So you’re broke, but planning a vacation anyway … to New York, which happens to be the most expensive city in the U.S. Luckily, going to the Empire State with limited funds is not as impossible as it seems.
Before you even start to think about how to spend money economically in NYC, consider how you are going to get there. The simplest and cheapest way is by bus. The average price listed for the month of November on the bus booking site, like Busbud.com, is only $12 from Washington DC to New York! So you can start saving even before you arrive in NYC!
According to Lonely Planet, those on a budget can find a dorm bed in the $40–70 range. Prices start to get scary after that; a double room at a mid-range hotel costs about $200. Staying at the Parisian-inspired NoMad Hotel can be as high as $850! But smart tourists will need to spend their money carefully. Finding a place to stay for under $100 per night is possible.
The Chelsea International Hostel on West 20th Street is one such option. Their latest listings as of October 2016 offered a private single room with shared bath for $72.77. The more people in your party, the cheaper. A two-bed male room with shared bath was considerably lower, $56.21. A four-bed female room ensuite is the same price.
Avoid Manhattan! This is NYC’s most expensive borough, but there are ways to get around this. HomeExchange is an online company that facilitate home swapping across different countries. The process is simple. You create an account and post your home as a listing. Add photos and explain why your place is the best. Now find your match using advanced search features (e.g. a two-bedroom apartment in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood). Using the messaging system, converse with potential swappers. Once you find someone, you figure out the logistics, sign an agreement and voila, you’ve found someone to swap homes with … for free!
A quick search displayed 83 presently available homes in NYC, from a classic one-bedroom in Upper East Side, only five minutes from Central Park, to a three-bedrooms loft with a terrace garden in SoHo. So go ahead and stay in a posh neighborhood without the steep price tag. Naturally, this option does not sit well with everyone so listings on Airbnb are an option for those who would rather not invite strangers into their home.
New York is the “Capital of the World” in more ways than one. No other place exhibits the amount of linguistic diversity seen in NYC, where about 800 languages are spoken! All this multiculturalism means the city is home to some great restaurants. There are also many that happen to be economical too without compromising on taste.
Here are some of the best eats in NYC, tried and tested by real people:
How often have you been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? So don’t forego a great way to start the day. Actually, having an apple is a great idea after you go to John’s Coffee Donut Shop for some eggs and caffeine. Lunch items include burgers, salads and chicken fingers, all reasonably priced.
Craving Mexican? Happen to be wandering nearby Jefferson St. Station in Brooklyn? Then just walk up the block to sample some dishes from Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos. For under $5, grab some tacquitos, tacos or a quesadilla.
Or maybe you are feeling some Asian delicacies? Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle is the place for you. Here you can sample their beef soup noodle or the delicious salt rice dumpling. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for the ox tail soup. All three dishes are under $10. Alternatively, when in Koreatown, try the ramen at Food Gallery 32.
Middle Eastern foodies are in luck when in NYC too. Mamoun’s serves sandwiches and plates for only $3.50 and $6, respectively. The falafel sandwich/plate is a phenomenal choice for vegetarians – grounded chickpea, onions, parsley, garlic and spices stuffed in a warm pita bread that tastes great with a side of tahini sauce. Meat lovers won’t be disappointed with Mamoun’s either with shawarma, chicken kebob, shish kebob and kafta kebob available.
Sometimes we just want a simple slice of pizza. Head to Little Italy Pizza. A whole pizza is pricey, but grab a slice (with interesting flavours like baked ziti, buffalo chicken and chipotle chicken) for under $5 for a gourmet experience.
No meal is complete without dessert especially when you can get said desserts for a good price. Take a stroll to Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop where fresh donuts are made every day. Popularly priced, only the flavors list is large here. You may also be tempted to try the apple crumb, cinnamon bun, cream chocolate sprinkle, honey dip bowtie, or the marble red velvet cruller ─ the list goes on.
A health-conscious option is BaoHaus. The food is all natural, serving antibiotic and hormone-free meats… for under $10! Try minced pork stew on rice or the taro fries for a quick snack. Uncle Jesse Bao is highly recommended ─ savour their fried tofu seasoned with crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar, cilantro and haus sauce.
