20 Tips

June 5, 2006

1. Put toys within kids' reach on road trips. Hang a shoe organizer on the back of the passenger seat so children can keep stuffed animals, books, and games organized in the pockets. Having everything close at hand may prevent meltdowns along the way. Jennifer Casasanto, Newton, Mass.

2. Use half a contact lens case to carry your medicine. My husband cut an old lens case in two and uses the halves for his medication when we're traveling. He prefers them to regular pillboxes because lens cases are watertight and compact enough to carry in a shirt pocket. Jean Holtmann, Broken Arrow, Okla.

3. Don't rush off the car-rental lot. Before driving away--especially in foreign countries where the controls might be unfamiliar--test the headlights and brakes, and look for the extra tire and changing tools. I once had a rental with malfunctioning brakes in Mexico and caused a minor accident--one that could have been avoided had I checked them properly before leaving the lot. Doreen Stelton, Lemont, Ill.

4. Buy multiple memory cards for your digital camera. Instead of investing in one large-capacity memory card, consider purchasing two smaller ones for the same price. That way, if your camera is stolen, you won't lose all your pictures. Ashley Miller, Miami, Fla.

5. Light sticks can replace a night-light. Finding the bathroom in the middle of the night in a strange hotel room or cruise-ship cabin can be a challenge. Leaving the bathroom light on seems wasteful and makes the room too bright for sleeping. My husband and I used to travel with a night-light, but we couldn't always find a convenient place to plug it in. We've recently discovered a better solution: plastic light sticks. They come in several glow-in-the-dark colors and are activated by bending the tube into a circle and connecting the ends. Each evening, we hook one of the loops over the bathroom door handle, where it provides a gentle glow through the night. Carol Attar, Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.

You can find more tips in the July/August 2006 issue of Budget Travel magazine.

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How Would You Spend $100?

Back in March we asked you how you'd spend $100 of our money during an upcoming trip. Over 500 e-mails later, we picked five lucky winners (one of whom we featured in the June issue) who all felt the urge to splurge. "My dear friend and I are going to a concert in Orlando and I'd love to have a momento from our girl's night out," wrote Julie Lowery of Wray, Georgia. Along with her friend Tiffany, she headed to the House of the Blues where they watched pop artist James Blunt perform. After the show, they bought a concert T-shirt, CD, and poster--plus two margaritas--with the $100 we gave her. "Not only did we spend much needed time doing something fun and frivolous, but we got to buy some great keepsakes," she wrote. "We had an absolute blast!" Other winners: "After returning from my first trip to Ireland, I placed a Waterford bowl on my coffee table for all to admire. About a month after my return, my cat went crazy and knocked my prized bowl onto the floor shattering it into a million pieces. When I read about Budget Travel's contest with my next trip to Ireland only three weeks away, I knew that I would spend it on replacement Waterford bowl. The bowl was my perfect splurge--and yes, I still have the cat!" --Karen M. Hughes, Cantonment, Fla. "A wine tasting in Paris courtesy of Budget Travel? What's not to like about that? I sampled three whites and four reds, ranging from lightest to fullest. My personal favorite was the Bergerac-Chateau la Robertie 2003, a merlot cabernet sauvignon blend. And this was a true tasting: it included silver buckets to empty the remainder from your glass; you were expected not to drink it all. And so I didn't, except for the Bergerac! Altogether it was a very satisfying and authentically French-feeling splurge." --Sheila Ruof, Laredo, Tex. "As an avid fisherman, I was excited to spend my $100 on a half-day fishing excursion in Cancun, Mexico. Just as the captain guaranteed, everyone onboard hooked a fish--my friend caught two Mahi Mahi while yours truly caught a Red Snapper and a Queen Triggerfish. The crew was very professional and a great time was had by all." --Andy Pappalardo, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Wilmington, North Carolina

Despite the grits and sweet-potato fries on the menu and a name that sounds like Bo and Luke Duke would fit in nicely, the Dixie Grill is not your typical Southern diner. Dalí-esque paintings of fish decorate the lime-green walls, and above the grill is a mural of a sunny-side-up egg screaming as it's about to get eaten. Local musicians sometimes play out back, where a small bar serves microbrews and $2.50 bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The staff is a young, tan bunch who could work as extras on a hip teen drama. And considering that One Tree Hill and Dawson's Creek were filmed in town, along with dozens of movies, they may very well have done so. Founded in 1739, Wilmington remained North Carolina's largest city through the early 1900s. The action clusters where it always has, the east bank of the Cape Fear River, 29 miles upstream from the Atlantic. The red-brick streets were largely paved over with asphalt years ago, but there are a few holdouts, including a handsome, if faded, section of Dock Street near the river. Wil-mington's 230-block historic district includes ramshackle factories converted into restaurants, pubs, galleries, and shops, in addition to Victorian homes so postcard-quaint that the owners must be tempted to run them as B&Bs. (Two home owners who did just that with particular success operate Camellia Cottage and Blue Heaven, which both have big porches and are located five minutes by foot from the river.) With a slew of artists and musicians calling the place home, a state university down the road, and fantastic beaches that are 20 minutes farther, Wilmington simultaneously appeals to hipsters, beach bums, and fans of traditional Southern gentility. But thus far tourists pay more attention to the two port towns it's often compared to--Savannah and Charleston--so Wilmington remains relatively quiet by comparison. Visitors naturally gravitate to the boardwalk lining the Cape Fear. Known as the Riverwalk, it's ideal for strolling at dawn and dusk (and oppressively hot midday in the summer). A $3 ferry does a quick cruise-by tour of town before dropping you off at the Battleship North Carolina, across the river. Head belowdecks on the World War II ship to check out the old bakery, chapel, and sleeping quarters, and placards with soldiers' personal recollections (like the private who complained about how often "wallpaper paste"--rehydrated potato--appeared on the menu). On spring Friday evenings, classic movies are shown under the stars and next to the fighter planes and huge guns that once launched artillery up to 20 miles away. Back on Wilmington's shore, grab an umbrella table at The Pilot House, built in the 1870s and dragged to the riverfront a century later for a new life as a restaurant. The prices that come with a river view are worth it, especially considering the elegant setting (impeccably dressed waitstaff, tables with fresh flowers) and regional favorites (pork loin sandwiches, fried green tomatoes, tons of seafood). Guided ghost walks, trolley rides, river cruises, and tours of the Burgwin-Wright House and other mansions keep folks happy who are into those kinds of things. Others will be content browsing for antiques or nursing a pint at the grungy (in a good way) Barbary Coast, the oldest tavern in town, or at Hell's Kitchen, a market that was re-vamped as a Dawson's Creek set and has since become a hangout for more of those folks who look like stand-ins for Pacey and Joey. Lodging   Camellia Cottage 118 S. Fourth St., 866/728-5272, camelliacottage.net, from $135   Blue Heaven 517 Orange St., 910/772-9929, bbonline.com/nc/blueheaven, from $100 Food   Dixie Grill 116 Market St., 910/762-7280, two eggs, bacon, and grits $6.25   The Pilot House 2 Ann St., 910/343-0200, pork loin sandwich $7.25 Activities   Battleship North Carolina 910/251-5797, battleshipnc.com,$9 (movies $1)   Burgwin-Wright House 224 Market St., 910/762-0570, tour $8 Nightlife   Barbary Coast 116 S. Front St., 910/762-8996   Hell's Kitchen 118 Princess St., 910/763-4133