Cities on a budget: Denver on $40 a day

Foothills of the Rockies

Foothills of the Rockies.


Last week I traveled to Denver for a writers’ conference, and naturally I pulled all the stops to make my visit frugal and fun. Travel is not the most earth-friendly or inexpensive activity, which is a large part of why I hadn’t left Florida in almost ten years. I did find some ways to frugalize my trip nonetheless.

Getting to Denver

The Union of Concerned Scientists provides a table as a guide in making greener decisions for transportation:

As a solo traveler, my best option would have been to travel on a motorcoach. However, because I’m self-employed and needed to return home quickly, I chose a budget flight with Frontier Airlines.

I headed for I-can’t-remember-which-one of the online booking systems (Orbitz, Expedia, et al.) and booked red-eye flights for an incredible $218 round-trip. Because that price would have only allowed me to bring a personal item (handbag, laptop with or without bag, briefcase, or handbag), I added a carry-on bag both ways for $30 each way. I could have brought a larger checked bag for the same price, but I chose to keep it simple.

I used my laptop bag to hold other other papers and personal items, and everything else went in the carry-on bag. I rolled it all up to fit it in, bringing two pantsuits to wear with different tops for the week.

I actually found the leg room not so very cramped as I might have expected, so I was surprised when I developed leg swelling later in my trip. A tip from my doctor is to wear knee-high compression hose during trips, including for long days on the ground when you may either be sitting or on your feet for excessive periods of time.

Instead of a taxi, I took Supershuttle both ways, which I’d guess halved the cost. Supershuttle picked me up at home in St. Pete, dropped and picked me up at the hotel in Denver, and left me back at my door in St. Pete. Tip: If you use Supershuttle and return to Tampa on a red-eye flight, be sure to log in on the touchscreen at the Tampa Supershuttle kiosk (curbside in the transportation pick-up area at TIA) to ensure pickup within 25 minutes.

Hosteling in Denver

I decided to bypass the conference hotel at $169 a night and booked a bed in a hostel dorm through for less than $25 a night instead, including taxes. Woohoo!

The 11th Ave. Hotel and Hostel has received mixed (but mainly positive) reviews from travelers. It turned out to be a wonderful bargain.

I stayed in a six-bed dorm with five other women in bunks. A separate room provided a small sofa with TV, dining table, microwave, refrigerator, and sink, and a roomy ensuite bathroom included a shower and toilet. Each of us had a locker assigned near our bunk.

The roommates were mostly European and Asian tourists with a smattering of Americans. All were friendly and pleasant.

The neighborhood couldn’t be beat. Capitol Hill is adjacent to downtown, and the hostel was directly across Broadway from the cultural complex, including the Public Library and the Art Museum, just down Broadway from the History Museum. A host of government buildings, including the gold-domed State Capitol, lie just north of the hostel.

A couple of blocks to the east are exquisitely beautiful old house near my hotelold houses that the locals refer to as mansions, and walking south on Lincoln St., you’ll find a couple of coffee houses that offer nighttime entertainment. Right on Broadway close to the hostel is a nightclub with music on Saturday night. Though one of my roommates complained about the noise, I slept right through it all.

Getting Around Denver

Denver has exemplary transportation. From the hostel, I could walk six blocks uptown to the free 16th St. shuttle bus that crosses the downtown area. You can also check out a bike with Denver B-cycle membership, though I didn’t have enough free time to take advantage of the bikes.

As a last resort, taxis are relatively inexpensive ($2.50 for the first 1/9 mile and $2.25 for each additional mile) compared with what I recall in St. Pete.

Dining in Denver

I was lucky enough to get free breakfast and lunch buffets during weekdays because I was working at the conference.

The tourist area has adequate commercial-type food, but I found nothing really spectacular. On my last night, I enjoyed a salmon dinner for $10 at Pints Pub at 221 W. 13th Ave near the hostel.

Some of my roommates brought back food from Whole Foods, about half a mile east of the hostel (900 E 11th Ave.), which I thought was brilliant.

Seeing the Sights in Denver

I stayed the weekend past the conference to get in a couple of days of sightseeing.

On Saturday, I booked a Foothills of the Rockies tour with the Colorado Sightseer ($45). I’d rather have gone on the ten-hour Gray Line tour of the Rocky Mountain National Park, but could not face so much time sitting on a bus at that point. We visited the Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the picturesque town of Golden, Colorado, which offered a peek at the Colorado School of Mining, handsome old houses, and the Coors brewery. We also stopped at Lookout Mountain/Buffalo Bill Museum.

On Sunday, I bought a ticket to the Art Museum ($13), which features a broad range of art, but focuses on Western art with some Asian and colonial Spanish. It’s an interesting place where you can pick up numerous ideas for using recycled objects in art, providing plenty of much-appreciated spots to sit down and rest.

I was able to check in for my flight home at an express terminal at the nearby Denver Public Library and print out my boarding pass. Easy peasy!

All this left me with a yen to do it all again – maybe more trips will be in the works in future years!

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