#HeartsOfMineTravels to… New York! – Planning my New York trip
New York, the city that never sleeps where everyone can make a dream come true…
Now that I have experienced it, that statement above rings quite true to me because NY is truly alive every minute of the day and offers practically everything!
I had visited the East Coast before but I never had the chance to visit the “big apple” on those trips.
People say New York is a city you travel back to again and again after you first discover it but, when I travel, I prefer to focus on a specific area instead of hopping from place to place hence, I decided to wait until I could afford more than 2 or 3 days to visit.
That’s obviously a personal choice.
New York can be experienced in so many different ways and even a 2 days trip can be the perfect lenght of time to “bite” your very own piece of “the big apple”!
I love Chris Pine and nope… I DID NOT bump into him on the streets making him fall in love with me at first sight. That dream will, probably, never come true😔
Oh well😜, let’s get back to the plan:
I had a list a mile long of places I wanted to see and things I wanted to experience so, while planning, I realized that a 2 weeks vacation would be ideal for me.
First step: Figure out what’s your budget
You have to consider the price of you flight and/or other travel expenses, insurance and the ESTA if you aren’t an american citizen, accommodation, food, attractions fees plus a little something for souvenirs and the “unexpected”.
Lots of variables hence the ideal “minimum budget” varies a lot but I can give you some tips to figure it out:
→ Travel Expenses
▶ Consider your Flight expenses and flight insurance if you book a lot in advance.
Also, if you aren’t an american citizen, don’t forget to cover HEALTH INSURANCE (I paid $150 for both flight and health insurance) and you have to apply for ESTA (costs $14) or you won’t be permitted access to the country!!
▶ to get from the JFK consider $7.75 = $2.75 for the subway + $5 for the AirTrain or if you land late at night consider $40-70 for a Taxi.
▶ A 7 days Metrocard costs $32 (+ $1 for the card) or, if you don’t plan on taking the subway/bus more than 12 times, you can add to the $1 Metrocard the amount you need (consider $2.75 fare for a subway or local bus SINGLE ride)
Depends on the season, type of accommodation and location but, from what I researched, rates for a 3 stars hotel room for two people vary from $130 – 250 per night. Those rates skyrocket on Christmas time, New Year’s and in the fall.
Most affordable period to visit is late January through mid-March and in the summer months (July – August)
▶ Make sure if the room price you see includes the 14,75% tax and a $3.50 per night occupancy tax!!
→ Food If you plan to eat out all the time consider Breakfast: ~10$ / Lunch: ~$15 (make it at least $25 at proper restaurants) / Dinner: ~ $15-25 (make it at least $50 at proper restaurants)
→ Attractions Fees consider to buy a Pass ONLY if you stay in New York for more than 3 days and if you cannot plan around the “pay what you wish and/or free entrance” day of the week. Cost depends on the kind of Pass, here are some examples:
A 3 days New York Pass costs $199, the New York City Pass (6 attractions valid for 9 consecutive days starting with the first day of use) costs €116.54 while the Sightseeing FLEX Pass costs $209 (10 Attractions valid for 30 consecutive days starting with the first day of use, for that same pass I paid 159,20 in August).
So…if you want to buy a pass consider $150-200 (per adult)
▶ If you plan on attending a Broadway Show consider at least $80 -$100 for the ticket (for some popular shows, for example “The Lion King”, even $200!)
→ Souvenirs and “the unexpected expenses”
▶ For example, NYC magnets cost from $3 to $10 depends on where you buy them and on their dimensions, a NYC painting done in front of you in Times Square with spray paint costs ~ $15 – $30.
▶ Unexpected expenses for me were paying for the washing and drying machines at the hotel ($2.50 each), a $32 Metrocard because the first one got stolen and a $60 bus ride from Niagara Falls.
I’d say bring at least $200 to cover both (unless you plan on spending more on more expensive souvenirs😋)
🗽 Sum it all up and you’ll have your NY budget figured out! 🗽
The ESTA Application
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization is necessary to enter the United States.
Starting the application process requires a $4 fee plus $10 more when the process is completed.
If accepted, your ESTA will be valid for 2 years or until your passport expires (so it can be used multiple times).
Taking care of the ESTA first will give you peace of mind and you’ll be able to arrange everything else without worrying about a possible rejection, especially if you’ve never applied before.
