I recently got back from a phenomenal NYC trip with my three boys, and I did by going into super planning mom mode. Here’s what you need to know, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
HOW WILL YOU GET THERE
The first thing I thought about was actually going somewhere that I can potentially drive to. Let’s face it, even though it is such a short flight to NYC and I had options of departure airports (Pearson, Porter, Buffalo, Hamilton, VIA, Greyhound, Mega Bus) flights were approximately $300 per person. Not that bad right. That is true, but multiply that by four people and you have an obstacle that may put your potential getaway in jeopardy. I realized that I can drive to New York City on a small fraction of the budget that it would take me to fly, so the trip started to look more possible when I made up my mind to buy gas for my super-efficient car. Under $100 in gas per direction and I still had gas left over vs. spending over $1200 on airfare.
WHERE WILL YOU STAY
If you’re going to go travel over any break from school on a budget you will have to make sure you have a place to stay. I choose to go to New York City because I knew I would have options for accommodations. If you are like me and you have family that live there and they are willing to accommodate you and your family that is a huge bonus. Otherwise you can look for hotels outside of the city (Manhattan). Plan to stay in New Jersey, Queens, Brooklyn, or even the Bronx. All of these areas are a train ride away from all of the action in Manhattan and you can easily get around with a MetroCard. You can choose to stay in an Airbnb property or find someone who is willing to sublet their home for the time that you will be in town. (This is done all the time in big cities). You don’t even have to go super huge on the accommodations. A pullout couch or even an air mattress in your car can come in super handy when it comes to figuring out sleeping arrangements.
WHAT WILL YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE THERE
I have been going to New York City for the past 18 years, sometimes spending almost 2 months at a time. This has always been to see the city as a resident and not as a tourist. I did the “touristy trip” in 2010 and literally spent the type of dough on excursions and tours that tourists usually spend. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you are on a budget and you want to have an amazing time anyway, there are plenty of things to do in the city, especially with kids that are absolutely FREE.
For example, visiting Grand Central station – there are a variety of options for food and they have a really cool feature in the whispering walls (SUPER COOL). Find a walking tour of the city (different attractions in the city and they run all throughout the day). Times Square – Free to visit, take pictures, shop and eat (beautiful at night with all the lights). Rockefeller Center- If you go at Christmas you have to take pictures by the tree, go inside the center to browse, to eat a meal, or to even go ice skating in the middle of the center. Yes, there is a cost to skating but there is nothing wrong with watching (especially if you’re not a skater).
Visit Radio City Music Hall or even ABC studios where you can see where some of your favorite shows are recorded. New York City Fire Museum – Completely free to do a tour and learn about the life of a fireman in the Big Apple (try calling ahead if you know which one you will be visiting to make sure that they can accommodate you). LEGO and NINTENDO store – spend some time creating your own display in the LEGO Store or unwind with video games at NINTENDO. You may even get a chance to do a character meet and greet (check ahead to ensure that this will be scheduled at the time that you want to attend).
Visit the APPLE STORE – if your kids are a little older they will enjoy checking out the newest gadgets from. Visit the various neighborhoods – Chinatown, Little Italy, The Village SOHO, Uptown (just to name a few), and meet with the locals. Central Park is always live regardless of the time of year. Bryant Park and Chelsea Market are always great to spend time browsing and shopping for some pretty cool souvenirs. If you travel at Christmas then Dyker Heights in Brooklyn is a must see. Homes in this area are considered to be mansions by many people, the homeowners definitely give you a show by spending up to $20, 000 on Christmas lights and decorations. Do the drive on your own or with a tour guide. Either way it is a must see.
WHAT WILL YOU EAT
This area is completely up to you as you can go with having pizza slices for $1USD (you can find these all over the city) or you can go gourmet. You will never have a shortage of diners, fast food chains, specialty restaurants, street meat vendors, and even juice bars that will provide you with all the options you are looking for. Download the I LOVE NY app and it will guide you with everything that you are looking for. You can spend as little as $5-$10(sometimes less) on the low end per person per meal.
WHAT WILL YOU SPEND YOUR MONEY ON
Because I was determined to have a great trip, the majority of my budget was spent on transportation and food. I stayed in Queens and was in Manhattan 5 out of the 7 days I was there. It cost about $2.50/ride/person with a MetroCard and you get a free transfer (this will need to be used within 4 hrs. Children under 6 are free to ride. If you choose to drive to your destinations keep in mind that parking in the city is tricky and may cost you an arm and a leg. Tolls are another killer as it could cost you to get from borough to borough and the wait times to get through can sometimes be really hectic. My best recommendation is to take the subway and walk as much as possible.
Your vacation should never be a headache. It should be about spending time with your family and creating unforgettable memories. You don’t have to be rich to take your children on a vacation of a lifetime during a busy time of year.
If super planning mom mode is not your thing, contact a resourceful travel specialist to help put the trip together on a budget. New York City is full of life and adventure and you can definitely see all of it regardless of your bank account.
In this article I mentioned some of the things you can do for free. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you can’t do it all in one trip. Once you take the leap and you realize how much fun you had you will start to plan another trip back and you can visit the other sites at that time. There are only 3 things you will have to do on these budget friendly vacations. BE OPEN, CREATE MEMORIES and HAVE FUN!