Areas you may want to avoid when looking for food (because there is usually a large price tag associated with these upscale neighborhoods) are Upper East Side (Madison Avenue, Fifth Avenue and Park Road!) and Upper West Side. However, there are collectively 1,870 restaurants in Upper Manhattan, so there’s bound to be something affordable tucked away.
You can never have too many restaurant options, so click here for more great spots.
Part of the fun in traveling is partaking in the cheesy tourist activities. New York is a tourist haven; it is simply overflowing with things to do. As an important center for research, education, technology, finance and commerce, media and entertainment, and art and fashion, there is a reason why NYC is referred to as “The City That Never Sleeps.”
Popularity and hype are often accompanied by skyscraper-high prices, but getting into renowned tourist destinations doesn’t have to be a burden. One technique is to pick just a handful of NYC attractions that appeal most to you. If you can’t decide, then settle on the CityPASS, which offers savings of 40 per cent on admission prices to six of New York’s greatest attractions. Since the pass is valid for nine days, you can actually enjoy your stay without feeling rushed.
The CityPASS offers admission to:
The Empire State Building Experience
American Museum of Natural History
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR Guggenheim Museum
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Purchase an adult pass (18+ years) for $116 USD ─ compare that to the regular price of $194 if you were to pay the full entry fee for the above spots. Youth (six to 17 years) are $92 (instead of paying $175 without the pass).
From $$$ to FREE
There are also tons of fun free things to do in NYC. If you’re an art lover, then you’ll be pleased to know that some museums and galleries in the city offer free or reduced admission on select days. Museum of Modern Art, for example, is free on Fridays after 4pm. The Whitney Museum of American Art allows a donation-based entry on Fridays between 7pm and 10pm. According to The Guardian, the $25 admission fee for the Metropolitan Museum of Art is only a suggestion; you can listen to your wallet when you pay to get in here.
Take the Staten Island Ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island and back, free of charge, courtesy of the City of New York. The Ferry is special because of its deep roots in the city’s history. It is the one of the remaining parts of a ferry system previously used in New York at a time before any bridges were built to connect Manhattan to Brooklyn and Queens.
Although the ride is only 25 minutes long, the five-mile trajectory across the New York Bay offers a beautiful view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. About 70,000 passengers traverse this route every day. There is also free WiFi service at the terminal and on the ferries.
Visitors, who are not accustomed to a heightened police presence, should be aware that passengers are sometimes subjected to random screening by the NYPD and K9 units.
A visit to NYC would not be complete without a stroll through Central Park. With 840 acres allocated within the city, Central Park is a sanctuary for anyone who wants to escape the fast-paced city for a few hours. Grab your free fall guide on the park’s website for tips on how to make the most out of your trip. Don’t forget to check out the zoo.
Prospect Park in Brooklyn is another great zoo, especially if you love birds. Over 250 species are seen in the park every year. Now that the fall migration season is underway, a pair of binoculars and a bird guide should help spot a few. Take part in the park’s bird watching challenge and use the new Prospect Park App to see how many you can find. If you’re serious about bird watching, attend a free introductory workshop at the Audubon Center. The Center also provides free nature walks on Thursdays and Fridays.
Getting Around: Sightsee and Exercise
With so many great NYC attractions to choose from, you’re probably thinking of the most economical way to get around the city. There are three ways: walking, biking and public transit.
Two legs can go a long way in New York. However, if you had a month to spare in the city (and energy) you could see everything, but vacations are short and every minute counts. So when the weather is good, maybe bike to your next destination.
Citi Bike is a popular bike-sharing system whose day passes are tailored to the short-term needs of visitors and tourists. Purchase a Day Pass for $12 for 24-hour access to bikes or opt for a 3-Day Pass, which offers 72 hours of access for $24. The pass comes with 30 minutes of ride time. However, there is a charge of $4 for each additional 15 minutes, which makes bike sharing ideal for short trips.
Alternatively, New York has a very comprehensive metro system called the MTA. It provides comprehensive service 24 hours a day, seven days a week and the fare is only $2.75. You can buy an Unlimited Ride MetroCard, valid for seven days, for $31. If you have a Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard, adding $5.50 or more gets you an 11 per cent bonus.