Every time I travel, I like to feel part of the locals & I feel immensely thankful to be able to be part of the community in NYC. It was my first time to New York, my first solo trip & my first time studying abroad. This experience has been invaluable & I’ve compiled a list of tips that will prove helpful in planning your itinerary to NYC. The objective is to shorten your learning curve & help you adjust to the culture there quicker than finding it out yourself.
I can’t tell you how much I LOVE New York. There is always something interesting happening everyday. No matter how many times I crossed the same street, it always felt different. New York City is perfect even for solo visitors. I find myself exploring more of the city when I’m alone (& somehow, the chances of me bumping into celebrities are higher, strangely).
INTRODUCTION – New York City is broken up into 5 boroughs: Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens & The Bronx. If you arrive at John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport, you arrive at Queens, New York*. If you arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport, you arrive at Newark, New Jersey* (NJ). NJ is just a river across Manhattan, easily accessible by roads/train/ferry.
*Abbreviated by City,State. e.g: NYC is in the state of New York.
WHEN TO GO TIPS:
I was in NYC from August to January, experiencing the end of Summer, the whole of Fall & half way through Winter. What I loved most was Fall. The alluring sight of golden hues, the smell of crisp cool air, the sound of the rustling of the leaves… It’s perfect.
1. If your flight lands at Newark Liberty International Airport, consider staying at Hoboken or Jersey City, both located in the New Jersey State. Not only are the accommodation generally cheaper than in Manhattan, the taxes are lower (NJ – 7%, NYC – 8.875%).
2. In NJ State, you will see the beautiful skyline of Manhattan either from Castle Point Lookout in Hoboken, inside Stevens Institute of Technology campus (highest point in Hoboken),
or at the Liberty State Park at Jersey City where you can view the Statue of Liberty (from the back)
& the view of downtown Manhattan (where World Trade Center is).
or take a stroll…
or explore Ellis Island
At Hoboken Terminal, you will also view the World Trade Centre
or you can take the NY Waterway over to Manhattan.
3. It takes about 15 minutes from Hoboken to 33rd Street in Manhattan (where Macy’s is located) via PATH & about 20 minutes from Hoboken to World Trade Center (need to change train via PATH).
4. Airbnb all the way… (As hotel taxes are a whopping 13.25%!!!) The Airbnb hosts are generally very friendly & accommodating. If you need anything, just ask.
1. Taxi/cabs are exorbitantly expensive, and I kid you not. Once, I took a cab down a street cos I was in a hurry. (probably the distance from Orchard ION to The Cathay). Along with the bad traffic, I could have reached Cineleisure, at least, if I had walked, based on the time wasted in the cab. What’s funny was that the cab had only crossed a traffic light that I decided it was enough (meter jumped like crazy). The cab might have traveled the distance between ION and the end of Wisma probably or shorter & came up to USD$16 bill (not inclusive of the tips!).
2. So bring COMFORTABLE shoes and be prepared to walk… ALOT…. (The most I’ve walked was from 86th street to the 34th street, with breaks in between for lunch and shopping. It was very fulfilling, despite those aching feet. It was that time where I saw Jessica Alba at the Upper East Side, had the most satisfying lunch, & saw beautiful decorations being put up for Christmas.) –> I don’t know how I acquired so many pairs of shoes when I was there. 😡
3. Manhattan is divided by streets & subway stations are about 4-7 streets from each other, so it really isn’t worth taking the subway just for one stop and paying the full price. (Unlike in Singapore, subway fares are not based on how far you’ve traveled but charged per trip ~ USD2.75. I suggest to buy the unlimited ride Metrocards if you’d prefer to use the subway more.) The Metrocards for unlimited rides are based on a week or a month’s plan though.
4. It is important to plan your routes & cluster your to-sees or to-dos within the same area as much as you can. You wouldn’t want to travel from Upper Manhattan to Lower Manhattan, and back to Upper Manhattan in a day. It will be exhausting. (Every time I explore the city, I go back feeling extremely tired but extremely satisfied.) You’ll often get more than what you’ve planned for in a day.
1. Tipping is a custom in the US. It is traditional to tip whenever you pay for your food (or whenever you receive a customer service). A rough guide would be 15-20%. In many states in America, waiters/waitresses are usually paid below minimum wage as the difference is made through tipping. Even if you’ve received bad service, give a minimally acceptable tip & speak to the manager about it politely. Do check your bill carefully if the restaurant have included a service charge or gratuity fee. Most of the time, they don’t.
2. Download the Yelp App. I found many interesting food places with the app! The reviews there are rather accurate and straightforward.
3. Try different cuisines in different towns. NYC is one of the most culturally distinct cities in the world & it can be felt in the various neighbourhoods. In Singapore we have Little India, Kampong Glam, Chinatown. In NYC, they have Koreatown, Chinatown, Little Australia, Little Italy, Little Brazil, etc. Though there isn’t a ‘Japantown’, I’ve had the best ramen in NYC that even the ramens I’ve tried in Tokyo could not beat.
