Now that i talked a little about how my trip to New York came to be it is time to talk about all the planning involved. For now, it will be only about where to go, how to get there, where to eat, how much to spend, etc.
Let me start from the begging then.
As i mention, this trip started as "joke" but soon turned out to be a very realistic possibility. When i first saw the flight prices on SkyScanner i remember it was around 400€ a round trip. If you ask me, that is very very cheap regarding the destination. To be honest i don't remember if i checked from Lisbon or London. Either way, the prices were very similar. One trick i learned was to look as if i am in the UK. Every time i checked as if i am in Portugal, the prices would rise. Another tool i found to track flights was Google Flights. It became my favorite website to look and track flights.
Now that we have decided we would go, we would have to wait four months until we could buy the tickets. In this time period, it went up to 500€, which was still on our budget. I have to mention that the service on Delta was amazing. It was the first time i was offered wine on an airplane and i believed they offered something, three or four times. Coming back on Virgin Atlantic even on economy and with some turbulence, it was the most comfortable flight i was on. Too bad i can never sleep on airplanes unless i have all the seats for me.
Thinking back, we risked a little because we should have taken care of the Visa first and then buy the tickets. Although getting a US Visa is a simple process, we could have been not approved, losing the ticket's money. In the end, everything worked our alright. For some reason, i was always stressed and anxious about going trough immigration thinking: "What if the guy is in a bad mood and he doesn't like my face?". I do look like a terrorist on my passport.
Jokes aside, there were a few more things to take care. Since my friend lives in the UK and she didn't want to go alone on the plane to the US, i made the effort to go to London. Once again i used Google Flights to find the best option. I ended up going one day before the flight to New York for two reasons: 1 - Have enough time to check in and not risk any delays; 2 - Try to visit London. With this small detour, i ended up paying 180€ more for the flight and 70€ for the accommodation in London. I chose to stay in small hotels near the airport to have enough time to do the check in. I prefer going sooner and do everything with time.
The hard part was to find an affordable place in New York. I am a big fan of Couchsurfing and i am sure i could find something decent but since we were staying for one week, we decided not to risk and chose something more private. We ended up looking for a place on Airbnb. I knew it would be impossible to find an affordable place in Manhattan. The best option was to find a place in Brooklyn. It took me a few requests before i was accepted. After all, we were going during holidays. The place we stayed was only 235€ for one week. Now divide that by two. It was practically free.
If i am not mistaken all this process took two months. By the end of September, we had everything needed to get in the US and at least have a roof over our heads.
Between September and the trip itself, we had to buy the admissions to places like The Top of the Rock, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and so on. While i was checking the individual prices for everything we wanted to see, my friend found out about the New York City Pass which was more affordable than buy tickets separately. We bought the C3 ticket since we didn't want to spend all the time inside Museums and buildings. We could choose to go to three places for the time we were there for 75$. Well, i only went to two of them because i wanted to be on my own on the last day and take some photos i had in mind. One of the good things about New York is that there are a lot of free attractions. Sadly some of them either were closed or not available while we were there.
Next step, saving money to eat and drink.
Last year i was lucky enough to get a job that was stable enough with a steady income to pay my bills and enjoy life in Lisbon. Everything more it would be extra. It was not much but enough to not worry about having to have cookies and water for lunch and dinner like it happen once to me in Amsterdam. As always my main problem is how long it takes for clients to pay me. I knew eventually i had to take from my savings from New York but i knew was i going to be able to save enough. Since September i started to track all my expenses, have a monthly budget and organize all the payments i am owned so i knew which ones i would use to pay my bills and other stuff, and which ones for New York. I am not talking about an Excel document, i am talking about writing it down. It kept me focus. My goal was to save between 500€ and 800€ and spend around 35$ a day while traveling. I got to save around 650€. For the first time ever i was not worried about money on a trip.
Once we got to JFK Airport, i exchanged 100€ right away which was a mistake. I didn't notice that if i exchanged 500€ i would not pay any commission on TravelerX stand if i am not mistaken. After a few minutes i realized i had to exchange more money only then i was informed about it. I ended up losing around 20/30€ and my friend some British pounds. We ended up all week only using my money because there was no need for my friend to exchange hers.
There is only one way to move efficiently in New York, Subway. Being that the single ticket is 3$ there is no other option than to buy the metro card. One week, 31$ and we could go in and out as many times as we would like. We got confused and took the subway going the wrong way many, many times but there was always another coming. Besides a few times, we had to wait a while it worked. The only time we didn't use the subway was when going from and to the airport. Even then, the Taxi from JFK to Brooklyn was 25$ and the train from Penn Station to Newark Airport, 13$. If i have to suggest something when arriving, don't accept any rides from the "Uber" drivers showing their phones with the "Uber Logo". Either call your own or go on the queue for the taxis. They are being tracked and monitored. Besides every minute or so there are some announcements about it.
What messed me up for a while was the fact that the prices showing when we were buying things are not final. The taxes are added to that price when we are paying. For example, something cost 1$, when paying for it, it would be 1,20$ (don't know exactly).
Last but not least, we wanted to have mobile data with us to not deal with roaming and to know how to get around. We had two options: T-Mobile or AT&T. We ended up going with T-Mobile because it was cheaper, 36$, but it could have been a bad option. Although my phone would be compatible with the normal frequencies, i could not receive data. Luckily my friend's phone could and with some hotspot sharing it wasn't a big deal. With AT&T we would pay 10$ more and would get a phone with it. This way we would know we would not have any problems. As a precaution, i downloaded the map of New York on Google Maps. It is not perfect and there were times it got a lost but it works offline and it was better than not know where to go. While we were there on the subway station the Wi-Fi started to be available.
I want to finish talking about all the research i made on my free time. This was the first time i have done research about the place i was going. I remember going to Amsterdam and only looking for something when i was there. I struggled to find a place to stay and was only thanks to my girlfriend at that time, that was in Lisbon, that i was able to book and find places to stay. Or in Scotland, i had no idea how much the cost of living it would be or how to go from one place to another. Although the experiences were very good i could have been more prepared. For New York i spent time searching on Google for the cost of living, watching Youtube videos, seeing other photographers photos on 500px and surprisingly what help me the most was searching on Pinterest. When i got to New York i felt i knew the city but was still surprised by it.
The only thing i didn't research were the alternatives to Times Square New Year's Eve. I knew it was going to be a nightmare to get there and stay there. Once we decided to not stay there we had no idea where to go. A policeman suggested staying in near Central Park but for some reason, me and a few hundred more people went to Brooklyn near the bridge expecting fireworks. I only found out after that the fireworks would only happen in a few places. Tip: If you are planning to go to 2018 New Year's Eve and want to avoid the chaos on Times Square check first here where the fireworks will happen.
In the end, going to and staying in New York is not as complicated as i thought and as some people were telling me. With research and patience, it is an amazing place to go and stay there for a while. Is it expensive? A little but nothing out of the ordinary. Unless i am going to buy fancy suites on 45th Street then 650$ is not enough for one day.
Next week i will talk about all the gear i took with me and why. Until then have a nice week.