Travel Takeaways from My NYC Trip

by Gray Cargill on June 29, 2010

Yellow Cabs, NYC

I have to apologize.  My regular posting schedule of Tuesday, Friday, Sunday is going to be screwed up this week.  This will be my only post until next Tuesday or Friday.  The reason for this is two back-to-back trips with intense schedules.  I am just back from the travel blogging conference in New York City, “TBEX”, which was terrific.  I was supposed to be home last night, but Jetblue canceled my flight and I wound up coming home today instead. I leave again very early Friday morning to return to New York to catch the inaugural cruise of the new NCL Epic cruise ship.  Which leaves me just 2 days to prepare for that. Rather than make myself sick by trying to do too much, I am admitting I am not Superwoman and can’t maintain my posting schedule this week.

So as I mentioned, I spent the weekend in New York City for the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) conference.  More than 200 travel bloggers converged on the city to learn from each other about how to be better travel bloggers.  I won’t bore you with details of the conference, since I know most of you are not travel bloggers and probably don’t care.  Instead, for this week’s post, I will give you my travel takeaways from my trip.

1. Having a plan is a good thing.  I didn’t do my usual amount of planning for this trip and it left me feeling like I didn’t use my “tourist time” wisely.  I am clearly not the “winging it” type.  I am embarrassed to admit I ate at McDonalds one night when I was pressed for time and at a chain restaurant (Hawaiian Tropic Zone) in Times Square one night because I was starving in the wrong place at the wrong time and everything else was packed. All because I didn’t have a plan.

2. Always carry one more change of clothing than the amount of days you’re traveling, in case your flight is canceled.  Because this happened to me, and I wish I’d done that.  Along the same vein, don’t throw away your almost-gone tube of travel toothpaste or your ear plugs on the day you’re supposed to leave, thinking that you won’t need them any more. I had to go out and buy more.

3. Airport transportation options: If you’re flying into JFK and all you have is a carry-on or backpack, the cheapest way to get into Manhattan is by taking the Air Train from JFK to Jamaica Station in Queens and transferring to the E Train to whatever Manhattan stop will get you to your destination.  The Air Train is pretty nice; the E Train is a typical NYC subway train.  If money is no object and/or you have more luggage than you can comfortably take on the subway, get a taxi or call Dial7 (212-777-7777). The cost is comparable to taking a taxi, but more comfortable (you’ll get a town car with lots of leg room in the back seat).

4. Regardless of what you may have heard, the New York subway is perfectly safe. It’s hotter than hell at the stations in the summer time, but the trains are air conditioned.  The trains are also very crowded.  But then, so are the streets.  (I actually knew this before I went, but I am often asked this, so thought I’d mention it.)

Brooklyn Bridge

5.  Don’t avoid tourist attractions you really want to see just because they’re crowded. The Met was crowded, the Brooklyn Bridge was busy, and Times Square is always a mob scene, but they’re all worth seeing/doing.  However. . . .

6.  Explore restaurants beyond the guidebooks.  My cousin and I had planned to eat at Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn after crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.  Grimaldi’s is a famous (pricey) pizza joint that everyone recommends. There was no shade to protect those standing in the long line waiting to get in, and it was a stinking hot day.  We decided to eat instead at No. 1 Front Street on the corner, two doors up.  There was no line and we almost had the whole, lovely, air-conditioned restaurant to ourselves.  Service was excellent, the food was terrific, they were showing a World Cup game on TV and best of all, we paid half of what we would have had to pay at Grimaldi’s.

7.  If you want to save money on a hotel room in New York City, try a room with a shared bathroom (which tend to be cheaper), like the Pod Hotel. It’s not like gym class in high school. You’re not showering buck naked in a big room with a bunch of other people. The bathrooms are private, you simply have to wait for one to be free. I was skeptical, but it wasn’t bad at all. And I almost never had to wait for one to be free. (I’ll be reviewing the Pod in full later.)

8. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions if you’re lost. Many will tell you not to look like a lost tourist in a city, or you run the risk of being a target for crime.  But do you really want to get hopelessly lost in a strange city because you’re afraid to look like a tourist?  Whenever I got a little lost in New York (which happened several times!), I stopped and asked someone (usually a shopkeeper or construction worker) for directions. They couldn’t always help (it seems no one in Greenwich Village knows where the Cantor Film Center is!), but at least they seemed apologetic about it.

9.  It is really uncomfortable using the front LCD on my DualView in a public place. I know I need to get over this–it IS why I bought the DualView, after all–but I just felt really weird even considering taking my own picture in, say, Grand Central Station or Times Square. Too many people around to see me taking my own picture, you know?  It’s kind of like talking to yourself in public.

10. I don’t think I’m a carry-on kind of gal. It has its benefits, but it also has its limitations, the foremost among these being lack of space and the need to lug it around in an airport. Between that and my heavy knapsack on my back, I felt like a pack mule.  I will be doing carry-on only again this weekend for my press trip aboard the NCL Epic, but after that, I think I’ll go back to checking my bag.  It’s far less stressful for me.

Kerala Tours December 18, 2010 at 6:46 am

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India Tours December 16, 2010 at 11:33 am

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seo services india December 15, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Awesome Travel Takeaways!

SoloFriendly July 17, 2010 at 12:12 am

I loved the Pod. I'll tell you why in a future review. But you stayed at the Jane, didn't you? If you liked the Jane, you'll probably like the Pod.

Pamela July 16, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Great take-aways Gray! I tend to do very little planning, but I felt as though I missed out on some things while I was in NYC. I guess I'll have go back for a weekend on my own ;). I'm anxious to read your review of the Pod Hotel. I read about it, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to try it.

