There is nothing better than a baseball road trip!
I have had the pleasure of taking a couple of East coast baseball trips with my dad in the last 2 years. In fact, planning for the first trip was my inspiration for starting ballparksavvy.com. I couldn't find the information I was looking for, the real stuff, not just the facts and figures of the ballpark. I wanted to know only what I need to know, and how I can go on the cheap.
Ironically, when planning our 2010 road trip I did a google search for something about Wrigley Field; unfortunately the first page on the list was my Wrigley Field guide. I guess I should have known the answer.
My personal road trips are always set up to maximize the baseball experiences, while minimizing cost. My dad and I's 2010 road trip is happening in July, and covers 5 games in 5 days. St. Louis, Chicago, and Milwaukee are the 3 cities covered this year, and to give you an idea; we are spending 5 nights in hotels and 2 tickets to each game for $500. This doesn't include food and gas, but still a great deal if you ask me.
We aren't staying at the Flea Bag Inn & Suites either - Crowne Plaza, Baymont Inn, and Staybridge Suites by Holiday Inn - which are all decent to pretty nice hotels. "How is it done?" you may ask... well I am about to tell you.
Step 1: Scheduling and Saving
The first step in any baseball road trip plan is to figure out the scheduling. You should have an idea of where you want to go, and which teams you want to see. Once you have done that, it is time to dig in and look at the home schedules for each team in the area.
Planning my 2010 trip I was having a nightmare trying to see a Cubs game and a White Sox game on consecutive days. Apparently this is by design with these teams. However, I found a great tool to plan your schedule:
You can simply pick the teams you want to see and this search engine will mix and match the schedules to give you all the options. It is pretty user friendly, and a great place to get started.
The other thing you should do is start saving money for this trip. I am no financial advisor, but unlike the US government, you will need to pay for this trip yourself. It is a great feeling to save ahead of time for a road trip so you can pay as you go. There is nothing worse than coming home from vacation and then having to pay the bill.
For me, the most effective way to actually save is to open a separate savings account for a designated purpose. Obviously you could use this to save for additional trips in the future, but I think the key is making your access to the account limited. If it is directly tied to your primary checking account, you have a lot more temptation to dip in and take money out for other splurge opportunities.
Again, I am not your financial guy, but when I plan these trips I start setting money away on a structured and scheduled basis. If you can put $50 a pay check towards a baseball road trip, you will be in the Wrigley Field bleachers in no time. Click here to start saving with my online savings bank of choice.
Step 2: Scout Ticket Prices and then Purchase
Now that you have figured out the potential dates of your road trip, it is time to price tickets. Lets say you are taking a 5 city road trip, and with the previous tool you found 3 times throughout the season where you can see all 5 teams on consecutive days. The next thing you should do is check Stubhub to get an idea of ticket prices.
You may find out that in possibility #1, the Red Sox are hosting the Yankees and these tickets are 2 to 3X what they would normally cost. You can quickly scan Stubhub to see the beginning prices and go from there. For the purposes of this guide, we are assuming that you want to take a cheap baseball road trip. Therefore, check all 3 possibilities and find out which, if any, stands out as having the lowest ticket prices.
Once you have decided which dates are going to have the best prices, start looking to buy tickets. If you have read my ballpark guides, you know that I often recommend to buy tickets closer to the event. However, I am of the opinion that on a road trip, it feels better to have all of your tickets in hand before you embark on the journey. Therefore, start looking for tickets as soon as you know the trip is happening.
I mentioned Stubhub, and that is a good place to start. It is the biggest of online ticket marketplaces for Major League Baseball, and actually has a pretty helpful customer service over the phone. When you are looking at tickets, know the face value by checking the team website, and jump on a good deal. Don't be surprised to see tickets below face value for games featuring an inter-league match-up of the Mariners and the Pirates. If that is the case, it makes a lot of sense to use Stubhub to buy.
Another great place to buy tickets is from Score Big. Let's face it, most ticket broker sites are the same but this one is actually different. It is kind of like the Priceline of sports tickets. Essentially you can search events in your area, and make an offer on tickets and get an instant answer on whether your bid is accepted.
Here are a couple of screenshots of how it works. You can select a quantity, and then it gives you different tiers. It gives you an approximate discount percentage, and shows on the seat map which sections your tickets could possibly be in.
