By Jeanie Lo.
I was born in Long Island, New York. Visiting my hometown during the summer became somewhat of a family activity, but It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that I started to really explore the city. Visiting New York became like a pilgrimage to the art mecca of the U.S. I visited New York multiples times afterwards with my friend. We made use of most of our time there, planning extensively on how to save money in the notoriously expensive city without having to sacrifice seeing the major landmarks. So, what could students do to cheaply travel in one of the most upscale cities in the world? Here are a couple of tips I picked up from planning my trips to NYC for the past few years.
Visit museums on free admission days.
Some of the most prestigious museums in NYC have free admission. Visit the MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, on Fridays from 4-8 p.m. without paying a cent. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum also offers free entry to a limited number of guests every Tuesday afternoon from 4-6 p.m. Make sure to arrive early because the complimentary tickets are offered on a first come, first serve basis. The Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum, known as the Museum at FIT, and the Bronx Museum of Art both have free admission year round.
While some museums offer free admission on specific days, others have adopted a different method of payment that allows anyone the opportunity to visit, regardless of yearly income. This is commonly known as pay-what-you-wish admission. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which houses a permanent collection of some of the biggest and most impressive art and archaeological finds in the world, utilizes this method of payment. Although the suggested admission price for students is $12, visitors could pay $1 and still be allowed entry. Other museums with pay-as-you-wish admission include the American Museum of Natural History, the Frick Collection, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the New York Historical Society.
Buy discounted Broadway tickets and download the mobile app TodayTix, which offers selected discounted Broadway tickets.
Using the mobile app TodayTix, I bought tickets to see three shows last summer in 2015 – “Les Miserables,” “Wicked” and “Something Rotten.” Each ticket was under $60. One thing to remember though is on the app you can only purchase tickets within seven days’ time. Prices vary day-by-day. However, sometimes even sitting in the rear mezzanine offers a very good view of the stage.
Visit delicious food courts without paying $30 per meal. Food courts recommended by locals and travel guides include Hudson Eats, which oversees the Hudson River. Once you get there, I recommend trying the pulled pork in Mighty Quinn Barbeque for all its worth. Also, try the famous Chelsea Market and Eataly. The latter is an Italian food hall with a mix of restaurants and small shops. You can pay attention to monthly food festivals, such as the Smorgasburg in Brooklyn in June. Try Broadway Bites, a food pop-up market that takes over Greeley Square Park in the fall and summer. Broadway Bites offers an eclectic mix of cuisines at reasonable prices.
Ride the subway.
I cannot stress how much money I saved by taking the Subway. Yes, it is daunting at first, considering how elaborate the subway map can be with 34 rail lines in service. However, NYC is built on a grid system with vertical avenues and horizontal streets. The city is fairly easy to navigate once you grasp the basics. Stations are just one to two streets away, enabling you to catch a train anywhere you go in the busiest districts.
Download the mobile app NYC subway for easier navigation. If you enter your starting point and destination, the app will tell you which rail lines to take and where to transfer. The app Citymapper is also a useful tool, boasting the most up-to-date information on train arrival times and traffic.
Buy an Unlimited-ride MetroCard.
If you are going to NYC for close to one week, buy the unlimited-ride MetroCard, which costs $31 for seven days. If you are visiting for one month, try $116.50 for 30 days. SingleRide Metrocards, while more expensive per ride, can also be useful in you are visiting the city for a day or two. Metrocards can be purchased in every metro station, which accepts cash, credit cards and debit cards, just like the MARTA breeze cards. You can also get them in MetroCard merchants, including corner delis and drugstores.
Visit the green lawns.
Tourist attractions such as the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock or Statue of Liberty are certainly worth going to. However, if you don’t want to spend the $32 for the observation deck atop the Empire State Building and waiting in line for hours, try visiting from a local perspective. Many green lawns in New York have some amazing views, such as the must-see location Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which oversees the Brooklyn Bridge with breathtaking river views.
In Battery Park, get the best view of the Statue of Liberty without paying the ferry and admission price. Bryant Park at sunset during the summer is also worth visiting. They host a variety of different activities and performances on the lawn as well. Madison Square Park gives you a full frontal view of the Flatiron building. The best photo opportunity for this art deco style building is near the Lego store on 200 5th Avenue.
Free Sightseeing in NYC: High Line, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge, Staten Island Ferry and Path Station.
For free sightseeing, visit the High Line in lower midtown. The High Line, a former railroad turned garden, is a green oasis in the midst of the NYC concrete jungle. You can access it in multiple locations or follow the path from the beginning to the end. Visit Times Square and the Theatre District after sunset, when the lights from the buildings, moving billboard images and Broadway entrances glitter in sharp contrast with the dark sky. According to New York State law, it’s illegal to turn off the lights in Times Square at night.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge for free, which connects the two boroughs Manhattan and Brooklyn and stretches across the East River. You will get views of cars sweeping below you, the Manhattan and Brooklyn cityscape and the iconic red/brownish limestone corbel architecture.
Another worthwhile adventure would be to take the ferry to Staten Island for free. The highlight of the journey is getting to see the Statue of Liberty, which gives you plenty of picture opportunities. The World Trade Station Transportation Hub (also known as the Path Station Oculus) opened earlier this year in memorial of the 9/11 attacks. The post-modernist, streamlined architecture has an all-white interior that evokes futuristic and tranquil sensibility.
Do your research and visit like a local New Yorker
Every trip is satisfying when you are passionate about where you are going and what you want to do. If you’re into music, try looking up free concerts. If you love filmmaking, visit places where famous movies were shot. There are endless possibilities and locations to visit, so tailor your vacation plans to your own unique interests. You can also buy travel guides and visit travel blogs written by NYC locals, which sometimes offers tips and insights into the city, evading the cheesy and superficial traveling trap.
Book a stay via Airbnb and stay with friendly hosts all around the world.
Hotels prices reach sky-high during holidays, so finding a place to stay on Airbnb with a friendly host and comfy environment can save some big bucks. Check the reviews left on the comments section of each location page and message your host before deciding whether to book. That way, you can get a glimpse of his/her personality and attitude.
I hope all these tips and tricks give you a glimpse of how to approach New York with a budget as well as how accessible it can actually be. Plan your daily itinerary ahead of time or just go with serendipity if you crave spontaneity.
Remember one thing: every time you travel, you are purchasing an experience. Make the most of it by submerging and engaging with the environment and people you meet.