SoloFriendly July 13, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Thank you, Christine. Oooh, that's a good reason to take my picture in public right there! FINALLY people might offer to take it for me! 🙂

GRRRL TRAVELER July 13, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Sometimes it takes a tourist to blog NYC travel well Great travel article!

People in NYC are surprisingly accomodating when it comes to giving directions– it's totally okay to ask. BUT that thing about not looking like a “tourist target”– is more about not having that naive duh-i'm-so-busy-wowing-all-the-things-around-me look. Instead, carry yourself w/ confidence & awareness & you'll be fine.

Self-conscious w/ the LCD– I get that too, until I think of how many Koreans do it w/ their cellphones. Non-solo people are actually more click-happy vain so you shouldn't feel too bad. But adding to that strange note, now when I take my own photo, people actually come up to me and offer to take my picture!

SoloFriendly July 5, 2010 at 6:09 pm

It was a pleasure meeting you as well, Caroline. I hope I will see you in Vancouver.

Caroline Eubanks July 5, 2010 at 2:56 am

Great tips. It was nice to meet you!

SoloFriendly July 5, 2010 at 1:25 am

LOL, Cailin! I want to be fearless like you when I grow up. 🙂 I, too, am glad I had a chance to meet you. We need to spend a bit more time next time.

Cailin July 5, 2010 at 12:42 am

I constantly look like I'm talking to myself then! haha 😉 Have an awesome time on the cruise! Jealous! I'm so glad we got to meet in NYC even if it was brief! 🙂

SoloFriendly July 4, 2010 at 11:26 pm

That is EXACTLY what happened to me, Christine! Thank God I'm not the only one. Maybe this matters more for those of us who normally plan our days around food? LOL.

camorose July 2, 2010 at 6:40 am

I completely agree with the planning one! I just got back from a few days in Paris, and my foodie adventure was ruined because I didn't plan–a lot of the restaurants I wanted to try were closed on the various days I went to find them. Then, wasting my time wandering after the next one, inevitably found a closed restaurant (between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.)–and so I ended up eating something just so I wouldn't pass out in the Paris heat. Lesson learned!

SoloFriendly July 1, 2010 at 4:41 pm

People, I think forget that guidebooks can only cover so many restaurants and it's not like there aren't other great restaurants in the city, too. I desperately wanted to rely on street food during this trip, but by the time I actually had time to try it, my feet were too tired for me to eat standing up, and every time I saw a creative cart (something other than hotdogs and pretzels), there was no place to sit and eat your food. Maybe next time.

SoloFriendly July 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Yes, I'm glad we had time for lunch together–it was so great to see you again! Oh, I realize not everyone is as much of a planner as I am. It's my own quirk, not to be foisted off on the rest of you. 🙂 I, too, was surprised at how long it took to get anywhere. Which is why I thought I could catch that earlier flight on Monday, and then quickly realized it wasn't going to happen.

joanna_haugen July 1, 2010 at 1:26 am

I'm glad we at least got to grab pizza together, even if we didn't go to the Top of the Rock at the same time!

I learned a lot of New York as well this weekend, but I have to disagree with #1. If I had planned stuff, I would have missed out on so much and been disappointed. It worked better for me just to be spontaneous and I didn't have any expectations on what I could do. I was surprised how long it took to get anywhere, so not trying to cram anything in and just letting things happen instead of planning was a much better route for me.

@TheWorldCalls June 30, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Love your recommendation to explore restaurants! Every neighborhood has its own set of great cuisine—that's what sets NYC apart from many other cities—there are so many palate-worthy choices and they're almost always just around the corner!

Also, try out the street food. We especially liked Sam's Falafel stand between Trinity Place and Broadway (bordering a treed park). Ask for it spicy.

SoloFriendly June 30, 2010 at 8:43 pm

I was thrilled to meet you, Steph! My only regret is that we didn't have time to chat longer. So many people and not nearly enough time. I hope our paths cross again before next TBEX!

SoloFriendly June 30, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Exactly! Thanks Jim.

SoloFriendly June 30, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Isn't that crazy? I guess that just goes to show how huge NYC is, people don't even know what's right in their own neighborhood. Yeah, I've decided I need to go to NYC more often, but next time….definitely not summer. LOL.

Dkferm June 30, 2010 at 7:00 pm

I noticed that people did not know where the Cantor Film Center was either. I also asked for help finding the Washington Square Hotel, and although people tried to be helpful, they didn't know where it was. These were vendors working the corner 1/2 a block away. Weird.

This was my first trip to New York, except through the airport, and I was very taken with the city. I'll be going back as soon as I can. I definitely see what all the fuss is about.

Jim at Wanderlust Journey June 30, 2010 at 5:27 pm

I'd add another reason to keep an extra change of clothes – you never know when you might spill something on your shirt, tear it on something, etc.

Stephanie June 30, 2010 at 2:46 am

So right about the subway- I saved a lot of money this weekend by taking public transport *almost* everywhere. Never felt unsafe, even alone late at night.

It was awesome to finally meet you in person!

SoloFriendly June 30, 2010 at 2:01 am

Excellent tip, thank you!

Peeples Ink PR, Ltd. June 30, 2010 at 1:49 am

Wonderful tips here. Also, as a transport tip, if you're flying into Newark, there is a bus (Liberty Flyer, I think) that lets off at Madison Square Park (42nd and 6th), Port Authority or Grand Central Station. Very convenient, cheap ($15 one way or $25 for round trip), and not scary.

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