This is a couple of weeks late, but better late than never!
For Veteran’s Day weekend, Justin and I had an extra day off of work so we decided to take a trip to New York City!
We were so excited that we had some extra time to go on a mini-vacation…time, but unfortunately not money. Vacation can take a lot of extra cash, especially when you’re going to an expensive place like New York City. But we decided to go anyway and try to keep the cost as low as possible. Here are a few tips in case you’re interested in doing the same:
1. Stay with a Friend!
Even if you chose a non-classy place like the Days Inn or something, hotels easily cost upwards of $100 a night, especially the closer your hotel is to Times Square and Broadway. Lucky for us, one of our dear Pittsburgh friends, Kayla, is going to medical school in NYC and she invited us to come and stay with her. Crashing on an air mattress in her dorm room in The Bronx to save some cash? Definitely worth it, as far as we’re concerned! And it was great to get to catch up with Kayla. We haven’t seen her since she was between classes during the summer!
If you don’t have a friend to stay with, there are other options. There are plenty of hostels in New York City. We like using Hostel World to check out photos of different rooms and compare prices. They also have really honest reviews from people who have stayed there in the past. Depending on how cozy you’re willing to get with strangers (or how willing you are to use a community bathroom), you could get a really good deal if you opt for a dorm-style room over a private room. Or if your standards are even lower than that, try Couch Surfing. It’s exactly as it sounds–different people put their couch up for grabs, name their price, and you make online reservations to sleep in their living room. I’ve never personally been desperate enough to couch surf before, but I know people (mostly single guys, as you can imagine) who swear by it.
2. Walk Around!
This may seem obvious, but a lot of the recognizable landmarks in New York can be seen by simply walking around the city. Times Square is a must-see (make sure you visit at night to see it all lit up). You can also take a walk down Broadway to look at the marquees, walk past Radio City Music Hall and head toward Rockefeller Plaza (this time of year, at least) to see the ice-skaters (though you and your travel buddy will need to drop about $40 if you actually want to do some skating). Buy a New York City pretzel from a food truck and take a walk through Central Park. If you’re near Central Park at night, you may even see some romantic couples riding in horse-drawn carriages, with men in top hats at the helm. It doesn’t cost anything to take pictures!
Just a word of advice, though. The “furry” people lingering around Times Square do charge money if you take their picture. Justin and I discovered that the hard way. We wondered why, when Justin paused to take a photo with Luigi, two Hello Kittys ran up to join him. I thought they worked with Disney or Toys R Us or something, since both of those (giant!) stores are right there in the Square. As it turns out, they are just random people who dress in costume (many of them homeless), and take pictures with tourists to earn a living. Luigi and the Hello Kittys smelled really bad when we got up close, and they were pretty furious with us when we didn’t have any cash to pay them with after taking the photo. They didn’t warn us that it would cost anything beforehand, of course…but as soon as I snapped the photo, they all turned to Justin with their purses open, waiting for a tip. Oops…
Just picture Justin and I running for our lives through Times Square with angry costumed characters chasing at our heels. Yeah…that happened.
3. See a Show!
When Justin and I told people that we wanted to take in a few shows while we were in the city, most people assumed that we were talking about Broadway shows. It’s true, you can wait in line for an hour or two at the TCKTS stand in Times Square to get same-day tickets to a matinee or evening show for a 60%-70% discount. However, you’re still going to end up paying at least $50 a ticket for most on-Broadway shows. Instead, Justin and I sat in the studio audience of a TV show.
Getting tickets to sit in the live studio audience of a television show is completely free–you just need to make your request in advance and hope for the best. We were hoping for Jimmy Fallon or Live With Kelly and Michael...but tickets to those shows proved pretty difficult to get. You need to call the studio at least six weeks in advance to make your request, and even then they may be booked solid. Saturday Night Live, as it turns out, runs on a ridiculous lottery system in which tickets are assigned once a year, and if you are lucky enough to have your name drawn to receive a ticket, you have to be willing to show up on literally WHATEVER Saturday during the year they assign you. If you want to sit in the audience of David Letterman, you must correctly answer a trivia question about the show or else Dave will show you the door (he only wants true fans in his studio audience). We ended up on the Huckabee show.
If you’ve never heard of the show, Mike Huckabee is a conservative politician-turned-political-commentator on the Fox News Network. I gave him only a few weeks notice that we wanted to be on the show, and the people at Fox Studios immediately accepted my request. When we got to the studio, we got to meet Mike Huckabee in person and chat with him for a few minutes. He was nice enough to take pictures with everyone waiting in line and sign autographs for us. We were then ushered into the studio and treated with a buffet of gourmet sandwiches and cookies from the restaurant across the street! The studio audience for the Huckabee show was pretty small (no more than thirty people, I’d guess), and the studio was similarly compact, but I was pretty impressed with how well we were treated by everyone on staff. And it was cool to get to see what goes on behind the scenes while they’re filming, and how they use mirrors to make the audience look much larger than it really is. And we also got a free gift from one of the guests of the show (though it’s a political commentary book that I’ll probably never read. Someone’s getting it for Christmas)!
The other “show” we took in while were were in NYC was Good Morning America. I got an email response to my request to be on the show, inviting me onto the set at 6:15 AM, which I took to mean that I would be standing inside the studio. However, Justin and I stayed in the cold, standing outside the little roped-off astro-turf square in the middle of Times Square that the ABC morning anchors visit for about five minutes during the course of their two-hour show. My legs were killing me by the time 9:00 AM finally rolled around, and I was completely frozen to the bone, but it was still worth it. We got to spot some celebrities, including the anchors from Good Morning America if you like to count them (and I do).
4. Do Some Free Sightseeing
Justin and I were hoping to see Lady Liberty up close, but our schedule was so packed that by the time we arrived, the ferries to Liberty Island were finished for the day (around 4:00). However, we got some advice from a local to take the ferry to Staten Island. The ferry to Staten Island is free (unlike the ferry that goes to Liberty Island and Ellis Island), and it takes you out on the water right past the Statue of Liberty, so you can still get a nice picture and see her up close, even if you’re not standing right on top of her sandals.
We ran out of time to do this as well, but we were planning on visiting the World Trade Center site. Much of it is still under construction; however, if you go to their main office and get a tourist pass (for free, but donations are accepted), you can visit the Memorial Gardens and see the construction of the new World Trade Center tower, which is still under way. When it is finished, it will be the new tallest building in our nation!
Most of the museums in New York City do not charge admission. My friend Kayla gave me the inside scoop on this. You can visit the Museum of Natural History, the Met, and the Guggenheim without having to pay a hefty admission charge! These museums run on donations only, though they do require that you donate something. We went to the Museum of Natural History (known to us as “the one with the dinosaurs”) and navigated our way through the admissions process. You still need to wait in line to get your ticket, and you WILL see signs everywhere that say $29 admission, but in tiny print at the bottom it says “suggested donation.” When we got to the counter, it was a bit embarrassing to ask the snooty museum guy, “Is it okay if we just donate a dollar?” But he agreed and printed our tickets, so we ended up getting into the museum by paying fifty cents a person.
This is getting long, so I’ll go ahead and wrap it up. Just know that there are exciting ways to see New York City without shelling out all your cash on tour tickets and Broadway shows. As long as you know what you’re doing (and take some much-needed advice from a local or two), there are plenty of affordable things to see and do in New York City!