7 Top Tips For Solo Travel In New York
Solo travel always throws out some interesting situations.
I recently found myself on a work trip to the United States, where I was lucky enough to do some camp visits for Smaller Earth’s Camp Leaders programme. I had a few days at the end of my trip to recover from a busy week and found myself alone in the ‘Big Apple’.
Although only there for 4 nights, it dawned on me that I had never actually been in another country on my own before. I also don’t mind admitting that I’m not great with my own company. I love holidays away with friends and family, so when left with the prospect of amusing myself, it was always going to throw up some challenges.
So whether you find yourself on a work trip, or have that burning desire for independent travel, take a look at my top tips to make sure you're well equipped for solo travel.
1. Research your travel plans
Before you travel, it’s always worth spending some time researching how you plan to travel from the airport when you arrive.
You can get caught up in the excitement of traveling and forget to make provisions for when you get to the other side. Speaking from experience, I once ended up paying $100 dollars to travel from LAX airport into the centre of LA (normal price is $50). I was getting a lift in a swanky Tesla and I was happy to accept the easy route when offered a ride outside the airport (I had been traveling for over 10 hours at this point). But it still hurt paying a hefty price right at the beginning of my trip. The major airports have excellent public transport links, which are cheaper and easier to find than private transfers. Use them!
When you arrive into one of the New York airports, there are different modes of transport to get you into the city.
Newark - Although located in New Jersey, it's easy and quick to get to NYC from Newark. It offers an "AirTrain", which connects you to Newark Liberty International Airport station. From here, you take a direct train into New York’s Penn Station. It's around $13 dollars for a one way ticket and it takes around 25 minutes. Trains run at various times of the day, 7 days a week.
JFK - Like Newark, JFK also offers an "AirTrain" to connect you to the Jamaica Station Line. From here, you can connect to E, J and Z subway lines and also the Long Island Railroad, which takes you straight into Penn station.
LaGuardia - From LaGuardia airport, you can take the M60 and Q70 bus service from LaGuardia airport terminals to Broadway. To board the bus, you’ll need to buy a MetroCard (which are available to buy in the terminal), or have the correct change. After leaving the airport, the bus then stops at Astoria Blvd. This stop connects you up with the N and W subway lines which can then take you into Manhattan. You could also stay on the bus which takes you into the centre of NYC, but bear in mind the infamous traffic, which may delay you.
2. Be prepared and make contingencies
Use the famous line; fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
Extra Time - When planning on traveling somewhere else, or when heading back to the airport, build in some extra time to make sure you choose the right route. I found when traveling around alone, having no one to sense-check if you were taking the correct train or bus line meant I needed to be extra careful. The last thing I wanted was to be lost alone!
In New York, the train and bus stations tend to be huge, which connect a lot of cities and locations, with a variety of different options to get there. Navigating these stations isn’t always as straightforward as you would think. Make sure you build in an extra 30 minutes or so to get your bearings and to make sure your travel is as stress-free as possible.
Offline Maps - Download 'Google Maps Offline' before you travel to avoid high data charges and to make sure you are never left stranded.
3. Choose appropriate accommodation
When alone, researching where to stay is crucial.
Although it’s easy to get sucked in by cheap prices, it can sometimes be worth paying a little more to stay in safe and trusted surroundings. I am familiar with New York and it’s many neighbourhoods, but I had only ever been before with friends and family. So my requirements for accommodation this time around were a little different.
I wanted somewhere in a well known area that was close to amenities, so I opted for Pod, Times Square. It was for one night and came highly recommended for solo travelers. It was also in a central location close to Penn station and the room was clean, and safe, perfect for a short stay.
For my next 3 nights I stayed in The Hilton Doubletree, Chelsea. I could have gone for cheaper options, but when looking at images and reviews, I felt at ease with the area and what I would get when I got there. If you are looking for company when you travel, hostels such as Hostelling International could be a great option. They offers hostels in most major cities and provides affordable, clean rooms, where you can meet like-minded travelers. Through the link about you can even get some discount!
4. Consider how to carry your money
Before setting off, I considered the prospect of carrying enough dollars to last a week, but decided I wasn’t all that comfortable with the idea. With friends, this would usually be fine, as we tend to pay the bill together and I find it easier to split in cash rather than giving lots of cards in. Yet this time round I was riding solo and didn’t want to take the risk.
