I may be a seasoned traveler according to some measurements, but the truth is that I’ve barely dipped my toes into the ocean of travel. When people found out that I was visiting New York City for the first time last week, people came out in droves to provide advice, insight and words of encouragement and caution. I have to admit, I was a little scared.
Having survived the experience, I can say that the words of encouragement and caution were appreciated, but what I got most out of my first visit to the Big Apple had to be experienced on my own. Here is what I learned from my first visit to New York City:
1. The subway isn’t as intimidating as I had anticipated. The New York subway is no Washington DC metro or London tube system, with their clean and air conditioned stations, but I found it to be safe and reliable anyway. I admit that I didn’t use the subway alone at night, but even if I had, there were lots of people around and nothing out of the ordinary that would have made me feel wary. In fact, the only reason I didn’t take the subway alone at night is because I wasn’t sure I could find my way walking once I got off. Yes, the New York subway system is hot and gritty (and those sewer rats are as big as people say they are), but the overall experience was a positive one.
2. Understand the subway before using it. Taking the subway in New York City isn’t as easy as hopping on the red line or blue line and following the subway along a multi-colored plate of spaghetti through the city’s bowels. It is actually much more complicated. Subway lines are noted by number and letter, and several of them often run together before branching out to other parts of the city. It is also important to note that some trains are “local,” which means they stop at every stop along the way. Others are express trains and only stop at major junctions. The other thing to notice before entering a subway station is what direction the subway is headed. I mistakenly entered a station on the southbound side thinking I could cross over to the northbound side in the station. It turns out that to go northbound, I had to enter the station on the other side of the street. In order to head in the right direction without paying a second fare, I had to ride two stations south and get off at a station that allowed riders to transfer to the trains going in the other direction.
3. It takes a long time to get anywhere. Even though things in New York City are accessible by foot, subway or cab, it takes a long time to get anywhere. Lots of pedestrians, street lights, subway stops, long lines and traffic jams should all be considered when figuring out the amount of time it will take to get anywhere in Manhattan.
4. Be persistent on asking locals about where to eat. A friend and I were near Rockefeller Center looking for a place to eat. Sure, we could sit down in one of the pricey touristy spots in the Rockefeller Concourse, but travel bloggers aren’t content to settle. So I went into a store and asked an employee, “Where do you eat lunch?” He proceeded to tell me about all of the places to eat in the Rockefeller Concourse. I said, “No, where do you eat lunch?” At that point, he relented and pointed me toward a little deli called Toasties (apparently they are popular throughout the city) where businessmen lined up in chaotic fashion for pizza, salads and sandwiches. Now that was the lunch I was looking for.
5. You can never see it all. It certainly wasn’t my intention to cram everything into the couple free days I had in New York City, and I firmly believe it’s one of those places where you could never see it all. The city is HUGE and it would be a disservice to try to squeeze everything in to a couple days.
6. It’s completely worth taking the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. Here’s a practical tip: Before I went to New York City, I was told by an overwhelming majority of people to skip a visit to the Statue of Liberty and instead enjoy the view from the free ferry that goes from Staten Island and back. This is solid advice and I fully support it. I would also add that you want to be standing on the northern side of the boat in order to get the best view of Lady Liberty.
Now I want to hear from you: What’s your best piece of advice for travel in New York City?