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The Joys Of Savvy Travel: Traveling Five Star For Less

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"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." -- St. Augustine

I have a confession to make. I love to travel. Many years ago an old boyfriend accused me of wishing to live in luxury hotels and travel the globe non-stop. In hindsight, there is some truth to that statement. But really, what's so wrong about that?

I love the luxury of a Frette robe and a room service breakfast savored in bed while reading my morning paper. From time to time, we all need a little pampering to renew our spirits and refresh our souls. The trick is to live deluxe but not pay five star prices. Finding the best for less has always been The Recessionista's manifesto.

Living in Los Angeles, I am very lucky. Los Angelinos enjoy easy access to one of the largest airports in the world and a variety of wonderful getaways just a short trip away in the car. Los Angeles is my home base, but I regularly venture away from its shores to experience the journey that is life. In this article, I want to share with you some of my top travel destinations. I also wanted to share some of my travel tested resources and recommendations for enjoying a reasonably priced, luxurious trip. Following are some of my favorite excursions in and away from California.

Trips Outside of California

I have to admit, I am partial to trips where they speak my language or at least pretend to.
Below are some of my favorite trips outside of California with highlights for each city.

London, England, UK
London is quite simply one of my favorite cities in the world. It's the mother country and the seat of American culture. Every American needs to travel there. I have enjoyed travel in London on the cheap as a student making my way through Chelsea (Hotel Wilbraham) and then later enjoyed luxury trips there in Hyde Park, Kensington and Belgravia. It's so easy to get around town on the tube (subway) and the people are very friendly.

From Los Angeles, many direct flights are available, as well as wonderful all inclusive vacation packages. Virgin Atlantic offers some excellent packages including hotel, airport transfers and airfare. You can also plan your own trip and stay in one of the many charming old hotels there. One of my favorite hotels is No. Eleven Cadogan Gardens. No. Eleven has quite a history. It's where Oscar Wilde first meet his true love, Lord Alfred Douglas, his beloved "Bosie." The hotel used to boast the distinction of still harboring a few of the original toilets made by Sir Thomas Crapper. When I stayed there, sherry and homemade cake was served in the parlor along with fragrant English tea at 4:00 pm every afternoon. You fully expect Oscar Wilde to walk in at any moment. Years ago, I was enjoying some sherry at tea time when none other that Christopher Lee wondered in fresh from his "comeback" in Lord of The Rings. He couldn't have been more charming. Like many locals, he's been strolling into No. 11 for sherry promptly at 4:00 pm for years. The best place to find discount rates for No. 11 is their website. Be sure to sign-up for their newsletter so you don't miss out. The hotel used to be a favorite for London Fashion Week attendees. I fondly remember meeting designer Megan Park there. More London hotel discounts and packages can be found at www.londontown.com.

No trip to London is complete without a meal at my favorite English Restaurant, serving real English fare, Maggie Jones. This little gem was named for Princess Margaret when she was married to Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Maggie Jones offers the best English lamb, mushy peas, and Shepard's pie I've ever tasted. For dessert, try the "spotted dick." Maggie Jones disproves the idea that English food is plain and tasteless. And the prices are very reasonable.

Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
This is one of the hidden gems of Europe. I was there a few summers ago and I fell in love with this city. If you started your trip in London, Edinburgh is a short train ride or plane ride away. The city is easy to get around, the locals are friendly and accommodating. The beautiful Edinburgh castle towers above this ancient city. A short distance away is Hollyrod house, home to Mary Queen of Scots.

For hotels, there are many charming guest houses and bed-and-breakfasts. Check Trip Advisor for some good deals.

Dublin, Ireland
In recent years, Dublin has enjoyed a renaissance. This is a city where Americans are welcomed with open arms. There are a number of small hotels that offer great value. One such hotel is the Pembroke Townhouse in the Georgian section. It's affordable and a quick walk to Grafton Street, Museums and Shops. Another surprising bargain is Dublin City University. The University offers a wide range of accommodation during the summer months (June to September), including standard, superior and deluxe accommodation.

