Bright Lights, Big City: The Alternative Guide to NYC
New York is both the center of the world and a world all its own. This celebrated city is a surreal canvas for the one of the most authentic culturescapes in existence through which visitors may escape the monochrome staticity of America, but for many young travelers, reaching this destination appears too expensive to be more than a coveted pipe dream.
Fear not oh money-conscious youth! Generation Y may be strapped for cash, but its bold and adventurous spirit enables its members to experience the world in ways never imagined by their forbears. Although there is no such thing as a free trip to New York, a frugal traveler can enjoy the best that the city has to offer for less than a weekly cost-of-living budget.
The greatest expenses are the airplane and hotel. Be smart when booking your flight by carefully comparing airlines as well as flight times. You may think that flying first class is beyond your budget, and you may be correct; however, experienced flyers realized decades ago that by informing the airline that you are willing to be bumped you’ll greatly increase your chances of getting invited to first class in cases of overbooking or overcrowding.
To maximize savings, schedule a trip during winter or early spring. Summer in the city can be uncomfortably hot and odorous. Winter is more conducive to sightseeing and packing for cold weather can save you a bundle
on checked luggage. Choose one stylish yet well-insulated coat, one scarf and keep your gloves in a pocket. Your carry-on should contain one pair of jeans, a couple of light cardigans and t-shirts, warm black dress socks, underclothes, and an extra pair of shoes. Surprisingly, all of this will fit into a small to medium sized over-night bag, with room left for a few toiletries. One of the great things about wintertide New York is that unless you plan to remain indoors for several hours, there are few times when you’ll need to remove your coat. It’s best to wear a good coat, a pair of dressy shoes and dark wash jeans. This simple wardrobe will work for both days and evenings.
Wherever you stay during your visit, it’s wise to make sure that public transportation is near. Many dull and pretentious travelers refuse to use the subway, and that works for them, but for those who have a true sense of adventure it’s a must do. Besides being an extremely affordable mode of transportation, it’s much more entertaining than a taxi. On the New York subway you will stumble upon a deliciously diverse collage of cultures and peoples standing side by side, and often conversing freely. Typically, there are talented transient entertainers, from musicians to comedians, who accept tips for their performances. If none of the afore mentioned perks are reason enough, then take the train for the sheer thrill of it. There’s no better morning pick-me-up than rocking and sliding to and fro as if riding a theme park roller-coaster on multicultural day!
As enjoyable as it is, young travelers should not restrict their commute to the train. There’s a marvelous city above ground and every block holds its own adventure. Walking the city is hard work but definitely worth the effort. Visitors who ride in taxis miss the all the most interesting local hideaways. Some of the best areas to walk are Christopher Street, which has some phenomenally exotic restaurants and shops at reasonable prices; Time Square; Soho; Noho; Greenwich Village; Flatiron District; and Chinatown. One of the most enjoyable parts of walking the city is the unusual sites you’ll drink in on New York’s living streets.
Food is often one of the heavier traveling expenses incurred by New York visitors. While older generations are willing to shell out hundreds of dollars dining at high-end restaurants, the money-conscious youth can eat comfortably for several days on a meager 50 dollars. Sidewalk delicacies such as hotdogs, falafels and tacos are cheap (between one and four dollars) and surprisingly delicious! There is nothing quite as satisfying as a loaded NYC hotdog or succulently spicy falafel wrap. Of course, eating on the run can become tiresome to even the most adventurous traveler so don’t be afraid to hop on the downtown train for exotic and extremely inexpensive cuisine in legendary Chinatown and Christopher Street.
There is always something to do in New York, but the cost of fun can appear daunting at times. The idea of expensive city diversions comes primarily from native New Yorkers who sometimes take much of their home for granted. A stroll through Central Park (which is more like an enormous nature reserve) can last for hours and is extremely engaging. Visitors may be surprised to find a castle, ice-skating, historic statues, ancient edifices, and free musical performances. Many museums are conveniently located around the park, and their collections rank among the best in the world. The Frick, MOMA, Met and American Museum of Natural History are a few of the most popular fixes for the education addict.
Being broke doesn’t mean that young travelers can’t enjoy the best that the city has to offer. Take a confident stroll on Madison and Park Avenues and don’t be shy about visiting world famous stores like Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. Most twenty-something travelers may be inhibited by the internal echo of Suzie Orman’s famous injunction, “Denied Girlfriend!” but taking advantage of the hundreds
of free fragrance and cosmetic samples (for men and women) offered by the most luxurious stores in the world would make any financial advisor proud.
Living in the digital age is a blessing of the gods for today’s youth. On a smart phone, one can find tons of great deals and free junk on apps like Foursquare and Groupon; and careful Google searches will yield a host of local online magazines that cater to every class and culture. New York is an unimaginably enormous city and local businesses face a lot of competition to bring the hoards of potential customers. To keep their edge, a lot of bars, clubs and restaurants are willing to go to near extremes to ensure that they attract plenty of customers. While native New Yorkers are accustomed to tuning out the plaintiff cries of consumer-hungry businesses, the occasional visitor should feel free to absorb everything they encounter…well, nearly everything. Exercise caution when seeking out deals. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
With careful planning and a truly bold sense of adventure, the next generation of travelers can expect to spend roughly 700 dollars for an entire three day trip to New York. Some of the best deals come from the goodwill of new friends and old acquaintances who serendipitously appear when least expected.
*If your life is not changed by a trip to the Big Apple, review the above article and try again.