Cheap Vacation Ideas for New York City

budget travel new york city

New York can be crazy expensive. $8 for a bottle of beer. $300/night for a hotel room. $400 for dinner at famed Japanese restaurant Masa. As someone who spent most of 2008-09 writing about the Big Apple for Gadling and who’s lived here over 7 years, it’s a sad fact I’ve come to know all too well. But here’s another shocking fact I’ve discovered about my adopted hometown: if you know the right places to eat, where to stay and what to do, New York City budget travel can also be a surprisingly rewarding experience.

Best of all, budget travel in New York doesn’t mean you have to give up on all the good stuff. Still want to eat like a king? Stay in a trendy new hotel? Experience New York’s legendary activities and nightlife? It’s all yours for the taking. It simply requires an adjustment in your approach.

We’ve scoured New York high and low and come up with the following ten budget travel suggestions. Want to learn how to visit New York on the cheap? Keep reading below!budget travel new york cityThree Tips on Where to Stay
Tracking down reasonably-priced accommodations is arguably the most daunting part of any New York budget travel experience. Visitors who so much as sneeze near popular hotel spots like Times Square can expect to pay upwards of $300/night for lodging. Budget travelers, fear not: if you want to avoid the sky-high prices (and the crowds) check out some of these wallet-friendly options:

  • The Jane (doubles from $99/night)The Jane, a hotel that effortlessly blends old and new inside a beautifully renovated building from 1908, oozes New York cool. Best of all, you’re just steps away from free attractions like the High Line.
  • The Harlem Flophouse (doubles from $125/night) – don’t let the name fool you; this “flophouse” is part of an emerging crop of intriguing Harlem lodgings that are easy on the wallet. Part B&B, part art gallery, guests can immerse themselves in the home’s one-of-a-kind decorations. All rooms have shared bathrooms.
  • The Gershwin Hotel (doubles from $109/night) – you can’t miss The Gershwin hotel from outside. This distinctive hotel is adorned with a one-of-a-kind facade of curvy glass lanterns. The intriguing interior decoration (and the prices) don’t disappoint either. Especially thrifty travelers should check out the Gershwin’s $40/night hostel-style “Bunker.”

Three Tips on Where to Eat
You probably already know New York is one of the best places in the world for eating. Did you also know it’s one of the best for cheap eats too? Thankfully, eating well and eating cheap in New York are not mutually exclusive. Here’s three of our favorites:

  • Xi’an Famous FoodsXi’an Famous Foods, which first found fame on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, recently opened an outlet of its famous Flushing noodle shop in New York’s East Village. Spice-lovers can grab a plate of the shop’s hand-pulled Cumin Lamb Noodles for under $10 bucks.
  • Super Tacos Sobre Ruedas – this unassuming taco truck, parked on Manhattan’s 96th Street, doesn’t look like much. Yet it’s one of an increasing number of under-the-radar New York spots to get outstandingly good (and cheap) Mexican food. Grab a cup of milky Horchata rice milk with cinammon and a couple Carnitas Tacos for just a few bucks.
  • Pies ‘N’ Thighs – think New York is all “fusion” cooking and snooty French cuisine? The down-home Southern cooking at Brooklyn’s Pies ‘N’ Thighs will prove you wrong. Enjoy Fried Chicken, biscuits, and apple pie at (nearly) Southern-level prices.

budget travel new york cityThree Tips on What to Do
Having fun and free are not opposites in New York. In fact, the city is filled with surprisingly fun activities and freebies for budget travelers looking to save a couple bucks:

  • Free Friday museums – even the city’s most famous cultural centers aren’t always expensive, particularly on “Free Fridays.” Venerable institutions like the Museum of Modern Art (Free Fridays from 4-8pm) and the Whitney Museum of American Art (pay-what-you-wish, Fridays 6-9pm) help art lovers enjoy these great institutions at low or no cost.
  • Wander Grand Central Station – It’s free to enter this gorgeously restored New York landmark. Gaze in awe at the vaulted ceilings in the Main Concourse, stop by the great food court and share a secret with friends in the Whisper Gallery. Here’s a few more Gadling Grand Central tips to help you out.
  • The High Line – New York’s High Line, the city’s newest and greatest park is built atop the ruins of an old elevated railway line. In its place is a beautifully designed park, complete with wild grasses, art exhibits and plenty of great people-watching.

One Wild Card
One of the most intriguing and cheap ways to spend a Saturday or Sunday in New York is at the Brooklyn Flea. This one-of-a-kind swap meet meets artisanal food tasting meets art show is one Brooklyn’s more intriguing weekend activities. Pick up inexpensive jewelry and handcrafted clothing and art from Brooklyn artists while enjoying cheap eats from local food vendors.

Just another surprising example of New York’s refreshing range of cheap accommodations, inexpensive eats and budget-friendly activities.

[Photos courtesy of Flickr users b0r0da, DanDeChiaro and albany_tim]

Pack It Out…All Out on Mt. Whitney

Here’s something interesting:

When hiking Mt. Whitney, you must carry out your own feces. Isn’t that just the thing you wanted to know on this quiet, lovely Sunday?

You see, I know this unpleasant-sounding fact, because I am, literally, headed there now. If luck, weather and good health are with me, I will have summited the lower 48’s tallest peak by Tuesday afternoon.

It’s an exciting prospect, a bit daunting, but I just can’t get it out of my mind that I am going to have to carry around my own, well, waste. This is a new mandatory policy at Whitney, one started earlier this year after they removed the last of the miles-high outhouses at the two big camps on the mountain.

According to various posts over at the Whitney site, these outhouses never worked well anyway and they stunk to, ahem, high-heaven. But rather than build fancy new, high-tech outhouses that say, zap your feces with Higgs Bosons and convert them into recycled cups or something, the Forest Service went decidedly low-tech. They said, from now on, people will have to pack it out. Pack it ALL out. And so now at Whitney (like at various other mountains in CA…ie.e Mt. Shasta) you will now have to get your hands on what is called a WAG bag, and inside, dear friends, is where you will collect and store and carry your previous evening’s fully digested meal. Isn’t nature lovely!?

By the way, if anyone has any advice on doing Whitney, or interesting WAG bag experiences, do share!