October 22, 2012

The Big Apple on a Small Budget

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Written by: Sarah
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Being a full-time university student, living on your own and being entirely self-sufficient is hard! And you’re pretty much screwed when it comes to traveling. Friends who still live at home can afford to go to Cuba, Europe and Cancun every year or so, but where’s my white sand beach? I never found a white sand beach this summer, but I did finally keep a promise to a friend and made my way to New York City for a week. It can be a costly trip, but there are plenty of ways to have a great time on the cheap.

These are my tips for visiting the Big Apple on a Small Budget:

1. Transportation


Driving (your car is useless once you hit the city and you’ll be burdened trying to find parking)

+ Rideshares are a good way to save money (generally pay a flat rate for gas) but can often be a complicated process of meeting everyone’s schedule and not always reliable. Check out or kijiji to find rides. McGill and other universities tend to have good online classifieds.

+ Trains from Montreal to New York City leave daily and offer a comfortable ride with WiFi and often have a Bar Car. One way from Amtrak can cost the same as a bus depending when you book. My problem is that morning departures mean I lose an entire day taking the scenic route through the Adirondacks (10+ hours).

Greyhound* is generally my favorite. Takes less time than the train, is more reliable than a rideshare, leaves pretty much every hour, and you can leave late-night and just pass out to and from. Long distance trips are also offered with (sometimes inconsistent) wifi access.

*Amtrack/Greyhound ticket times do not account for your wait/processing time at the border.

(Photograph by Tristan Deitzer)

2. Lodging

Hotel $$$

+ Hostels can be a great idea if booked properly. These are generally better for groups of people since you can bunk together. There is access to shared sleeping quarters, lounge, kitchen area and are often located near social hotspots. If you are four people however, it can be more economical to get a double occupancy hotel room.

Couchsurfing isn’t just for hippies. People from all walks of life have joined and are usually willing to host out-of-towners for shorter periods of time. Although there is no mandatory exchange, gifts for your host such as wine or a meal are always appreciated. Be kind to your host and their home. (Watch for Couchsurfing 101 on The Gaily later this week!)

3. What to do

+ Unlike Montreal’s Museum pass (almost every museum, 3 days, $80 including STM) New York City’s sights can be a little harder to navigate. Although there is no all encompassing pass, there are a number of mixes offered by different tour companies but BUYER BEWARE, these deals aren’t always what they seem. In their calculation, these passes assume that you would be paying all museums’ full prices, but if you plan right, you can hit up these thifty deals:

  • The Bronx Zoo offers “Total Experience” tickets for $12.95 on Wednesdays instead of the regular $29.99,
  • The $25 entrance to the Met(ropolitan Museum of Art) is in fact only a suggested donation, you could pitch a dollar and still get in (although all donations do help cover exhibition costs).
  • Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) for example is free on Fridays from 4-8pm.
  • Many of New York’s other most renowned sites have similar entrance fees; a quick google search can have a big impact on your trip expenses.

+ Opt of out the Empire State Building in exchange for Top of the Rock!

  • The Empire State Building costs $25 to ride up to the 86th floor, look, and ride down. A view from the ACTUAL top deck will run you $42, and to skip the line you’re looking at $64 per person. Forget it!
  • In exchange, consider Top of The Rock (Rockefeller Center). Not only will you get a walk-through history lesson (with option free video history of Rockefeller Center’s Construction & Christmas Tree History) but you’ll also get a nicer view of central park, all for $25.

The Museum of Sex also offers admission discounts online.

4. Other things to consider

+ For nights out, try for a group setting in different boroughs of the city, offered every weekend. For CouchSurfing members (one time registration of $25) there are meets planned in the “Activities” sections every week, and my personal experience was amazing!

+ One of my favorite iPhone apps, DrinkOwl, keeps you in the loop on local bar deals every night. If traveling alone, a subway map will come in handy because their subway system was obviously designed by engineers on acid in the 1900’s (38 lines, 468 stations). You will need a map!

+ For visiting certain sights such as the 9/11 Memorial there are no fees but you do need to register online for “tickets”. Don’t have anything suspicious on your person because there are full security check points including bag checks and metal detectors (likewise for Top of The Rock).

+ New York also has a zero tolerance policy for any kind of drinking in public places and smoking in any of their public parks (or Times Square) with fines of $50.

Travel safe & party hard,
Gossip Girl  S.

About the Author

A witty 21 year old Psychology student who is also studying Sexuality & Linguistics. Loves to write on how to deal with everyday life while being a broke university student and how messed up her love life always seems to be, not to mention her bizarre luck to have WTF moments every day of the week.



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  1. Ty

    Great Article love!

    I especially like the things to do.. having been to NYC several times I still love to visit all the fab museums. I def need to check out the Top of the Rock now too.

    Oh, you had me at pub crawl!


  2. I loved this because both times I have visited NYC, I was a student and really, really dirt ass broke. I walked to the statue of liberty for example, and looked at it from afar, ate street food, and went to do thing for free. I think the first time I was there for 3 or 4 days on less than $100. Next time I would really like to do AirBnB or something, and maybe save a LITTLE bit more money for the trip. I love your cheapy things to do section.

  3. Saturn


    I can relate, having been in NYC a few times. I definitely recommend Amtrak. If you don’t mind taking a day off to relax and read a book, checking out the scenery is amazing! Greyhound is really useful for quick trips back. I like hostels for its spontaneity and possibility of meeting a new friend.

    Loved reading this! Awesome article, Sarah! Cheers!

    – SAT.

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