My love for the south has always been in its purest form – a slow-paced life, friendly people, and warm weather. It’s a stark contrast coming from someone who’s from a fast-paced life on Long Island.

With that being said, this wasn’t my first trip to Georgia – it was my second – but it was an adventurous one. We’ll get more into that later in the article and hopefully, it provides you some insight should you (hopefully not) find yourself in my situation.

Using Delta as Your Carrier of Choice

I’m a fan of using Delta for flights to Georiga since they’re one of the main Delta hubs. One of my favorite reasons for choosing Delta is because of their partnership with T-Mobile – my cell phone carrier – which offers customers free in-flight WiFi for an hour. It’s safe to say that this is key to prevent boredom, especially for long flights. For me, it works out perfectly as a flight from JFK to ATL is only 2 and a half hours.

This time around, I found the best perk while flying Delta to be two-fold. First, I saved money on not having to check-in a bag and was able to do so at the gate. Second, I received a complimentary gate check-in upgrade and was offered to board Sky Priority. This group boards after those who need additional boarding time and first-class. It was great getting to board early and get settled in which was all accomplished by volunteering to check-in my bag at the gate due to the limited overhead cabin space.

I can’t recommend volunteering for the various announcements the gate agent may present to you regardless of the airline you’re on. I have seen times where they offer money in various increasing amounts (depending on how desperate they are to make space on a given flight) to entice you to push back your flight time, for example. While this may not be suitable for everyone, if you can afford to do so, it’s not a bad perk. In my case, the offer this time around was an upgraded check-in experience which I appreciated and on top of that, it didn’t require me pushing back my arrival time. You can’t beat that, right?

Yet another reason I feel you should pay careful attention to the gate agent’s announcements is that more often than not, the airline will not receive the number of volunteers they’re looking for. I don’t recall many others on my flight checking in their bag at the gate. Number one, people carrying on their bags want to hold onto their belongings for one reason or another – whether it contains their iPad, books, etc. Additionally, having to stop at baggage claim if your plan was to avoid it can be seen as a hindrance in moving along your travel plans. Since it didn’t stop me from anything I was concerned about, it was a great opportunity to take advantage of it. Do you think you would take advantage of the opportunity if it was presented to you?

As travelers, we’ve all grown accustomed to in-flight entertainment to help pass the time and I’ve always felt Delta is top-notch in this department. Yes, we’re all used to movies, TV shows and music being available in-flight, but I think probably the best option is live TV. Considering I’m a huge sports fan, having that option available on a flight that would otherwise cause me to miss a game is a huge bonus. It very nicely wraps up the home away from home feeling all brought right to you in-flight. What more else can you want? Oh, cell phone charging you ask? Well, yes, JFK to ATL offered that as well. However, I have been on Delta flights where this wasn’t offered which usually is due to the length of the flight. The length of the flight affects the size of the aircraft used and at this point, not every aircraft has built-in charging ports, but I can see this becoming the norm at some point. I believe Delta to be ahead of the curve when it comes to offering in-flight amenities.

So what are the negatives you may be wondering? Well, not a lot to be honest. However, nothing is perfect, so there are two things I can be picky about. One is the space for your feet in the main cabin and the other is the window position relative to your main cabin seat. I have always found that Delta’s weakest feature is its main cabin due to the limited legroom. Now, from a business standpoint, this is expected. They want you to upgrade your seat to Delta Comfort or First Class. However, I still think an additional inch and a half or two wouldn’t be asking too much. Not to mention, if you’re a tall person (I’m not at 5’8), it can feel cramped. As I mentioned, I have always felt confident in Delta and their ability to innovate, so I would be hard-pressed to believe they haven’t received complaints from customers about legroom in the main cabin and weren’t looking at ways to address it.

Finally, for my last point on the flight into Georgia was the reference I made regarding the window position relative to your main cabin seat. This design element on the aircraft struck me as odd. I always prefer a window seat when I fly as most people do. I found that the window positioning was not level with the seat. It was a good few inches forward of the seat forcing you to have to lean forward to look out the window which I found particularly uncomfortable. It could have just been the particular aisle I was in (which wasn’t an exit row), but I’m curious to fly Delta again to see if I run into this weird window positioning.

Visiting My Good Friend’s New House

I’m a big proponent of traveling to visit friends and family in other states to further enable you to travel more. The biggest upside of doing so is multi-faceted. The first being that you get to visit a potential new place you’ve never visited and there are people you know there. The second is the ability to crash at their place if they’re willing to have you. Now, if you’re being invited to visit friends and family in another state, my hunch is that your relationship with them is pretty strong that they would be more than happy to have you. I know if good friends of mine came to visit me, I’d be more than happy to have them stay with me. One important note on this: don’t invite yourself. As we all know (hopefully), that’s rude and if they do invite you into their home, it’s always a nice gesture to do something for them in return whether that be taking them out to dinner or buying them a thank you gift like a bottle of wine. It’s a nice way to show your hospitality (or in this case, your southern hospitality), but you already knew that!

Having had the opportunity to stay at my college friend’s house and hang out with him and his wife was excellent. Not only are they great people, but two of the most caring individuals I know. They not only saved me a ton of money by allowing me to stay with them and not have to spend money on a hotel, but they even put me up in their guest room. They were more than generous. I would have been just fine on the couch.

