The 5 Best and Worst Hostels I’ve Stayed At

By Kate Arnold

I’ve stayed in a few hostels in my time travelling and some are winners and sometimes, well, you get what you pay for and as we all know, whether you are on a top or bottom bunk can make or break the experience of a hostel. Here are five best and five worst hostels I’ve stayed at:

The Best

  1. The Freehand | Chicago, US – This hostel is lovely. I stayed in a four bed dorm, which had an ensuite bathroom attached. The beds were comfortable and big bunks built into the wall, with curtains for privacy, personal lights and power points. Everything I want in a bunk bed. The Freehand is conveniently located in Chicago, I was able to walk everywhere I wanted to go, including the Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the Bean and theatre district. There is a communal kitchen where breakfast of cereal or toast is free.
  2. St. Christophers Inn | Paris, FR – I stayed in an eight bed dorm at the St. Christopher’s Inn in Paris, which also had similar bunk beds to the Freehand, with curtains, personal light and power points. The hostel has an attached restaurant/bar call Belushi’s, which makes a killer burger, just what was needed after a rather rough day in Paris. Walking distance to Notre Dame and Shakespeare and Co and the train station Gare Du Nord, which will get you everywhere else you want to go in Paris.
  3. Broadway Hotel n Hostel | New York, US – This hostel didn’t have great bunks like the above mentioned, in fact the room was tiny and only contained one bunk bed, a sink and locker. The reason it’s on the best list is because of the price. For New York it is very reasonably priced and located close to a subway station on the 1, 2 and 3 lines, which go through Times Square and all the way down to South Ferry near Trinity Church, the 9/11 memorial and the Staten Island Ferry. Read about finding budget-friendly accommodation in New York here and the Hamilton-lover’s guide to New York here.
  4. St. Christopher’s Inn | Edinburgh, UK – Though not a great as the St. Christopher’s in Paris, the Edinburgh location definitely make the best list. As with the Paris location (and all St. Christopher’s as far as I know) there is an attached Belushi’s. The dorms just had normal plebeian bunks but they were more comfortable than most.
  5. International Budget Hostel | Amsterdam, NL – The International Budget Hostel wasn’t as budget as the name might imply but that’s because EVERYWHERE books out in Amsterdam durning the summer. The stairs to get up to the reception are pretty perilous and the wifi only worked in the reception. But this hostel is well placed in Amsterdam, I walked everywhere I went, very close to the Anne Frank House and the Red Light District. Read about 10 hidden gems of Amsterdam here.

The Worst

  1. Wild Zebra Backpackers | Wellington, NZ – This is by far the worst hostel I’ve stayed. The door to my dorm room didn’t open properly and the staff just told me it was fine. There was damage from the earthquake, which is hardly their fault, but still undesirable. The dorm room wasn’t very clean I had to find a communal room just to charge my phone because there weren’t enough in the dorm.
  2. Haka Lodge | Taupo, NZ – I only stayed in Taupo for one night and admittedly I didn’t spend much time at the Haka Lodge but the bed was so hard to get into because of an awkwardly placed ladder. If I’d had a bottom bunk I’d probably feel differently about this place.
  3. The Backyard Inn | Rotorua NZ – What sticks out about the Backyard Inn was that it was an uncommonly hot day in New Zealand and none of the rooms had air conditioning. On the plus side they had a pool but when I jumped in to get some relief from the heat I realised it was a thermal pool at it was hotter in than it was out. It would be great for colder days though. Also I had to pay for wifi, which is a no-no for me.
  4. Fat Cod Backpackers | Picton NZ – The Fat Cod doesn’t foster great memories in my mind because of the staff. They were generally unhelpful and abrasive. They wouldn’t let me use a phone or even tell me where I could use one. The dorms were okay, there were no bunks just six single beds. The hostel was close to the beach and some walking trails, which had lovely views that were worth the visit to Picton.
  5. Banana Bungalow Hollywood | Los Angeles US – For a hostel in the middle of Hollywood The Banana Bungalow sure should have air conditioning. The dorms were fine but not great and the area didn’t have that much that I was interested in. On the plus side the offered cereal and toast breakfast for free and shuttles to places like Santa Monica. Read about our short stay in Santa Monica here.

