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What better place to escape to in cold, bitter January than warm and welcoming Phoenix, Arizona. This is the time of year Phoenix dwellers wait all year for, when the heat breaks and temperatures normalize. Located in the northeastern Sonoran Desert, Phoenix sees an average of 330 days of sunshine per year, and high temperatures in January hang just below 70 degrees. The hiking is good, the food is spicy and the desert is calling. Phoenix in January, here we come!

 Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Terminal 4 in Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Photo: Robert Couse-Baker – Flickr

Plane, train or automobile: Phoenix is less than a three-hour drive from the Mexican border, and is fairly remote, so flying into the city is going to be the best option. Sky Harbor International Airport is just miles and a $20 cab ride from downtown.

Phoenix light rail

The light rail speeds by Arizona State University’s downtown campus in Phoenix. Photo: Ally Marotti.

Cheap local transit: Renting a car is the smartest option here, since you’ll want to drive out to the Phoenix Mountains for a hike during the stay. There’s also a light rail and bus system with $2 fare or $4 for a day pass. That will you get you easily from downtown to Arizona State’s Campus in Tempe (where they have a great strip of classy bars with prices that suit college students) in about 20 minutes. The city is very bike-friendly as well, and the mountain trails are close enough to bike to. Grid Bike Share program charges $5 an hour.

Piestewa Peak

A view from the top of Piestewa Peak near Phoenix. Photo: Ally Marotti

Hit the trails: The Phoenix mountains surround the city and, once summited, offer spectacular views of the city’s reaches and desert beyond. Different mountains offer different types of hikes (some are better for trail running, some are steeper). Camelback Mountain is the most popular area hike, so get there early and bring water. Piestewa Peak (also called Squaw Peak), is steeper, and promises a good workout.

Phoenix farmers market

Downtown Phoenix has an open-air farmers market ever Thursday and Saturday. Photo: Kenneth Hagemeyer – Flickr

Squeeze some citrus: Snuggled up next to Arizona State’s downtown campus is the Phoenix Public Market Cafe and Open Air Market. Farmers set up Thursdays and Saturdays to sell their produce, but if you miss the market, check out the attached cafe. It’s adorable and serves all meals, drinks and hasa great happy hour every weeknight.

Windsor & Churn

January in Phoenix brings perfect weather for brunching outside. Photo: Ally Marotti

Brunch outside: For those coming from the north, the concept of sitting outside at a restaurant in January will be all too novel. Take advantage at a place such as Windsor & Churn in Midtown. And you can nab $5 pitchers of alcoholic punch to get your day started off right.

The Songbird Coffee & Tea House

The Songbird Coffee & Tea House near downtown Phoenix. Photo: Ally Marotti

Coffee for the birds: Songbird Coffee & Tea House is all you could ever want or need in a coffee shop. It is in a southwestern-style house, and is invitingly full of natural light and empty birdcages. There is plenty of outdoor seating, including a porch swing.

CTIXblog CTA _ cheap of the week

Tagged: Cheap Tips, Food & drink, Off-season, Seasonal

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Cancellations and delays. Courtesy of Chris Waits.

Cancellations and delays. Courtesy of Chris Waits.

When mother nature gives you heavy rain or high winds, airports get flight delays andcancellations. This could be a blessing or a curse for the casual traveler who was just trying to escape to some warmth over the weekend. When you get that notification from your airline saying your flight home has been canceled, you are either celebrating because you get more time in the sunshine, or weeping as you worry about the extra day’s effects on your wallet. Airlines are not required to compensate its customers for any extra costs incurred due to a delay or cancellation. They are even less likely to do so if those delays and cancellations are caused by something they cannot control, such as the weather. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your extra days in a cheap way.

Remain calm.

This may seem obvious, but it will go a long way in making the scheduling debacle work in your favor. Stay optimistic, and look at this as an opportunity for more time on vacation, not a huge disturbance in your schedule. If you panic and get upset with the airlines, not only are you making things harder on yourself, you probably aren’t helping the airline out very much either. Be cool, and let them find you an alternative return flight. If you try to take things into your own hands and book another flight, you are likely to end up paying more. The airline you were originally scheduled to fly also may not give you your money back. So let them do their thing while you sit back with your toes in the sand.

Look twice for lodging.

Vacancy. Courtesy of Lauren Mitchell.

Vacancy. Courtesy of Lauren Mitchell.

This may fall into the “remain calm” category, but when you are scrambling to find somewhere to stay after you find your flight is cancelled, do not pick the first room that pops up on a google search. It will be tempting because the pressure is on, but investing some time in the search will save you in the long run. Some airlines may offer to help compensate, but don’t count on it. The rates at some hotels skyrocket if you book the day of, but others drop as hotels struggle to fill vacancies. Take your time and find one of those options. Check search engines such as Cheaptickets.com that will do some of the leg work for you.

Keep your eyes on the skies.

A snowy O’Hare International Airport. Courtesy of Cliff.

A snowy O’Hare International Airport. Courtesy of Cliff.

If your flight was delayed because of weather, chances are dozens of other flights were delayed as well. Depending on the size of the storm that hit your home airport, it may take a couple of days to get things flowing smoothly again, meaning more delays in the days following the original cancellation. As a traveler, you are basically at the mercy of the airlines in this department, but being aware of the higher possibility of another delay can help save you money. Make time to eat a meal before going to the airport, and stock up on a couple snacks for the voyage home. That way, if you do end up getting stranded in the airport for hours, you are not forced to choose between starving and forking out $10 for bag of Cheez-Its.

Spend time outside.

The hike to Alamere Falls in Point Reyes National Seashore in California. Courtesy of Alexi Ueltzen.

The hike to Alamere Falls in Point Reyes National Seashore in California. Courtesy of Alexi Ueltzen.

One of the reasons the great outdoors is so great is because it’s free. If you spent a weekend full of activities that were accounted for in your travel budget, take your extra day or two to deviate from the expected. Explore the nature of whatever area you are stranded in, and enjoy the climate before you are shipped back to the frigid north. If the beach was your main draw south in the first place and you’ve had enough sun, check out a nearby town. Do some window shopping and see the sights.

Cut down on transportation costs.

Bike share in San Jose, California. Courtesy of Don DeBold.

Bike share in San Jose, California. Courtesy of Don DeBold.

When planning out your extra time, account for the fact that you probably do not have a car. Pick a spot you can head to in the morning and remain at for most ofthe day, cutting down on transportation costs. Renting a car for an extra day can tack a pretty penny onto your budget. Ask your airline about accommodating you with a rental car, but it is unlikely they would provide you one free of charge. If your location allows, check into alternative transportation such as Car2Go or a bike rental. Most cities with bike rental programs rarely charge more than a dozen dollars a day.

Tagged: Beach, Cheap Tips, Family, Flights, Florida, Food & drink, FREE!, Last minute travel, Tips & advice