Vancouver, British Columbia
The Fairmount Vancouver regularly offers great discounted packages. Further discounts are available to members of their President's Club. Be sure and join this club before you travel. For cheap airfare, check Alaska Airlines. I have bought reasonably priced tickets from them in the past.

Paris, France
Believe it or not, Paris does offer some reasonable accommodations. There are some great small hotels like the Hotel St. Germain De Pres (small rooms but in a great location) and Hotel Napoleon (book through a discounter). Reasonable airfares can be booked on Air France with 14-30 days advance. And, even in economy class, you will enjoy unlimited wine on Air France. Ooh, la, la! Most Parisians speak English, although they are a bit friendlier if you try to speak French.

New York, NY
From Los Angeles, cheap tickets are available on Jet Blue out of Long Beach and sometimes, major carriers (American, Virgin and Delta) out of LAX. One of the best kept secrets for reasonable accommodation in New York is the Club Quarters chain. These are low-priced hotels for business travelers that have joined as members or for travelers whose company enjoys membership. The clubs are also available for slightly higher rates to non-members. Check their website (http://www.clubquarters.com) for details, but book early. Because of their discounts, these fill up fast.

My other top cheap and cheerful picks for lodging in New York are the Paramount Hotel and the Bryant Park Hotel. Both offer super specials, check their websites for details. I follow Bryant Park Hotel on Twitter to catch specials from their regular Tweets.

My favorite road trips from Los Angeles

Santa Barbara, CA
Beautiful Santa Barbara features one of the Best Motel 6 locations in the world, right on the beach. Even in the summer, rates start at the unbelievable price of $80.00. While you won't find a Frette Robe in the closet here, you'll enjoy having extra cash for all the luxe Santa Barbara attractions including great food, wine, and of course the fabulous Sunday Brunch at the Four Seasons. If you can't bring yourself to stay at a Motel 6 no matter the location, try the family run Santa Barbara Inn. It's a wonderful small boutique hotel with great service.

Solvang, CA
Check Expedia or use your AAA discount for the best rates at the Royal Scandinavian Inn. Enjoy a cheap and cheerful dinner and great bottle of wine at the Hitching Post (Yes, this is the Restaurant from the movie Sideways). Solvang is a wonderful little getaway and is close to great wineries like Rideau Vineyard and Gainey Vineyard. Check the Solvang tourist map for coupons for discounted wine tasting.

Ojai, CA
Stay at the lower-priced Blue Iguana Inn, but book your spa treatments at the Ojai Valley Inn or the Oaks at Ojai. You'll enjoy a charming little hotel for much less than you would pay at the larger resorts. And you can still enjoy those 5 star spa treatments, without paying for the higher hotel room.

For more information, check my favorite online travel resources for savvy touristas:

  • Trip Advisor: This great site offers reviews from other travelers and checks trip prices for you from various online travel sites in one simple search.
  • LA Times Travel Blog and Daily Deals: This entertaining blog offers hand-picked travel deals, tips for locales of interest to those in Southern California .
  • Budget Travel: This informative site offers great deals on everything including cruises and trips to Europe.
  • The New York Time's Travel Q& A: A comprehensive guide to worldwide travel, the Times staff thoughtfully answers your questions on the best travel deals and sites. You'll also want to follow The Frugal Traveler on Twitter @frugaltraveler from The New York Times and read The Frugal Traveler Blog by Seth Kugel.
    • American Express Travel: If you are a cardmember (as I am) you can take advantage of some great deals via American Express. Check the travel portion of American Express when you log-in. Also, you can use your American Membership Rewards points for travel deals, so if you are a card member, check the Membership Rewards program for special deals.
    • Twitter Travel Updates: Check Mark Kahler from About.com's Budget Travel Blog for up-to-the-minute updates, follow the tips on Twitter @ AboutBudgetTrav

    Two Leading Hotels with Luxury for Less

    • Loews' new Value is the New Luxury™ deals are available from their website at: www.loewshotels.com.
    • Fairmount Hotel's Special. This luxury hotel chain is offering special deals on travel packages. Check their website at: www.fairmont.com for details.

    Bonne Chance!