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Traveling in the US? Bring Lots of Money and a Car

I just got back from a wild and wooly four days in New Orleans, where the wife and I celebrated our anniversary by going to Jazzfest. Yes, we acknowledged our joining in this “sacred institution” by drinking for days on end, dropping into our spinning bed way too late at night, and gorging ourselves on the great food surrounding us at all times. But our relationship originally started after a night of way too much tequila, so maybe it was fitting…

The trip confirmed two things I always tell people on a budget who are coming to visit the US: 1) This can be a pretty darn expensive place to have fun, and 2) You’ll have a difficult time in most places without a car.

First the money. I don’t regret a penny I spent in New Orleans, even though it did pain my frugal sensibilities to pay $45 a person for a show at the House of Blues. (El Gran Combo, and they were great, but still…) The prices at the Jazz and Heritage Festival are reasonable given the trapped audience environment: $3-$4 for a beer (including some imports), $3-$6 for most of the food items, and $2.50 for a large water. You pay $25 to $30 a day for the festival itself, which also isn’t bad considering the great music array. And we got a great advance deal at a hotel I would highly recommend: the International House, on Camp St. a block off Canal. Great atmosphere, great service, great location. And we didn’t rent a car (more on that later). Still, when it was all said and done, in four days we blew through a small fortune. If we had been in one of the World’s Cheapest Destinations, what we spent in four days would have carried us through several weeks to a month, depending on the price of beer in that particular country.

We didn’t rent a car, simply because we knew in advance that we wouldn’t belong behind the wheel during most of our stay. In New Orleans, that’s less trouble than most American places since you can walk to a lot of tourists spots and take the streetcar to some others. And you could get a bus shuttle ticket ($10 round trip) to the festival. Problem was, my wife went to Tulane in her younger days and was meeting up with a lot of old friends in the uptown area. We’d get invited to parties, then couldn’t get a taxi back to the hotel to save our life. The dispatcher at one company said, “We’ll try to have someone there in an hour, but we’re very busy.” That meant depending on the kindness of others who had a car or the luck of catching a late streetcar. One ride home was a hybrid, as friends in a car drove parallel to the streetcar until it stopped and we jumped in.

When the wee hours were hitting and my body was shutting down on me, I pined for the one US city with reliable 24-hour public transportation–New York. Now imagine touring this country as a foreigner from London, Paris, or Tokyo and trying to work your way through Sprawltown after Sprawltown, USA. Better have a car…

Wanna go?
New Orleans Tourism Site
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
International House Hotel