheap, and it’s right around the corner from St. Louis Cemetery 3. Welcome to casual local hangout Liuzza’s by the Track, which literally invented the BBQ shrimp po’boy ($15.95), making it a must-have menu item. Pair it with a cup of gumbo ($6.95) for a satisfying lunch.

Go window–shopping on Magazine Street (4:30–6:30 p.m.)

Magazine Street’s boutiques and galleries are ripe for window-shopping. Let your credit card rest (or not) and check out the bohemian jewelry at Stella Gray, the designer duds at Azby’s, and the vintage, European wares at Aux Belles Choses. If you need a snack, head to Blue Frog Chocolates and indulge in traditional New Orleans pralines and hand-dipped truffles.

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Stuff yourself with jambalaya (6:30–8:00 p.m.)

Head back to the French Quarter for dinner at the 21+, no-frills Coop’s Place (if you have kids, stick around Magazine Street for the famous oyster joint Casamento’s). Coop’s serves up some of the city’s best jambalaya—here, it’s made with rabbit and sausage ($5.75–$11.95). An appetizer of crabmeat-stuffed jalapeno peppers ($8.95) makes it a feast worthy of budgeting kings.

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Have a drink or three (8:00–10:30 p.m.)

It’s time for that famous New Orleans right of passage—drinking your way down the French Quarter‘s infamous Bourbon Street. We suggest diving into a sweet, rum-filled Hurricane at the bar that created it: Pat O’Brien’s. While you’re at it, request a song from the dueling pianos. And even though it’s technically not on Bourbon Street, we’d suggest splurging at the infamous Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone anyway. Jockey for a seat at the rotating carousel bar, if you can, and sip a Vieux Carre ($12), which was invented here.

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End the evening on a high note (10:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m.)

…with some live jazz on Frenchman Street. You can stumble straight onto it from Bourbon Street, provided that you’re walking northeast. The city’s best jazz clubs line this famous musical avenue, which is a lot less raucous than its rowdy neighbor to the south. So grab a drink and settle in at legendary spots like The Spotted Cat and Blue Nile to hear the best New Orleans has to offer. Just know that some places charge cover, and you’ll likely have to buy a drink or two.

Go to sleep (12:30a.m.)

It’s back to the hotel with you! Whether you’re heading for the airport in the morning, or gearing up to do it all over again, you’ll need your beauty sleep.

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Tagged: City, Food & drink, Music

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Football season’s in full swing, and that means three things: beer, good food and tailgating. If you’re willing to go where the game takes you, here are the best NFL cities for enjoying all three without breaking the bank.

Tampa, Florida

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If you love fishing and football, Tampa may be the NFL town for you. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers—and their massive pirate ship, complete with animatronic parrot—play at Raymond James Stadium, tucked in right next to Al Lopez Park and its fishing ponds. Old Tampa and Hillsborough Bays are also close, offering dolphin cruises and watersports galore—all with a hefty dose of Florida’s famously free vitamin D, which makes for some pretty pleasant tailgating.

Denver, Colorado

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Ever heard of a little team called the Broncos? They hail from Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where you can tailgate indoors at onsite bars like the Mile High Cross Bar and the 50 Yard Bar. Later, drop exactly zero dollars to take a brewery tour, explore the famous Red Rocks or pay tribute to your favorite locals at the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. Walking in the 100-million-year-old footsteps of dinosaurs at Dinosaur Ridge is also a very free, very worth-it option.

Indianapolis, Indiana

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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Monument Circle, the Dallara IndyCar Factory…all these attractions are great, but this town’s main draw is, and will always be, the Colts. But since you’ll need to do something after the game anyway, you can take a totally free stroll along Lockerbie Square’s historic cobblestone streets or browse the clever insights and turns of phrase found in the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.

Baltimore, Maryland

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The city that brought us Billie Holiday, John Waters and the Star Spangled Banner is also home to the Ravens. Their M&T Bank Stadium is just a stone’s throw from one of Charm City’s darkest attractions—the house where Edgar Allen Poe grew up. Baltimore also offers heaps of free things to do, including the beautiful Basilica and the Baltimore Museum of Art. Once most businesses have closed up shop for the night, head to the historic Fell’s Point or Canton districts for some live music.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Pittsburgh nails the trifecta of American pastimes: gambling, sausage, and, of course, football. After working up an appetite by watching the Steelers dominate at the deliciously named Heinz Field, you can enjoy some cheap, German eats at Deutschtown or check out the Andy Warhol Museum and ToonSeum, dedicated to the art of cartoons. Best of all, the Rivers Casino is a few blocks from the stadium.

Cleveland, Ohio

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 You can pick up your Cleveland Browns jerseys and hoodies at the FirstEnergy Stadium pro shop before the game, and show your love to the locals afterwards while digging into some cheap, satisfying eats and beer at the many bars and restaurants around the stadium. Once you’ve had your fill, hit up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum or the always-free Cleveland Museum of Art to see works by Goya and Mondrian.

