For many Americans who live outside of New York City, the thought of visiting alone can seem daunting — the massive size, millions of people, subways, and five whole boroughs. However, I was up for the challenge of taking it on as I set off for a week of solo exploration to clear my mind.
I intentionally made very few plans, aside from accommodations, as I just wanted to experience the daily life of a New Yorker. I booked my flights and my hostels and was on my way.
There are three major airports near New York City: Newark Liberty International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, and John F. Kennedy International Airport. For each of these airports, you need to arrange for travel into the city, unless you want to pay $50+ in cab fares. I flew into Newark and took the Super Shuttle into town. For $20, I was dropped off right at my hostel door. For the trip home, I flew out of LaGuardia and used the Go Airlink NYC shuttle, which set me back $22. Both shuttles were pretty comparable, and both were picked out of convenience. You can save 10 percent by booking online with Go Airlink, so book in advance if you choose their service.
Before I arrived, I made arrangements to stay at two different hostels, both in great locations. I love staying at hostels when I travel the US because they’re great for my budget, and I get to meet travelers from all over the world. I spent a few nights at The Bowery House in the Nolita neighborhood, which borders Chinatown. This is now my new favorite hostel. The beds were comfy and clean, the staff was friendly, and I really loved the rainfall showers (and free Red Flower organic bath products!). I stayed for $42 a night, but the rates fluctuate throughout the year. My second hostel was the Hostelling International NY, located in the Upper West Side. I’ve stayed at other HI hostels throughout the country, and they’re always clean and a great value. I loved that this hostel was so close to two subway lines, which made getting around NYC very easy.
So once I arrived, I had to get around. I walked a ton, which was my preferred method, but I also became pretty familiar with the subways. Cabs are convenient and work in a pinch, but the fares add up quickly. For $29, I got an unlimited subway pass for seven days. A lot of people are scared of the subway system, but I actually loved it. It may not be the cleanest mode of transportation, but it’s quick, efficient, and got me around Manhattan and Brooklyn with ease. There are maps inside each subway station that show all the routes, and I downloaded a subway map app to my phone. I looked like I was texting, when I was really plotting my next move. So sneaky!
My biggest tip for navigating the subway — There are a set of stairs that go down to the subway on both sides of the street from above ground. Unless you’re at a station where multiple lines connect, one side goes uptown (to the north), and one side goes downtown (to the south). Pick your side appropriately and you’ll be all set.
The one thing I planned in New York was to visit the American Museum of Natural History. It offers five floors of natural history goodness, from North American Mammals to the Hall of the Pacific Peoples. Check out their website to see what special exhibits are featured during your trip.
Now that you have some ideas of where to stay and how to get around, the best way to explore New York is to just get out there. Walk around Brooklyn, get lost in SoHo, and take in the magic of the city.