The Best Scenic Runs for Tourists in New York City

New York scenic trails, New York City

This post was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk’s  Tailwind blog on September 5th.

New York, NYC, Scenic trails New York City

Heading to the Big Apple? Sure, there are the must-see for any tourist, from The Empire State Building and The Statue of Liberty to the Museum of Modern Art and Central Park.

But perhaps there are some even cooler things to see not only by foot, but by stride. Whether training for a marathon (marathon season is coming up, after all) or simply looking to get some exercise in after all those slices of New York pizza, check out these running routes around the city to see the sights in a completely new way.

Manhattan

Hudson River Run, Manhattan, New York City

Hudson River Run

This route is great for runners looking to run one mile or 10. The Hudson River Greenway is a path that runs from Battery Park in Manhattan all the way up to the Bronx, and is paired pretty perfectly with a sunset. Along the route, runners will see (depending on mileage) the USS Intreprid, the Statue of Liberty, the George Washington Bridge, and great waterfront restaurants perfect for a post-run meal. The path is on the west side of Manhattan, so the best option is get off at any ACE or 123 train stop, and then walk west until the Hudson River is in sight! After the run, check out the Highline hotel, which is also on the west side of Manhattan, for a well-deserved drink in their garden.

Brooklyn

Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York City

Coney Island

Coney Island is part beach, part seaside resort, and part amusement park. In other words, it’s awesome. Visitors can also run the length of its boardwalk, which is just shy of six miles run. The best part? Jump in the ocean right after to cool off. To get there, hop on the D, Q, N or F train all the way to  Stillwell Avenue. Just remember to wear sneakers (and bring a bathingsuit)!

The Five Bridges Run

Forget one of those tour buses and hit three of New York’s boroughs—Manhattan, Queens, and Williamsburg— by fast foot. Note: This route is easier for those more familiar with the city, or is at least with someone who is! For a killer 17 mile run, start at the 59th street bridge in Manhattan, cross to Queens, jump on the Pulaski Bridge to connect into Brooklyn, and then run over the Williamsburg Bridge to return back to Manhattan. From there, head towards and over the Manhattan Bridge, then finish the run over the Brooklyn Bridge. Phew! Here’s a map that will be helpful, too. When starting at the 59th Bridge, take the NQR trains to the 59th/Lexington Stop. To start at the Brooklyn Bridge, take the 456 train to, what else, but the Brooklyn Bridge stop. Bonus points for grabbing a room at the NU Hotel, a chic hotel that will make any tourist feel like a New Yorker.

Queens

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, New York City

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Forget Central Park and check out this city greenspace in Queens. Flushing Meadows-Corona Park offers a great 2.5 mile loop so anyone can see the best things Queens has to offer: the Unisphere, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, The Queens Museum, and Citi Field (go Mets!). People can access the park by car (parking is pretty easy) or take the 7 train to Willets Point/Mets Stadium. Consider staying at Red Roof in Queens to cut down on travel time.

Astoria Park

This park is well known for having the largest pool in the city, but it also comes with much more: tennis courts, basketball courts, playgrounds, and many trails for runners. There’s also a gorgeous shoreline along the East River for a great running route that comes with a nice breeze. The best option is to take the Q train to Astoria Park, then walk (or run!) less than a mile to the park’s entrance.

Bronx

Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx, New York City

Van Cortlandt Park

For a taste of New York that’s feel anything like a city, head on the 1 train to 242nd street and explore the trails at Van Cortlandt. It’s a bit of a hike, but is totally worth it for the committed runner. The famous route is the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, which can be up to seven miles long. Fun fact: Van Cortlandt is the third largest park in New York City, behind Pelham Bay Park and Staten Island Greenbelt, and is also home to the oldest building in the bronx: Van Cortlandt House Museum.

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McKinley to Denali: Visiting America’s Most Talked About Mountain

Denali, Alaska, Mountain peaks

This post was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk’s  Tailwind blog on September 4th.

