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Top tips for a budget-friendly trip to New York City with best friends

If you and your best friend in the whole wide world had the chance to get away for a few days, where would you go?

We chose the city so nice, they named it twice.  

New York City, of course. The city of dreams. Of endless possibilities, and unfortunately, endless spending. As iconic as this city is, you will have to be prepared to spend your next paycheque. All of it. And maybe even your significant other’s… and their family fortune, too! Manhattan is not exactly the place to go if you don’t wish to be parted with your hard-earned money, as it is the running champion of being voted the most expensive city in the states! 

Challenge accepted. Being the Dutchie that I am, we were determined to have the perfect trip, meeting the fine line of cheaping out and spending bags of money, while still enjoying our vacay. So here are my quick tips to save your money and your bestie will thank you!

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Have a Picnic

Inexpensive meals

The first thing to consider in the Big Apple is the dollar exchange. Because of this, right off the bat your restaurant bill feels like it practically doubles. Most people can’t survive on street meat or cheap pizza slices alone (I honestly could if I weren’t gluten-free, ugh) so, here are some options to save some moola for the souvies, not just the soup.

First, hit up a grocery store. You can save a good chunk of cash by loading up on yogurts, fruit, granola bars, etc, instead of eating out every breakfast. Or get creative. We found some great spots that offered a market with cafeteria-style seating. I was able to fill up on a massive salad for only $7 USD in Dumbo. Think dreamy and have a picnic in Central Park.

The winter season may not be ideal to sprawl out on the frozen ground, so find indoor spots like Eataly, there you can grab some crackers, bread, and cheese and make your own platter. Brown bag drinks are optional.

Shop Vintage

Shopping steep

Don’t go to NYC to shop, if you really want to save money. You can likely find most of the same deals and hit up the same stores in your own neighbourhood, without the looming exchange rate. If you are intending to trade in your allowance for fabric, opt for hitting up some consignment or vintage stores, for some super cute unique finds, that no one else will have in their closet.

My all-time favourite is Beacon’s Closet. I fell in love with them years ago on my first trip to NYC. There they don’t organize their stock by size, or type, but instead by colour! It looks like a well-organized rainbow of possibility. They have a few locations across the city, with their flagship store in Brooklyn. As someone who frequently searches for vintage treasures, I can attest to their reasonable prices and fantastic finds.

Times Square

Broadway, baby!

A weekend getaway to NYC is not complete without a show. Theatre thrives in Manhattan and was one of the reasons why we had to visit again. There are plenty of options for whatever interests you, from broadway to off-broadway, community theatre groups, stand up comedy, etc. If you have stars in your eyes and must see a show, there are other ways to get your hands on some tickets without breaking the bank.

You can check out discount ticket sites (this is the route we took and were able to score cheaper tickets for the Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes – a show I highly recommend), enter a ticket lottery, get rush tickets, or stand in line at one of the four TKTS booths across town. For further information, I found this article to be helpful.

Join a walking tour

On tour

There are numerous tours in NYC that cover all sorts of interests. From sampling authentic food to discovering various neighborhoods, reenacting famous movie locations, memorable SATC spots, you name it. Most walking tours are free, with a pay what you can tip at the end. I love them! Usually, the guides are locals with interesting stories you would not find in a book.

If you rather go it alone, you can map out the free walking routes (and miss their amusing factoids) or make your own list with famous locations and hunt for them yourself. On weekends the Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg hosts free tours, limited to 40 people if you are willing to show up early and wait in line! We did not venture to the brewery, instead, we opted for a walking tour that covered Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown, and had a great time, despite the rain! More information here.

Take transit to tourist attractions

Take transit

Uber is effortless and taxis are convenient, in a city that never sleeps, the traffic also never stops. What better way to really experience the life of a true New Yorker, than using the subway?! Although it does get delayed from time to time, it really is the most efficient way of travel.

Their transit system is one of the best, in my opinion, with an easy to read colourful map that makes reaching your destination much more accessible, in a fast and budget-friendly way. Depending on the length of your stay, look into investing in a 7-day or 30-day MetroCard.

Cheap Drinks

Wine o’clock somewhere!

Thank goodness for Happy Hour! It is the best way to sip affordable cosmopolitans, setting the mood for the night and to kick-start your next adventure. It won’t be hard to find these deals as they are usually obviously advertised outside of pubs, bars, etc. You could also head back to your room for a fiesta and pre-drink a bottle of wine from the grocery store (which we did…a few times), for the same price as one single glass at dinner.

Or, look for mouth-watering deals on Groupon. We found a great stress relieving spot called Break Bar. You get not one … (drum roll)… but FOUR drinks, AND you can smash the glasses when you are done. I kid you not. You are encouraged to throw your glass and release any pent up anger. Only in NY…

Decide where to stay

Think accommodations

The biggest expenditure from your adventure typically goes towards accommodation. After months of searching, it was pretty obvious to us that NYC would not be cheap. We opted for an Airbnb instead of a hotel and really lucked out. We ended up with a 2 bedroom 1 bath private apartment, for roughly $500 CA for 3 nights. I challenge you to find a better deal than that, which is still sanitary and clean! Mind you it was in Harlem, only a hop skip away from downtown on the Subway.

If you prefer towel service, check out sites like Booking.com, which often have great hotel deals. I also suggest looking into member benefits, such as your phone provider, that may provide travel-related deals. If you don’t mind sharing a bathroom with strangers in a hostel, you will also find some great prices, and perhaps, make more friends to add to your crew! This is not for everyone, especially if you like your privacy and just want to escape the city noise when returning back to your room.

Find the freebies!

Last but not least, find the freebies. A good time doesn’t have to cost you anything. Really, I could just chill on a bench with my BFF, doing absolutely nothing, and we’d have a blast.

Stroll through a park (like Central Park, to cover the whole thing could take hours), explore a library, ride the Staten Island Ferry (and pass by the Statue of Liberty for that perfect Insta shot), walk along the boardwalk and get some sun at the beach, check out museums (many of them offer free general admission on select days), or research seasonal events such as parades, the Saks Fifth Ave holiday light show, yoga in the park and movies under the stars!

So penny-pinch your way and have a great time exploring one of the most iconic cities in the world.

I would love to hear some of your tips for a budget-friendly time in NYC! Leave a comment below!

Melissa is an avid travel blogger, YouTuber (Mellie Telly), and Toronto based actress. Her career experience has included performing in over 20 plays, along with commercials and television, coupled with over a decade of working behind the scenes in TV and theatre production.

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