Wednesday, April 18, 2007 at 1:11pm by The Free Geek
You know you need to get away when you want to staple your two-week notice to your boss’s forehead. But, where do you go? You haven’t had time to research vacation ideas, and your budget isn’t screaming for a $1,500 per night hotel room. But, you do have some cash saved up. And, you want to do something different with friends, with a significant other, or on your own.
The following list contains inexpensive getaway options that range from the I-can’t-tear-myself-away-from-my-computer Geek Cruises to a getaway that’s designed just for you and your GPS device. Prices range from virtually nothing for a tour of 19 museums in Beaumont, Texas to a little over $4,000 for an Earthwatch adventure. Unfortunately, prices for travel aren’t included in most cases. But, you can find some bargains for your getaway through some of the tips included below.
1. Geek Cruises
If the words “Linux Lunacy” or “Photoshop Fling” turn you on and if your body craves a little water action, then you’re ready for a Geek Cruise. Geek Cruises are technology-based cruise conferences with destinations to Alaska, Europe, the Caribbean, and Hawaii. You have wireless Internet access at all times, and you also have access to some of the top industry names for your chosen conference. The tours are run by InSight Cruises, and most of the voyages are on Holland Cruise ships, so prices will generally match the cruise pricing offered at the Holland America Web site at the time of booking. You will need to pay a price for conference attendance, but a cursory glance through the conference prices shows reasonable if not lower-than-land-price costs.
Every four months, Geek Cruises offers a chance to win a free cruise that includes one conference pass and one berth in an inside cabin for two. This is an easy effort, because this is an ongoing contest from the pool of Geek Cruises Web site respondents. Fill out a form once and you’re eligible to win forever. See you on board!
2. Alien Territory
New Mexico is the land of the UFO, alien abductions (you wish), crop circles, and government cover-ups. Where else can you get such a variety of tasty vacation treats? You can plan a two-day retreat at Mike & Lynn Rice’s New Mexico Skies in
Cloudcroft, where their prime geographical location, high elevation, low light pollution, and their new RCOS 24″ Ritchey-Chretien telescope will add to your night time viewing pleasure. Accommodations are priced per-night with a two-night minimum ($155–$210 per night), and observation and instruction are extra ($165 per night for telescope rental). This is not a B&B, but you can save money on food since all units contain fully equipped kitchens.
From Cloudcroft, which is located off Highway 82, 31.6 miles east of Alamogordo, you can head east and north about 117 miles to Roswell, New Mexico. Here you’ll find the International UFO Museum and Research Center ($5 per adult), where you can learn about alien abductions and more. If you plan your trip for July, you can catch the annual UFO festival in Roswell. This year will be a biggie, as it marks the 60th Anniversary of the Roswell Incident. Hotel rooms range from $25 (rated “D” on a scale from A to D) to $65 and up, and they usually fill early, so hop to it. If you’re into camping, check with the Public Lands Information Center (located in Roswell) or use GoogleMaps to discover local Roswell commercial facilities.
3. Mountain View Hi-Tech
Mountain View, California contains enough geek stuff to keep you busy for more than a week. Mountain View is located in the heart of Silicon Valley, 10 miles north of San Jose and 34 miles south of San Francisco, so you have plenty of options for hotels but few options for camping (no, Space Camp doesn’t count for this trip). The nice thing about visiting Mountain View is that you can park the car and use the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s (VTA) mix of light rails and busses to get around.
While in Mountain View, you can go to where computer history lives at the Computer History Museum. Here you can view “13,000 objects, 20,000 images, 5,000 moving images, 4,000 linear feet of cataloged documentation and 5,000 titles or several hundred gigabytes of software” in a museum that’s been around since 1996. From there you can take a day to view the Googleplex, Yahoo!, the Mozilla Foundation, Shoreline Amphitheatre, and Microsoft Corporation’s Silicon Valley research complex, among about fifty different Silicon Valley hi-tech businesses and entertainments (don’t forget to include California Historic Landmark No. 976, which is the Hewlett Packard garage — the place where it all began).