Denali, McKinley, Mountain, American mountains, Alaska

In advance of his three-day trip to Alaska, where he will advocate for more urgent action on climate change, President Obama officially changed the name of the tallest mountain in North America. Known to Alaskan natives for centuries as Denali (a native word meaning “the high one”), the 20,237’ peak was renamed after assassinated President William McKinley in 1917. Obama may get to experience Alaska in the company of renowned survivalist Bear Grylls (who is not, in fact, a bear), but there’s plenty of adventure to be had without him.

The Last Frontier, Alaska, Denali

Approaching The Last Frontier

When the destination is America’s last great frontier, getting there is ideally half the fun. The most populated place in Alaska is Anchorage, a 6-hour drive from even further-isolated Fairbanks, and a 21-hour drive from the state capitol, Juneau. Air travel is the cheapest and most efficient way to get to Anchorage. Home to roughly 300,000 people, Anchorage is a fabulous hub for outdoor excursions. Lodging exists for every budget, from backpackers looking for an affordable bed and a shower, to couples seeking a cozy B&B, or posh patrons in pursuit of pillows and pampering. Fairbanks, roughly 120 miles north of Denali National Park, also has a great variety of lodging options available, including a number of B&Bs and more luxurious spots.

More adventurous types can charter an air-taxi to Talkeetna, roughly halfway between Anchorage and Denali National Park. Travelers interested in a more leisurely wilderness journey have many train and cruise-ship options available. Juneau, the state’s capital, may be 10 times less-populated than Anchorage, but it’s the 2nd-largest city by area in the US, and its location in the islands of the Alaskan panhandle makes it a popular destination for cruise ships.

Grizzly Bear, north america, alaska, denali national park

Venture Into The Last Frontier

While known for its native culture, most visitors flock to the state for one thing: pristine, unimpeded wilderness.

  • Denali National Park
    Only the most intrepid and experienced mountain climbers tackle the namesake summit at the heart of this National Park, but more casual visitors can experience the grandeur of the park from the (mostly unpaved) road system, either by bike, car, bus, or (bravely) on foot.
  • Wildlife Tours
    Native wildlife is a huge draw to the Last Frontier, including moose, caribou, eagles, salmon, beluga whales, and bears (polar, brown, and black (not Grylls)). Native plants and flowers flourish here as well.
  • The Midnight Sun
    Nearly a third of Alaska lies above the Arctic circle, so during summer months, daylight hours extend nearly round the clock. A winter visit will be much less crowded, cheaper (and much colder), and opportunities to see the Northern Lights abound. Visit in March, and witness the start of the Iditarod, the 1,000-mile dogsled race unlike anything else in the United States.

Denali, Alaska, Mountains

The raw beauty and awe-inspiring spread of Alaska is unparalleled below the 49th Parallel. It has drawn in recluses, dreamers, adventurers, and sitting Presidents. Names could never do it justice, but it’s easier than ever to make a visit!

Voluntourism: Helpful or Hurtful?

Volunteer tourism, voluntourism

This post was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk’s  Tailwind blog on August 28th.

Volunteer tourism

Jet to an exotic country. Get immersed in local customs. Help build a house or dig a well. Make buddies with fascinating people you’d never meet otherwise. A “voluntourism” trip seems like a great way to give back or improve the world in a small way. It can be, but you should ask a lot of questions before signing up and plunking down cash.

Over the last several years, this well-meaning market has grown quickly, with studies estimating 1.6 million volunteer tourists per year and growing. About 33 percent of volunteer travelers are between the ages of 20 and 40. Another 34 percent are slightly older, between 41 and 60. Overall, the travelers are more likely to be female. However, the impact of these trips is hard to quantify. A large majority of the tourists take them because they want to help alleviate poverty and find joy in the camaraderie.

Voluntourism: Helpful or Hurtful?