It wasn’t my first time applying and I wasn’t worried about a negative response so I waited until a few weeks prior to departure to apply because I hope I’ll be able to travel back to the US next year (using the same ESTA)
If you book your vacation through a Travel Agency they take care of applying for the ESTA themselves but they will probably charge you an additional fee (for example Italian agencies usually ask ~$5 on top of the $14 dollars required)
For more info check out the official site.
About Health Insurance
American healthcare system does not provide free medical services and, without insurance, costs are incredibly high.
For that reason when I travel to the US I always purchase an insurance plan that fits my needs.
The company I purchase my insurance from is called Europ Assistance , they have a good plan for people under 30 years old which includes baggage, flight and health insurance. I paid ~ $150 for my 20 days vacation ( it also covered my 3 days in Canada).
I booked my flight 6 months ahead so this kind of insurance was perfect for me because it included the flight cancellation option.
There are tons of insurance companies in every country, it all depends on the type of insurance you need.
If you have “pre-existing conditions” make sure the plan you choose covers them because most plans don’t!!
Traveling to NYC: International flights and NYC Airports
▶ First a little something about long flights:
To be as comfortable as you can be you have to be prepared and here’s what I’ve learned:
↪ Bring more layers or the plane’s air conditioning system will freeze you. Seriously!
On my first international flight I had to beg the flight attendant for a second blanket because I had the brilliant idea of travelling in short sleeves and only a checked in bag.
Why would you ask? I asked myself the same question for 7 hours straight😳
Because, for the first time in an international flight, I did not get a sore neck.
This is the only pillow with a flat back I could find, hope it will help someone else having a better flight experience😄
▶ About the 3 NYC airports
✈ John F Kennedy (JFK) located in Southern Queens, it’s the largest and best-served airport in the NYC area.
Public transportation is not hard to navigate but keep in mind some lines stop the service after 11.
To travel from and to the JFK airport consider taking the Subway ($2.75 )+ the AirTrain ($5 ) or, if you land late at night, consider $40-70 for a Taxi.
✈ La Guardia (LGA) in Northern Queens, is often ranked as the worst airport in the US for flight cancellations and delays. To get to Manhattan the cheapest way is by Subway followed by Bus transfer ( just $2.75 but it’s not ideal if you travel with a lot of baggage) or you can take Taxi ($25-40).
Mostly used for continental flights, for international flights look up the other two options.
✈ Newark (EWR) across the river from Manhattan in New Jersey, it’s not super well connected with the subway (it’s possible but kind of confusing) so the best cheap option is the Newark Airport Express Shuttle Bus ($18 one way) while the more expensive option is taking a Taxi ($ 70-100 plus you have to pay bridge tolls $15 to $17 depends on the bridge used).
Unless there’s a big price difference (more than $200) between an international flight that lands at EWR and one that lands at JFK, just choose the JFK option.
▶ I didn’t exactly choose a specific airport, I chose the best flight price I could find and that landed me at JFK.
Overall I had a good experience and I did not had to wait hours in line to pass through customs, probably because my plane landed around 8 PM (though I’ve read about people waiting more 2 hours in line!).
I spent my first night in NYC at the Radisson Hotel near the JFK Airport because I had my connecting flight to Niagara Falls departing from JFK the next day.
I didn’t experience much about the hotel because, after traveling for 15 hours, I spent my time at the hotel basically sleeping like the dead.
The best thing about the accomodation was the free shuttle to and from the airport 24 hours a day.
Staff was nice and the check in quick (which was awesome because, as I said, I really neaded a bed FAST by that point).
Beds were clean and spacious, bathroom was clean and the free Wi-fi perfectly working.
I’m not a fan of moquette in general but it’s not easy to find an american hotel without it.
Overall I can’t complain if not for the price… I paid $214 for 1 night!!!
It was a room with 2 queen beds and I shared that expense with 2 other people traveling with me (hence we paid ~ $70 each) still..that’s A LOT.
It’s a NYC constant: prices are high everywhere😣
When I got back from Niagara Falls, connetting from JFK to Downtown Manhattan did take me almost 2 hours but navigating the subway was not hard thanks to the CityMapper App.
NYC Public transportation
Public transportation in the New York area is mostly reliable but I really wouldn’t recommend traveling back and forth long distance every day, if most of the things you want to do are in Manhattan.
Every time I had to take the subway it felt like descending into a very smelly hell.