Another option to the DIY tech tour is provided by Silicon Valley Technology Tours. This choice is more expensive, as you’ll be provided with “a unique opportunity for total immersion into the business and technology culture of Silicon Valley, California.” In other words, you’ll be introduced to business contacts from local technology and professional firms who will invite you to enjoy large venture capital funding forums, access to internal operations, and a sit-down with financial and legal advisors. Sounds like a dream come true for anyone who wants to invest in a SiliconValley Business. This is a group activity that currently costs $4,750 for the week.
4. Viva Star Trek!
Geeks don’t go to Vegas to gamble. Oh, no. Las Vegas is “The Experience” for Trekkie fans. Why drool over slot machines and celebrities when you can hang out at the Quarks Bar and Restaurant and then blast through distant galaxies at warp speed on a 24th-century shuttle craft? Go it alone or bring friends for group events. Heck, you can even tie the knot on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise while Klingons and Ferengis witness your vows.
Purchase tickets online to save $5 on general admission. Download the Monorail Route Map before you book reservations so that you can find a hotel that’s on the route for this fully themed ride to the Star Trek Experience.
5. GenCon or Bust
Join thousands of other gamer geeks for best four days in gaming experiences. You have a variety of choices from GenCon Indy to the new Gen Con Oz, so get ready to be blown away by more games and gaming activities than your heart can handle. Each Gencon site contains information about hotel accommodations and travel, but you could probably find camping and other options like group travel arrangements through the GenCom community forums. Note this, though — GenCon sites may offer prizes for signing up or registration. Additionally, the ‘badges’ for attendance aren’t expensive — and if you register online you can save up to $10 for GenCon Indy attendance.
Other great “Cons” include the Comic Con, Defcon, DragonCon, 3DTV-Con, Sakura-Con, Heroes Con, Conspiracy Con, Fanime Con, and so on. No, you can’t attend them all, not if you want to keep your vacation inexpensive, but it’s nice to know that options exist.
6. Porthcurno Pleasantries
It doesn’t matter if you’re a telegraph, archeology, theatre, or history geek, Porthcurno in Cornwall, England has it all. You’ll need to visit the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, because the first underground cables were laid on Porthcurno Beach in 1870. After the winter storms you might be able to view the now redundant cables, where they run up the beach to the right of the Lifeguards Hut.
If you want some fresh air while visiting this family beach, you can walk up to St. Levan Churchyard and follow the pathway fields to Treryn Castle, the remains of an ancient British fortress. During summer you can take in a play at the Minack theatre, a stunning venue cut into the cliffside with ocean views. Then you can head back to your campground or any one of a number of B&Bs located in Cornwall. If staying in one place stifles you, then take off to visit Penzance, which is located just nine miles north on the Penzance Road (yes, from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance fame).
7. Free Washington D.C.
How can you complain about travel expenses when you easily have a week’s worth of free venues to visit within the capitol city? Admission is free for all seventeen Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. The Air and Space Museum and Udvar-Hazy Center alone may take up most of your time. You can also snoop around the Natural History Museum, although the American History Museum is closed until 2008.
If you’re not satisfied with that experience, then you can visit the National Archives, the Lincoln Memorial, and other examples of Greek revival architecture like the United States Treasury Building. Use the Washington Metro to get around, and you may save enough money to attend a Geek Dinner if one is available during your trip…
8. Geek Dinner Marathon
While not totally free, you really don’t need to eat. In fact, you don’t even need to leave home. Just get together with a bunch of geek friends at a local restaurant and you’ve got game. Or, you can mimic Stormhoek’s (Hugh MacLeod) 100
Geek Dinners in 100 Days and you, too, can be a world traveler. Make your hosts pay for your meal and put you up for the evening and you’ll have it made on everything but travel expenses. If you write a book or an article about the experience, you can write the whole thing off on your taxes.
Your other option is to search for “Geek Dinners” that might be held in the city that you plan to visit. Learn about geek adventures in your dinner companions’ hometowns while you enjoy reasonably priced dinners and some great company.
9. Stars and Wifi Hotspots in New South Wales
If you’re going to Brisbane in Queensland to attend GenCon Oz (see #2), you might as well trek southward to Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran, New South Wales, to take in the Siding Spring Observatory. Siding Spring is home to the 2.3m Advanced Technology Telescope, the world famous 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope, 2m Faulkes Telescope, the 1.24m UK Schmidt Telescope, two Boller & Chivens Cassegrains 1m and 0.6m along with the 0.5m Automatic Patrol Telescope and 0.6m Uppsala Schmidt Telescope. Wow. Visit the Coonabarabran site to learn more about accommodations and such.