In a piece for the Guardian called “Beware the ‘Voluntourists’ Doing Good,” Ossob Mohamud writes that there are more effective ways to help the needy than take a trip. His concern is that very often the helpers come off as patronizing and condescending, with little understanding of the local culture and the people’s actual needs.

Other critics complain that high-paying volunteers take jobs away from local laborers. The engagement between volunteers and Cambodian orphans may seem endearing — until you discover some of these children have families, and are just being hired out to entertain big-hearted tourists with sob stories. In other reported cases, an orphanage may keep the conditions of an institution squalid to ply more money from tourists primed to donate. Even if the orphans do connect with the volunteers, they’re once again faced with feelings of abandonment when the tour is over.

Not all NGOs think voluntourism is bad. Chris Johnson, director of communications for the Fuller Center of Housing, is less concerned about a volunteer’s impetus for choosing to build homes for families in the mountains of Peru or Nepal “as long as the work gets done.” In a New York Times article, he explained that the families who benefit from the new residence probably don’t care if the builders are doing it for selfish reasons.

How Do You Know If Your Program Is Effective?

So, how do you know if the program you’re paying for is actually helping people? There are several important details to consider that will help uncover the impact of the tour, outlined by the editors of the site Ethical Volunteering.

1. Bigger Isn’t Always Better

While you might think the more you pay for a tour, the more impact it will have, a more expensive tour may have less impact because it has fewer connections to local organizations.

2. Watch out for Grand Promises

As much as you want to think you’re “changing the world,” the reality is you’re giving a small boost to an organization that needs a hand. Be mindful of marketing that promises more.

3. Don’t be swayed by pictures of children

It’s great to help children, but if you’re looking at a brochure that tugs at your heartstrings rather than demonstrates what impact you’re making, be wary.

4. Check if the organization screens volunteers

Is this organization of change hoping to capitalize on your skills, or does it just need your money? Take heed if it doesn’t care about what capabilities you have.

According to a study by the Adventure Travel Trade Organization, the most popular volunteer programs offer the opportunity to work with children, support education, protect the environment, create local jobs, and assist clean water projects.

While the popular voluntourism destinations are in Asia, Africa and Latin America, it’s also possible to assist NGOs in cities such as New Orleans and Orlando. Some hotels in Denver, like the Four Seasons Hotel Denver, have been known to offer a discount to guests willing to spend half a day working with charity.

Find a project that makes for a great experience while also positively impacting the world.

How To Pack Light For Any Trip, Anywhere

travel packing tips

This post was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk’s  Tailwind blog on August 25th.

travel packing, packing luggage

No one would prefer lugging four suitcases through the airport over picking up a backpack and whistling past the baggage claim. But that doesn’t mean packing light is an easy feat. Develop a strategy for packing light, and you’re much more likely to actually do it in spite of anxieties.

Whether your goal is to pack for a multi-week vacation in a carry-on or you’re just looking to lighten the load and develop better packing habits, here’s how to pack light for any trip.

Embrace multi-functionalism

Why pack two (or more) items when it’s possible to pack one item that accomplishes everything the others would. Think two-in-one shampoo/conditioner, smartphones (they’re a camera, flashlight, GPS, and phone all in one), a small bundle of strong, flexible rope (use it to tie things to a pack, string it up as a clothesline, or tie the bag to the roof of a bus), or a tablet that can be converted into a laptop. While packing, consider all the ways (conventional or not) that each item could be used. Pack as many multi-functional items as possible, and don’t double up—if one item could serve a particular function in a pinch, that’ll do.

Follow the “rule of three”

When it comes to clothing, three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear, and three shirts should take care of the basics. That way you can wear one, wash one, and dry one all at the same time. Because pants and shorts get smelly less quickly, two pairs will probably do it. Choose clothing in neutral shades so that any of the items can be paired with the others, and opt for fabrics that aren’t prone to wrinkling.