Let me know about the best hostels you’ve stayed in below! I’m always looking for recommendations.

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My Favourite Bookstores From Around the World

By Kate Arnold

My Favourite Bookstore from Around the World

Bookstores are magical. They are some of my favourite places and when I’m travelling I often seek out famous or infamous bookstores. Here are some of my favourites from my travels.

The Strand | New York

This one might just be my favourite on this list of favourites. The Strand is located in the East Village of Manhattan and was opened in 1927. On my trip to New York visited The Strand twice and spend over an hour there each time looking at shelf upon shelf of books deciding what to take home with me. This iconic bookstore is known for having ’18 Miles of Books’ within its many levels and also sells a wide range book-related merchandise. The New York Times dubbed The Strand ‘the undisputed king of the city’s independent bookstores’ and truer words have never been written. The Strand sells new and used books and well as rare and out-of-print editions. 

Shakespeare and Company | Paris

Shakespeare and Company has a long history in Paris, the first shop opening in 1919 and became a gathering place for aspiring writers of the time such as Earnest Hemingway and James Joyce. The store closed in 1941 during the German occupation of Paris and was never reopened. In 1951 another bookstore by the name of Le Mistral was opened but it was renamed Shakespeare and Company in 1964 on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. To this day the store remains open of the east bank of the river Seine in Paris. My favourite thing about Shakespeare and Company is that it continues to be a refuge for writers and artists. They offer a place to sleep at the bookstore in exchange for helping out at the shop. Their motto, ‘be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise’ holds true and they continue to host these ‘Tumbleweeds’ (as the guests came to be known). It’s a dream of mine to one day sleep amount the shelves of Shakespeare and Company and a Tumbleweed. 

Waterstones | Amsterdam

Waterstones is known for being a UK based bookstore chain but the Amsterdam location stole my heart. This bookstore is four floors of shelves full of books, in both English and Dutch. The quiet atmosphere of this Waterstones feels like that of a library and there are seating areas so that you can read a chapter and see if the book is for you. Like The Strand, you’ll find a range of book-related merchandise, such as tote bags, stationary and bookmarks.

Gay’s The Word | London

Gay’s the Word is a bookstore in the Bloomsbury district of London that sells queer fiction and non fiction. They hosts events for those in the LGBTQIA+ community such as a Lesbian Discussion Group every Wednesday evening and TransLondon meetings on the third Tuesday of every month. This is the first and last surviving bookstore in the UK that is dedicated to selling exclusively queer literature.

Embiggen Books | Melbourne

If you want to buy a beautiful book and get a latte in the same place Embiggen Books is where you need to go. This gem is hidden away on Little Londsdale Street in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, not far from the Victoria State Library. This bookstore has a vintage vibe and, to complete you book searching experience, there is a coffee cart in the store that will serve you a great Melbourne quality coffee.

Where is your favourite bookstore? Is it one that you’ve found while travelling or one that you love in your home town? Have you been to any of the bookstores I’ve mentioned above or would you like to? Are there any Tumbleweeds out there? I’d love to hear about your experience!

Tips For Travelling on a Budget

By Kate Arnold

Tips for Travelling on a Budget

Travelling is hella expensive and, if you’re like me, you’re probably on a pretty tight budget. Here’s what I do when I’m travelling to stay on budget.

Work Out Your Daily Spend Average

Do some maths before you arrive. Say you have $5000 and you’re travelling for 21 day. You have $238 to spend each day, on average. Assuming you’ve already paid for all of your accommodation, internal travel and big ticket items such as theme park tickets and shows, this should be plenty. Remember to convert this amount into the currency of the place that you are visiting. $238 Australian dollars is $168.82 USD and £132.81 GBP and S/567.15 Peruvian sol.

