Practical Travel Tips: New York City

We are going to finish the year with some practical travel tips to the greatest city in the world, our hometown, New York City.

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Getting In:

New York has 3 area airports that you will likely fly into. This is how we get to/from each airport.

LaGuardia [LGA] – There is a lot of construction going on at LaGuardia at the moment so make sure you factor in the extra travel time. Even with traffic, the easiest way to get to and from is Uber or taxi. We usually take the Q70 bus (now called the LaGuardia Link) since very convenient and economical. It provides express service between Roosevelt / 74th Ave and every terminal except the Marine Air Terminal. For $2.75, you are connected to the E, M, F, R trains, which can take you to other parts of New York. The Q70/LaGuardia Link provides Select Bus Service, which means you need to pay for the ride at the kiosk prior to boarding. You can buy a NYC Subway MetroCard at the Hudson News Stand inside the terminal.

John F. Kennedy [JFK] – The most convenient but expensive way is Uber or taxi. Taxis from JFK to Manhattan charge a fixed rate of $52 plus tolls for bridge and tunnel crossings, along with a $4.50 rush hour surcharge (between 4PM and 8PM). There are two ways that are more economical: take the AirTrain to Jamaica Station and catch the E Train to points east (best if you’re going to Midtown Manhattan); or take the AirTrain to Howard Beach, then the A Train if you are going downtown. If you are taking the A train to JFK, make sure you are taking the one that says A – Rockaways on the side of the train.

Alternatively, the New York Airporter is reasonably priced and drops you off at either Grand Central, Bryant Park, and Port Authority ($34 roundtrip, $18 one-way).

Newark [EWR] – The best way is to catch the NJ Transit from Penn Station to EWR (Amtrak goes there too but NJ Transit will be cheaper). Make sure you purchase the ticket for EWR (Newark Airport) as this will include the $5 Airtrain fare — keep the ticket after boarding the train so you can get onto the Airtrain later. If leaving from EWR and heading to Manhattan, make sure you get off at New York Penn Station and not Newark Penn Station.

At every airport, after you exit arrivals, you will likely be approached by drivers offering you a ride. DO NOT DO IT! It is a rip off. Every airport has taxi stands so take an official taxi or get an Uber or Lyft, which are available for pickup from all three New York area airports.

Riding the Subway:

Depending on the length of your stay, it may be worth purchasing an unlimited weekly card — at least 5-7 days would warrant that, especially if you plan on visiting various sites. If purchasing an unlimited Metrocard, you cannot share it with someone (versus purchasing a pay-per-ride Metrocard and putting however much you want on it). The reason for this is because once an unlimited Metrocard has been swiped, it cannot be used again for 18 minutes. We often see out-of-towners thinking they can get around the unlimited Metrocard by handing it off to the person behind them and then getting stuck on the other side of the turnstile.

Keep the Metrocard in a safe place; if you were to lose it, you will need to pay $1 for a new card.

The NYC subway can be really amazing at getting you very far for a flat rate. However, the map can be confusing to read as many big cities’ metro maps are very different. NYC’s subway map is broken down by colors and numbers. Each color will have several numbered trains (ex. the Green line is consists of the 4, 5, and 6 trains). Within each color, there will be express and local trains (ex. Green line: 4 and 5 are express; the 6 is local). When looking at the NYC map, you will see white and black dots along the subway lines. A white dot signifies that it is a local and express stop so both the local and express trains stop there; the black dots signify a local station so only LOCAL trains will stop there. So be sure to check if the stop you need to get off at is express or local and get on the appropriate train (you don’t want to accidentally hop on the express train and then pass by your stop!).

To figure out which direction the train you need to go is usually pretty simple when dealing with Manhattan. You’re usually either going uptown or downtown — north or south. You can also look at the at the last stop of the train. Is that the direction the stop you need is going towards? Well that’s the train you should get on. On every platform are hanging signs with the last stop of your train just like this one:

Signs above the Subway platform indicating direction of the train – Photo: (c) The Flight Deal

A few things to remember, New York Subway is underground in most of Manhattan and in parts of Brooklyn and Queens. If you are riding in the Subway in the Summer, stations underground will be HOT. There is NO air conditioning and will likely have a odor to let you know you’re in the bowels of the city. In the Winter, it will be cold. Some underground stations now have WiFi  at least so you can entertain yourself while waiting for the train — look for the TransitWIFI. It’s free and it’s really fast.