Although taking a small amount of cash may come in handy for buying smaller items, I found using my Monzo card worked perfectly for a number of reasons. Firstly, it helped me budget; New York is an expensive place, so having a set amount of money on a card helped me keep track of my spending habits. Also, having a limited amount of money on my card meant that if the worst was to happen (i.e. my card got lost or stolen), the damage done would be limited. The card can be easily cancelled or frozen from the app, making it a very safe option. With Monzo, you are also able to withdraw up to £200 every 30 days, without having to pay any foreign bank charges. Monzo also offers great exchange rates when abroad, so it can often work out cheaper than paying on alternative bank cards.
In the States, it’s not unusual to tip on card. The waitress or waiter will take your card and then come back to you with your card and receipt. You will then fill out a receipt with your chosen tip amount that's charged to the same card, without you having to give it back in. So even though you may not be carrying cash to tip, it’s no big deal.
5. Don't worry about eating alone!
For me, one of the biggest barriers to overcome was asking for ‘a table for one please’.
Would people look at me like I was a strange creature? Or stare at me and wonder why I was dining alone? The answer is no.
In a busy, populated city such as New York, the truth is no one cares, or even realises, if you are eating alone. I acknowledged this was more my issue and perception than anything else. That being said, when thinking about eating and in fact, having a cold beer alone, I preferred sitting at a ‘bar’ area, rather than at a table. It may be a little silly, but I was happy that it looked a little less obvious.
Here's some of my top eateries in NYC for the solo traveler:
Chelsea Market, 75 9th Avenue - With a great selection of casual bars and restaurants, Chelsea Market provides the perfect surrounding for solo dining. There are many high quality food outlets, such as Los Tacos No. 1, Very Fresh Noodles and Corkbuzz. All these eateries pride themselves on serving fresh and tasty food in a relaxed and informal surroundings. I felt like it was the 'done thing' to be dining alone here.
Rue 57, 60 West 57th Street - I knew what I was getting with this French-style brasserie, having visited in February with friends. I went on a Monday lunchtime when it was pretty packed out and enjoyed a great brunch with excellent coffee, for a reasonable price.
Grimaldi’s Pizza, 1 Front Street, Brooklyn - This no-nonsense pizzaria has been serving up slices for decades. The hustle and bustle of the restaurant will make you forget that you are eating solo. Instead, you’ll feel like your dining with your newly-adopted Italian famiglia.
6. Embrace solo travel and plan your days
The great things about travelling alone? You are in charge of your own destiny.
Choose what you prefer to do, when you prefer to do it. The big plus, in comparison to group travel, is that you can see and do what you have always wanted, without having to consider anyone else. Selfish travel if you will. Yet when travelling alone, it’s always good to have a plan (and stick to it). It’s easy to drift and risk becoming bored due to feeling like you don’t really have to do anything, because you are on your own.
7. Top things to do in NYC solo
Here are just a few ideas you could do when you're traveling alone:
Cycle around Central Park - There are around 6.1 miles of Central Park to explore, so why not do it by bike? Bike rental starts at around $9 an hour and often include free helmet and lock hire.
See a show on Broadway - Solo tickets for Broadway shows are often cheaper as theatres look to get rid of single seats. See famous shows such as 'The Lion King', 'Phantom of the Opera' and 'Wicked' for a fraction of the normal cost. It’s also always worth visiting ticket booths at the theatre for any ‘on the day’ returns.
Explore New York's famous museum at your own pace - New York has countless famous museums to suit all tastes. Check out the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art or the American Museum of Natural History. Here you can have the luxury of browsing at your own speed. Take your time, you're on your own watch now.
Get active in the coolest way possible - New York is home to some of the trendiest new fitness fads that you can try out. Try out Y7 yoga studio if you get the chance. With various locations across the city, budding yogis can practice yoga to hip hop beats. You could also try out Soulcycle and spin the day away at America’s coolest spin studios.
Over time, you’ll build your solo travel confidence. You will feel more at ease at the prospect of amusing yourself, or walking into a restaurant on your own. The life skills that you're developing, copuled with your growing independence, are going to set you up for years to come. Remember to look past some of the daunting aspects of it and remember that you’re in a destination with more things to do than most places on the planet.
So go forth, explore and enjoy the time discovering more about yourself as well as your surroundings.