The smell while waiting at the platforms… OMG…it was awful!
It got stuck to my clothes and skin and I had to wash even my hair every day to feel more like myself again.
I wish I had one of these to help me through…
The subway’s smell is the only truly bad memory of my two weeks in New York!
Also… trains were sometimes canceled for maintenance issues or incidents of some kind and the L train to Brooklyn will soon be discontinued.
So if you have to rely on public transportation:
– Make sure you have subway stations near your accommodation
– Download apps like Citymapper that will tell everything you’ll need to know about the routes you’ll be taking (delays, cancelations, alternative routes…)
– Definitely purchase the 7 days Metrocard if you plan to use the subway more than 12 times during your stay!
Walking on foot gives you the chance to truly experience the city but don’t make the mistake of exhausting yourself the first few days!!
New York is a very expensive city for pretty much everything.
Look up prices and availability as soon as you have your flight booked!
I suggest booking the best solution you can find in your price range IMMEDIATELY if it doesn’t need a deposit /or is refundable AND has a decent cancellation policy (~1 week before check in).
I booked an hostel room in Brooklyn because (5 months before departure) I couldn’t find reasonable prices anywhere for my 2 weeks stay and I was afraid I’d end up without a good Manhattan solution but I kept on looking hoping hotel rates would drop.
3 Months before departure I found a Residence (Marriott chain) in the Manhattan Area (financial district) at a price I could afford hence I booked the Residence and then canceled the Brooklyn option.
Some people even do it with the same hotel they have booked, if the rates go down and a better deal is available.
▶ I strongly suggest to KEEP CHECKING because prices fluctuate a lot and cancel a previous booking ONLY AFTER you’ve secured a room at the new lower rate!
Most of the things I wanted to see/do are located in Manhattan so… I had to look in the area.
Manhattan is probably the most expensive of the 5 boroughs, cheaper solutions are usually available in Queens and Brooklyn.
I ended up booking at the Residence Inn Downtown Manhattan /World Trade Center Area (Financial District)
I wanted to be closer to Central Park but the prices, unfortunately, weren’t accessible for my pockets😩
For a 2 week stay in a room shared with my 2 friends we paid $3.285 (~ $234 per night!!) all taxes included.
I’ve never paid that much for a room! Not even in Copenhagen!😲
I enjoyed my stay in the Financial District and I could easily get anywhere from the Residence thanks to 2 Subway entrances super close by, one is right across the street!
I have to say though I had some issues during my stay at this particular Residence.
Overall the experience wasn’t completely awful because I felt safe in the area and inside the building, it offered everything I needed for my 2 weeks stay and it was easy to move around from the Residence to all the places I wanted to visit but:
– I had to ask every night, when I got back from a very tiring day exploring, for things that we were supposed to already have in the room : Toilet paper, clean towels, sheets cleaned every three days, soap refilled and so on.
After every complaint they promptly took care of things but, given the price I payed, I shouldn’t have had to ask every single time at 11 PM when I just wanted to crawl into bed and rest.
– Elevators were IMPOSSIBLE to take because they were always busy. I had to take the stairs every single time but I have no idea how people in higher floors than mine would manage 😓
– Something VERY UNPLEASANT happened 3 days before my departure: Someone stole a Bubba Gump gift bag from my room. More specifically they took the gift out of the bag and made the 1 dollar bag dissappear. I was so angry about it because that was part of the gift since it had the Bubba Gump Logo on it!
I immediately told the reception desk assistant that just shrugged her shoulders at me even if I made clear I was very upset, even more because I did not have time to get another one.
They didn’t do anything to make-up for it.
They had 3 days to either offer to buy another for me (since I couldn’t get there myself) or do SOMETHING to make up for a staff member’s violation of MY things in MY room.
It could’ve been ANYTHING else and that’s the most unsettling thing about it.
I would have given 3-4 stars, even if I had to ask almost every night for things they had failed to take care tare of because they always made up for it, but the issue with a staff member handling my things and making one disappear…
How am I supposed to trust it wouldn’t happen with something else to someone else?
Someone ( among the Residence’s staff, I suppose, reading this review and getting upset because 1 star reviews weight heavily in sites such as this) might ask why give a 1 star rating mostly for a 1 dollar bag gone missing?
Because, MAYBE, next time the staff will handle things differently and people reading this will know to put everything they treasure (even if stupidly/cheaply looking to someone else) locked safely in their travel bag, not around the room.
