Rand-stretching Holiday

How to have a grand time in New York — despite the weak rand

Andy Davis shares tips to help you take a big bite out of the Big Apple while travelling on a budget

10 June 2018 - 00:00 By Andy Davis
High Line Park is a popular park built on the elevated train tracks above 10th Ave in New York City.
High Line Park is a popular park built on the elevated train tracks above 10th Ave in New York City.
Image: 123RF/jovannig

The first thing you need to know is that - like a silent retreat in Vegas or a dirty weekend in Tibet - exploring New York on a nickle and dime is an oxymoron.

New York is a city that is cleverly designed to extract your loot. So prepare yourself to leave more money in New York than you expected to. But have fun doing it.

I'M CHEAP, FLY ME

Ride the geopolitical tide - check for specials on Turkish and Ethiopian or Qatar Airways which, thanks to a regional blockade, has some great deals. Sure, you will spend more time flying around the Arabian Peninsula, but you'll be on a new plane, with in-flight wifi and unlimited movies - on a ticket that only cost R7,000 return.

SLEEP WELL

Don't skimp on the hotel. When you arrive, you're going to be tired and perhaps a little broken. Splurge on a comfortable spot in the city for your first night. Check for specials on Tripadvisor, Booking.com or the infinitely nicer and more upmarket MrandMrsSmith.

We found a really nice room in the Flatiron district in a newly refurbished hotel called the Freehand for about R1,850. The room was classy and comfortable and we got a complimentary cocktail by booking through MrandMrsSmith, which I bartered for a $20 artisanal Japanese weiss beer. New York is full of wonders.

Once rested and filled with excitement, foist yourself on your mates working hard to make real the American dream and make up a bed in their tiny Brooklyn studio apartment. Or surf Airbnb for more affordable digs (and save your friend-favours for meal tickets.)

3. EAT ON THE RUN

There's something to be said for throwing yourself headlong into New York's diverse fast-food offerings, from small delis and diners to standards such as Nathan's Famous or Gray's Papaya - for the quintessential hot dog - that certainly won't break the bank.

You could work through Guy Fieri's list of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, but many of them are not actually dives when it comes to squaring up after the meal.

Laut, at Union Square, is the first Malaysian restaurant in New York to get a Michelin star. Better yet, they have a $12 set-menu lunch that's so good, you'll feel like you're pulling off a robbery.

Michelin-starred Malaysian restaurant, Laut, has a $12 set-menu lunch that's so good, you'll feel like you're pulling off a robbery

Another win was the half-price Japanese barbecue at Gyu-Kaku near Times Square. Get there early and enjoy happy hour half-price Asahi beers first.

The good thing about most NYC eateries is that there's so much competition, they have to be more than half-good to survive.

Possibly the best meal we had was at the Fairway in Red Hook, Brooklyn, an old warehousing district right on the water. To call Fairway a supermarket doesn't do it justice. But conceptually that's what it is, just bigger with an impeccable selection of produce. We picked up fresh bagels, cream cheese, lox and coffee (and consumed about $30 worth of free organic Irish, Alaskan and wild Nova Scotia lox samples ) amongst rows of olives, pickles, craft beer, organic toothpaste and miso, and took our plunder to a balcony looking out towards the Statue of Liberty and Bruce Springsteen's New Jersey.

4. CASH IN ON GOOD DEALS

Now for the entertainment. New York is a treasure chest of plundered loot.

Museums such as the Metropolitan, Guggenheim and the Natural History Museum can gobble up vast quantities of time and give your trip purpose as you fawn over Picasso, Lichtenstein, the stone bones of an old tyrannosaurus rex or stout King Henry IV's suit of armour.

They can also be done relatively cheaply with a City Pass that gives you 42% off New York's six top attractions, also including the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Ellis Island, the 9/11 Memorial and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

To get a good view of the Statue of Liberty and the city skyline, take the Staten Island Ferry, for mahala, on a round trip from Battery Park. Central Park is still free, as is lounging in the North Field or playing frisbee.

You could hire a bike from Citi Bike, for $3 a ride, but only for 30 minutes. There are several other, more conventional bike-rental places dotted around the massive park. Use Google: free wifi abounds.

The High Line, a 2km park built on an old elevated railroad, is another brilliant way to explore New York, soak up the architecture and marvel at the city's continually transforming urban spaces, all without spending a cent.

5. HOPE A RIDE

Getting around is easy on the subway. Taxi apps such as Uber and Lyft offer a carpool service, where you can share your ride with strangers going in a similar direction, for a greatly reduced fee. It's also a great way to meet oddball New Yorkers.

On your way in and out of JFK, you can't do better than Airtrain to Jamaica Hub and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to Penn Station (50 minutes, $12).

Now put your savings towards a ticket for Springsteen on Broadway, which will cost about the same as your flight over.


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