Write Down Everything You Buy

This may sound like a pain but it really helps to see where you’re spending your money and where it is a waste and where it brings you joy. I keep a running list of every time I spend money in my notes app on my phone and total it up and the end of each day. I’ll even put an emoji next to the purchase so that I can see at a glance what was worth my money and what wasn’t. Writing down every single purchase you make will also make you think twice about the things you buy. Do you really need that foam Statue of Liberty crown? Do you really want a tiny model of the Empire State Building? Questioning these little purchases will save you more money than you realise. Here’s what a day of spending in New York looked like for me:

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Buy Groceries

Eating out is a huge part of experiencing a new culture and one of the best parts of travelling, but if you’re eating out for every meal then you’re going to be paying a huge amount on food. When I first arrive in a city, the first thing I do (after checking in a my accomodation and having a shower) is to locate a supermarket. I’ll buy things like a packet of croissants that I can eat for breakfast, deli salads that I can take with me and have for lunch when I’m out and about and snacks like muesli bars and fruit that will tide me over between meals.

Search for Discounts and Deals

When I travel and there are some big ticket things that I want to do (theme parks, musical tickets, experiences) I look for the best deals that I can get before I go and where possible I buy them in advance. Not having to worry about saving my money for Hamilton tickets or my trip to Hobbiton, Universal Studios and Disney World was a huge weight of my mind while I was travelling. Check out my article How To Save Money on Broadway Tickets, which does what it says on the tin.

Use Public Transport

I always use the public transport systems as much as I can. It’s so much cheaper to use than taking taxis or Ubers and it makes me feel like I’m experiencing a city in an authentic way. Check out Laura’s Guide to the New York Subway System and my Guide to the London Underground.

Stay in Hostels

I will always opt to stay in a hostel over a hotel because it saves me tonnes of money. Some have not been super flashy. Some have had snoring dorm mates. Some have not had very comfortable beds. But when I’m travelling I don’t want to spend a lot of time in my accommodation, I want to be out, seeing the city. Some of the best hostels I’ve stayed in were The Freehand in Chicago and St Christopher’s Inn in Paris, which were both very clean and comfortable and close to great attractions, public transport and great restaurants. If you’re staying in New York check out Laura’s article Budget Friendly tips for New York Accomodation.

Shop Strategically

These days when I go away I don’t do much shopping but before I go away I think about a few things that I really want to buy as a memory of my trip but also as something that I will love and use for years to come. No Eiffel Tower key chains, no Statue of Liberty fridge magnets here. When I went to New York I really wanted to go to The Strand and buy a book there, I decided on a few titles that I wanted to buy if I saw them there and I walked out with Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. You might decide that you want to buy a new bag or piece of jewellery and make it your mission to find the perfect one for you. It will mean so much more to you than a cheap tourist souvenir and it will keep you from mindlessly shopping if you have a list of a few things that you really want.

Being on a budget doesn’t have to mean sacrificing having a good time or staying a dodgy place or eating two minute noodles and microwave pizzas. Budgeting while travelling is all about knowing exactly where you spend your money and getting the most enjoyment out of the things you buy.

Budget Friendly Tips for New York Accommodation

By Laura Jemetta

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So, you’re going to be visiting New York! While that’s exciting, you’ve probably heard how expensive accommodation is in the city. To a certain extent, this is unavoidable – that’s just the way it is in New York – but here are some tips to take the edge off a little, whether you’re choosing hotels or hostels.

1. Contact the Accommodation Directly

This is my most important tip; Always, always, always speak to the hotel or hostel directly. Websites like Expedia and Booking.com will always tell you that they have found you the best rate for your dates, but this isn’t always true. I found out firsthand that it is always worth it to spend a few minutes calling the accommodation directly and simply asking the question: ‘What is the best rate you can offer me?’ If you’re anything like me, you might find this a little uncomfortable, but I firmly believe it always pays to just ask the question. The worst that can happen, is they offer you the rate you have already seen on the internet, that’s all.

If you’re lucky, though, you might get your hands on a really great deal if you deal directly with the hotel of hostel. This approach paid off big time when booking my accommodation for New York last year, and we got a fantastic deal, with a really accommodating hotel.

This can particularly work for you if there is something unique about your booking; for example, if you are staying for an unusually long number of nights, (think a week and beyond), or if you will need multiple rooms on the one booking.

My tip: Just ask the question of the accommodation – who knows? You might get a discounted rate, or a buffet breakfast thrown in for free. It never hurts to ask.

