Before I start I want to offer my personal thoughts on visiting New York City. If you really want to experience it as more than a tourist destinations and get a deeper feel for the city, it's history and the interesting people who live/work here, you need do more than stay in a 5 star hotel, visit tourist sites and eat in 5 star restaurants.
1. Slow down. You're on holiday. There is no rush. If you've booked something that has a specific time, go early and if you're have extra time, use it to explore the area around the venue. You are surrounded everyday by interesting things to see and interesting people talk with if you just slow down enough to notice.
2. Walk, walk and walk some more. And while you walk stop worrying about the time and destination. Look right, look left, look up, look down. Pause to say high to a stranger, listen to a street musician or just enjoy the architecture. The buildings are a mix of old, new, classic and innovative. While strolling to the High Line, everyone around me rushed ahead. I noticed a tiny garden park tucked in between the buildings - Alice's Park. It was set up in the middle of chaos in honour of Alice, whoever she is. No one else notice.
3. Ride the subway. Here you'll meet immigrants living in NYC, tourists visiting and those born and raised here. Take a chance and open a conversation with those you're sitting by. Ask those you talk to what they recommend you see or do. A local can tell you about something you wouldn't have known about otherwise. Tip the musicians and let them know they've lifted your spirits.
4 Take at least one free walking tour (you tip the guide at the end) that will expose you to the history of an area. These tours make an area come alive. No longer is it just streets and buildings. You learn the significance of sites and what happened here. Free Tours on Foot offer the following tour areas - SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown; Greenwich Village; Central Park; Harlem; Lower Manhattan; Chelsea and the High Line; Midtown Manhattan; and Grand Central Terminal. I took their Greenwich Village tour with guide Renee Rewiski and highly recommend it. She was amazing.
5. Go to a play. I didn't on my first visit, but did this time and it's now on my permanent list. There are a wide range of plays at a wide range of costs to suit everyone. As they are in a permanent location the sets are better and the actors amazing. But what makes it extra special is the audiences. They are audibly enthusiastic. They come ready to vocally support the actors, urging them to their best performances from the moment the curtains open. And then there is the wine sippy cup.......
6. Always carry some cash. The subway machine might have the credit card option not working or you might want to snag something special from a street artist. Always good to have a few dollars in your pocket
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I last visited New York City when I traveled there in September 2012 with designer Katherine Soucie and musician Shockk Mongoose. Katherine was showing her current collection in a fashion show, Shockk would be providing live music for the models to walk to and I was her show assistant. I only had commitments two nights while we were there, so took to the streets each day exploring all alone and fell in love with the city. For three years now I've been trying to get back.
A few things were different this time around. Last time I purchased a ROAM phone for use in the U.S. That is no longer necessary as most cell phone companies have very affordable plans that are much more convenient. To save money, I only put on phone and text, then used WiFi wherever available. If you want to do FB Live or Snap Chat videos, you will have to add data. But beware. Video uses a LOT of data. It can really add up.
Last time around we booked a car service to get us from the airport to our lodging. It was pricey, but we split it between all of us and there was enough room for all our luggage. We stayed at an amazing Airbnb in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn and had the whole top third floor to ourselves. The only negative was having to carry our suitcases up two full flights of stairs. The suite included one bedroom, a pull-out in the living room and full kitchen This area was also on the dividing line between gentrified Brooklyn and areas that were still run down which made for interesting photography strolls.
As I was completely solo this time, I decided to look for an Airbnb in Manhattan. There were many to choose from, but I decided on a really unique situation that was centrally located. It was also offered at an incredible price. I was 1/2 block from the West side of Central Park, one block from the subway station and one block from the American Museum of Natural History which was on my to-do list. It could not have been more convenient for what I had planned.
My host was a young professional woman working in venture capital. The apartment was a small loft in an old brick building. She had hung a blackout curtain to create a second bedroom under her loft with a queen-size bed, shelving and some space to hang a few clothes. We shared the living room, small kitchen and bathroom. Most days she was gone from 9-9:30 to 8-9 at nights so I had lots of privacy. We also had time to chat and get to know each other a few nights which was fun. I love hearing how others live and her story was really unique.
Air Miles was responsible for my plane ticket, so I had little choice in how I traveled. I had to take a one-stop which added 3 hours to my travel time, and flew into JFK. If you can do non-stop - do it. Even if it costs more. I have also since learned that La Guardia is a better choice as it is closer to NYC and that means cheaper transit and shorter transit times, but that wasn't open to me at the time. JFK it was.
There were several options on how to get into NYC from the JFK. Car service was way outside my budget this time as I was alone. A taxi is always a good choice, but I was concerned about the cost. They are flat fee now - currently I think it is $52 US - but then they say plus tax, tip and tolls IF APPLICABLE. That IF APPLICABLE worried me. I never like things that aren't clear. If you're young, money is tight and you're travelling light, you can take the subway. It is definitely the cheapest, but it can be hard work if you're lugging a big suitcase.
Fortunately for me there was a fourth option. If you only have one suitcase and are not in a hurry, there are shared ride shuttles that pick you up at the terminal and drop you right at the front door. I decided this was my best choice and chose to book with Go Airlink. The price depends on the distance, but as you pay for it up front, it's all clear from the start. To go from JFK to where I was staying in upper Manhattan only cost $25 US plus tip. You book and pay for the trip online, then tip your driver at the end.
When I arrived at the Airbnb, my driver got out with me to make sure I made it in the building safely - a good thing as my hostess needed to step out and had hidden a key outside. I couldn't find it. My driver did and he waited until I was safely locked inside. I could not have been more grateful.
By the time I slipped into bed that night I had been up and in transit for 15 hours. I don't even remember my head hitting the pillow. Best sleep I've had in a long time.