Travel to New York City on a Budget.  Flickr/Josh Liba
Traveling to New York City? Yes, you can do it on a budget.
Flickr/Josh Liba

Not all of us are born with a love for New York City. Sure, I’d seen the city in a thousand movies (who hasn’t?) but, as for going there myself, I never had an interest. After all, what does a mountain girl like me need with a noisy city that never sleeps?

Then someone told me about the discount shops where you can pick up designer wear for department store prices and about the affordable ethnic restaurants that can be found on almost every street.

As a travel junkie who is also a bargain hunter, New York City finally had my interest. I booked my first trip – and I’ve been a fan ever since.

There are many reasons to visit New York City (see Top 10 Reasons to Visit New York City), from top Broadway productions to historic American destinations like Ellis Island. But a surprising fact is that New York City is an affordable destination. You just have to do a bit of planning.

First things first: hotels can cost a fortune so it’s important to do your homework. It takes a little digging, but you can find nice, economical hotels in Manhattan.

Since my two teenage daughters and I were on a quick four-day trip, we wanted to be near Times Square, right in the thick of it all. We found two hotels that fit the bill. The Hotel at Times Square (59 West 46th Street) is one of five properties belonging to Apple Core Hotels. All five budget properties are centrally located in midtown Manhattan. Though priced in line with a Comfort or Days Inn, The Hotel at Times Square felt more like an upscale boutique hotel with modern design and well-appointed rooms. Best of all, the hotel provided a complimentary daily breakfast, which saved on our dining costs.

Though a bit more expensive and a lot more eccentric, The Pod Hotel is another economical choice. Conveniently located in Midtown on E 51st Street, the hotel is within walking distance of Times Square, Rockefeller Plaza and many other attractions. Designed for the fashionable yet budget-conscious traveler, The Pod Hotel has trendy accommodations equipped with iPod docking stations, LCD TVs, and free Wi-Fi. Our room also had a hanging Lucite globe swing chair, a unique rocking chair, beanbags and pod poufs, and Kool-Aid colored JM Rizzi original murals.

If you’re staying in Manhattan, it’s easy to get around. Don’t even think about renting a car. Parking and driving are a nightmare and not worth the hassle. Instead, buy an unlimited MetroCard for less that $10/day. The transportation system is excellent and easy to use. City taxis are also quite affordable. On the few times we used taxis, our fare was rarely more than US $15 to $25.

New York City is a walking town and sometimes the best – and quickest – way to get around is by foot. Plus, it’s the best way to see this vibrant, bustling city up close.

For many (like me), shopping is the main draw to New York City. Yes, I live in a good-sized city in the west, but nothing compares to the vast array of shopping opportunities in the Big Apple. I can find clothes here that I’d never find back home – and for good prices, too! Best of all, New York City has no tax on clothing and footwear items under $110. (Above that, the tax is 8.875 percent.) That saves a lot of cash!

We spent a lot of time scouring the shops but our favorite stops were Daffy’s, Century 21 and H&M. The latter is a Swedish clothing chain with more than 1,800 stores around the world. Unfortunately, none of them are located in the middle section of the United States, which means I have to get my H&M fix in New York.

The designs are fresh, up-to-date and very reasonably priced. We went back twice and came out loaded with bags. Daffy’s has been a fixture in this region since 1961, originally called Daffy Dan’s Bargain Town. It was one of the first stores to make Madison Avenue and European designer brand accessible to all consumers.Daffy’s tagline is “High Fashion. Low Prices.” and that seems fairly accurate. You never know what you’ll find here so check back often. There’s even a “Truck Tracker” on their website where you can see exactly when the merchandise trucks will hit the stores.

Century 21, another discount designer emporium, has something for everyone, from apparel and shoes to home fashions. It’s easy to get lost at the Century 21 Manhattan location (I speak from experience on this) as rooms wind in all directions in the sprawling building, located across from the World Trade Center site. Plan to spend some time digging and you’re sure to come out with some kind of treasure.

Since shopping was our goal on this New York City trip, we didn’t want to spend a fortune on eating out. Still, we wanted to eat well. Fortunately, the city offers hundreds of affordable restaurants offering scrumptious cuisine. How do you find the restaurants? We cheated and used the “New York City with Kids” guide from Fodor’s Family. This pocket-sized book was an invaluable tool during our trip. Written by Meryl Pearlstein, a local with teens of her own, the book gave suggestions on topnotch restaurants that were in our price range.

Another bargain must is the New York City Explorer Pass, which offers up to 45 percent discounts on many local attractions. We chose a three-attraction card for US $62.99/each, which allowed us to choose three of New York’s 40+ top attractions such as Sex and the City Hotspots Tour, The Statue of Liberty, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, NBC Studio Tour, CitySights Downtown Tour and Top of the Rock.

My girls and I loved Madame Tussauds, where we took dozens of crazy pictures with celebrity wax figures. Then we took a Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour, which was a great way to see the city. Our last stop was a tour of Rockefeller Center, which was more entertaining than I expected.

We spent one carefree — and free in general — afternoon at Central Park, a must when visiting New York City. It’s a great place to people watch and just slow down a little. (Read The Real Story Behind New York City’s Central Park.)

With all these savings, we felt we deserved one special treat – a show on Broadway. After much consideration, we bought tickets to the Broadway production of Mary Poppins. The production, playing at the New Amersterdam Theatre, did not disappoint. The story follows British nanny, Mary Poppins, as she steps into the lives of the Banks family. Her unique disposition and uncanny ways ultimate help the Banks grow to love one another more.

Mary Poppins features many of the beloved songs of our childhood, including “Chim Chim Cheree” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” and offered many new songs, which gave a back story to the beloved tale.

The sets were fantastic, with the Banks’ three-story abode standing like a huge doll’s house on stage, open for viewers to see all inside. Perfect for the whole family, the production is sure to delight theatergoers of all ages.

If You Go
Hotel at Times Square

The Pod Hotel

NYC & Company


Century 21 Department Stores

Go World Travel Magazine

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