2. Consider Your Location

It’s probably best not to try and find a place to stay in SoHo if you are working with a budget. Same goes for the Times Square area, and the Upper East Side. There are so many trendy tourist-loved areas in New York, but these can be places to avoid when booking accommodation. Yes, it would be nice to overlook Central Park from your hotel window, but that comes with a price-tag that I would personally rather avoid.

When choosing our accommodation in New York, we had some hotel non-negotiable’s that limited our choices a little, however, when choosing our location we were conscious of our preference to walk a little further rather than positioning ourselves close to specific landmarks.

New York is a very walk-able city, and if you bring walking shoes and are willing to master the Subway System, you will be able to get to anything you want to see, regardless of where your accommodation is. I highly recommend researching accommodation a little further afield of places like Times Square and Central Park, as these hotels and hostels will be more affordable.

Remember, in New York you are always close to a Subway Station, so you will have the whole of New York City at your doorstep no matter where you are sleeping at night.

3. Consider a place with a kitchenette

Something to consider when booking accommodation in New York is whether having a kitchenette in your hotel or hostel will save you money in the long run. Yes, it can be hard to find supermarkets in Manhattan, but it’s possible that being able to buy groceries, cook up a simple meal, and store leftovers and snacks could save you money on food.

When I was staying in New York, I found it helpful to be able to store leftovers from the continental breakfast, and snacks bought from the grocery store down the block. This meant that I bought less food while out sightseeing, and didn’t eat out at restaurants every single night.

This tip may or may not save you money, depending on your eating and spending habits, and whether you are staying in hotels or hostels. However, I think it is worth investigating when doing your accommodation research, whether having a small kitchenette or communal kitchen will save you money on your food budget.

4. Breakfast

Speaking of hotel breakfasts, if you are going to be staying in a hotel, it doesn’t hurt to choose somewhere that offers a breakfast included in the price of the booking. Sometimes this is built into the price of the room, and it may not be worth it. But, sometimes you can get a great deal where breakfast is free – and this is where you can get more for your money. To me, a buffet or continental breakfast is a bonus – you can load up on a hearty breakfast each morning, eliminating one meal that you have to pay for during the day. And, if you’re like me, you’ll probably save some stuff from breakfast for snacks during the day. (Though some hotels don’t allow this!)

5. Make it close to the Subway

We scored a hotel in New York in close proximity to three subway stations, and though this was just a happy coincidence, I wouldn’t book accommodation in New York again without scouting out the nearest subway station before booking.

Honestly, wherever you are staying in New York, the likelihood is that you will be close to a station, but I think it always pays to research the proximity of the closest subway station, and the lines it is serviced by. It will make a huge difference to be within a five minute walk to a station, and will ensure that you will be saving money on cabs by taking the subway and walking.

There you have it: my tips for booking accommodation in New York on a budget. Do you have any tips for staying in New York? Let me know in the comments below!

 

How I got Scammed in New York

By Laura Jemetta

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So, it’s time for an embarrassing story. I was in New York for three weeks last year, and yes, I did fall victim to a couple of scams in my time there. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. See, in my real, non-travelling life, I consider myself to be a very savvy and aware person. But I think there’s something about being a tourist in a strange city, that probably makes you let your guard down a little, making you more vulnerable to being scammed. Unfortunately, there are people in every city in the world who will target tourists for this reason.

So, here it is: a cautionary tale for you, so hopefully the same won’t happen when you are travelling.

So, how did it happen?

This particular morning, we had tickets for a particular time-slot at the One World Tower, and we were cutting it fine to make it downtown in time. I remember rushing down the stairs to the subway station, which in hindsight, made us the perfect targets. We were in a hurry, and anybody in the area would have been able to tell that we really wanted to catch the next subway. We all needed to buy new tickets, and so we were headed to the ticket machine, when a man yelled to the station in general that the ticket machines were out of order.

Red Flag no. 1: He wasn’t wearing a metro uniform.

Red Flag no. 2: He said we could buy new tickets from him instead.

You can guess what happened next right?

Yes, we bought ‘tickets’ from an uniformed ‘metro’ employee.

To be honest, I don’t have much of a defense, apart from the fact that none of us were really thinking, (evidently), and that the man pulled out key with which he unlocked the locked gate to the platform.