Here staff might think it’s a good idea to take even a stupid souvenir bag, if they fancy it.😒
▶ Taxes : Keep in mind NYC hotels apply a 14,75% tax and a $3.50 per night occupancy tax that doesn’t always show up when you look for prices online. Always ask if those taxes are included in the final price before you book!
That said, I obviously wouldn’t recommend this Residence specifically but I would recommend looking for some kind of “Residence solution” if you plan to stay more than a week because, having a kitchen, allowed me to save A LOT of money not having to dine out every night and gave me the chance, if wanted, to preserve my health since I could choose, while grocery shopping, what kind of food I wanted to eat.
Honestly speaking, I DID buy lots of junk food that doesn’t exist in Italy because I wanted to try it BUT I tried/cooked only the things I couldn’t take back home with me in my checked bag 😎
That leads to another matter:
Eating in NYC
As I said, If you want to save up money, I would suggest to find accommodation that offers at least a microwave so you can take care of breakfast and dinner mostly on your own, leaving only one or two dinners out to experience cool NYC restaurants.
That will make you save up A LOT, especially if you buy groceries for more than 2 people and you all share the expenses.
For example 1kg of pasta costs around 2-5$ (depending on the brand and grocery chain) and it’s more than enough to feed 3 people dinner for 4-5 days!
I didn’t have pasta once during my two weeks stay, I eat more than enough pasta at home, but still…it’s an option😜
Instead my party decided to try making different salads recipes with different proteins we could cook and some frozen products to microwave that sounded “exotic” to us😁
I dined out twice, I had 4 dinners out planned to places I truly wanted to try but “time issues” forced me to skip two😡
A lot of places close early at night, some are not open at all during the day or on specific days. If you want to try a particular place you definitely need to check the official sites/ social media beforehand.
In Italy, especially in Sicily, you can dine late at night every day of the week and especially on weekends, in almost every major restaurant. We dine quite late ( around 9 PM) so you rarely find restaurants open before 7 PM
In New York I found dining at 9 – 10 PM quite difficult because most places closed at 9 PM!!
Even the Chinese place near my Residence closed at 8.30 and I had the chance to try it once for a late lunch (3 PM) only because my party decided to stay in the area for the day.
Mostly I ended up eating whatever took my fancy near the places I was already at.
Experiencing what NYC has to offer in terms of food, wasn’t at all a priority of mine (only exception was trying some Korean food because it’s not available where I live.).
From my experience and from prices I saw online, dining out at a proper restaurant costs at least $50 (if you choose a simple 1 course dinner + something that’s not fancy to drink) while having lunch out costs around $25 (proper restaurant / 1 course meal + something not fancy to drink)
Instead of a proper restaurant there are cheaper options such us 1 dollar pizza places or you can eat like the locals at any of the Food Trucks you’ll come across all over the city. It’ll be cheaper ( usually around $10-15 water/coke included) and you’ll be able to try things that you’ll hardly find anywhere else (especially not in that price range!)
How do you know if it’s a good/safe option?
Tourists can be easily spotted so, If you see locals quietly lining up instead of tourists scattered all over trying to figure things out, than you’ve probably found a gem!!
That’s what I did and I wasn’t disappointed ^_^
▶ About Tipping: In US tipping is expected because restaurant staff have minimum-wage salaries, they earn more from tips than from their actual salary!
Where I live tips are not required and we are not used to tip people for doing their job.
Even if I don’t agree with the concept, I do think it’s bad taste to refuse to tip in a country where a lot of people actually survive on it. The general rule is to tip 15 -20 % of the pre-tax bill.
Restaurants also charge the 8.875% NYC sales tax.
NYC Pass options: Do they really help you saving up money?
It depends on what do you want to experience and on how much time do you have to do it.
Most attraction in NYC such as the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and the MET have either a free day/specific hours entrance or a “pay what you wish” day.
When doesn’t make sense to buy a pass?
– If you are going to visit NY for more than 3 days and you can make plans considering those options.
– If you are not interested in most of the attractions each pass proposes.
When does it make sense to buy a pass?
Only if you have limited time and you actually save up money instead of paying for every single attraction (check those prices on the official site of each attraction because prices you see on Pass sites are often higher to lure you in.