How does this all apply to you? My hope is this gives you the initial steps to start thinking about the places you’d like to visit in the U.S., but then to narrow down that list of places to where you know someone who lives there. Be mindful that I don’t mean acquaintances, I mean long-time, true friends. People that count on you and you count on them. They should feel like they’re a part of your family. Once you have that list and to enable your chances of making that trip happen, think about which of those places on your list are the closest to you. As I’ve mentioned, Georgia is only two and a half hours by plane from me. Once you start heading towards the 4-hour flight mark or going cross-country, the flight prices are going to increase significantly and in our case, we’re trying to save money, but still enable ourselves the ability to travel more. We need to be strategic in our pursuits.

As you plan to visit one of your friends, communication is the key component here to ensure a successful and seamless visit. Just like any relationship, talking about your travel plans with your friends and family ahead of time is vital. You’re starting off on the right foot and you’re making a conscious effort on your end to make things as easy as possible for whoever is graciously hosting you. One of the things I always do is forward my flight itinerary to whomever I may be visiting. Not only do they know when I’m arriving, but it allows them to plan for your arrival. You should do this in advance to provide them with plenty of wiggle room to be ready for your visit. Putting them first I believe is essential especially since they’re making your life easier by allowing you to stay with them and bringing you to and from their airport. It’s just nice to return the favor of helping others who are helping you. It’s the foundation of a good relationship.

Fun Things To Do In Atlanta

One of the coolest experiences I had was visiting the College Football Hall of Fame. Not only did I not realize that this was where the building existed, but I was also blown away with how much there was to see. It all starts the minute you walk in the door when you see every college football team in the nation represented on this huge wall with each respective team’s football helmet. It was wild! Even if you think your college team wouldn’t be on the wall, it is. It’s not limited to division one schools.

One of my favorite aspects of these museums is the plethora of multimedia within the building. From interactive touch screens for viewing statistics on players, interviews, etc. – to full media rooms to watch televisions reliving key moments in college football history. It was a sight to behold and as an avid sports fan, it was something I greatly appreciated. Additionally, entry isn’t expensive. It’s $21.99 for adults, $17.99 for kids with discounts for military, students, and seniors.

In terms of food, there were three places we went to that stuck out to me that I enjoyed immensely. The first one you may find a little comical, but I do not have one near me and that’s Panda Express. For some reason, I just absolutely love their orange chicken. I know it’s not “real” Chinese food and it’s fast food, but I was so excited to go there and on top of it when you’re traveling on a budget, it’s affordable and quick. Being able to go to places that you don’t have access to in your hometown is always a fun and enjoyable experience when traveling.

A second restaurant I recommend is Antico Pizza Battery Park right near SunTrust Park where the Atlanta Braves play. We had originally planned to take in a Braves game – sacrilegious for me since I’m a Mets fan – as I do want to visit all baseball parks, but unfortunately, the game was postponed due to rain. We didn’t let that stop us, though. Antico has some really tasty brick oven pizza and we had a cool atmosphere that allowed us to eat outside surrounded by the atrium encompassing SunTrust Park. It was very aesthetically pleasing even though it was raining. Antico is also an affordable option costing about $21 for a pizza and considering it’s located right near a baseball stadium is an exceptional value. It was fun afterward to walk around the atrium and take everything in and marvel at the notion of how much money was invested in the entire facility.

My final recommendation for this trip is this little deli called East 48th Street Market. I was able to meet the owner, Charlie Augello, who’s originally from New York and was just a very nice man with a great Italian spot in Dunwoody, Georgia. While I was there, I ordered a meatball hero for lunch and I tell you… it was the most delicious meatball hero I’ve ever had. I just can’t recommend it enough. It truly made me feel at home as it’s hard to find New York quality food in another state that may claim to have a New York-style dish. Charlie, being from New York, knows how to bring that Italian and New York heritage to the good ole south.

A Final Word

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I had an unexpected event occur while I was on vacation. As a patient with Crohn’s Disease, the unexpected flare-ups that can occur with my stomach are about as unknown as they come. With that being said, I developed some severe stomach pains that shortened the duration of my trip and ended with me in the hospital in Georgia. Thankfully they were able to help me and even more wonderful, my friends and their parents stayed with me in the hospital to make sure I was okay.

I bring this up because unexpected events can sometimes occur while on vacation. I pray and hope you don’t run into anything like this as I did, but it’s important to note that when they do occur, it can interfere with your flight arrangements for returning home. I had spoken to Delta and told them of the situation. While they were able to push back my flight home a day, it did cost me $57 for the transfer fee. I wasn’t thrilled about having to pay a transfer fee price, but it is what it is. I had thought that perhaps that since this was due to a medical emergency that they would waive the fee due to something out of my control, but that wasn’t the case. I would think it would behoove Delta and other airlines to have exceptions for medical emergencies as it’s not like I was just looking to extend my vacation on their dime.

All that being said, the trip to Georgia was a fun one. With great food, great friends, and even the awesome coincidence of visiting during my friend’s 30th birthday, it’s always a time to remember when I’m in the south. It holds a special place in my heart and I hope it will be for you too when you get the chance to visit. If you’ve been there before, please share your experience in the comments and the places and activities you’ve enjoyed while there.

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