But, here comes the really stupid part: we gave him money for the ‘weekly subway passes’. As in, cash money. We just handed it over, and got – you guessed it – expired subway passes in return.

  • Yes, this man disappeared as soon as he pocketed the cash
  • Yes, we realised immediately that we had just been scammed
  • Yes, we panicked. We had just handed over roughly $150 US to a scammer
  • Yes, we felt, (and feel), exceptionally stupid about it

Realising we had just been scammed, we found the nearest Police Officer, who directed us to the nearest Police Station. A report was made, though nothing came of it. Of course, I don’t hold anything against the NYPD; the officers took out report dilligently, and likely did as much as they could do. After all, police have much bigger fish to fry than tourists willingly giving $150 to a scammer.

  • Note: I always recommend reporting any scam or crime you are a victim of to the Police, even if you think nothing will come of it. 

Top Tips to Not Get Scammed

Stay Aware: I believe we were caught off guard because we were in such a rush; we had blinkers on, and we just wanted to catch the next subway. When you’re travelling, it’s easy to get caught up in what you’re doing; in trying to make a reservation you’re late for, or in exploring the attraction you’re visiting. But remember to keep your wits about you – and to keep a bit of paranoia in the back of your mind. I know it’s not very pleasant to be questioning the genuineness of everyone around you, but it’s necessary when you’re a tourist – as I found out.

Pay Attention to Red Flags: Listen to your gut. When something feels uncomfortable, it’s a sign that something probably isn’t right. I remember the thought crossing my mind that the man should have been wearing a Metro uniform, but I dismissed it, because of how confident he was – with his Subway station key, and carrying out his scam in the middle of the day in the station, where there are cameras. It all seemed too brazen to be a scam. I now know that I should have listened to my gut. Yes, you risk offending someone, but caution can go a long way when you’re travelling.

IMPORTANT TIPS FOR TIMES SQUARE: 

  • You will probably be drawn to Times Square on your first visit to New York, but it is a hotbed of underhanded activity, under the guise of busking
  • When in Times Square, do not let anybody hand you anything – people will try to ‘give’ tourists their ‘music’ on CD’s, but once you have it in your hand, you will be hard pressed to get away without making a ‘donation’ to their ‘musical career’. Spoiler Alert: the CD is blank, and there is no musical career.
  • To avoid this, don’t make verbal or physical contact with anybody who tries to hand you anything. Just don’t. Keep your head down, and just keep walking.
  • Also important: there is an area of Times Square that is designated by a large green square on the pavement, where anyone is allowed to busk. Avoid this area like native New Yorker’s avoide Times Square. Do not step into this green square. Don’t talk to anyone in the green square. If you find it hard to walk away when salespeople are pitching to you, just give the green square a wide berth.

New York is a wonderful city, 99% full of wonderful people. However, like you will find in any city in the world, there are people who will take advantage of vulnerable tourists. While I hope you enjoy the city, and open yourself up to everything it has to offer, I also hope my story helps to remember to always keep your wits about you and listen to your gut.

The Hamilton-lover’s Guide to New York

By Kate Arnold

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If, like many of us, you’ve fallen in love with Hamilton: An American Musical and you’re heading to the greatest city in the world, you may want to visit some of the historic sites that you’ve heard all about. Here’s a guide to all the places in Manhattan that every Hamilton-lover should go see.

Hamilton Richard Rodgers New York City Broadway

The Richard Rogers Theatre

If you can get tickets to this insanely popular musical then what are you waiting for? The Richard Rogers is located on West 46th Street right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Times Square. But if you didn’t manage to get a ticket, don’t despair, there are plenty of other Hamilton related things to do and see in New York and you can always try the lottery, who knows? You might get lucky. Check out my article, How To Save Money On Broadway Tickets and get the lowdown on how to enter the Hamilton lottery.

Trinity Church

If you’re familiar with the show then the name Trinity Church will sound familiar to you from the lines ‘I rely on Angelica/While she’s alive we tell your story/She is buried in Trinity Church near you/When I needed her most she was right on time’ from final number of the show. You’ll find Hamilton’s grave on the edge of the churchyard and Eliza’s right next to her husband’s. People throw pennies onto Hamilton’s grave as a symbol of his great contributes to the American banking system. You’ll also find Angelica close by, though her name does not appear on her grave, as well as the graves of Philip Hamilton, Alexander and Eliza’s oldest son, who was killed in a duel and Hercules Mulligan, a revolutionary who fought in the war for America’s Independence.

