How to Experience and Enjoy New York on a Budget

how to do new york on a budget

So many places to see, so little time. And not to mention the budget required for travelling. That mindset isn't going to get you as far as a positive one: there are so many travel options available to anyone who is willing to look past the Insta-grammable life many have fallen victim to. Travelling is about experience and culture, it's about getting to know yourself better by mastering challenges, it's about finding perspectives and insights that you can take with you for your entire life, free of charge. To travel is to live, and New York is a place that you should see at least once in your lifetime.

Mix it Up

The first thing to know about New York City is that while it may be pricey in the centre of Manhattan, that's not the case all over. New York City comprises 5 boroughs sitting where the Hudson River meets the Atlantic Ocean and it's pretty obvious that staying a few miles outside of town will do your budget a world of good. With train lines going into the city every few minutes, you could even go as far out as Connecticut and only pop into the city when you've got something special planned, something that you booked on for example.

The beauty of mixing it up is that you get a real feel of the state, the food is going to be just as good in boroughs outside of Manhattan and perhaps even more authentic since many people leave the city but take their tradition and culture with them. Don't forget that nature outside of the city and walking in particular help you stay grounded (literally and figuratively) and assist in keeping you healthy for the remainder of your trip.

If you are, however, keen to stay in the city that never sleeps, another way to keep that budget happy and stave off the currently popular hedonistic approach to life, is to book a nicer place for one to two nights towards the end of the week, and stay at a hostel for four to five nights. That way, you have something to look forward to and can also meet new people during the week, maybe to go on adventures with, and then have some alone time on the weekend in your more expensive rental. It really depends on what kind of person you are, but introverts and extroverts alike will be glad that they came.

It's All About the Food

What makes a New York trip rather expensive, in addition to the accommodation of course, is the restaurants and food you decide on. A beautiful idea is to merge cuisine with culture. There are plenty of incredible and insightful tours on multiculturalism in New York City, where you will see the true foundation of the city, the people and history that make the city what it is today.

On a contrast tour, as they are called since these tours intend on showing visitors the contrast between different neighbourhoods, you'll be guided through Queens, Harlem, Bronx and Brooklyn—each with their very own way of eating and delicacies. This is the perfect opportunity, especially if you're on a budget, to walk the streets with a guided tour, meaning you'll be safer, and experience the mixed culture of New York while eating the street food on offer.

Do Things that are Free of Charge

Shown in almost every movie or series that was ever filmed in New York is the 843-acre iconic Central Park. This is just one of the places that is free of charge in New York and can be the canvas for you to paint a beautiful day on. A recommendation from many savvy travellers is to make a coffee at the hostel or rental unit you're staying at, and take it with to Central Park, sipping while you walk or cycle through this spectacular and unique space. Pack yourself a small picnic, have a generous amount of water with you, as the days (in summer) can get very hot, and marvel at all the beautiful and different people living their lives all around New York City.

Another must-see and free-of-charge adventure is to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, a bridge of many firsts and a historic part of the city. The bridge is considered a brilliant feat of 19th-century engineering and was the first suspension bridge to use steel for its cable wire, the first bridge to use explosives in a dangerous underwater device called a caisson, and the first fixed crossing of the East River. While you can join a group and walk the bridge, you are also more than welcome to do so alone and find a place to rest and meditate while you're at it. The sheer size and magnitude of the famous bridge will awake something inside of you, and walking across feels like you've made it, you've achieved something. That's what travelling does, it unleashes things in you that you didn't even know where there.

If you are a little tired after all that walking and would like a ride, you could do a bucket-list-type activity and take a horse-drawn carriage through Central Park and Times Square. While this may be on the pricey side and not within your budget, it's a fun thing to do on a honeymoon or special occasion, something that you'll remember for years to come.

Free of Inexpensive Outdoor Activities

The last thing that a budgeting traveller needs to know about New York City is that there are plenty of free outdoor activities to choose from and join. It may sound a little old-school compared to the digital world we live in today, but you can never go wrong with word of mouth or pamphlets and posters at your hostel or rental unit. There are many New Yorkers who are passionate about their beautiful and diverse city, and who would love to show you around, for example via couch surfing. That's a great way to meet locals and network a little. Yoga and Pilates are also offered for a very small fee at Central Park, and joining a walking group can be both exciting and informative.

So, while many believe New York to be mind-blowingly expensive, this is not the case if you play your cards right and choose wisely. Preparation is key, and if you sort out inexpensive accommodation, mix up your activities to include things that are free of charge, and join locals happy to show visitors around, then you can enjoy and really live the New York lifestyle at a fraction of the price.

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We overland. We eat plants and fungi. We live outside as much as possible. We are all connected. A female travel blogger overlanding and writing about ecotourism, ethical and sustainable travel, socially conscious travel and housesitting. An online travel magazine since 2015.


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