Over December 2019, I had the amazing opportunity to do some travelling in New York. Here are my top 10 tips for travelling in New York:
Download a Toilet App
You’re human (I hope) and have human needs, specifically when nature calls.
New York is huge and being in a city of that size, it isn’t always so clear where members of the public can go to relieve themselves. A life-saving app I had on my phone was a public toilet finder app that showed me all public toilets around me no matter where I went.
I cannot stress how much time, pain and stress this saved me. I used Where is Public Toilet which even has a nice feature to download maps to use later offline – helped when I had a spotty signal or no access to WiFi. Android / iOS (not available on iOS, but Flush seems to do something similar)
Expect to walk. A lot.
New York is absolutely huge, but I’m sure you knew that already. Expect to walk at least 7 – 10km a day if you are wanting to sight-see, shop, experience the city. You will be doing lots of walking.
Wearing comfortable walking shoes is a must. Forget looking fashionable – dress for comfort first. The last thing you want to do is get blisters on your feet after the first day of exploring. That can really put a dampener on your visit.
Ditch Uber and Lyft; enter Via
Don’t get me wrong, Uber is a fantastic app. However, I found it quite pricey to use in New York.
In most cases I found using Lyft cheaper than Uber, but I still found it quite pricey to use regularly getting around.
Thankfully after chatting to a local, I learnt about Via – another transportation app that is even cheaper than Lyft. It instantly becomes the go-to app for cheaper transportation around New York.
Via calls itself a Low-Cost Ride-Sharing app and it does just that. Sometimes you will share a ride with a complete stranger, but most of the time this wasn’t the case.
Get an easy to take off jacket and beanie
If you’re going to be travelling to New York between October – March, you can count on some really cold days.
Fun fact; most heat is lost from the human body via the top of the head. Travelling around New York during this cold period, without some sort of head warmth is ill-advised.
You’re going to find that most (if not all) inside places are heated which will cause an annoying problem with that warm jacket you’re wearing. You’re going to start sweating and you are going to want to take it off. Make sure you wear a jacket that is easy to take off and put back on again.
This take-off jacket / put back on will become your most annoying new habit in New York and the last thing you want, is to spend ages doing this.
Tipping is a must
South African’s are pretty used to tipping the customary 10%+ at restaurants, but in New York, 18% – 20% seems to be the norm.
A bit steeper than what we’re used to. Also, tipping seems to go a bit further than waitrons at a restaurant, car guards or even your petrol pump attendant.
If you’re a lady and getting your nails done, expect to tip. Likewise, if you’re getting a tattoo. Don’t forget to tip your service lady/tattoo artist.
A slave to WiFi
As a Vodacom user, I had pretty spotty access to mobile data. When roaming did work, it was expensive and intermittent.
Scanning for public WiFi to use (always be careful using public WiFi!) and making use of, by connecting to any hotel, retail stores and restaurant WiFi you possibly could, become a must.
I highly suggest downloading offline Google Maps for the entire area you’re going to be on your holiday to save that extra bit of data/hassle of getting lost when there is no signal/connection.
Don’t be shy to ask for the WiFi password, worst case scenario you have to ‘be a customer’ by buying a cup of coffee.
Your daily budget
This is a subjective one. If you’re planning on eating a meal at a decent sit-down restaurant (not fancy), expect to pay $75 – $100 for a couple incl. tip. If you can get by on fast food, expect about $25 – $50 for a couple for a meal.
Spending money for activities will vary depending on what you want to do, so plan accordingly.
It’s worth mentioning that America has a nasty habit of excluding sales tax. So don’t expect to pay the price you see. Instead, you will need to add 8.75% over and above the sticker price. (Buying something for $25? It’s actually going to cost you a little bit more)
Transportation such as Via (see above), you could budget around $10 – $25 a trip depending on where / how far you want to go.
I found using an app such as TrabeePocket helped massively with budgeting and keeping track of spend (especially viewing that back in SA Rands). You can download TrabeePocket for free for Android and iOS.
Carry identification with you
If you’re planning on doing some retail shopping while you’re in New York, be sure to carry some identification with you.
Swiping your card for orders over $600/$700+ in one go will likely prompt the cashier to ask for some sort of identification.
A valid South African drivers license will do the trick.
Carry some cash with you
Despite being a first-world city, you may be shocked to find out that not everywhere accepts a card for payment. (97% – 99% of places do though, even most street vendors)
While this is very uncommon, we found ourselves an obscure little Japanese ramen place that only accepted cash.
Cash is also great for tipping people on the go.
A backpack is a must
A decent sized backpack was extremely helpful during our time exploring New York. Not only was it useful for carrying bottles of water and some snacks, but it was super handy when it comes to shopping.
The last thing you want to do is journey all the way back to your AirBnB / Hotel to put your shopping down just so you can go and explore again.
Bonus Tip: Times Square
If it’s your first time to New York, it’s highly likely that you’re going to want to visit Times Square.
The reality is that Times Square is going to be super busy no matter what time of the day / early evening you go.
My advice would be to go after 11pm / 12am. The reason being that the hordes of people will be significantly less and the electric billboards will shine brighter than they ever have for you – it will be also easier to navigate to take photos.
On the subject of taking photos – avoid taking photos with the super heroes/characters in costume on the street. They will charge you a pretty penny.