5 Easy Ways to Enjoy New York City Without Going Broke

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Aurelien Guichard / Flickr
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The secret to the Big Apple is all down to getting cash savvy and budgeting smart.

When it comes to the city of dreams, you can definitely spend like a Rockefeller. But in today’s economy, there’s plenty of options for making sure that your last dime isn’t the one you’re spending while in the Big Apple. From accommodation alternatives to app savvy, getting a great deal isn’t far away.

1. Skip the Hotel, Try AirBnB

Airbnb has revolutionized the way people travel on a budget, and in expensive NYC, it’s one of the cheaper options when hotel prices are just too high. While $100 a night is pretty standard for Manhattan listings — and certainly more expensive for same area hotels — you can get away with rooms starting at $60 or less if you’re willing to stay in the guestroom of a local or commute from a nearby area. Remember, a MetroCard is only $5.50 for a week of 12 trips on a bus or subway, making it much cheaper to use public transportation than stay in expensive rooms in the city. So, if you plan well and group your must-sees by area, you can get around the city for less.

Kevin Dooley / Flickr

2. Check Out the Free Things To Do

New York has a list longer than the Empire State Building of things to do that are expensive, but supplementing some costly adventures with more prudent ones is always a safe bet. My advice is to pick one expensive thing to do each day, be it tickets to see The Rockettes or admission to the American Museum of Natural History, and supplement the rest of your journeys with cool, free things to do that are just as much a part of essential New York as the big-name destinations. Expand your reach and check some of these to-do’s off your list:

  • The MoMA: While the Museum of Modern Art isn’t free everyday, it is free every Friday, which means you can see great works of art — including Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Dali’s The Persistence of Memory — all day for a great price. Travellers who are coming for a long weekend, this is the perfect first stop to make once you arrive because nothing says New York quite like priceless works of art.
  • Go neighborhood hunting: From Harlem to TriBeCa, NoHo to Greenwich Village, you’re more likely to get a good scope of NYC life wandering these neighborhoods than frequenting tourist traps.
  • Take the Staten Island Ferry: Since Ancestry.com popped up, you don’t have to spend hours at the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island to see if your family made it through the famous checkpoint, so instead of booking an expensive tour, you can get a great look at the New York harbor without the hassle of paying anything by hopping on the ferry (it’s free!). Same great views, amazingly perfect price!
  • Walk the High Line: This converted train track is a popular place to stroll and enjoy beautiful views, trinkets, and entertainment so don’t miss an opportunity to check it out. There are also plenty of great flea markets around the city on the weekends, so do your research and you might get lucky with a clever find!
  • The Downtown Boathouse: This cool place offers free kayaking programs and tours, so if you’re into outdoorsy activities, this stop goes great with a long walk in Central Park for just a touch of nature in the vast urban jungle that is New York.

Aurelien Guichard / Flickr

3. Download Apps With Insider Tips

Apps can provide instant, in-depth knowledge that will help tourists get out of the ordinary experience and move to the off-the-beaten path haunts that make a visit to NYC worthwhile. Before stepping off the bus (or train), make sure you load your phone with a couple of essentials to make your visit that much more invigorating:

  • PocketGuide: Providing a personalized guide to the city, this app is perfect for solo travellers or couples who are looking to get a bit of history and street know-how with the tour price.
  • The New Yorker Goings On: This venerated magazine provides a guide to the daily “goings on” in the city, and a traveller with a penchant for the local experience would do well to take daily tips from this great app.
  • Real Pizza of New York: While this one is very singular in its coverage, it will help you find the best pizza in the city and save you the trial and error costs by pointing you in the right direction without any fuss.

Pro-tip: If you’re an international traveller hoping not to spend a bunch of your budget on data, my advice is to grab a pre-paid SIM card and get your phone unlocked to experience the local rates that New Yorkers benefit from. You can pay in advance for as much data as you plan on using, so there’s no chance of going overboard with roaming.

Kristina D.C. Hoeppner / Flickr

4. Eat Smart

New York, to me, is just like Paris — it’s absolutely possible to spend $100 a day on food if you’re not watching the purse strings and eating out for every meal. The prices in the city are not conducive to budget spending, so instead plan your meals and skip the Times Square area, where a $25 burger can decimate your daily spending limit.

Food trucks are always great places to grab lunch — the city is famous for them and the food is legitimately delicious. Pull up to a nice stairway and park it with a falafel, gyro, or hotdog. Also, consider eating in neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little Italy or East Village near New York University; not only will the ethnic and college eats be great and approved by locals, but they’re also likely to come at a cheaper price.

5. Seek Out Various Ways To Save

There’s a couple of tips that make finding the best deals easier and better than ever, it’s just up to you to know where to look. Check out NYMag’s Agenda for daily events from art exhibit openings to free concerts to attend, save on Broadway tickets by waiting until day-of to approach the ticket office (although I warn you, large groups might be separated or be given standing room only), and always take a student, military, or senior ID (if you have one of those) for discounts when purchasing.

Pre-planning perusals of Groupon are also great for restaurant deals, hotel packages, and tourist passes, so don’t forget to exhaust this option before booking your trip!

Aurelien Guichard / Flickr

Finally, don’t underestimate the cost of getting to the Big Apple. As it is one of the biggest transportation hubs in North America, there are numerous buses and trains that travel to New York every day from pretty much anywhere in the country. The best part is that, if you look in advance, you are very likely to find tickets for $1 or $5 (yes, you read that correctly!), so head over to Wanderu.com to find cheap bus and train tickets to New York. More importantly, the majority of stations are located right in the heart of the city, meaning you won’t have to spend a fortune on taxis or commuter rail to get to the place you are staying.

While it’s easy to spend lots of money in New York City, it takes a truly savvy traveller to find ways to not spend a fortune, so take my tips to heart and above all, have a great time in the Big Apple. Of all the cities in the US, this one captures a certain je ne sais quoi that is replicated nowhere else in the world, so don’t spend all of your time budgeting – do your best to just enjoy the madness that’s happening at every corner of New York. Be smart and the rest will take of itself.

Until next time… bon voyage!

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About the author
Claire Lovesti

Claire Lovesti

I'm Claire - a self-confessed travel nut. I've been travelling around the world since my mum farewelled me in a teary goodbye and I haven't looked back since. You can read all about my adventures through 48 cities in 26 countries on 4 continents on my blog Traveltio.com.
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