As I walked the streets of NYC trying to wrap my mind around the massive buildings, taxis that honked unnecessarily and the constant flow of people that always seemed to be going somewhere, I was taking metal notes in my brain. If you’re planning on traveling to New York City – or even if you’re not – here’s a compilation of random thoughts and observations I made about the city that never sleeps.
First and foremost, I was very surprised by the poverty. I hate to start this on a depressing note, but if there’s one thing I wasn’t expecting, it was the amount of homeless, sad, lonesome and hungry people. Everywhere you go there are people asking for money. Some even walk from car to car on the subway trains, rehearsing speeches about how they’ve fallen on hard times and need help. It’s terribly sad and always pulled on my heartstrings when I passed by. It’s hard to know how to handle these situations, and it’s not possible to give them all money. The best suggestion I can offer is to consider donating to a homeless shelter and help a cause that can assist large quantities of people.
I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but New Yorkers have their own specific style that I could only describe as “New Yorky.” Then I figured out that it’s because everyone wears a lot of black. I’m not even kidding when I say that I would look around the subway and the majority of the people wear black. Even though their clothing selection is rather bland for my taste, New York fashion has a posh, modern and very “put together” vibe. It reflects the dull color scheme that seems to be consistent around the city. Other than giant bill boards, the colors of NYC in January are very neutral.
Like most vacation destinations, you can plan to eat out a lot. Because I was staying with my friend, I was able to go grocery shopping and cook a few meals here and there. But when the trip was all said and done, eating in general was much more expensive that I had originally planned. Especially if you splurge on treats here and there (which you should). My friend bought a one scoop ice cream cone for $4.50. They weren’t kidding when they said one scoop.
My friend and I bought a New York Explorer Pass. When you purchase a pass, you can select a certain amount of destinations you plan to visit, and essentially pay “half price” for specified touristy destinations. The pass was great in some respects because we never had to stand in line for tickets, but we’re not so sure that we saved much money.
Halal food. Eat Halal food. No need to describe. You will not regret it. You’ll find Halal food stands on nearly every corner, and if you can get past the fact that they’re handling your food and money and not wearing gloves (germaphobes beware!) then you will be rewarded with splendidly delicious street food. I got a chicken gyro and it was something I’ve only dreamt of. The New York Style pizza is a different story. The stuff that I had did not live up to my expectations. If you find a great pizza joint in NYC, let me know, ‘cause I’m not saying they’re not out there!
Hailing a cab in Fargo is not part of our daily life. But you might have to in NYC. There are wonderful apps that save you money when you need to take a taxi! Uber, Get and Lyft are just a couple that I can think of. Download them and save yourself cashola.
I have never seen so many Starbucks in my life. There must be hundreds throughout the city. Every corner. Dunkin’ Donuts is also popular. I guess New Yorkers like expensive coffee.
Seldom did I see anyone who looked thrilled to be living in New York City. I probably appeared uncharacteristically joyful amongst the many serious-faced New York citizens as I rode the “Disney World Subway.” Perhaps they take life very seriously, or maybe it’s not part of the New York culture to smile. Either way, New Yorkers give off an aura of indifference. However, they are pleasantly helpful if you ask for assistance.
Visiting New York City at the end of January was good because the holiday rush had depleted. The downside was the cold. If I were to go back again, I would go in the summer and spend more time walking in Central Park. I would also return to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, spend more time in the Ellis Island museum, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and rent a bike to ride around Brooklyn.
If your weakness is shopping, prepare to watch your money disappear. There are stores anywhere you turn, and every single tourist site leads you through a gift shop (or sometimes even three gift shops). Hold on to your wallet and spend money on making memories rather than buying materialistic things.
I took a share-ride shuttle to and from the airport, booked through Go Airlink NYC. The shuttle was very convenient, and if you can handle warm and crowded, it’s a much more affordable option than taking a cab. When I first landed in NYC, I ended up in the very back seat of the shuttle. The upside of sitting uncomfortably close to people is that you make friends fast. I was lucky enough to sit next to three British college students who were eager to chat and tell me about their travel adventures. One of my next travel destinations will be their recommended backpacking trip to Thailand.
Another great shock of NYC is the lack of public restrooms. Some restaurants and stores have restrooms available to employees only. Others require you to buy something to get a key or punch code for the restroom. I discovered that if you have to go, find a McDonalds. They have restrooms and are pretty lenient about those who use them. And sometimes if there’s a line and you really really have to go, there are nice people out there who might let you go ahead of them (true story).
With that being said about restrooms, don’t be afraid to drink water and stay hydrated. You will do a lot of walking and will probably eat a good amount of salty food. I became dehydrated and it led to me getting sick. Be smart. Drink water.
After the terrorist attacks in Paris, I was nervous about going to New York City. It seemed like an easy target with the insane amounts of people, public transportation and tourist destinations. But I was pleasantly surprised by the incredible amount of security. There are cops everywhere. There were armed guards outside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and there are multiple tourist destinations where you have to go through airport-like security, passing through a metal detector and sending your belongings through a scanner. I felt very safe.
This is a given, but you will feast your eyes on the best people watching you have ever encountered. There’s a man in Times Square who roller blades with rats on his shoulders, people dancing and singing in the subways, gothic chicks and more than one dude wearing Macklemore “Thrift Shop” jackets.
The subway might take you a while to catch on to, but once you figure out the different lines, you’ll realize how easy it is. I found riding the subway by myself to be a very empowering experience.
Statues, landmarks, scenic views – there will be multiple photo opportunities. Just remember that you’re not the only one who wants to take a picture with these things. Snap your photo and move out of the way to give others their chance.
And last but not least, there are rats. I hate rodents, but I had a weird desire to see a subway rat. I had this notion that rats are sort of like the mascots of NYC, so I kept my eyes peeled while waiting for the train. I was rewarded by seeing two rats – one on the subway track and the other running in front of me in Central Park. They weren’t as large as I expected — for some reason I thought they were going to the size of cats. But they’re still big, and they’re still rats. Ew.