I am not ashamed to admit that I can be a cheapskate. Not when it comes to important things or people- I actually love treating people to things and have been known to splurge on something I believe is absolutely worth it. Let’s just say that I am careful with my money (or lack thereof). There seems to be a notion that traveling is only for the financially secure, but I am here to tell you that traveling and being budget conscious do not need to be clashing visions. Yes, traveling on a tight budget can be tricky, but it is also very doable.
Recently having visited the wonderful city of Charleston, S.C with a friend, we found it quite accommodating to self-proclaimed “cheapskates” like us. Here are some tips for saving money all the while exploring and enjoying this charming southern locale.
Where to stay
For those of you who don’t need luxurious quarters when most of your time is spent outside of your hotel room exploring anyway, I highly suggest NotSo Hostel. Just as the name implies, it simultaneously is and isn’t a hostel. While the low prices and shared bathrooms with other travelers are hostel reminiscent, there are also options for private rooms, albeit modestly furnished. Yes, it’s no Marriott or Four Seasons, but not only do you save money, but you get to meet other friendly wanderers and perhaps even make new friends. We opted for a small, simple private room with a full size bed. Yes, the shared bathrooms brought me back to my college dorm years, but it was so worth it. The room cost us each about $30/night and *bonus*- there’s free breakfast– an assortment of bagels, muffins, with coffee, tea, juice, and jams- modest, but all one really needs. Other amenities include free wifi internet in all of the rooms, private parking, and linens provided for guests. You might think that hostels are only for backpackers and young drifters alike, but you would be surprised as to the number of adults, alone and with spouses/children, that were staying at the hostel during our stay.
Side note: If you prefer a quieter atmosphere, the is another location of the hostel, The Annex, located a couple of streets away that hosts all private bedrooms, some even with private bathrooms. Prices there are $70/night.
Where to eat
There are a few places that we had the pleasure of dining at that are worth mentioning. On our first night in Charleston, after pulling in to the hostel around 8 and checking in, we were starving. Although the hostel does provide a binder full of suggestions for nearby restaurant and attractions, we wanted to seek a local’s advice, and asked the friendly young guy who had checked us in. He mentioned a somewhat new Asian fusion restaurant around the corner, converted from an old gas station. Upon entering Xiao Bao Biscuit, we discovered the place was swarming with the hip, trendy crowd of Charleston. After ordering our drinks (I opted for the “Mapo Mule” $8), I looked up some reviews of the place on my phone, as I like to do very often to get some recommendations on what to order. Apparently, their Japanese cabbage pancake (“Okonomiyake”) was featured on Foot Network. We also ordered the “Mapo Dofou,” a spicy Sichuan tofu dish with rice on the side. It was one of the best meals I have ever had. And spicy- so wonderfully flavorful and spicy! All in all: delicious drinks and food, great atmosphere, and reasonable prices.
We had a light lunch the next day at A.W. Shuck’s Seafood and Raw Bar. An order of peel n’ eat shrimp, raw oysters, and local I.P.As- quite good, but I hear the seafood is much better at Amen Street Fish & Rawbar, FYI.
Dinner that evening, for our last night in Charleston, was at Poogan’s Porch– a slightly more upscale restaurant, set in a beautifully restored Victorian house. Here’s a tip: sharing a couple of appetizers and an entree makes everything more affordable – our money saving tactic for the whole road trip. As an added bonus, you get to sample an assortment of dishes from the menu this way. We ordered an arugula salad, pan seared scallops, and she-crab soup as appetizers. All very delicious. But the entree, the James Beard Award winning Snapper ($26), was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten: perfectly crispy atop a cheddar grit cake with pulled pork and arugula. Quite indulgent but definitely worth it. Oh and did I mention that everything is Farm to Table? Definitely the cherry on top of the proverbial cake-since we were far too full but wonderfully satiated to even consider dessert.
What to do
Charleston is a great city to explore by bike or even foot. In fact, we didn’t use our car once, and walked everywhere. One thing I highly recommend is taking a carriage tour, solely for the fact that you learn so much about the history of the city on these tours. And I am not talking about the usual boring historical facts and figures; the tour guides tell you some very interesting stories. (Like why the houses in Charleston are longer than they are wide). Plus, we rode past actor Bill Murray’s house! The price was $20 and I must say that is pretty cheap for what you learn.
Sightseeing doesn’t usually have to mean spending money. In fact, the tour was the only time we actually spent money while exploring-aside from the obligatory souvenir buying and such. It is a beautiful city to take pictures of. Definitely visit the river front and rainbow row, which is a street lined with colorfully painted houses. If the beach is what you crave during your trip to this southern gem, Folly Beach is only a short drive away, and although we did not get a chance to go there, it was highly recommended by many.
This is just a short guide to Charleston, SC, as seen by two gals in two days. I am sure there is much more to do here and I plan on wandering through its picturesque and history-filled streets again very soon.