Think light

Evaluate everything on a packing list to see if there are light-weight versions of any items. For example, consider packing a Camelbak bladder instead of a stainless steel water bottle. And instead of packing a heavy winter coat for a cold climate, pack light-weight thermals and thin sweaters (One exception: If you’restaying in an ice hotel, bring the heaviest coat you’ve got). You’ll stay warm either way but the latter will take up way less room in a suitcase. Opt for the lighter version whenever possible.

Be willing to wash

Committing to washing your clothes while traveling will save a ton of weight, because you won’t need to pack fresh outfits for every day of the trip. A sink plug and a little soap is generally all it takes to get clothes clean on the road.

Make a “don’t-pack” list

When it comes to packing light, what you don’t pack is just as important as what you do. Leave behind jewelry and other valuables, items that can be purchased at a destination, multiple guidebooks (or multiple books in general), unnecessary electronics, excess toiletries, and most of the items you feel inclined to stuff into the bag in a last-minute panic. Also be sure to adhere to any regulations for liquids, etc., in order to spend less time in airport security.

Pack several days in advance

This affords time to assess everything you’ve planned to pack. A day or two after laying out all your gear, re-evaluate whether each item is essential. If you’re justifying taking an item with the phrase “what if…” that may be a sign that it’s not actually necessary. Packing in advance will also leave time to pack in an organized way, with heavier items toward the bottom of the pack, clothing rolled instead of folded, and the gear you’ll need most often in accessible places.

Packing light is a skill made better with practice, and it gets easier every time it’s done (especially after a few trips prove that things don’t fall to pieces without all those “what if” items). Put these tactics into practice every time you pack for a trip, and pretty soon you’ll be a pro at packing light.

11 Travel Accessories Every Adventurer Needs

hipmunk, travel accessories

This post was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk’s  Tailwind blog on August 27th.

travel accessories, hipmunk travel blog

The number of travel accessories designed to make life easier on the road just keeps growing. From electronic luggage scales to portable Bluetooth speakers, there are so many things that can come in handy while traveling. Take a look at these 11 travel accessories that help you no matter where you go.

Neck Pillow

You can’t rest at five-star hotels in Miami every time you’re tired. A neck pillow can make sleeping in random places, like a train stop, much more comfortable.

Travel Packing Aid

A travel packing aid can help you neatly organize toiletries, travel documents and currency, ensuring important items are easily accessible and secure.

USB Utility Charge Tool

Even if you’re looking to be unplugged for your next trip, you’re still going to need to charge your smartphone, laptop, camera and so on. A USB utility charge tool means you only have to bring one product to charge all your devices.

Smart Luggage

Smart Luggage has arrived, and the features are amazing. Fingerprint locking mechanisms, built-in GPS systems, digital scale sensors, anti-theft systems, shape-changing abilities and more are available right now to make traveling safer and more convenient.

Shoe Bag

Why stink up the rest of your bag? Shoe bags are a great way to keep your luggage clean, and are a necessity for most vacations as you may need sandals for some activities and gym shoes or boots for others.

Self-Sealing Dry Bags

Clothing or other belongings occasionally get wet. That’s just part of traveling. A dry bag ensures that those wet items don’t soak the rest of your stuff.

Wine Bag

This can serve two purposes: one is to actually store wine and bottles of liquor; the other is to store glass items and other fragile things.

Waterproof Travel Backpack

Rolling around luggage can get annoying, especially if you’re on the move a lot and not just chilling in hotels in Paris or wherever else. Go with a sturdy, waterproof backpack that protects your belongings and is easy to carry.

Waterproof Phone Case

A phone is a necessity for most travelers, so using a waterproof phone case to protect it from water damage and accidental drops just makes sense.

Umbrella

It rains almost everywhere in the world at some time or another. Bring an umbrella.

First Aid Kit

Whether you’re backpacking your way through southeast Asia or sleeping in one of those luxurious hotels in Dubai, you never know when an accident could happen. So be prepared.

More travel accessories are being created all the time. Use the ones on this list, but also keep an eye out for new travel items to make your trip perfect.