For my 23rd birthday, I was lucky enough to go to New York for a week - and it was one of the best weeks of my life.
Growing up I’ve always dreamt of travelling through the US, going to as many states as possible and the first on my list was New York. I spent years saying to myself “one day I’ll go if I have the time, the money...” but now I can say I’ve finally achieved it for myself. It was an amazing experience, one I’ll never forget.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows and I did have some shitty moments - but that’s life and no experience will ever be perfect. So here are a few things that I’ve learned whilst finding my way through the streets of New York City.
Umbrellas Are Your Friends
I’m not one for using umbrellas, in fact, I didn’t even own one until towards the end of my stay in NYC. I never check the weather, I always wing it and then I pay the consequences by ending up drenched and soaked to the bone.
The day I arrived it was glorious sunshine. I got to the restaurant and an hour later as I left it, to my absolute shock - it was pissing it down. I had nothing on me except suede boots, jeans, and a t-shirt. It was at that moment when I was running through the streets in the rain with my very wet suitcase desperately wanting an umbrella.
Now back in the UK, my umbrella (which I bought on the last day for $10 at Old Navy) has never left my backpack... you know, just in case.
When Dining Out, Always Check The Menu Thorougly
I love to dine out every now and then, it’s a real treat for those of us who don’t get to do it often. One of the things I couldn’t wait to try was the food - the glorious American food! It was amazing, but not the cheapest. Always check the details on the menu, and if in doubt, always ask your waiter.
During one lunchtime service on Saturday, we went to a very popular diner. I ordered a delicious Chicken Parmigiana but much to my annoyance, I got charged $24 for it due to it being on the ‘dinner menu’ as opposed to the normal $14 off the ‘lunch menu’.
I didn't know what the difference was meant to be, portion size maybe? I had asked why I was being charged for the dinner menu when it was 12 PM and clearly lunchtime. It turns out there’s no lunch menu on a Saturday, just the dinner. Let’s just say I refused to tip.
Make Sure You Have Change
I’m terrible with change, I never have any not even when I’m back home in the UK. I use my card for everything, but being in the US I’ve found out that cash is extremely useful. When taking the subway, for example, it’s good to have cash on hand, especially $10 notes, as I’ve found out that the machines to top up the Metro cards don’t give more than $9 in change, so if you’re not adding a lot to the card, don’t bother putting in a $20 note as you won’t get your full change.
Instead, either carry the smaller notes or alternatively, if there’s someone behind a booth at the station to assist you - ask them to top up your card as they’ll provide the right change. However, you can still use your credit/debit card, it just takes a little longer and can be a pain.
The difference between London and New York is the size of food portions. Holy heck I didn't realise how big the portions would be, and I hate wasting food. I always make sure I have breakfast, lunch, and dinner (like normal people should) but that wasn't so easy when in NYC. Most of the time I couldn't finish any of my meals, which broke my heart considering how much I'm paying for them and the fact that I'm in bloody New York - it's not like I get to eat these foods every day.
So what I would say is to be prepared beforehand. If you know you're going out for dinner or lunch, maybe not eat much prior. I'm in no way saying starve yourself, hell no - just eat something light and smaller to line your stomach in preparation for the beast of a meal afterward.
If You Can Walk It, Walk It
Yellow cabs can be dirt cheap, but they can also rip you off big time. If you're heading somewhere close, try and see how long it'll take you to walk it. If you can, go on foot because not only is it better for you, but it'll save you that extra bit of money.
The subway, however, is a fixed rate. At $2.40 (approximately) per ride, it's cheaper than a yellow cab fare when going further than walking distance. The thing I love about the subway is that it's easy to use, navigate from and that you don't always have to pay more the longer you use it for. If you're going to Brooklyn from Times Square, for example, you might only need to pay the single fare ride, but be on the train a little longer - saving you the cab fare of at least $10 or more. And the subway (and walking) can be faster too, as the traffic in NYC can be horrendous.
When I’m going on holiday, I normally know what I’ll be doing. If it’s a beach/pool holiday, then that’s what I’ll be doing 99% of the time. However, going to New York meant something else entirely. It involved a lot of planning prior, and not just for the hotel and flights. There was a lot to do and see and most of it had to be booked in advance.
So I suggest making a list of what you want to do and organising yourself by creating a schedule. Know what you’re doing on what days and when. It’s useful to know where you’ll be, and it also helps if you want to find a good restaurant because you know what area you’ll be in and at what time.
This then gives you an idea of when you’re free to do things you don’t need to book, like shopping trips, a visit to Central Park or the Brooklyn Bridge. If you're taking it easy then hey, go for it and be spontaneous - but if you’re trying to cram as much of the city as you can into one week, then you’ve got to plan ahead. Trust me on that one.
Wifi and Data Are Musts
I asked my internet provider prior to my travels about how much data would cost whilst being over there and it wasn't too bad for me (£6 a day for unlimited data). I was with a few friends so I didn't need it as much, but I would highly recommend having access to internet whilst out there (and I don't just mean the free hotel wifi).
For a few hours a day, I would be on my own and I didn't have a clue (at first) about the system of New York. The avenues and streets, it just got too confusing for me. I got lost several times and without my trusty Google Maps to rely on, I did the old-fashioned thing of asking for directions - which I did on quite a few occasions.
If you can get data whilst out there and you're on your own (or away from friends or family), what's a few extra pounds compared to your time and getting lost is a very big and unfamiliar city?
Enjoy the City
This is a given but enjoy the city. If you don't live there like me, then take your time and enjoy every single moment of it. Do as much as you can but don't rush - there's no need for it. It's an amazing place to see and be part of. Take it all in and be happy you made it. #ChilledVibesOnly