Green Bay, Wisconsin      

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It doesn’t get more iconic than the Green Bay Packers, and their eponymous city dishes out as much competitive spirit as it does good, cheap fun. Scarf down some pork-belly tacos and venison sloppy joes at Lambeau Field’s onsite eatery before checking out the Packers Hall of Fame. Or head to New Zoo for some inexpensive thrills—here, you can feed friendly giraffes and play on an aerial adventure course.

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Tagged: City, Florida, Sports

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Airports wrote the book on overpriced food. Not getting your fill before you go through security, or not packing enough non-liquid snacks, could mean breaking the bank before you even take off. In the event that you didn’t have time to pack your own grub, traveling on a budget means crossing your fingers and hoping the airline you chose has some complimentary goodies for you. If you really played your cards right, those free treats will actually taste good. Here’s a list of the five best free airplane snacks around. 

Delta serves branded Biscoff cookies. Courtesy of m01229.

Delta serves branded Biscoff cookies. Courtesy of m01229.

1.) Biscoff cookies — The popularity of this delicious little cookie spread like wildfire in the U.S. after airlines began serving it. Until then, it was a treat reserved for Europeans, best enjoyed dunked in coffee. It’s like a gingerbread/shortbread fusion, not too indulgent and just sweet enough. Delta serves a version that has its logo embossed on the cookie, and it should go splendidly with the Starbucks it now serves on all flights. And we can all thank our lucky stars that plenty of retailers in the U.S. now carry Biscoff, so we can get that airplane delight without traveling.

 

Courtesy of Faisal Akram.

Courtesy of Faisal Akram.

2.) Free alcohol — Now here is a rarity. Horizon Air and Skywest, sister carriers of Alaska Airlines, serve complimentary free craft beer and wine on nearly every flight. This is a service those first-class flyers are used to, but it’s novel to us plebeians. The crew picks one craft beer and one wine to serve on each flight. The libations are local to Alaska. United Airlines also offers complimentary house wine and beer for economy passengers on flights between the U.S. and Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

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3.) Pretzels — When you reach peak altitude, there’s really only three food groups that matter: salty, sweet and alcoholic. The pretzel is the Sultan of Salt. After you’ve dished out $6 for a beer, getting a free little packet of these munchies will feel like Christmas morning. ‘Free’ being the key word here. Delta has your back once again for these complimentary noshes. 

 

Terra Blues Potato Chips. Courtesy of Urbanfoodie33.

Terra Blues Potato Chips. Courtesy of Urbanfoodie33.

4.) Blue chipsJetBlue has created a bit of a cult following for Terra Blues Potato Chips. Every flier gets a personal-sized bag of the chips, made from naturally blue potatoes. They are a bit salty and nutty, and you can feel good about them since they are all natural. Or at least a little better than you would after other airline snacks.  

Courtesy of Daniella Segura.

Courtesy of Daniella Segura.

5.) Peanuts — We’d be remiss not to give this classic in-flight snack a shout out. Peanuts are nearly as synonymous with flights as they are with baseball. In the days of yore they were almost always free available. Now you’ll only be lucky enough to get these little packages salty goodness of select airlines like Delta. Peanuts are also a healthier option than it’s rival, pretzels. Hearty? Not really, but at least eating them will kill five minutes while you stare out the window.

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Tagged: Flights, Food & drink, FREE!

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When it comes to traveling cheaply, no one can do it quite like your grandparents. Pack up the suitcase (they shared one), grab the map, Grandpa sticks a couple 20s in his back pocket and they’re off. As an ode to all the grandparents in our lives and the era of cheap travel they were raised in, we’re going to take a page out of their books and road trip right. We of course adjusted some of these tips for a younger audience, so let’s see if you inherited that gasoline in your veins.

Courtesy of Erica Yeater

Courtesy of Erica Yeater

Make PB&J sandwiches a staple—Eat them all day, every day. Pack a loaf of bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly, and you’ve got most of your meals on this trip taken care of for less than $5. And with rest area picnic tables abounding, you should have no trouble finding somewhere to set up shop.

 

Courtesy of Sheila Scarborough.

Courtesy of Sheila Scarborough.

Don’t be afraid to use that senior discount—Most 55-year-olds awake one morning to find a packet from AARP in their mailbox, beckoning them to sign up and receive discounts out the wazoo. Those go a long way in keeping the price for hotels down on a road trip. Since most of us planning cheap road trips are probably closer to being seniors in college than senior citizens, try AAA or your student ID. Hotels often offer AAA members discounts, and students can usually get into exhibits and museums for less.

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Make friends along the way—What? That’s the cheapest room you have? Where did you say you were from again? Oh Albuquerque! Well I had a cousin Margie that used to live in Albuquerque, right across the street from that cute little supermarket. No way, your uncle used to run the supermarket!?! Small world! You found a cheaper room for us, did you? Well you tell your uncle that Margie’s cousin from Ohio says hello.

If you are anything like most grandmas, you know someone everywhere. Play the name game and use those connections, and watch the results pile up in the form of dolla bills.

  

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Courtesy of David Goehring.

Pack lots of snacks—And avoid those pesky, overpriced vending machines at rest areas. They’ll run ya dry.

