Island Life

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

We want to hear what you love about islands, what your favorite indie travel island destination is, which island you’re most longing to see, or why you think islands evoke such strong emotions in travelers. And – you know we have to ask – what would be three things you would absolutely have to have with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

so here’s the thing. even though i was born in and grew up around Los Angeles, i was never one for the beach, so paradise-y islands were, for a long time, not my thing. i guess that’s why islands to me don’t necessarily mean beaches and palm trees and drinks with umbrellas, but well, just the literal definition of an island.

some of my favorites:

Tokyo on the island of Honshu

One of the islands of Suomenlinna, Helsinki, Finland

New York City on the island of Manhattan

Cambridge on the island of Great Britain

ok, who am i kidding. especially in the winter, who can resist the siren song of laying in a hammock on a beach, soaking in the sun while a warm breeze slowly wafts? the slow pace of life, the great weather, and great seafood you can’t normally get at home are what draw me to tropical islands. (side note — how i wish it were summer now, island or not!)

Hammock on the island of Oahu

there are a couple islands on my bucket list — ibiza and the isle of skye. the former, i think i’m outgrowing, so i’m not sure how much longer that will stay on my list (or i will have to do it soon), and the latter, well, i don’t think will ever lose its appeal. ever since i saw this j.crew catalog years ago, it’s been somewhere i have to go. i can’t put my finger on why, but it’s prettier than say, a beach paradise. *turning on some celtic music*

what three items must i have on a deserted island? hmm. i don’t really like these questions since i don’t think i’m ever happy with my answers, but here goes. assuming there is no way i can ever get off, so not including things like flares or a cell phone, etc.:

  • my ipod with a solar charger
  • a survival handbook
  • a tractor trailer full of food and water that will last until i get my encampment set up

Eataly

i’ve always wanted to go to Eataly, and given that i had no dinner plans and it’s less than a 10-minute walk from the hotel, it was a no-brainer. it’s definitely not what i expected. i envisioned an expansive Whole Foods-like place, perhaps with lots of wood accents and well-sectioned-off dining areas, but as you can see from the pictures, it’s small(-er than expected) and cramped and slightly chaotic. but you know, i think that just helps to accent what you’re going there for: the food.

you’re not going for the ambiance or the decor, you’re going because you want to eat well-prepared, fresh food, and from what i saw and ate, that’s definitely what you get. i spoke to the local couple sitting next to me at the Il Pesce (the seafood restaurant) bar and they said that the pasta selection (fresh and dried) and the produce (and vegetable restaurant) were great as well as reasonably-priced, and that the best eatery at Eataly (see what i did there?) was indeed Il Pesce in their estimation (=i chose well!).

i had the filet special of the day (Monkfish with Venetian Black Rice and Endive) and couldn’t resist trying “Live Maine Sea Urchin”. i’ve never had sea urchin before but it was amazing! definitely something i will get if i ever see it on a menu again. it’s sort of like a firm briny mousse that they seasoned with lemon and maybe a dash of oil? not sure, but it was delish. i normally don’t spend so much on food ($25 for the fish + $18 for the entree, yikes) but i figure a splurge every now and then is worth it (and it was).

(also, yes, i see the creepy man staring in one of the pictures. ack! i should have retaken that one!)

Last-minute Hotel Deals Via Phone App & The Affinia Manhattan

i recently discovered several apps that will help you get a deal on last-minute hotel reservations — Hotel Tonight (btw, if you sign up using that link, you can get $25 off your first booking and i’ll get $25 credit as well [transparency!]) and old hotel-deal-standby Priceline (as in, The Negotiator, as am i, as am i).

of course, there are some restrictions–you have to book the day of your first night, and you don’t know what hotels will be available and at what price until a certain point in the day, in the case of Hotel Tonight, noon in the time zone of the hotel (not sure about Priceline, but i think it’s likely similar since i didn’t see any Tonight-only deals when i checked early this morning).

i’ve included some screenshots of both applications below. Hotel Tonight is definitely the snazzier-looking app and has more deals than Priceline — thirteen today in the NYC area compared to three Tonight-only (though, of course, Priceline also has regular and name-your-own-price rooms available through their app as well). Priceline has the benefit of user reviews, whereas Hotel Tonight may give TripAdvisor ratings in the description of the hotel but often does not, so you may have to do some switching between this and TripAdvisor or Yelp or whatever you use for informed decisions, although they claim they listen to user feedback and remove hotels that aren’t up to snuff.

UPDATE (2012-01-29): a Hotel Tonight customer service rep replied (a personal reply to your post-stay survey!) that they are working on adding TripAdvisor ratings to the majority of their hotels.

i can’t say for sure which app i like better, though i know i will definitely be comparison shopping with both. by the way, i booked at the Affinia. i didn’t give much thought to the Priceline hotels this time since i had a $25 sign-up credit with Hotel Tonight to use.

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UPDATE: not only did i score a deal with Hotel Tonight, but i got upgraded at check-in for no reason at all* (as far as i know) to a suite! not like i know what to do with two bathrooms and two closets and a kitchen, but i like it!

* i have a feeling the staff is well-trained (she noticed i booked via Hotel Tonight), and she wanted to nab me as a repeat customer and thus gave me the upgrade. they even hint at the power of the “Impulse Book” as a marketing tool on their site:

We only sell rooms for the same day, so once those Impulse Bookers are introduced to your hotel they’ll book directly through you in the future. HotelTonight will never compete with you for their business again.