4. If fine dining is your thing, do dress exceptionally well when dining in fine restaurants in NYC. For men, dress shoes, not sneakers, preferably a suit to go along. For ladies, something to match your man please. (Singapore is quite ‘relaxed’ in this area in most places, as long as you don’t wear slippers, they’ll let you in. To put it bluntly, in NYC, people do judge you based on what you wear & of course, you don’t want to look out of place, do you?)
5. Servings are usually quite big. If you’re in a group, order a few dishes to share first instead of ordering one dish per person. In most places, I wasn’t able to finish my mains.. not even if I hadn’t eaten for days…. (I’m quite a small eater so take this with a pinch of salt..Still, order things slow, check out the portion from the diner’s and then decide.)
1. Prices stated on items are usually before tax. Do factor in the tax on top of the selling price to have a more accurate understanding of what you’ll be paying. Taxes varies in different states & in NYC, one of the highest local taxes in the country, taxes are a high of 8.875%. On the bright side, there are no taxes on clothing or footwear below USD$110.
2. There are also NO tourist tax refunds (VAT). So you can forget about buying branded items such as Prada, Dior, Chanel, etc in the city. However, you can try your luck at the outlet stores (Woodbury Commons Outlet Store). I managed to snag a YSL Leather Bowling bag at a 40% off!
3. If you’ve heeded my advise earlier to stay in the vicinity of NYC and not within NYC itself, everything in New Jersey is 1.875% cheaper. Newport mall in Jersey City have tons of stores like Sephora, Victoria Secret, American Eagle Outfitters, F21, Fossil, Pandora, Godiva, Macys, Coach, Michael Kors, Yankee Candles, etc. What’s more, if you ship anything to your apartment in New Jersey, taxes are also at 7%!
4. The exchange policy is very flexible, most of the time. If your item does not reach your satisfaction, you are welcomed to change it at the stores or return it via the mailing label they’ve provided.
5. There are promotions going on every now and then so do check out the store’s website/facebook for updates! Many a times there are gift with purchases, so don’t be shy… Ask the store advisors!
6. Coupons Coupons Coupons!!!! Especially in drugstores/supermarkets, coupons can be found once you enter the store. If you have the luxury of time, coupons can be sent to your email/apartment as well when the store is running a promotion. Look out for those coupons as they can save you a quick buck or even get you a free drink!
7. If you have only a few hours for shopping, and perhaps only a few minutes in Sephora, target the perfumes you cannot find here in Singapore. Everything else can be bought online.
8. The beauty advisors are extremely generous with giving out samples & beauty tips so channel your inner extrovert & interact with them!
1. Tickets to broadway shows can be quite expensive. If time is on your side, get your same-day discounted tickets at the TKTS counter @ Times Square. There’s usually a long queue, even before the counters open but you’ll get quite a savings on the ticket price (up to 50% off!). You won’t get to choose your seats but most of the time, the seats are pretty good (mezzainine or orchestra seats). From experience, it doesn’t mean you’ll have the best seats when you are there when the counters open. Tickets are sent to the counters throughout the day dependent on the ticket sales at the box office. So it really depends on your luck. To check out the prices, get the TKTS App! (TKTS is located behind this platform)
2. There are quite a number of street musicians/artists busking/performing in the subway stations (especially in 33rd street) & even in parks. Soak in the atmosphere and have some fun! Captivating artworks are also scattered around the city.
3. If you’re lucky, you might just bump into celebrities or filming in progress. (Lenny Kravitz filming his MTV in the middle of SOHO & Tim Gunn from Project Runway interviewing for fashion, as shown below)
& Fox News on standby for the launch of the new iPhone 6!
4. Even if you’re not a fan of sports, the atmosphere at a live baseball game will make you one. If there is a game at the Yankees Stadium during your stay in NYC, I’d say go for it! There’s so much ‘feel’ being in that stadium. The fans/crowds are AMAZING. Everyone’s so spontaneous & fun-loving. I’ve watched a couple of baseball games on television & it felt like I was IN the television programme when I was there!
5. Check out whatever’s going on in NYC during the period of time you intend to be there, including concerts! I was so happy to attend a sold-out concert by Gavin Mcgraw & Matt Nathanson where they performed at Summerstage inside Central Park!
1. This was my main concern when the school have confirmed my enrolment. Not used to being in a country where guns are legal so I was pretty paranoid of being robbed/slashed, things like that. THANKFULLY, I’ve not encountered any of sorts, except hearing multiple gun shots from my apartment, then hearing an ambulance after (where I immediately went to check my doors and windows, double-ledged them all & tried to distract myself to stay calm)… & also being in the middle of two protests (luckily peaceful).
2. Just like being in any foreign countries, be more aware of your surroundings. Unplug from your earphones. Unplug from your phones. Try not to stay out too late & stay away from any potential dangers (e.g impending fights or suspicious-looking persons).
3. NYC feels much safer than Paris, to be honest. I guess the long history of diversity allow the people to be more accepting of various cultures.
Above all, NYC won’t disappoint & you’ll be wanting more from this beautiful city.
Note: All pictures except the maps (obtained by Google maps) were captured by me. Pictures are unfiltered, unprocessed. Tips are based on my experience during my stay there. Any other tips you’d like to add? Send me a message & I’d be happy to share them with my audiences (and credit you of course). 🙂