Marmot Angel Fire sleeping bag and Wallaroo water-friendly sun hat (from Hoigaard’s); Briggs & Riley rolling bag (with expandable feature) and Paw Patrol scootie (from Luggage World); and books that can be found at Half Price Books.
Who doesn’t love a summer getaway? Maybe you, if you’re the designated (and procrastinating) planner. Fear not, intrepid traveler! You could go online, but why not kick off your real-life, best-vacation-ever quest in the real world? Some fine folks in St. Louis Park are ready to help you design and pull off a summer trip to everyone’s liking. For assistance with anything from a budget-friendly family weekend away to an international sojourn for one or two, it’s a walk, as they say, in the Park.
Half Price Books
With book-exchange cash (see TTT #1, below) at hand, make your way to Half Price Book’s travel section. I found several bookshelves of travel titles, including an impressive collection of Midwest travel guides. Which makes sense, says Jim Walker, manager of St. Louis Park’s Half Price Books for over 20 years, because one source of the books they sell are those bought from local customers. “We buy anything printed or recorded except yesterday’s news,” Walker quips, including books, CDs, DVDs and LPs. The other source of their inventory, he says, is new books from publishers, distributors, PR people and others. These new books are also sold at deeply discounted prices.
On the day of my visit I found so many engaging travel titles the $17 refund in my pocket itched to be spent: a Frommer’s Chicago with Kids for $8.99 (list price $17.99); Best Easy Day Hikes in Black Hills Country (originally $9.95, now $5.99). For bucket-list building: 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, U.S. and Canada: over 1,000 pages of wishes and dreams priced at half of its $20 original value. There were also many books and maps for world travel. The books are rarely the newest version, says Walker, but timely enough to still be valuable for trip planning. Please note: The titles turn over quickly, and are often single copies.
Thrifty traveler tip #1: Before you set out for Half Price Books, pack up as many grocery bags-full of your household’s already-read books as you and your posse can carry. On a recent investigative trip of my own to Half Price Books, two bags netted me $17. That’s cash, not store or other credit, but you do need to be present in the store while the salesperson calculates the value of your recycled books.
A few blocks north of Half Price Books is the sprawling Minneapolis-area AAA headquarters. Here you will find an excellent travel store and a multitude of additional trip-planning resources, many available to the general public and even more to AAA members.
Travel agents and travel service counselors are happy to meet with members and non-members alike. “Often people will come in and say, ‘We want to go somewhere with our family,’ ” says AAA vice president of travel and retail services Linda Snyder. Or a family may have decided on a budget and destination and ask, “What’s the best way to do this?” Popular summer trips, says Snyder, include national parks, Florida theme parks and history-related tours of East Coast cities. A growing number of families are opting for “guided vacations” offered by companies like Trafalgar and Insight with several families traveling as a group. “Someone else drives,” says Snyder. “Everything’s taken care of.” One reason to use a travel agent, says Snyder, is their ability to do extensive and complicated searches to find airfare, hotel, car and tour discount packages.
The AAA travel store provides its own delights, including luggage (ask about the kind that can charge your phone), children’s backpacks, pillows, games and diversions, every electric adapter you’ll need in the world, an excellent travel book section and a terrific selection of Baggalini and Pac-Safe bags, the latter unbeatable for travel security. You can even get passport photos taken here.
Thrifty traveler tip #2: If having the absolute, most up-to-date travel guide is important to you, buy it elsewhere and as soon as you get back from your trip, bring it in to resell at Half Price Books. You’ll get a good price for it; up-to-date travel guides are in great demand, says Walker.
From AAA, wind down Auto Club Road and take a left onto 36th Street to Luggage World, family-owned since 1976, where father-son duo David and Justin Saad preside over “the largest luggage inventory and the largest luggage selection in the Twin Cities, guaranteed,” says David. “When you walk into Luggage World, you will find what you’re looking for.” Brands include Travel Pro, Tumi, Samsonite, Eagle Creek and Rimowa. They also carry Briggs & Riley, one of their most popular website sales, says Justin, and frequently sold only in specialty stores. “Briggs & Riley are very well-made bags. They are the highest rated in Consumer Reports and offer a lifetime unconditional guarantee.” Their unconventional construction (pull-up handle hardware is restricted entirely to the outside of the bag) makes for a less obstructed interior and greater packing capacity, much appreciated by any traveler.
It’s not all ultra-high-end at Luggage World. “We certainly have price ranges for any family,” says David. One thing you will always get is excellent customer service. “The first question I’ll ask is, ‘How often do you travel?’ ” says David. He’ll also inquire about other details of a customer’s travel habits to make individual recommendations, for example, soft- vs. hard-sided luggage, or two-wheel vs. four-wheeled models. Other inventory in the store includes increasingly popular packing cubes (lightweight, zip-up clothing and travel accessory containers that help organize a suitcase’s contents). David is fond of SCOTTeVESTs, garments with 17 and more pockets to stash anything from cell phone to passport to credit cards and keys. For children, there’s Disney-themed luggage, backpacks and delightful scooters, guaranteed to encourage a child to transport their own luggage (and tire them out, too!).
Justin Saad’s responsibilities at Luggage World includes its large and well-reputed repair business. They are an authorized repair center for most major manufacturers, he says, noting “if an airline damages your luggage, each manufacturer has its own policies” for repair costs. Turnaround time for repairs is usually a week, and they can rush that if necessary. Common repairs include zippers, wheels and fabric tears.
Thrifty Traveler Tip #3: Minneapolis AAA memberships start at $67 a year. Full disclosure: I have been a member for nearly 30 years and estimate I have gained back membership cost in these benefits alone: travel store discounts, members-only hotel and rental car pricing, free up-to-date travel guide books, road maps and TripTiks (custom-made, printed map booklets with turn-by-turn driving directions, including nearby hotels, restaurants and attractions). As to the value of a TripTik in the GPS/map app world: Has your phone ever run out of juice?
We’re swinging back to the Miracle Mile and Hoigaard’s for ideas to fill your new (or like-new) luggage, and an additional thrifty travel tip, too. Manager Michael “Doc” Drone suggests you check out Hoigaard’s selection of sun-protection apparel (clothing designated with a UPF—ultraviolet protection factor) and insect-repelling apparel (fabric infused with insect repellent that lasts through many washings). Hoigaard’s carries them in children’s and adult sizes from manufacturers including Ex Officio and North Face. “They work,” says Drone, for buggy evenings at the lake and especially if you’re concerned about a child’s exposure to the sun. “Children’s skin is a lot more sensitive,” says Drone. Hoigaard’s is also anticipating a booming family swimwear business this spring and summer.
Of course, Hoigaard’s sells more than apparel. While AAA may not be able to help plan your first family canoe and/or tent camping trip, Hoigaard’s certainly can. Even (or especially) if your family hasn’t camped out before, “we can get you right into a tent, sleeping bags, you name it,” says Drone, with inventory including camp cookware, food, Boundary Waters maps, canoes and kayaks. They also rent canoes, kayaks and the very popular paddleboards.
Thrifty Traveler Tip #4: Luggage kind of old and beat up? “Bring it in,” says David. They’ll give you a repair estimate for free. “We only charge when we fix it.”
Thrifty travel tip #5: Starting the first week of May and continuing through the summer, Hoigaard’s sponsors canoe and kayak Demo Days at French Regional Park in Plymouth. “These are very guest-driven demos,” says Drone. If your family has never canoed or kayaked before, give it a free trial (complete with paddling instruction) with one or two boats you like on Hoigaard’s sales floor.