After the Coonabarabran trip, you can head toward Sydney to take in the the Anglo-Australian Observatory (AAO), home to one of the last 4-metre equatorially mounted telescopes to be constructed. The AAO even offers various options for travel arrangements from Coonabarabran to Sydney. In fact, you might like Sydney better despite the tourists as you’ll find 107 wifi hotspots in Sydney compared to zero, zilch, none in Coonabarabran.
10. Engineer Your Way into Paradise
Travel the Million Dollar Highway (US 550) between Silverton and Ouray, Colorado, where avalanches abound during winter and where you can white-knuckle it when you encounter curves with precipitous drops and no guardrails at any time of year. This road is a 75-mile engineering marvel that comprises part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway, constructed on a shelf 500 feet above the floor of the Uncompaghre Gorge. You’ll pass Red Mountain, a collapsed volcano cone whose lava flow was found to include gold in 1860. You can see easy remnants of the mining works on the slopes, operations that produced over $750 million of ore. Some abandoned structures are all that is left of Red Mountain, a thriving community of 3000 prior to a fire in 1891 which destroyed most of the town.
After that last (truly) breathtaking trip, you can stop and take a rest in any one of Ouray’s natural hot springs hotspots. The Wiesbaden has a cave with a pool that registers at 104 degrees Fahrenheit — a truly spiritual experience (approx. $15 per adult). The city pool is great for families ($10 per adult for full day), and Orvis is perfect for your inner nudist (from $65-$120 for various packages). What’s so great about Ouray’s hot springs? They don’t contain any sulphur…but they do contain lithium, so be prepared to relax big time without the rotten egg stench.
11. Harleys, Slate, and a Gymanfa Ganu
If you’re into Harley Davidson, you can’t miss a trip to York, Pennsylvania. You’ll witness a legend in the making at Harley-Davidson’s York Vehicle Operations. Established as an assembly facility in 1973, Harley-Davidson Vehicle Operations in York, Pa. is the largest Harley-Davidson manufacturing facility, employing roughly half the company’s production workforce. Their Vaughn L. Beals Tour Center features exhibits that highlight the people, processes and products of York Vehicle Operations. It also includes sit-on bikes, a souvenir shop, theater and children’s area. The plant tour begins with a brief movie in the theater and then journeys through various manufacturing and assembly areas on the shop floor. Tours may be modified throughout the year due to manufacturing requirements. No price on the Web site.
York was built for geeks, so if the Harley tour doesn’t register on your geek meter you might be delighted to know that York became the largest Northern town to be occupied by the Confederate army during the Civil War. Add the York County Fire Museum ($6 per adult) to your itinerary, a great little museum that’s a stone’s throw from the York County Historical Society (no price on site, but historical tours are $3 per adult) and the Agricultural & Industrial Museum ($6 per adult). A large northern Welsh community also arrived in York County during the last half of the nineteenth century to work the slate mines. If you visit the cemeteries in this county (preferably Slate Ridge in Peach Bottom), you’ll see some of the finest slate artwork around. On the first Sunday in May and the second Sunday in October, you can attend a Gymanfa Ganu (pronounced ‘gih-MAHN-vuh GAH-nee’ and translated as ‘gathering for song’), held at the Rehoboth elsh Chapel (Capel Cymraeg Rehoboth) in Delta. York also hosts one of only four Starbucks [PDF] roasting facilities in the world.
12. Take an Incredible Adventure
The best way to save money on an Incredible Adventure is to include it as part of a package on a trip that you would take otherwise. Even so, a three-day experience with Russian Ops near Denver, where you all about knife throwing, tracking, and wilderness survival is a mere $2275, not including airfare or training supplies. Or, you might opt for the Corvette racing adventure in New Zealand or flythe legendary MiG-29 over Moscow. Go ahead, be the next James Bond.
