Extra mile awards, the bonus round: Another motel to watch

By Danielle Lipp
October 3, 2012
Courtesy Super 8

We just unveiled our sixth-annual Extra Mile Awards—in which we salute the forward-thinking companies and people working to make your vacation simpler, more affordable, and way more fun. One of the trends we spotlight is how Motel 6, Red Roof Inn, and Holiday Inn have taken the concept of the traditional roadside motel and flipped it on its head, each initiating a massive design overhaul and totally redefining what it means to stay somewhere on a budget.

While it hasn't yet reached the sheer numbers of those three chains, Super 8 has also launched a room redesign that's just getting off its feet.

A relative newcomer to the remodel game, Super 8 has completely revamped two properties so far (in Mount Laurel, N.J. and Pennsville, N.J.), with plans to have 13 more renovations finished by early next year. Highlights include a Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired theme emphasizing horizontal surfaces, modular wall units/media centers that can be configured to maximize space, and regional artwork inset in headboards—so when you wake up you actually will know where you are.

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Product Reviews

New site Wanderfly will be wonderful at inspiring travelers

Imagine if there were a Magic 8-Ball for trip planning. Shake the ball and it suggests a dream trip. The ball takes into account your interests, your budget, and your time constraints when it suggests a vacation spot for you. Some websites try to be a Magic 8-Ball like that: Travelocity has its Experience Finder and Kayak has its Explore tool. Goby, TravelMuse, and Uptake all generate personalized trip ideas as well. But these sites and tools aren't cutting the mustard for a majority of travelers. Enter, Wanderfly, by far the slickest attempt yet at being a Magic 8-Ball for trip inspiration. It's not perfect, for sure. But this invitation-only site goes a long way to simplifying the hunt for affordable places that match your style. Expedia helps to power the site. Once you find a destination and set of attractions you like, book the trip without having to punch in all of your choices all over again—a nice perk. You don't have to specify a destination to kickstart the site. Simply set your ideal budget range, your home airport, and when you'd approximately like to go, and Wanderfly takes it from there, delivering personalized recommendations. The total trip budget is posted in bold numbers. Add other search criteria if you like. Only want to see places where your Facebook friends live? No problem. Need hotel or restaurant suggestions? The site pulls in listings info from guidebooks like Lonely Planet, NileGuide, and Yelp. Save a few trip ideas; e-mail the plans to your friends and family; or pick one itinerary and book it using an Expedia-powered interface that's much easier to use than Expedia itself. For a sense of what your destination looks like, the site pulls in images from Flickr's creative commons stream dynamically. Still in beta testing, Wanderfly has a limited selection of destinations right now. It only has about 400 hand-curated destinations in the U.S. and about 800 hand-curated destinations abroad. An army of interns and staffers leverages the ratings of destinations and attractions on user-generated sites like Yelp to drive its recommendations. But more picks are on the way. Some travelers may find the site is not ready for prime time because you need to apply for an e-mail invitation to try it until it formally launches at the end of August. Frustratingly, some of its recommended destinations seem random and a bit too surprising for my tastes (Batemans Bay, Australia, anyone?) Overall verdict, though: Wanderfly seems on track to be a model of how sites can inspire people to travel. If you like trying new sites before other travelers do, sign up on wanderfly.com to be alerted by e-mail when the site is open for use in August. EARLIER TrustYou: I think this new site is cool, but many readers say it stinks AutoSlash: (Ditto)

Product Reviews

San Francisco: 5 best July values

Free admission to museums Target is sponsoring free admission to six top San Francisco museums, with an emphasis on family-friendly programming: Friday evening ballet performances at the de Young in honor of Degas's paintings, Saturday storytelling at the Asian Art Museum, and a free entry to Zeum children's museum and a world music dance party for kids at the Yerba Buena Gardens on Sunday. Even for adults, the chance to hop for free from SF MOMA, to the Contemporary Jewish Museum (check out the new Maira Kalman exhibit) and the Museum of the African Diaspora, all located downtown within blocks of each other, is not to be missed. July 16-18, Friday free at the de Young, Saturday free at the Asian Art Museum, the rest are free on Sunday. An indie craft fair The much-loved DIY Renegade Craft Fair is like shopping on etsy.com come to life. Over 200 exhibitors sell indie-craft creations—many by local artists and designers—including jewelry, housewares, stationery, and clothing. There will be crafts workshops, DJs, live music, raffles, a free photobooth, and more. It's the perfect place to pick up a unique, affordable souvenir to take home. July 31 and August 1 at the Fort Mason Center Festival Pavilion. July 31-Aug 1st, 11 am-7 pm, Buchanan St. and Marina Blvd., 415/345-7500, near Fort Mason. A tribute to Angel Island immigrants To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Angel Island (known as the Ellis Island of the West), the United States Immigration Station is reopening its doors. The historic landmark features exhibits about the millions of mostly Asian immigrants who were processed between 1910 and 1940, including the original interrogation table and detention barracks. On July 31, opening day, there will be a series of speakers, book readings, Tai Chi demonstrations, and Japanese bamboo flute music performances. Free, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 415/262-4429; for more information including discount tickets for ferry service, check aiisf.org. A pop-up shop opens at YBCA The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is getting in on the pop-up shops trend this month by hosting Zinc Details in conjunction with their TechnoCRAFT: Hackers, Modders, Fabbers, Tweakers and Design in the Age of Individuality exhibit curated by San Francisco's acclaimed designer Yves Behar. Zinc, one of San Francisco's most popular design shops, stocks home furnishings, gadgets, and accessories, by the artists in the exhibit. July 10-Oct 3, Thu-Sat, 12 p.m.- 8 p.m., Sun 12 p.m.-6p.m., 701 Mission St., 415/978-2700. A festival celebrates street art Many visitors check out the murals on Balmy Alley in the Mission, but here is your chance to see the art in the making. Every year about 250 people show up for the Precita Eyes Urban Youth Arts Festival to create murals and paint graffiti on the 2,000 square feet of portable wall space donated by the Precita Eyes Mural Center. Free paint, brushes, and aerosol paint cans will be available for anyone to use—while musicians, spoken word lyricists, poetry slammers, and break dancers perform throughout the day. La Parilla Grill restaurant will be serving free Mexican food, water and soda. July 24, free, 1-6 p.m., 415/285-2287, 2981 24th St.

