Thinking outside the box for Memorial Day travel

In this May 24, 2013 file photo, traffic begins to thicken as motorists getting an early jump to Memorial Day destinations in Indiana and Michigan travel an interstate freeway through Chicago. Auto club AAA on Friday, May 16, 2014 said it expects a total of 36.1 million people to travel 50 miles or more this Memorial Day Weekend. If that estimate holds true, it would be the largest amount of people traveling during the holiday weekend since 2005. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Listen: Peter "The Travel Detective" Greenberg on WTOP

wtopstaff | November 15, 2014 5:29 am

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WASHINGTON — Aside from just staying home this Memorial Day weekend, are there ways to get out of town, on a budget and without the hassle of going where everyone else is going?

According to Peter “The Travel Detective” Greenberg, there is.

“It’s time to be a contrarian traveler and realize you don’t have to go where everyone else goes, and you can still get away without having to mortgage your house,” Greenberg, travel editor for CBS News, told WTOP on Tuesday.

There are plenty of places in the region one can get to on one tank of gas or less, not far from the Washington, D.C. area, and it doesn’t have to be the usual Rehoboth Beach or Ocean City. Think out of the box, Greenberg says.

The best thing to do is to go “the opposite” of where the crowds are heading. For example, while everyone travels to the famed Napa Valley in California for extended wine tasting, why not steer north to Washington State, he suggested.

“Washington is the No. 2 wine producing state in America,” he noted. “It’s got over 800 wineries, and within a two-hour drive from Seattle, you’ve got 150 of them — it’s great.”

Choosing a place to stay, especially last minute, can be dicey. Greenberg says there are ways to maximize and save money, but one has to be smart about it. Don’t book online, but talk to an agent on the phone. Not only ask about discounts on the rates, but ask if your kids can stay and eat for free, and whether the hotel might throw in free parking.

“You’ll never get those answers on the Web. You’ve got to have a conversation with a human being. And get their first and last name when you confirm it, because you’ll save a lot of money,” he said, noting the hotel industry is a “highly competitive environment” right now, and hoteliers are willing to bargain.

As for getting to where you want to go, besides driving yourself, intercity bus lines are the fastest-growing mode of transportation right now — and cheapest, Greenberg said. There are over 3,000 in operation throughout the U.S. today, he noted, adding that the price for a nonstop plane ticket from Washington to New York can be as high as $700, while the lowest you can get for a train is $150 roundtrip. A bus ticket to New York, on the other hand, is $20.

“You know what? That’s affordable.”

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