13. Do Some Earthwatching
Earthwatch provides geeks with plenty of adventure and you don’t need any special skills to join their expeditions. You can help measure how fast the largest alpine glacier in North America is shrinking in response to climate change, or help to excavate the ancient Peru Wari Empire settlement high in the Andes Mountains, among many, many other “missions.” Project costs range from $500 to $4,600 per person excluding travel to and from the rendezvous site, and you need to book your flights and/or any other travel arrangements. But, since you’re contributing your time and money to a nonprofit organization, you’ll discover some tax write-offs in the process. Plus, this price covers your food, accommodation, on-site travel (not airfare), emergency medical and medical evacuation insurance, and all of the various costs of field research (field permits, equipment, etc.). What a deal!
14. Get Oak-Ridged
The U.S. government founded Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 1942 to house the Clinton Engineer Works and its staff, who were developing uranium-235 and plutonium-239 for the atomic bomb. Oak Ridge’s existence was a well-kept secret until the summer of 1945. Now, between June and September, you can take a bus tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 Weapons Component Plant from The American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE). Details on this tour are usually announced just before June. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory will host its first public open house in eight years on Saturday August 27 with a Community Day theme of “Ready for the Next Generation of Great Science.”
Otherwise, if you want to get into that facility you’ll need to jump through a few hoops thanks to increased security issues. You can also go it alone, thanks to the “Secret City Oak Ridge Driving Tour.” The Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau’s official OakRidge Driving Tour is available from AMSE’sDisc overy Shop, so you’ll need to be there to pick it up. This newly revised tour begins and ends in front of the Oak Ridge Visitors Welcome Center and American Museum of Science & Energy, and it includes many notable stopssuch as historic Jackson Square, the International Friendship Bell, University of Tennessee Arboretum, and Oak Ridge Marina. You can pick up a CD or cassette for a mere $12, and if the cassette or CD is returned with receipt, you’ll receive a $7 refund. Better yet, download the map and brochure [PDF] for free from the Oak Ridge Visitor’s Center.
15. Build a Batteau
Every year in June, geeks gather at the Riverfront in Lynchburg, Virginia to float their batteaux down the James River. This year, the Batteau Festival will be held on June 15-16, and the officials are anticipating a fleet of 15 to 18 batteaux for this year’s festival including at least one new boat. Replication of the boat as well as costume must be impeccable, so you really need to be into this era to get it. Plus, you need to know the river, as after leaving Percival’s Island, the batteaux willtravel 120 miles in 8 days to arrive at Maiden’s landing in Richmond.If you don’t have the time or energy to build a boat, you can follow them down the river and take in a ton of historic sites along the way.
Or, you can just take a trip any time of year along or down the 390-mile James River from Iron Gate to The Maidens. Before you go, be sure to get a copy of Bruce Ingram’s book, The James River Guide. Although the book focuses on float fishing, you can learn about every nook and cranny contained in the James from Ingram. Or, just put yourself in the hands of pros and take a float down the river with James River Reeling and Rafting or James River Runners, both located near Scottsville (about 20 minutes south from Charlottesville on the James’ Horseshoe Bend).
16. When the Corn Hits Your Eye
It may seem that the only thing Nebraska has going for it is corn. But a geek can get a good four-day vacation out of this state with little effort or money. Start out in Ashland, just outside Omaha, and visit the Strategic Air & Space Museum ($7.00 for one adult). When you’re through with that place, head west to Lincoln to take in the National Museum of Roller Skating (yes, they had men’s pairs, and admission appears to be free of charge). Then, get back on I80 and head west to Grand Island. You’ll go north just a bit and then head west on US30, otherwise known as the Lincoln Highway.
The first thing you’ll notice while driving along US30 is that the price of gas will be less expensive than it is on the Interstate. The next thing you might notice is all the small towns are close to ghost-town status thanks to the Interstate. But, the stoplights still work. So if it drives you crazy to travel in 15 minutes cycles of 55mph to 0mph and back again, you only need to endure four towns until you reach Kearney, the “heart of Nebraska.” This is where you can enjoy the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument ($10.00 per adult). I’m so geeky that I have a replica of that monument sitting on my desk.
If all that’s not good enough for you, then head on west on US30 for about twenty miles to Elm Creek (second town to the left). This is where you’ll find Chevyland USA ($5 per adult), home to dozens of restored Chevys. Once you’re done with this adventure, you can get back on I80 and head to wherever you want to go. You can always take on #10, as you’re almost halfway there if your departure point was Chicago.
