Everybody says New York is an expensive place to visit. Expensive hotels, expensive restaurants, and expensive tickets to shows add up to a vacation that is hard on the wallet. But if you practice the Art of Being Cheap and look for good deals, you can find them. When I traveled to New York for a week last fall I found all kinds of ways to save money and wound up with a fairly cheap vacation. Here’s how I did it:
The first time I searched I couldn’t find a hotel for less than $150 per night. Since I was staying for a week, that added up to a small fortune. When my parents went to New York, they stayed at a hotel in Northern New Jersey, just a short drive from Manhattan. They saved a lot of money doing this, but even that was out of my price range.
My favorite site for finding a place to stay is airbnb.com . It doesn’t list normal hotels, but you will find bed and breakfasts as well as individual rooms for rent from people who are looking to make a little extra cash by renting out their spare bedrooms. I found a place to stay a few blocks away from Times Square for just $50 per night.
Not only was it cheap, but I actually enjoyed staying in that room more than I would have a hotel. The room was rented to me by a guy named Jessie, who turned out to be a pretty nice guy. Jessie was able to answer all my questions about New York such as where to eat and what to do without spending a lot of money.
I spoke with Jessie about renting out his apartment, and he thought it was a great deal. Jessie was a consultant so his income was unpredictable at times. Renting out an extra room in his apartment was a way to diversify his income and provide him with a little bit of steady money.
In the last few months airbnb.com has been in the news because of a recent court case in New York City where it was ruled an airbnb user was running an illegal hotel. This doesn’t mean that airbnb is shutting down in New York, though. As a lawyer might say, that case had bad facts. In that case, renting out the extra bedroom was found to be an illegal hotel because the owner had no interaction with the renter. In the case of me renting a room from Jessie, the fact that Jessie visited with me for a little while would have meant that he interacted with me, so his place wouldn’t qualify as an illegal hotel under New York law. If you check airbnb.com today you will see that places in New York City are still listed for rent, so it looks like for now this is still a great way to save a lot of money.
This was my first trip to New York City, so I was excited to try some of the famous restaurants I had always heard about. My first day I had lunch at Carnegie Deli, but was horrified to see that a sandwich cost almost $20. For dinner I had spaghetti at a place in Little Italy, but that was even worse, it cost me about $25.
Spending $50 a day to eat for a week was going to add up to $350 so I needed to find a cheaper way to eat. I looked around and the first thing I noticed was pizza places with walk up counters that advertized slices of pizza for $0.99. I gave it a try, and this was some of the best pizza I had ever had. So good, I didn’t mind a bit having it twice a day. These places were scattered throughout the city and were so common they weren’t at all hard to find.
Eating nothing but pizza isn’t very healthy of course, but for a week I don’t think it hurt me too much, especially since I lost 5 pounds that week from all the walking I did. For breakfast, I would eat a little healthier by going to a small grocery store and getting a piece of fruit, a croissant, and a bottle of juice for less than $5. Overall, I was able to cut my food cost to less than $10 per day. Reducing your food costs by $40 per day for a week means $280 in savings.
Things to do.
Going to a Broadway show is something almost everybody wants to do in NYC. I’m not a big fan of musicals, but I did want to see the Book of Mormon. When I looked for tickets I saw that they were sold out for months in advance, which is fine because they were really expensive anyway. I looked into seeing other shows just for the experience, but I couldn’t find a ticket to any other shows for less than $50.
Instead I got a ticket to see the David Letterman show for free. Several weeks before my trip I signed up for tickets on CBS.com . About a week before my trip somebody from the show called and asked me a simple trivia question about the show. (What instrument does Paul play?) When I got it right, I won free tickets to the show. I had to wait in line for a couple of hours before the show, but the bottom line is I saw a great show in a Broadway theater without paying a dime.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an interesting policy when it comes to entrance fees; you pay whatever you want. The recommended ticket price is $25, but when you buy your ticket the salesperson will ask how much you want to pay. Because I can afford it, I paid full price but students or people who are struggling with their budget are welcome to pay much less without feeling guilty. Paying $25 to see an art museum might sound like a lot, but I sure felt like I got my money’s worth. The museum is unbelievably huge and it took me all day to see the place.
My favorite activity was just walking around the city seeing everything. I had an free app on my smart phone from trip adviser that proved to be very valuable. It had a subway map, a city map with navigation, but what I found most helpful was an attraction finder. I would start off walking to one attraction, and after I had seen that, I would open up the trip adviser app and search for other attractions near where I was at. The app would then guide me to the next attraction and I was able to repeat this all day, walking from one free cool thing to see or do to another until I was too tired to walk anymore.
When you are tired of walking, transportation in New York is also very cheap. Forget about renting a car, not only does it cost a lot of money but traffic is horrible and the parking will cost you as much as renting the car. Cabs are also out of my price range. I can’t tell you how much it costs to take a cab around, because I honestly have no idea how much they cost. I have been in a cab only a couple times in my entire life.
The subway is the way to go. A week long pass costs $30 and can take you anywhere in the city you want to go. Besides being cheap they are very fast and efficient. In terms of safety, I didn’t go out late at night and I avoided the rough parts of town. Doing this, the subways seemed very safe to me.
Those are the tricks I used to make my trip affordable, but I understand they won’t work for everybody. Depending on what you were interested in, there are probably areas where you feel like splurging and other areas where you would spend less than I did. This is a perfect example of how this website is not just about tips for saving money, but the Art of Being Cheap. If you keep your eyes open, and are always looking for ways to spend less then you will always be able to find a way to do things cheaply. Even in an expensive place like New York City.