When my favourite person, Beth, asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding last year – I screamed yes! When she told me it would be in America – I screamed again and then clicked my heels in a perfect musical-worthy fashion!
I was only 18 the first time I visited the States and had just finished college. I was working at camp for the summer (which pays pennies) and traveling on my own. So I knew visiting again this time, I had to make the most of it. I finally had money to spend, was old enough to party and had made friends from my travels (and camp) that I couldn’t wait to meet up with.
My first stop – New York City!
Objective: See everything in 4 days and still have enough money for 3 other cities.
When to visit:
Winter can be beautiful in New York as it gets covered in a frosty magical layer of snow. Personally, I think it looks dreamy, but with snow comes cold and wetness. A dream of mine is to see the Christmas tree at Rockerfeller – touristy I know but a must in my eyes. Best way to sight-see is wear layers, as the same with London, you’ll be constantly in and out indoor attractions and their super warm heating. Visit Uniqlo (my fav) for light weight layers that are easy to stuff in your bag and avoid any backache if you’re spending an hour or two in a museum! I have this in fuschia pink *heart eyes*. Temps average between -5°C and 7°C from Dec – March.
Mid season (aka shoulder season):
Spring means warm-er weather, but you’ll still need those layers. This is a great time of year to visit and avoid peak school holiday times and the expensive hike in prices that comes with it. As it begins to hit June, this is optimal weather in NYC! I have traveled twice to New York at this time of year, and the weather ranges from cardigan weather to short shorts* (optional). It’s also right before the city becomes a sweaty, sticky mess! As it’s still not summer holidays, what better time to make the most of all the outdoor attractions (flea markets, beaches, Central park, hipster food markets…) there are in the city while still avoiding majority of the crowds. Temps range from 7°C to 26°C (Apr – June), and 10°C to 24°C (Oct – Sept).
Summer in New York. Although I have already been quick to label it as sticky, there is something special about summer there. People come out of shadows where they’ve been hiding from the cold and wet, and here is when you see the city alive and at its busiest! There’s theatre in the parks, rooftop cocktails, ice cream at Coney island, cycling in Central Park, afternoon tea down the most beautiful roads of Manhattan and of course, 4th of July fireworks. Temps fluctuate between 20°C and a toasty 30°C.
2. Sport seasons
Another thing worth noting when choosing what time of year to visit – what sports will be on when I’m visiting? Generally speaking, sport seasons in NY tend to be…
Basketball – Oct til Apr
Football – Sept til Dec
Baseball – Apr til Sept
Ice hockey – Oct til Apr
My top tips:
1. People are friendly, as long as you are super friendly too. Yes, they’ll laugh (or die of shock) when you say please but that’s not how they find out you’re a tourist. Trust me – they already knew – but the please and thank you’s will go a long way. Out of all the places I visited in the States, New York has always been the friendliest/most helpful, contrary to what I’ve heard.
2. People-watch all day long. I don’t know why but New York is made up of the most glamorous, loudest, busiest, hungriest and economically-divided inhabitants I’ve ever seen. It’s also where all the crazies are. And I’m not saying it as an insult, I always have the best time in New York and there’s a reason why everyone wants to live here.
3. Eat everything. You will never be so blessed to be in such an epicentre of good food, go out and try all the classics! Then try all the new foodie trends (hello home of cronut). Watch Man vs Food for inspiration – a must before traveling to any American city.
People are not lying when they say portion sizes are huge! Okay, in New York there is more control that some states, but it’s really true that you can get away with sharing a meal. My friend and I did when we went to Katz Deli (who can eat that much?) which also turned a $20 sandwich into an affordable one. We did find that some brunch-eries served smaller portions than say, a local diner.
4. It’s okay to not plan anything to do for one day and see where the day takes you. New York is one of those wonderful cities that things to do/see just seem to appear. For instance, one trip I reaaally wanted to visit Carrie’s house from SATC, and my friend and I chanced upon a once-a-year-only flea market. While flea markets get a terrible rep in Europe, the ones in New York are actually affordable and I found the most amazing vintage Mulberry holdall from the 80’s (I still couldn’t afford it, but it was a gem nonetheless).
5. If you have to pick one sightseeing tower to visit – pick Top of the Rock. Hands down, don’t even question it.
6. If you’re in NYC for more than 4 days, purchase a 7 day metro card. I know it’s $30, but for even 4 days that’s the same price as 3 journeys per day. As a budget traveler, this was a life saver and a valid alternative to getting a yellow cab. Yellow cabs are still affordable compared to London, but it still adds up. Plus, the subway is 24 hrs! Which gives you even more hours to make the most of your pass 🙂
How to plan your trip:
Since I couldn’t really remember much of what I had done the first time I went to NYC, my list of things to do was huge. I was also travelling with a friend, so combined together, both our lists became endless.
I recommend when starting to plan your trip, just writing a quick list of all the things you want to do there and that if you didn’t, it would make you cry. I mean it! The mere thought of it has to make you cry. Great, focus on those things because you then use those to start building your itinerary.
I knew that while in NYC, I had to:
1. Visit the 9/11 memorial
3. Go to a baseball game (didn’t matter which one)
4. Eat at Katz Deli
5. Go to the Natural History Museum
6. Visit a flea market
7. See Carrie’s apartment
I then wrote a list of all the other things I would love to do, followed by a list of maybe activities. I then scoured the internet for 3 or 4 day itineraries and used them for inspiration as well as a guide as to what attractions are near to each other etc.
Here was my ‘final’ itinerary:
It looks like a lot right? In reality, we didn’t get to do at least 1/3 of the things on my itinerary. But what it did do, was give me inspiration and a guide of where to start, and at least the flexibility to move afternoon’s of activity around if the weather fails you!
What I also love doing (and it seems like extra effort) but I make a note of minimum expected expenditure for each day. If I know entry costs will be $XX for this day, then I am more likely to know how much money to bring each day. I landed back in the UK having spent exactly within my overall budget (as of course I put in a buffer of $300~ to be flexible) and I had done/bought everything I had wanted to without the stress of overspending once I had got home. I also wrote how long it took to get to somewhere from our hotel. Now this is extra geeky, but it was a lifesaver when the weather unexpectedly changed from gloomy to roasting, and I knew I had enough time to run back to the hotel to change before meeting friends later that afternoon.
Another top tip – use Google maps to ‘star’ or save restaurants or attractions. There’s tons of free wifi if you know where to look, and often you can log in to find places nearby that you’ve already looked into visiting.
But that’s my basic itinerary – ask me a question on any of the places I’d visited!