In this post I’ll tell you about about New York City and the mistakes to avoid when travelling for the first time to New York City.
New York City is probably one of the most touristic, overcrowded, commercial places one can travel to, and still, it is a high priority on many travel lists.
That’s why I will tell you some of my tips on how to travel to New York on a budget and what mistakes to avoid when travelling for the first time to New York City.
NYC was not on my travel bucket list, but…
New York City wasn’t on my travel list, but it was an opportunity and I took it. When talking about the US and especially, New York City, most of us think about the budget.
It is a known fact that New York isn’t cheap and when you are coming from a poorer country, let’s say Romania (like I am), planning for it or at least knowing about some budget savers in New York, can make all the difference.
Social media fooled us to believe that some people travel without ever thinking about finances, the price of hotels, and ‘otherworldly’ matters. Many “influencers” show off on Instagram with their expensive junk, business class tickets and hotels rooms with a view. Everything is under the “travel” label.
I would put everything under “consumerism fantasy” label and move on with my life. And I actually did move on.
I have yet to work a lot to reach that point in my life where travel looks that luxurious eg. limos to transfer me from the airport, hotel room with the perfect view of the empire state building, breakfast in bed and other useless and expensive crap.
No, that’s not my life.
I sometimes travel with a green backpack, and a smaller pink one for my laptop, I try to walk as much as possible to not pay extra tickets for transport, I lookup in advance for transportation means, before getting to my destination, I pack snacks and lunch boxes for longer travels.
I try to save every dollar and every Euro I can: cheaper food when travelling, not eating at the airport, bring my own reusable water bottle. You get the picture.
That’s why I think people should be more aware of how things really work, what things are worth paying for and what you can get for free or at least, cheaper. So here are my tips on mistakes to avoid when travelling for the first time to New York City.
City passes and Attractions in New York City
New York City is one of the most full of attractions city I’ve ever visited, and if you’re like me, and want to see and experience as much as possible, then I think you have to move there. For a while. Until you get broke. Kidding.
There are simply too many things going on. The “city that never sleeps” is a well-deserved nickname and it sure feels like it.
The list of attractions in New York City is basically a never-ending list people keep adding things on. It will never be finished, nor will you be able to see it all. It’s impossible.
My cousin who lives in Manhattan said that she never made it further than 105th street, up in Harlem. And she lives there for 1 year now.
Bottom line, even if you are like me and like to discover things as you go, having a list of things you really want to see in New York City will be needed.
There are many city passes which offer all kinds of stuff, and if you get dizzy from all the chaos in your mind you might give in and buy one of those. Which, I have to add, are not cheap.
NYC City passes
There are days passes, passes that include certain places, certain combination of places, bla bla. In my humble opinion, I think they are not worth it.
There, I’ve said it. If you are sick with this marketing world we are living in, then New York City will suffocate you with it. Everything is about marketing. At its finest, I admit. But truly overwhelming and tiring.
Not all NYC City Passes are equal
For some, NYC city passes aren’t the best way to save some money on admissions fees.
So, the city pass website will say that it costs $25 to go to the MET but actually, that’s the price if you want to buy your ticket online (this is just one example).
Once you get to to the counter there, the clerk will ask you how much do you want to donate. So it’s up to you. I saw someone in front of me donating $3. He seemed American, so I consider this to be a reasonable standard. The mummies aren’t going anywhere.
Here’s an official website of New York City tourism board with a list of free admission museum and schedules.
My experience with an NYC Go City Card pass
I bought a city pass which offered the option to combine what attraction to see and had a 30-day validity.
It is called Go City Card and chose the Empire State Building( $43.37 ), Top of the Rock Observatory($41.37) and Statue of Liberty Ferry ticket($18.50).
If you add it up, it’s over $100. The card was $90, so it was a small discount. They say that the more attractions you put on the card, the bigger the discount.
I showed it at the ticket counter and everything went on smoothly. For the observatory decks, I have to stay I skipped all lines and got up in less than 10 min.
As for the ferry to the Statue, It makes no difference. You still have to go there to get the actual ticket, and the queue to get on the ferry is enormous. So you have to get there early. So it makes no difference if you get this one on a pass or simply buy it at the counter. Also, if you get there super early before they open the office, you can ask for the free pedestal ticket, and you really want that one. If you know a few months in advance that you are visiting the statue, then go to their website and get the crown ticket.
Accommodation in New York city
This is going to be your biggest expense while in New York City. Check out here some prices for accommodation in New York City.