And unlike most cities in the world, New York City Subway is open 24 hours. See, we are a real city unlike some that have a subway but only operate until 11PM or Midnight — looking at you London, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Taxis and Uber / Lyft:

By law, taxis cannot refuse to take you if your destination is within NYC– some drivers will ask you where you are going before they let you in. Better to do what we do – get in and just let them know our destination. If they don’t comply, you can report them to the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). Make sure you mark down their 4-digit alphanumeric medallion #. Taxis operate in 12-hour shifts and they change at around 4-5PM; an interesting thing to note is that during this hour, it’s actually harder to get a taxi in NYC (despite about 30,000 of them out there) and even worse when there is rain and snow.

You may experience a livery driver who will try to pick you up on the street. By law, you are supposed to call for those as they are not allowed to pick up passengers from the street. We avoid them because they will likely rip you off.

Uber and Lyft drivers in New York are unique compared to most places. All Uber and Lyft drivers are licensed by the TLC. All of them have a license that begins with ‘T’, followed by a series of numbers. If you do not see that and they say they are your Uber or Lyft, please DO NOT get in.

Navigating The Streets of New York

If you are staying in Manhattan, it is very easy to navigate. Numbered streets run east to west (horizontally); avenues run north to south (vertically). Avenue blocks are notorious for being longer in distance than street blocks. Fifth Avenue is the divider between East and West. So if you are looking for 1 East 34th Street, it will be on the east side of 5th street. The larger the number, the further away you are from 5th Avenue.

Downtown is a bit tougher to navigate as the streets are named instead, but for the most part, they’re still arranged in a grid pattern.

New Yorkers walk everywhere and we are always going to the next thing – walk on your right side and please do NOT stop in the middle of the street marveling at the sights or trying to figure out where you need to go. Walk to the side of the sidewalk, don’t block pedestrian traffic. It takes about a minute per street block and about 4-5 minutes per Avenue walking. So if you need to go 5 – 15 street blocks, walk it. That’s what we do. No point in waiting for a cab, bus or train. They will take as long because traffic can be nuts and isn’t really worth it.

Visiting Tourist Sights

Where do we even start when it comes to sights to see? We’re a bit jaded being from New York as we don’t visit these sites often (probably not as often as we should). However, a good place to start would be to look at the New York CityPass. It gets you access to 6 attractions for one low price of $116 for adults. It includes access to the following:

If you’re looking to simplify things, then go ahead and it’ll save you some money but it’s definitely not as much as the 41% off that it claims. The reason is that both the American Museum of Natural History and The Metropolitan Museum of Art only ask for suggested donations. You can get on the ticket line and when it comes time to pay, you can pay $0. Now, we don’t like doing this ourselves because the admission is going to a very good cause. Pay as much as you feel comfortable with. Hopefully it’s more than the suggested donation. Keep this in mind when you factor in the costs for the pass. One more thing to keep in mind is if you plan on visiting the Statue of Liberty, this pass will only get you on the island but it doesn’t include access inside; most visitors want to access the crown or pedestal. If you do buy the pass, we suggest using the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise and buy access to the Statue of Liberty separately. You’ll need to buy tickets in advance to access the crown as tickets sell out fast.

Data and WiFi

New York has begun the LinkNYC initiative. You will see them around Manhattan and will provide really fast WiFi access. So if you are an international visitors and don’t have roaming, just look for one and connect to it.

LinkNYC WiFi Kiosks – Photo: (c) The Flight Deal

Restaurants and Tipping

New York City is home to over 35,000 restaurants. Like most cities, restaurant chains that you might see at home will likely be here. But we highly recommend that if you came all the way to New York, support the local businesses; they really need it.

New York dining can be expensive or cheap. It really depends on what you are looking for, as an example: there are pizza slice joints that you can get a slice for a dollar and there are pizza restaurants that charge $35 for a pie.

A recent development is that a small handful of high-end restaurants in New York are going to the service-included model (i.e. the tip has already been factored into the pricing so you just pay the exact amount of your total bill). However, most restaurants in NYC are tip driven. Here’s an easy tip (pun intended) that locals like to use. First off, NYC sales tax is 8.875%. The easiest way to calculate tip is to take the sales tax amount and double it.

Sales Tax

The sales taxes in New York is 8.875%, however there are some exceptions for clothing. There is no sales tax if the clothing item (not order) you are purchasing is $110 or less. If the item is above $110, then it is subject to sales tax.

Things To Be Wary Of

  • Livery or unlicensed drivers offering you a ride
  • Tours selling tickets outside tourist attractions — every tourist attraction that requires payment will have ticket counters

About the Author

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Comments (2)

  • John 7 years ago Reply

    Finally an are of substance!

  • RRS 7 years ago Reply

    One of the best way to commute between JFK and Manhattan (vice versa) is the LIRR. Off-peak fare is $4.25 or $7.25 and peak fare is $10.00.

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