Saturday, 6 April 2019

Travelling to New York City on a Budget

I was brought up to get the best value for my money. I'd like to think I'm good at it, and when I'm booking a holiday, it can take me an entire day - maybe even two - plonked in front of my laptop, hunting for the best deals, scrolling through endless reviews, and seeking the cheapest options (which are not always the worst!)

People often ask where I'm going next in a way that suggests they think I have plenty of money, but that is far from the truth. I bloody wish I did. Then I wouldn't have to spend so much time looking for the best deals or the cheapest accommodation, I could just make the purchase. #goals

New York 2018 was my first big holiday. I didn't have loads of money, but I was determined to make it work. I joined a Facebook group where people asked questions and gave advice about going to New York, and everyone was going on about their business class seats, or their swish hotel, or wondering if £3,000 would be enough spending money for a week.

Needless to say, I was not one of them. Slight disclaimer: the following might still seem expensive to you. However, it's a lot less than some people spend, and I worked hard to make it as low-cost as possible at the time. I also spread the payments over an entire year.

Anyway. Here's how I did New York on a budget.

We flew with a budget airline

The way I see it, you're on the plane for eight hours on the way there, and five or six on the way back. It's a few hours in an entire lifetime, a means to an end, your mode of transport from A to B. I would much rather save my money to spend when I'm actually at my destination rather than spend it on a metal sky tube death experience which I will hate no matter how much my seat costs. We flew with Norwegian, which was £221.15 per person each way and included meals. Not bad, if you think it can cost around that just to go a few hours up north on the train...

We rented an apartment out of the city

No matter where you're going, the most convenient place to stay is in the centre of your location, right? I agree. But to cut costs, I actually stayed in New Jersey rather than New York. It's only 20 minutes on the train, and it meant I got to see part of another state, too. On that subject, instead of staying in a hotel, we stayed in an AirBnB. It's best to compare an individual hotel against an AirBnB and see which works best for you, of course, but apartments rather than hotel rooms have always been cheaper no matter where I've gone. And they're so much bigger than a hotel room! Our apartment was spacious, tastefully designed, and cost £243.43 per person. Seems expensive, but it undercut all the hotels I was looking at by over half.

Additionally, it tends to be the culture that if you're staying in a hotel, you tip almost everyone, and you leave a tip every single day for the cleaner. On top of that, lots of hotels there hold a large fee on your credit card for the duration of your stay. It soon adds up, but you don't have to do any of that with an apartment.

I took food with me

Researching the trip, I learned that food is really expensive over there -- and that's before tipping. So, with plenty of room in my suitcase, and having checked Norwegian's regulations, I took a multi-pack of Wotsits, chocolate, several Pot Noodles, and even neat orange squash. That has to be the most Amber thing I've ever done. Not massively healthy, I know, but my options were limited by the airline. The crisps and chocolate actually really came in handy, as we were out from morning til night every day, and they took up hardly any room in my bag. The neat orange squash meant I could dilute it and fill up a bottle every day, meaning I only bought one or two bottles of water when I was out there.

Similarly, I only ate in an expensive-ish restaurant once or twice. There are plenty of budget places out there: McDonald's, Subway, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, even Pret! Not to mention delis and $1 pizza places, which may sound dodgy but they serve the best pizza you'll ever have. And don't forget grocery stores! Staying in an apartment meant that we could always take food back and cook it if needed.

We used the subway

I think a lot of people are nervous about using buses, trains, or the subway, and so they take yellow taxis everywhere. But that's a sure fire way to rack up a massive bill over the entire holiday. The subway isn't that complicated if you take a few minutes to familiarise yourself with the map, and it's not that different from the London Underground. Plus, there's always people around to ask for help. From JFK, we got the AirTrain for roughly $5 and then we got 7-Day Unlimited Passes for the subway which cost $32 each. A taxi would have been at least $70 just for that single trip, never mind every trip for the rest of the week.

We got a prepaid travel card

There are lots of travel money cards around, and we got one from Revolut just because that's the one I'd heard about most. It meant that we always got the best conversion rate, and there were no overseas charges. We could top it up whenever we needed to, and it also meant we didn't have to take cash with us everywhere.

We didn't get an attraction pass

A lot of people advise tourists to purchase an attraction pass. There are lots of these: in general, they cost a few hundred pounds and allow you into a certain number of attractions within a certain time. However, it's worth checking if buying one of these will actually save you money. For us, simply buying individual tickets to the attractions we wanted to visit in advance came to a lot less money than a pass would have done.

We only stayed for 5 days

I only had a week off work, so I could only really go for five days. Of course I would have LOVED longer, but we actually managed to do everything we wanted and more, and the shorter your trip, the less it will cost.

Not everything costs!

We paid to go to the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Color Factory, Madame Tussaud's and other places, but lots of the things we did were free. Roosevelt Island, Coney Island, Washington Street, walking across Brooklyn Bridge, seeing the Fearless Girl statue, visiting Trump Tower (don't worry, I only went there to give it the finger), walking around Times Square, seeing the Friends apartment, and much more... not everything costs.

Hopefully that helps! I think New York City is only as expensive as you make it. No matter how much money you take with you, you'll have a great time.

Have you been to New York? Did you think it was expensive?

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