Federal Hall, The Financial District

A short walk away from Trinity Church is Federal Hall, located on Wall Street, in the heart of the Financial District of New York. George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States in 1789 on the steps of Federal Hall. This historic event is marked by a statue of George Washington, which has been placed on the steps in the approximate place of the inauguration.

Fraunces Tavern Museum

If you take another short walk towards South Ferry from Federal Hall you’ll find Fraunces Tavern Museum on Pearl Street. This is a historic tavern where George Washington bid farewell to his troops and where Hamilton and Burr shared a meal one week before their duel in 1804 where Hamilton was killed. Lin-Manuel Miranda has spoken out about the Fraunces Tavern as being the setting for the iconic song ‘My Shot’ in the show. You can still eat at Fraunces Tavern Museum as well as visit the galleries on the second and third floors, where you will find portraits of George Washington and maps that were used during the Revolution.

Central Park Statue

You’ll find this statue of Hamilton on the East Drive of the park, opposite 83rd Street and close by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was erected in 1880 (76 years after Hamilton’s death) by his son, John C. Hamilton. This statue stands at more than 15 feet high and is carved out of granite.

Hamilton Hall, Columbia

Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton and his son Philip all attended Columbia when it was still knows as King’s College. Hamilton Hall is an academic building named after Hamilton, one of Columbia’s most notable alumni. A statue of Hamilton stands at the entrance to the building, which was erected in 1908. Hamilton Hall is located on Amsterdam Avenue. The 1 subway line will drop you off at 116 Street, right outside Columbia.

Hamilton Grange National Memorial

If you do visit Columbia, while you’re there jump back on the subway and follow the 1 line to 137 Street to Hamilton Heights and check out Hamilton Grange National Memorial. Here you’ll see Hamilton’s writing desk as well as Eliza’s tea set and the pianoforte, gifted to the Hamiltons by Eliza’s sister, Angelica. The Grange is thought to be the only home that Hamilton ever own and the construction of the house was only completed two years before his death though the house remained the Hamilton family home for 30 years after he died. The house had been relocated twice but now sits on the corner of St. Nicholas Park, just north of The City College of New York. Entry is free.

New York is full of history and you’ll be seeing familiar names on street signs and building names wherever you go. While you’re on your Hamilton tour of New York you’ll be using the Subway a lot so don’t forget to check out Laura’s article on how to use the New York Subway System.

What’s your favourite thing from the musical that you want to see in real life and will you check out any of these things on this list? Let us know in the comments!

Saving Money in New York

By Laura Jemetta

How to Save Money in NY

I have visited New York on a limited budget, and had the time of my life! Below are some tips for saving money in New York. Make sure you also check out my post on free things to do in New York.

Take Advantage of the Subway

New York’s subway system is not only well-run and convenient, it is an inexpensive way to see New York City, in fact, I don’t think you’ve really seen New York until you’ve taken full advantage of the subway.

The beating heart of New York City, the subway system is actually very user-friendly, and can get you anywhere you need to go in Manhattan or the outer boroughs, quickly and easily. While the multi-coloured map with it’s criss-crossing lines can seem overwhelming at first, once you get the hang of it, catching the subway is really simple.

Each subway line is denoted by a colour and a number or letter, and these are displayed on the entrance to each subway station. All you need to do is find your nearest subway station, check that it’s serviced by the line you need, and know whether you’re heading uptown or downtown.

My advice: don’t bother with New York’s taxi’s. Though the sheer abundance of them can be alluring, because of the traffic, it takes significantly longer to get anywhere in a taxi, and they are prohibitively expensive. Instead, try relying on the subway, (and your own feet), to carry you around New York; you won’t find a cheaper, or more quintessentially ‘New York’ experience than this.

Check out TKTS

Do you love the theatre? Then if you’re in New York, I’m sure you’re excited for Broadway. Theatre in New York can certainly be expensive though, especially tickets for the most sought after shows, but luckily there are ways that you can save money on Broadway tickets.