Product Reviews

Mint.com adds a vacation-budgeting tool

Budgeting is boring. But Mint.com's new travel-budgeting tool is (almost) fun to use because it makes it super-easy to estimate how much an upcoming trip will cost. The tool also encourages you to stick to a savings program and skip impulse purchases that can derail you from your travel goals. Mint is Quicken's digital service used by more than 2 million Americans to track personal finance info via the Web and smartphone. Once you create a free account, you can set savings goals for things like retirement or children. Starting today, travel is another goal you can save for. Type in your destination, the number of days you'll stay, length of stay, number of travelers, and other information. Ballpark how much plane tickets, hotels, rental cars, and other major expenses will cost. The niftiest part is you can make good use of this info by linking up Mint with your vacation fund, such as an online ING Orange Savings Account. As the money piles up in your account, Mint will update you on how close you are to being able to go on vacation. If you fall behind, set up alerts to prod you to get back on track. Mint will also suggest ways to juice up your returns by picking a higher-yielding account or by switching to a smarter travel rewards credit card. Signing-up for Mint takes about five minutes, I've found. Punch in your account details for as few, or as many, bank and credit card accounts as you like. The service then downloads the records on how much you spend, tagging your expenditures by categories. For instance, credit card charges to Hyatt or Delta are instantly labeled "travel" expenses (or a custom label you choose to put on them). Mint gives you a snapshot of your spending habits. It's easy to see how if you cut the spending in some category, such as Dunkin Donuts coffee, you'll have more to spend. What about the security of your personal data? I asked Aaron Patzer, the founder of Mint, about that. He pointed out that Mint doesn't reveal your account numbers or personal identifying information, so if anyone was able to break into your Mint account, they wouldn't be able to push a button and drain your savings. The encryption level is as strong as the security systems used by major national bank chains use for their online-banking tools. (Patzer says it's never been compromised.) What's more, Mint can actually help you fight theft by alerting you when there's unusual activity in your accounts. MORE A bon voyage for less? (15+ comments)

Product Reviews

Gift ideas for grads: An online travel registry

The summer after college graduation is the perfect time to strap on a backpack, book a plane ticket to some far-flung destination, and go on a find-your-life's-purpose journey. But in an era when mounting student loans easily reach into the tens of thousands, student travel isn't as guilt-free as it once was. Every little penny of outside assistance helps. The best solution? Enlist the help of family and friends desperately trying to find you a great graduation gift! Just in time for high school and college graduation season, discount student travel agency STA Travel has launched the Travel Registry. Like a bridal registry, this initiative allows users to create an online account and then populate their digital wish lists with all of the ingredients for the perfect dream vacation: flights, train tickets, bus passes, accommodations, tours, cruises, and nature treks. Hankering for an Antarctic expedition or an Amazonian rainforest trek? How about a leisurely tour of London or Tokyo? With just a few clicks, you can add these tours to your customized list. Jazz up your profile page with messages, photos, and videos to help encourage (read: beg) your relatives to donate to the cause. Put on a beret and speak in your best French accent to ask Aunt Ruth for that flight to Paris. Tug at Grandma's heartstrings by writing a heartfelt message about your desire to bring old children's books to an orphanage in Malawi. Family and friends can then sign on and buy any or all of your suggested gifts or donate part of the funds toward an expensive trip. Grads, it's not too late to start making your wish list. Because we all know a Kenyan safari sure beats an engraved ballpoint pen or a smart wrist watch any day of the week. FYI: Take a peek through Budget Travel's 2010 Dream Trips package for some exciting wish list ideas.