 

Courtesy of David Brossard.

Courtesy of David Brossard.

Never buy bottled water—Bring your own jugs or better yet, horde some ice from the hotel ice machine and let it melt overnight. If that seems a little old-fashioned for you, just bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up as you go. It’s more eco-friendly that way, anyway.

 

 Courtesy of Dyxie.

Courtesy of Dyxie.

Keep plans loose—If the town you planned to stay in one night seems a little crowded, don’t be afraid to interrupt your itinerary. You’ll likely find a cheaper motel to stay in at the next exit.

roll-away-beds Ask about the rollaway—Grandparents traveling with a gaggle of grandchildren rely heavily on these portable beds. Stick a couple kids on a rollaway and you’ve saved yourself from having to buy an extra room for the night. The same rule applies if you are traveling with a big group of friends. You don’t have to pay for multiple rooms, and no one has to sleep on the floor.

Take it slow and take it in—The whole point of a trip is to see new things, so make sure to slow things down and take in the scenery. You’ll find the best (cheapest) little gems in the form of roadside attractions, so make sure you explore off the main highway.

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Tagged: Cheap Tips, Family

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All-you-can-eat buffets are American as apple pie (even better if they include actual pie). Whether you live in the United States or are just visiting, these over-the-top eateries will have you patting your belly saying, “God bless America.”

Studio B Buffet

In Las Vegas, everything’s a production—including mealtime at this “show kitchen buffet.” Graze on more than 200 appetizers, entrees and desserts, and watch the ubiquitous screens to see in-house chefs whipping up more before your very eyes. Wash it all down with a selection of free beer, wine, cappuccino, cordials and other beverages included in the cost of your meal (adult weekday lunch $16.99, dinner $23.99; more on weekends).

Lights... camera... eat! at Studio B. Credit  Anna Irene/Flickr.

Lights… camera… eat! at Studio B. Credit Anna Irene/Flickr.

Cedars Mediterranean Mezza and Grill

There’s no shortage of barbecue joints in the Lone Star State. But when health-conscious Dallas residents develop an appetite as big as—well, you know—they head for this fresh fare. The Vegetarian Feast ($10.85 lunch, $11.85 dinner and weekends) is an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of hummus, tabouli, pitas, imported cheeses and other meatless must-haves. The a-la-carte menu also includes plenty of beef kabobs, lamb gyros and other items to keep carnivores happy.

The Nordic

If you’re looking to splurge, this Charlestown, Rhode Island, seafood buffet is the place to do it. For $91 per person (less for kids), indulge in endless lobster, bacon-wrapped scallops, prime rib, jumbo shrimp and other delicacies. Also save room for the desserts, which are just as decadent: Haagen Dazs ice cream bar, chocolate-covered strawberries, and all the cheesecakes, pies and cannolis you can imagine.

Boma: Flavors of Africa

It’s easy to gripe about the prices at Walt Disney World, but this eatery in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Resort Area, is one of the better deals. Breakfast ($20 adults, $12 kids) includes traditional American fare like omelets and pancakes jutaxposed with African-inspired offerings like turkey bobotie (a South African-style lasagna), African pastries and of course, Kenyan coffee. The dinner buffet ($38 adults, $18 kids) is equally international, with items like Tunisian couscous salad and Durban-style roasted chicken. (Picky eaters can always fall back on the mac and cheese.) The menu, combined with the colorful, marketplace-style decor, might just make you forget you’re in Orlando.

You don't need a passport to indulge at Boma: Flavors of Africa. Credit rickpilot_2000/Flickr.

You don’t need a passport to indulge at Boma: Flavors of Africa. Credit rickpilot_2000/Flickr.

Farmerbrown

This popular brunch spot brings a taste of the South to San Francisco. The weekend buffet ($25.95) offers comfort foods like chicken and waffles, biscuits with sausage gravy, cheesy grits, and pecan brownies. Diners watching their waistline can fill up on the buffet’s lighter fare, including house salad, fruit salad and succotash veggies.

Dig into some comfort food at Farmerbrown. Credit star5112/Flickr.

Dig into some comfort food at Farmerbrown. Credit star5112/Flickr.

Becco

Celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich makes her Italian fare affordable to the masses at this institution on Manhattan’s Restaurant Row. The signature Sinfonia di Paste ($18.95 lunch or $23.95 dinner) includes unlimited table service of three daily pastas—think toasted beet and goat cheese ravioli with fresh mint, semolina gnocchi alla Romana or whatever else Executive Chef William Gallagher—plus your choice of Caesar salad or antipasto.

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room

Here’s another option for “don’t get up, we’ll bring the food to you” dining. This Savannah, Georgia, eatery serves everything family-style. Strangers bond over never-ending platters of meat loaf, cornbread dressing, okra gumbo and other stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. As my friend who used to live in Savannah said, “Think Sunday dinner at grandma’s where she has more in the kitchen but it’s not all on the table.” The restaurant is open only for lunch ($20 for adults; half-price for kids), but the endless platters of food should keep you full well into the evening.

Tagged: Florida, Food & drink, Las Vegas, New York City