Next you enter in a price, again it gives you an idea how how likely that is to be accepted. I made the comparison to Priceline, and it is true, you have to put in payment details prior to making an official offer. But if you are going to the game, what a great way to save money on tickets! I have a feeling this site is going to get big. From time to time, I'll have a promo code available for Score Big. Click here to see if there are any current discounts.
If you are buying tickets for a game that is not sold out, obviously you could go directly to that team's website. You should also look around a little for promotions they may be running at that time to see if there are any that make sense for your trip.
I don't mean to sound boastful, but you should check my stadium guides as well to find out which sections offer the best ticket values. I have researched and written so much that I will often forget what I wrote and go back and read my own guides from time to time. I tried to write each one as if I was planning a trip there myself.
Step 2A: Find Hotels
Until this point, everything you have done is reversible. Tickets, while you probably can't return them, you can resell them and make most of your money back. When you are ready to commit to making this trip, you are ready to book a hotel. Many times you can't cancel reservations when getting a discount rate, and you pay up front, so this will lock you in to going.
Let me speak from personal experience here; I love Hotwire.com. If you aren't familiar, Hotwire is different than most travel websites because you don't know the name of your hotel until AFTER you have booked it. You might be thinking this is crazy, but you will consistently see lower prices because of this. Priceline also has an option to bid on a room, and save up to half off. This is the same concept, and I have used it as well.
I still prefer Hotwire, and have used it at least 30 times.
You will know the star rating, area, and amenities of the hotel before you go. This takes most of the risk out your purchase, because you have an idea of what you are getting. I have also nearly perfected a strategy where I can figure out the hotel ahead of time. Here is a quick rundown:
- Check www.betterbidding.com and see the Hotwire hotel list for the area you are visiting. This isn't comprehensive, but if you can match the amenities and star rating in the same area, you have likely found your hotel.
- On the Hotwire details page, you will sometimes see a Trip Advisor rating. If so, check www.tripadvisor.com for hotels with the same rating in the area. This can also be used to confirm your suspicions from better bidding. Another thing I will do with Trip Advisor is search "Hotel Name City Hotwire" i.e. "Marriott Cincinnati Hotwire". Oftentimes in the traveler reviews, people will mention that they bought it on Hotwire. This simply lets you know that the hotel does have a relationship with Hotwire.
- Finally, www.hotels.com has a handy map search view which can be useful in your Hotwire quest. Search the same area, and switch over to Map View at the top.
You can filter by star ratings and amenities, so just filter to find places with the same star rating and some of the obvious amenities like a pool. This is yet another way to find out which hotel the Hotwire is referring to. If you have matched all 3 steps above, it is nearly fool proof. Even if you haven't, you can almost always narrow it down to a couple. If they both suit you fine; book 'em.
Using the methods above will almost always save you big bucks on your baseball road trip. Another thing to consider is the potential of walking from your hotel to the ballpark. This is a huge benefit because you don't have to fight traffic and you don't have to pay extra for parking. Besides, walking around in a different city often enhances your trip and you can find places to eat before or after the game.
If you decide that you can't handle the suspense of using Hotwire or Priceline, here is something else to consider for picking a hotel: does the hotel offer a shuttle to the ballpark or the area near the ballpark?
Again we are referring to finding an alternative to driving and finding parking at the stadium. It is not uncommon for hotels to offer free shuttles to major attractions, so that is great question to ask prior to your purchase. If the town has a train system like New York or Chicago, easy access to that may be enough.
The final thing I'll recommend isn't a hotel at all, it is AirBNB. If you aren't familiar, this is a site rising in popularity that allows people to host you and turn their own place into a Bed and Breakfast. It is a great way to meet people and even better to stay at some really cool places for way less than you would pay at a hotel. I've done AirBNB myself and think it is definitely worth checking out. So check it out.
Step 3: Plan Your Food
For me personally, this may be the most fun part of planning a baseball road trip. Whatever you do, don't you dare eat at a restaurant you have at home. I mean it; don't do it.
Eating at a national chain should only be done out of desperation.
Thankfully we have plenty of help finding those small town eateries where all the locals go. A book called RoadFood can be a great place to start.
Once you read the description, you'll realize this is exactly what you have been looking for. Cheap, local joints with great food. There is an accompanying website as well: www.roadfood.com which you can search various areas to plan out your trip.
