My original travel plans this year were to volunteer at a turtle sanctuary in Costa Rica, but I was ill for a good chunk of the first half of this year which put a stop to my mission to become fluent in Spanish. So I decided to push my South American adventure back by a year- and go to New York City instead.
Prior to the trip, I had never been to America. Neither north nor south. Like most of us, I’d grown up on a media diet of pop music and teen movies set in the US, but I’d never actually set foot on the continent. New York City was an area that has always appealed to me; I’d always envisioned myself with some swanky job in a creative field working in a skyscraper and dating sexy American bankers. So I was excited to see what the city had to offer.
In some ways it was what I expected, but there were a few surprises in store. Here are my overall thoughts on NYC.
A week wasn’t quite long enough
I was on the fence between going for a week or 10 days, but eventually settled on a week as I figured it might be more hassle than it’s worth to make Zey (my friend who was coming with me) get the flight out there by herself. And although we managed to tick off all the main tourist attractions during the days, when we got to the end of the trip I didn’t feel like it was long enough. Zey and I had made a list of all the things we wanted to do which included a a handful of bars and restaurants for blog post purposes, but they ended up being in a different part of town to the other stuff we were doing and we ended up running out of time.
I planned to visit my George who moved to NYC a couple of years ago (and his girlfriend Luisa who now lives with him), plus I also wanted to meet up with a few Twitter/ blogging pals who live in the area. I ended up meeting Dan and The Formerly Unfortunate Virgin, but we had to cram it in between other stuff- it would have been nice to have a few more days so we could have blocked out an evening to spend together. Obviously, this point depends on what you want to do during your time there, but I do feel like with most cities you can visit for a long weekend and be done by a week, whereas in NYC there is so much to do that it could be worth a longer visit.
Zey and I got lucky and happened to book our flights at just the right time- when I’d checked previously flights from London to NYC had always been around the £450 mark, but we managed to get our flights for around £300. We got our flights, hotel stay, and hostel deposit for well under a grand. I’d budgeted a grand spending money so I could use this trip as my big blowout and get an expensive massage at the hotel spa and a couple of expensive dresses from Reformation. My mum said there’s no way I’d ever spend that much so I should just bring $500 with me and just use my card if I needed more. I ended up eating through the entire grand and more without a buying a scrap of clothing (just for a bit of context though that did include the expensive massage and the remaining hostel fees). Like London, food and drink is expensive, but in America they also add a sales tax onto everything and you have to pay a 20% tip- so the cost of everything amplifies. This isn’t the place to travel to if you’re on a budget.
It’s a lot like London
When I’ve travelled to other continents in the past, it’s always been a bit like going to another world, and I expected New York to be the same. But in reality, it’s a lot like London. There are some notable differences. The taxi’s are yellow. The pedestrian crossings have a red hand and white man crossing the road rather than a red and green man. But the rest of the city is remarkably similar. The subway is like the underground. Queens is like zone 4. Soho is like Oxford Street. And so on.
Plan an entire day for Central Park
Zey and I had planned to spend an hour or so cycling round central park, before heading off to meet friends for drinks/ go to a book launch. The man at the bike rental asked if we wanted an hour or two, we decided to go with two to be on the safe side. A diagram at the entrance showed a path leading around the park going past a selection of points of interest. Fantastic!
When we got inside, it was a bit like Center Parcs. Paths containing plenty of cyclists going past natural scenery. But there wasn’t just one path as shown in the diagram outside. There were various forks in the road, that led off into various directions. After a while, I thought we should probably gain a bit of direction and try and visit some of the points of interest. Zey checked her watch and said we had been there for an hour and a half. I checked Google Maps, and were were just under halfway through the park. The last half an hour consisted of frantically trying to visit Belvedere Castle so we could at least say we’d been to one thing, giving up, trying to navigate back to the bike hire stand via the internal paths, giving up, cycling on the main road back to the entrance, then me getting lost.
So yeah, Central Park is huge. So make sure to give it a whole day, so you can enjoy it in its entirety.
While in Prague earlier this year, I mused on how I didn’t know a single word of Czech and felt a bit bad for having to talk to all the serving staff in English every time. I resolved to learn a few phrases of the native language next time I travel. I then realised the next place I planned to go was New York, which Zey found rather amusing when I told her. But jokes aside, there were a few language barriers in the US. They call a courgette a “zucchini” and an aubergine and “eggplant”. But the one that caused me the most confusion was the chips/ crisps/ fries dilemma. After a night out in Brooklyn, I asked these guys we were with where I could buy some chips from; and they took me to the crisps aisle in the local supermarket. The next evening, I was ordering food at a restaurant and there were chips on the menu- and I had to clarify with the waitress that I did in fact want fries rather than crisps.
The men are hotter
When I swipe right on dating apps back home, it’s usually a case of “he could be my type”. But when I decided to fire up Tinder in our hotel room and see what Manhattan had to offer, I was shocked. Even in a short space of time, there were several men where I stopped to think “wow, he’s FIT”, or (much to Zey’s amusement) “they don’t make them like that in London”. Apparently it’s harder to get into a relationship out there though as the men have too many options.
It’s about the real things
I’m one of those “live life to the full” kind of people, so when I visit a new place I want to see and do as much as possible so I can get it onto my “Things I’ve Done” list. And don’t get me wrong, visiting all the main tourist attractions was a great experience. But some of my favourite memories of New York were the things slightly off the beaten track. Braving the stage at an open mic night and reading out one of my blog posts in an attempt to “crack America”. The moment when Zey and I were reunited at the subway station after I got lost in Central Park. Having a takeaway at George and Luisa’s flat. And getting to the end of seven whole days together without having killed each other, and realising that you have truly found a best friend.
Have you ever been to New York City? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!