There are some rumours saying that Airbnb is illegal in New York City, but this is not exactly accurate. While I was there in May 2019, I heard some people were staying in Airbnbs and a local guide said that it depends on the rental agreement.
You see, most people in New York City don’t own their apartment. They all rent out. And it’s big density of population.
This leads to high demand for accommodation and a huge price as well. That’s why they don’t need the competition offered by Airbnb, when they could rent that room or apartment to someone who lives there and works there and needs it more than tourists, who have other options.
But, according to a local guide, you can find Airbnbs. There are some people who rent an apartment and in the lease is mentioned that is should not be rented as a hotel. Something like that. But not all contracts have that.
Either way, it is not cheap. There are lots of places you can rent. Manhattan is the most expensive, so if you are trying to save some money, you can look at hotel or hostels in Brooklin. The subway is very fast and you can definitely save some money by staying a bit further away from Manhattan. And Brooklin has some places you will like to see as well. Even people who lived in Manhattan for years are now moving to the hipster neighbourhood of Williamsburg, where all the cool street art is and the nice, cosy streets are.
Although I haven’t been, I was told that many people who work in Manhattan also live in Jersey City, which is on the other side of the Hudson River. There are farries that stop on each side and that’s how you can easily get across.
People don’t really commute in New York City, from what I’ve asked. They live pretty close to their office or job. But if you want to save some money, Jersey city is really close but doesn’t have the New York City tax because it isn’t part of NY. It’s New Jersey.
And if you are a well-travelled individual, why not try Couchsurfing? I haven’t been Couchsurfing in a while, but you can at least try to find something. You never know.
Transport in New York City
The subway is easy to use and you will get close enough to where you want to go by subway. The bus can be a good option for shorter trips, or when going from East to West.
To save money on transport, the first thing you do is to buy a 7-day metro card. It costs $33 and you can use the metro and the bus unlimited for those 7 days. A single trip ticket costs $2.75 so I think it’s a good deal, especially since you’ll be moving a lot. The city is big!
I used 2 7-day cards and the rest of the days I walked or put some more money on the card. So don’t throw away the card, you can refill it. If you buy a new one from the machine, it will cost you an extra $1 for the card itself.
If you want to see something outside the city or do like a day trip to Washington DC, then the bus is your cheap option. The good news is that you can compare prices, and buy your tickets online.
Eating out, restaurants and grocery shopping
If you are lucky enough to have a small kitchen in your hostel/apartment, then you can save some serious money if you eat some meals at home.
Eating out can be another pricey activity in New York City, so I would try to plan my meals in advance. I was always eating before going out and the evening when I was back.
I was lucky I stayed in a place with a kitchen and I could cook some of my meals. Actually, I didn’t eat out at all. I tried 1 vegan restaurant while I was in Brooklyn, and that was it. I felt like they wanted me out of there really fast.
There are some supermarkets in Manhattan, even in the busiest areas. Traders’ Joe is one of the locals’ favourite place to shop. You will not find the usual junk, as this chain store is more focused on healthy stuff.
I dare to stay that food is viewed differently over there, on the other side of the Atlantic.
Nothing comes in big packs, and everything is overpriced and over packed. With that in mind, stick to the basics. You will soon find out it’s more expensive to have a salad than fast food for lunch. Which is just wrong! But I guess this is the price you have to pay for visiting one of the greatest nations on the globe.
There are some supermarkets around the city which have an open buffet. You can mix whatever you want and then they weight it at the cash register. The prices were around $9-$10 per pound, which I find to be acceptable, considering restaurant prices. These kind of buffets are easy to find. You can buy your meal there and you can eat in a park if the weather allows it.
Taxes in New York
As you will soon find out if you plan to visit New York City or any place in the states, everything has taxes.
So you go to a supermarket, clothing store, etc and the price you see on the tag is indeed the price of the object, but when you get to the cash register, the taxes apply on top of that.
Chances are that you’ve heard of this before. I was aware of this. But what came as a huge surprise was the New York City tax.
You see, because you are in New York City, you have to pay an extra New York tax on top of all that mentioned before. This NYC tax is roughly 9%, which can add up. I ordered something off Amazon, and I had to pay more for it because of the NYC tax.
Bottom line, everything is more expensive. That’s why I’m considering checking out Jersey city next time. Well, that’s if I don’t have a place to stay.
I hope you have a blast on your first trip to New York and remember to pin this article for later.