Here are a couple more places I find great places to eat on the road:
- Chowdown Countdown - Series from the Travel Channel which lists 101 of the best places to eat. Most of these are the kind of restaurants you want to find on a baseball road trip. Click on "Travel Guide" to see a map view of all the places featured on that episode. There are a total of 5 lists to check out: 101-81, 80-61, etc.
- Man vs. Food - Another show from the Travel Channel where a guy tries to beat food challenges from around the country. Broken down by city, you can find some pretty cool places to eat on your road trip here as well. Once again click on "Travel Guide" to view the details of that location.
- Flavor Town - This is simply a google map of all the places featured on the Food Network's Diners Drive-ins and Dives. Just double click on the map to zoom up on a particular area.
Remember to not only look for places in your destination city, but also check for places along the way. As you start to find potential places to eat, copy the addresses and drop them into a Google Map to find out how far off course they will take you. Sometimes, a place is worth a little detour.
Another thing you see me recommend on almost every ballpark guide is restaurant.com. This is a site where you can purchase $25 gift certificates for $10. The catch, if you want to call it that, is that you usually have to spend $35 to use it. This is the most common set-up, but prices and conditions vary per restaurant.
However, they always have coupon codes where you usually end up paying $3-$5 for the $25 certificate. This is the site where you can find up to date coupon codes. During checkout, you will see a space to enter and apply your coupon code before purchasing. What a great way to eat a nicer dinner on a budget. This holds true for a baseball road trip as well. Why not search restaurant.com to find out what places are near the ballpark you are visiting?
Finally, you may want to check Yelp to see reviews on the places you are considering visiting. You may also find other places worth visiting by searching for the best rated restaurants in an area.
Step 4: Approximate Gas Prices
I could have thrown this in earlier, but I really love planning out where to eat. If you are taking this trip with a couple of friends, you are likely planning to split up the gas cost. If so, here is a handy calculator with up to date average prices that will help you estimate the total gas cost for your road trip:
If you are the planner of your trip, I would combine steps 2,2A, and 4 first; to give your friends a more accurate estimate of the cost. I will usually find the exact tickets I am going to buy, and jot down the prices including services fees. I follow the same process for hotels, finding the exact place I will book and writing down the total. Finally, I will use this calculator, add $100 for in town driving, and write down the estimated gas cost.
Take these totals down, divide by the number of people in your group, and you have the cost per person. Once everyone agrees to your estimate, go book hotels and buy tickets quickly. You want to make sure the deals you estimated on are still available.
Step 5: Miscellaneous Items Before You Leave
You have the major planning pieces out of the way - congratulations. Here are some final thoughts before you leave:
- Print all hotel confirmations; just in case.
- Pack a cooler full of drinks and snacks. This will save you a bundle over getting something at every gas station
- Take jackets and shorts. Weather is always the X-factor so be prepared.
- Don't forget the tickets
- Because my biggest fear is losing tickets, I literally have somebody witness where I put the tickets in the car. If they are above the visor, make sure everyone sees you put them there. Strength in numbers and you can share the blame if you lose them.
- Plan activities for off days or on the evenings after a day game. This is another fun part of trip planning, but I would encourage you to get out and see the city when you have the opportunity. In my experience, you are better off doing this beforehand than on the fly. At least have an idea of other things you would like to see before you leave
Step 6: Preserve the Trip
If you are able to enjoy a great baseball road trip, don't take it for granted. Take a moment to realize that you are blessed to have the means and the ability to embark on such a great vacation.
I would recommend that you take plenty of pictures of the trip. This is a great way to preserve the memories of the trip.
Another easy and free way to preserve your baseball adventure is to keep your ticket stubs. Personally, ticket stubs are some of my favorite souvenirs. This is a cool ticket stub book where you can organize and save all of your stubs in one place. For $10, it is a pretty good investment for the baseball traveler. There is also space on the page to jot down notes about the event. Perhaps write down the final score, winning and losing pitchers, or something else memorable about the game. It's a wonderful gift idea for someone that you took the trip with as well.
That is all I can think of. I hope this baseball road trip planner has opened your eyes to the fact that this type of trip can be affordable for almost anyone. If you have any specific questions or want more advice, please use the "Contact Jake" link at the top of the page.
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