The major contenders are:
Prices and attractions/tours included often change so my own “comparison table” wouldn’t be helpful to you.
In August I considered them all and the Sightseeing FLEX Pass was the most convenient for me.
I paid 159,20 for it and I ended up saving up around $60.
Attending a Broadway Show!
One of my “MUST DO” things while in NYC was attending at least one Broadway Show and “Anastasia” was on my top 5 list.
I was lucky enough to find an amazing $70 ticket at TKTS (where you can find discounted tickets), I’ll tell you more about the actual experience in my next post😍😍
All the shows discounts at TKTS are usually from 20 to 50% and you can check the availability online in real time!
Buying at TKTS booths means you cannot choose a specific seat or section, you have to take whatever is available at the moment.
Research the shows you would like to see and check out the theater seating charts because even a last row seat in a one of the smaller theaters could offer a good visibility!
▶ The cast of most Broadway productions performs 7 – 8 shows a week, on sundays and wednesday are often held two shows per day. On Wednesdays and sundays there’s a higher chance that an understudy would perform instead of the main actor/actress in the title role to give him/her a chance to rest for the evening performance.
▶ Matinee shows costs the same and there’s a higher probability of a higher number of children attending so…more chances of disturbances!
▶ You can find more info on how to buy discounted Broadway Tickets here.
The “Digital Lottery” and the “General Rush” tickets can be purchased at the cheapest prices but are not viable options for tourists that have a limited time to visit the city.
You can find more info about them here.
Souvenirs and Shopping: How do you avoid Scams?
Generally you should avoid buying in touristy locations like Time Square because you’ll probably find the same items (t-shirts, magnets, miniatures and so on) everywhere else (for example in ChinaTown) at a cheaper price.
Obviously that rule doesn’t apply if you have always dreamed of buying at the NY Disney Store or at M&M’s!!
Time Square is a giant tourist trap but, sometimes, a specific tourist entertainment can be the reason why we visit a place.
For example, I enjoyed watching a street artist working with spray paint and I ended up buying 2 paintings he finished (2 x $30) because I absolutely loved the result!
I didn’t record a video of it but I found one on youtube:
Touristy thing? Yep but, to me, it was worth the money.
Same goes for places like Bubba Gump and Katz’s Deli, people usually don’t visit them “just for the food” because there’s definitely better quality elsewhere at way more cheaper prices.
Even so, they are “must do experiences” to Forrest Gump and When Harry Met Sally fans.
▶ DO NOT buy CDs/DVDs of “emerging artists” trying to seliing them on the streets because they are just empty and DO NOT TAKE A PICTURE WITH CHARACTERS like Elmo or super heroes you’ll meet in every touristy place because they will ask for money.
If you want to shop like a newyorker avoid 5th Avenue and explore the West Village, Nolita and the Union Square areas instead.
▶ Taxes : In NYC most places charge a sales tax, the rate for most retail sales and some services is 8.875%. Look out for coupons that can help you save up money, for example at Macy’s they offer a discount pass to international visitors.
Is NY a safe city?
Most of the city is safe to roam even at night but I did some research online and I read that crime rates are higher in specific areas . I’ve seen mentioned neighborhoods in:
– Upper Manhattan: East Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Washington Heights and Inwood,
– Queens: South Side Jamaica, Hollis, Far Rockaway, Queensbridge
– Brooklyn: Flatbush, Red Hook and Brownsville (known as “the murder capital”😥)
– Bronx: Gun Hill, West Farms, Huntspoint.
I don’t know much about any of these places, but I know that even the most popular and heavily visited neighborhoods can be dangerous if you’re not aware of your surroundings.
That’s the same in every city of the world!
▶ I do suggest protecting credit cards and Passport informations with an RFID Blocking wallet even in your everyday life.
A friend of mine had his credit card info stolen while renting a car in London, a month before my departure.
Things like that can truly happen anywhere and I wanted to be prepared and protect both my credit card and Passport informations.
At first I wanted to purchase RFID Blocking sleeves but I read people complaining about malfunctions of their credit card magnetic stripe after using them.
I ended up chosing 3 wallets (one for me the others on behalf of 2 friends traveling with me) that would get the job done without that risk.
I tried all 3 at a local store before departure and the RFID Block worked with all of them😁
Keep your eyes open and enjoy every second of your trip😉
More about my vacation coming up on the next post!
Here you can read about my Niagara Falls experience😍