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by Chris Karel, owner, TailoredTours.com
 

For most of us, “Spring Break” conjures up images of beaches and bathing suits. But every year, thousands of college students spend their vacation on the breezy shores of... the Hudson River. In fact, New York City was the fourth most popular Spring Break destination in the country in 2004, according to actual hotel bookings at travelweb.com.

With a vibrant cultural and social scene, it’s not surprising that so many students would shun the sun for the mean streets of Manhattan. But unlike inexpensive Spring Break destinations such as Galveston, Texas and Panama City, Florida, New York can quickly max out the credit cards of even the most budget-conscious visitor. The average room cost in the city in 2006 was estimated at $268, up 7% from 2005, according to figures compiled by PKF Consulting based on a poll of 100 hotels. Though the cost of hotel rooms continues to climb, some new sightseeing options can help students stick to a budget and make the most of their trip.

Traditionally, visitors have had three options for touring New York City: Bus tours, guided tours, and do-it-yourself sightseeing.

Bus tours cover a lot of ground in a short period of time and with almost no effort required. But they are expensive Gray Line Bus Tours (www.grayline.com) is offering a “Three-Day Super Saver Combo” for $109 per person. And sightseeing by bus means that you miss a lot of the romance and depth that make New York City more than just the home of the Empire State Building.

Students who want a fuller experience can opt for a guided tour. Ranging in cost from free to over $200 per day, guided tours give you a deeper understanding of the city. The down side is that you are forced to adhere to someone else’s schedule and pace. Also, finding tours is not always easy. Your best bet is to visit the Web sites of places that interest you (for example, www.centralparknyc.org for Central Park tours). Big Onion walking tours allows users to book guided tours online at bigonion.com, at $10 per tour for full-time students).

Finally, there’s the bane of most budget travelers’ existence digging through guidebooks and Web sites to compose a personalized itinerary. While this is a relatively cheap option around $15 for a decent guidebook the cost in lost sleep and pre-trip stress is immeasurable. Students preoccupied with “studying” will hardly have time to eat, let alone take on this project.

Fortunately, you won’t have to. Over the past few years, some alternatives have emerged that incorporate the best features of the traditional tour modes-seeing the big sites, getting up close and personal with the city, and offering personalized sightseeing while introducing some innovative new benefits. Because these three options are all self-guided, you retain complete flexibility and independence. All three also use restaurant and activity recommendations to give you an immersive experience.

Published in 2004, City Walks: New York (Chronicle Books, $14.95), by Martha Fay is a deck of cards that include “50 Adventures on Foot.” Each card is a self-guided walking tour, with a detail map on one side and a description of the tour route on the other. The deck comes with a foldout overview map that shows the location of each tour within New York City. The City Walks series includes other cities as well, like Washington, D.C., London, and San Francisco.

While the City Walks series is innovative, its tours are not interest specific. On the other hand, Frommer’s New York City Day by Day (Wiley Publishing, $12.99), released in 2006 offers 22 Smart Ways to See the City, in sections like Best Neighborhood Walks and Best Special Interest Tours. A traditional guidebook with tour itineraries tacked on, Day by Day includes star-rated listings of just about everything in New York City, from day trips to dining. The book also comes with a foldout map in a pouch glued to the back cover. Like City Walks, the Day by Day series is available for other cities, like Rome, Paris, and London.

Launched in November 2006, TailoredTours.com lets you browse and buy self-guided tours online for $3 each. Delivered as PDF (Portable Document Format) e-mail attachments, the tours, which include a route map and several description pages, can be printed out or uploaded to a PDA. Like the Day by Day book, the site’s tours are interest specific. But TailoredTours.com offers a greater level of personalization: There are currently 30 tours available in 11 different categories, including shopping, nightlife, scavenger hunts, and pub crawls.

Their compact size makes these tours less confusing and easier to use than the Day by Day book, and delivery in an electronic format affords Tailored Tours a few other advantages. For example, Tailored Tours are updated periodically to ensure that they provide users with the most current information. Also, each tour includes live Web links for select sights, so you can check hours of operation and admission fees for museums or make reservations at a recommended restaurant before you print out the tour.

And to help soften the financial blow of spending Spring Break in New York even further, TailoredTours.com is giving students across the country $2500 in free tours. Students can use gift certificate code “springbreak07” to get the free tours.

The site is also offering special packages, exclusively for spring breakers, that include a three-tour mix of daytime and nightlife tours for $6.

Once you return to campus, Tailored Tours also serves as a ready-made travelogue of your New York experience.

Spring Break in New York can be a daunting financial challenge for students. But with these new sightseeing options, they can see the real New York without having to sacrifice anything important, like food.

 


Downtown Manhattan (the Financial District) as seen from the South Street Seaport.

Courtesy Tailored Tours

 


 

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