17. Get Energized in Air-Conditioned Beaumont
Beaumont seems to hold the least expensive museum experiences outside the Smithsonian. This city is home to the Texas Energy Museum ($2 per adult), where you can learn about the world of petroleum science from the formation of oil to the geology surrounding it. Talking robotic characters relate the story of early oil well drilling and the great 1901 Spindletop Gusher. From there you can take in the Edison Museum (free), the largest collection of Edisonia west of the Mississippi River.
While in Beaumont, you can visit the Fire Museum of Texas to see the huge fireplug (free), the Clifton Steamboat Museum(admission unknown), and the Melody Maids Museum at the Julie Rogers Theatre (free), or fourteen other museums other than the ones mentioned here. You can also spend a few hours at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas (AMSET — free admission) to view 1,000 works of art (painting, sculpture, prints, photographs, folk and decorative arts) from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Don’t be afraid to go during the heat of summer, because all these places are air-conditioned.
18. Don’t Hold Your Breathe…
You could hold your breathe waiting for the Hydropolis Hotel to be built near Dubai, or for the Poseidon Undersea Resorts to be built in Fiji, but why wait for these expensive resorts to open when you can rent a an underwater room in Key Largo for a mere $445 per person per night? Although Jules’ Undersea Lodge still functions as a research lab, you will be pleased to know that it has air-conditioning, hot showers, stereo music, VCR/DVD, a fully stocked galley, and unlimited diving for certified divers. The Lodge can be shared by two different couples, a group of up to six friends, or provide privacy for one couple. The price includes all dive gear, a gourmet dinner prepared by their “mer-chef” and breakfast in the morning. Bump the price to $1,195 per night for two people in love, with extras like “mood music,” fresh flowers, seafood appetizer, and mer-chef service for breakfast.
In addition to being the home of Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Key Largo Undersea Park is one of the major Dive Training Facilities in South Florida, providing a sheltered deep-lagoon location for all types of basic and advanced underwater instruction. Since the entrance to this lodge is located 21′ beneath Emerald Lagoon, you’ll need to take a three-hour “resort course” to get to your room if you aren’t a certified diver. Prices to learn how to scuba dive are competitive, and members of the military receive a 10% discount for lodging.
19. Do the Millennium Force
The Millenium Force Roller Coaster, located at the Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, is a ride to be reckoned with. This is the world’s tallest (310 feet with a 300-foot vertical drop) and fastest (93mph) roller coaster, supported by 226 footers using 9,400 yards of concrete. It took 175 truckloads of steel to make up the frame, and it includes the first of its kind in the world magnetic braking system that replaces the frictional system. Millennium Force takes its passengers over 6,595 feet of steel track that includes 310-, 169- and 182-foot-tall hills, two dark tunnels and two 122-degree overbanked turns (watch the videos on the site for a cheap thrill). But that’s not all…
The park boasts sixteen more coasters, more than any other park in the world. A full day adult admission ticket costs $41.95 and parking adds another $10 to the price. But, you can save a few dollars on a $69.95 two-day ticket with another $10 for the second-day parking. Once you’re over the thrills, you can visit Sandusky. Enjoy a number of activities in this small city that is home to one of the most beautiful collections of historical architecture in the Midwest. Plus, you’re right on Lake Erie. Who could ask for more?
20. Geocaching Treks
If your wallet is way too slim, you might consider a local getaway for mind and body. Get involved with Geocaching and learn more about how you and your GPS can get some fresh air through a search for a local hidden cache. No local caches? No problem — you can create one and bring other geeks to your doorstep.
Caches include anything from a simple logbook to “maps, books, software, hardware, CD’s, videos, pictures, money, jewelry, tickets, antiques, tools, games, etc.” They do not include explosive devices, food, or drugs for some obvious reasons. Caches aren’t monitored, however, so could be a risky game if you’re up to it. The advantages are that you become part of a new online community and you have the option of joining Geoteaming™ events where you can meet up with like-minded Geochachers. When your wallet gets fatter, you can search for caches in locales that are far from home. At the time of this writing there are 381,813 active caches worldwide, a number that attests to the growth of this new sport. Basic membership is free, so you can get started now.
If you enjoyed this article, please bookmark it at del.icio.us »