New York City: the world’s most prominent mecca and 305 square miles that are ripe with possibility. The only problem? Exploring them doesn’t come cheap - especially on a student budget. Navigating the Big Apple can easily cost you a pretty penny if you fail to monitor your money and are unaware of the city’s inexpensive ins and outs. Cutting costs in areas such as transport and accommodation can save you considerable amounts of money that can later be spent on a plethora of cocktails, museum visits and new shoes - the kind of stuff you really want to be shelling out change for on a last-minute weekend getaway.
The first and most important decision you have to make when traveling from Montreal to New York is how you’re going to get there. Sure, it’s easy to hop on a plane for $350 and cab into the West Village two hours later - if you can afford it. However, the majority of us twenty-somethings would much rather spend that money on tangible objects, not fuel and complimentary peanuts.
After some poking around on Greyhound.ca, the rideshare section of Craigslist and Amtrak.com, I discovered that the cheapest way to get to New York is to book yourself an eleven hour train ride through less than scenic New England for a mere $69 round-trip. Provided, you may feel like you’re losing your mind after staring out at endless fields and rocks for a ride that often stretches into fourteen hours (thank-you, ruthless American border patrol) but you’re getting to the Big Apple and back for less than it would cost you to fill up a car’s tank of gas.
The second decision you’ll have to make is where to recharge yourself after long days of pounding the concrete jungle’s pavement. New York offers a seemingly endless selection of hotels, hostels and bed and breakfasts, but a quality, bed-bug free bed in any of the aforementioned choices will run you an easy $100 per night, provided you aren’t staying with friends. Too expensive for you? Enter the travel world’s best kept secret: Airbnb.com. This revolutionary website will become your new best friend.
Airbnb.com boasts entire apartment, private room or shared room rentals for incredible rates and is safe to use. Your payment is held for twenty four hours by the administrators of the website before being passed on to the host of the apartment you’re staying at, and if you aren't satisfied with your accommodations, you can ask Airbnb for a refund of your payment upon arrival. I paid $84 a night to stay in a private room in a beautiful East Village brownstone. My host Nancy made me coffee and toast in the mornings, sent me comprehensive lists of great bars and restaurants surrounding the apartment prior to my arrival and drew me personalized maps to guide me around every single one of the city’s neighborhoods. It was the best.
Every tourist (don't you love that word?) needs to refuel after hours of sightseeing, and I think food is just as interesting and important as taking in a city’s cultural monuments. There’s no way I could cover the best of New York’s eateries in a 1000 word article, but I’ll highlight some of my favorites. When traveling, I stick to a budget-conscious food-spending formula that has yet to fail me: reasonably priced breakfasts, inexpensive lunches and memorable dinners. For breakfast, my top spots include Peels (eggs and toast), Penelope (french toast and waffles) and the Clinton Street Bakery (pancakes!). If you don’t go crazy with each of the restaurant’s menus, you can get a full breakfast for an easy $15.00. Lunch is eaten on the go and there is no cheaper option than any of New York’s endless delis. The choices they offer are vast and will satisfy any hungry, culture-soaked stomach: soups, salads, sandwiches or pasta for less than $7.00. My top deli picks include Katz’s, 2nd Ave Deli and the Carnegie Deli. Feeling sleepy after lunch? Invest in good espresso at Cafe Gitane, Abraco, The Smile or Balthazar.
Dinner is where I really like to indulge and splurge. After a long day, there’s nothing better than a delicious, filling meal and New York has no shortage of fantastic restaurants that will offer you just that. My favorite dinner of the trip happened off the island of Manhattan, at the Roebling Tea Room in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Forgo your diet for the night, order the cheeseburger and bask in your tastebuds’ glory. The Bourgeois Pig in the East Village makes some of the best fondue I’ve ever tasted and I had incredible roasted beet salad and oysters at Schiller’s on the Lower East Side - all under $25.00. Of course, I’m not factoring in post-dinner drinks here. Those are at your discretion, but recognize that sitting in beautiful, well-priced Manhattan restaurants isn’t exactly condusive to not blurring the line between tipsy and drunk. Go easy on breakfast, skimp for lunch and treat yourself to dinner and drinks - you won’t regret it.
As for shopping and sightseeing, we’ve all got subjective tastes and there’s no way I could cover options for the two that would interest everybody simultaneously. However, I will suggest this - walk around Manhattan and get a feel for it’s various neighborhoods, a foolproof way to guide you towards the boutiques and activities that suit you best. Time Out New York is an impressive magazine (and website) that lets you know what’s going on in the city, what’s free and what’s most recommended. You can cover most of New York City on foot in a day, but I prefer sticking to the neighborhoods you’re drawn to and focusing on exploring them in depth.
Although it’s hard to compare Manhattan to Montreal, I would consider Soho the closest equivalent of our Old Port, Nolita, China Town and Little Italy as the Plateau, the East Village and Lower East Side as the Mile-End and the West Village as a less chi-chi Westmount - or the Gay Village, depending on how you’re looking at it. Then again, New York City isn’t Montreal and each of its neighborhoods contain endless boutiques, galleries, museums, bars and restaurants that are worth looking up, visiting and telling all of your friends about when you get home. The most crucial things to keep in mind while visiting as a student are to budget yourself accordingly and not get swept away by the beauty you see, because there’s alot of it. And your Visa card does have a limit.