TKTS is one of them; this discounted ticket vendor has a booth in Times Square, and if you are willing to line up, you can get same-day tickets for most of the best shows at up to 50% off! Now, the queues can be something close to horrendous, but the line does move quickly, and I really believe the wait is worth it for the huge discounts you can get. Keep in mind, you can also check out the other two TKTS locations, where the lines are likely to be shorter.

By utilising TKTS and being willing to wait a while, I was able to afford to see several Broadway shows instead of just the one full priced one, which made my New York trip so special. Make sure to check out Kate’s article ‘How To Save Money on Broadway Tickets’ for some more tips on ways to get discounted tickets.

Visit New York’s Museums

Taking advantage of the many museums in New York, is an inexpensive way to experience the city. Many of New York’s museums run on a ‘suggested donation’ system, where you are not obligated to pay anything to gain entry into the museum. Rather, there is a suggested amount that you can donate towards the running and upkeep of the museum.

This is a great honesty system; the idea being that you pay what you can afford at the time. If you can’t afford to donate much when you visit the next time, perhaps next time you are in New York, you will be in a position to donate more.

The Skyscraper Museum, the Museum of Chinese America and the New York City Fire Museum are all inexpensive to visit, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum both run on the suggested donation system. And even better, you can see the Frick Collection for free on Saturdays 11-1pm, and you can get into the MoMa on Fridays between 4-8pm for free too!

How To Save Money on Broadway Tickets

By Kate Arnold

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Photo by Daniela Echavez on Pexels.com

If you love theatre as much as I do (which is A LOT), then you’ll know that going to shows isn’t cheap. I went to New York last year and I was determined to see as many shows as I could on (and Off) Broadway but I was on a serious budget. Here’s how I saved money on Broadway tickets and a few other methods as well.

TKTS Booth

The TKTS Booth is in Times Square and you can buy rush tickets for select shows that same day. You won’t find tickets for Hamilton or The Lion King but there are always great deals on great shows. Laura and I got our Anastasia tickets through this method and saved around 40%. You can get up to 50% off shows but there’s no way to know which shows will have tickets available until the day of. Theatres give the booth the tickets that they haven’t sold yet so that the shows are more likely to sell out. This means there’s no way to know how good the seats available will be until you get to the window and ask and you probably won’t have a lot of choice. If you’re interested in seeing a play check out the ‘Plays Only’ line, which tends to be much shorter. You can buy up to six tickets from the booth but ONLY buy from the windows at the booth. NEVER trust people standing on the street or walking through the lines claiming to be employees of TKTS, they are scammers. As it gets closer to curtain rising the lines will get shorter and prices may get cheaper but more and more shows will sell out so if you don’t have one show in mind that you really want to see it might be worth waiting but you may also be disappointed. You can ONLY buy tickets from TKTS in person, never over the phone or online.

Return Ticket Line

While I was in New York I was dying to see Dear Evan Hansen and I was entering the lottery every day, which I never won. Finally, on my last day I decided to try the return ticket line and I ended up getting an unclaimed lottery ticket for only $42! It was a standing ticket but I had a great view and it was completely worth spending the two hours in line. If you are going to try the returns line there are a few things you should know:

  • It’s first in best dressed. I recommend looking up the time the box office opens and aim to get in line by that time if not a bit before
  • You could be standing in line for hours, in my experience each time has been around two hours but it could definitely be longer
  • You will be offered a ticket that someone has phoned it to get a refund on because they cannot attend the show, you will have to pay face value for the ticket and you don’t get a choice where you get to sit or how much you have to pay
  • You can pass up a ticket if it’s too expensive for you or if you’d like something with a better view but there’s no guarantee that something better (if anything) will come along
  • There is no guarantee that you will get a ticket

Today Tix

Today Tix is a website or smartphone app that can give you great discounts on tickets for popular shows. You’ll find tickets for Mean Girls, Come From Away and Book of Mormon from $69, School of RockAnastasia and Lifespan of a Fact starring Daniel Radcliffe from $59, Chicago and Waitress from $50, Avenue Q from $45, Fun Home from $35, Puffs! The Play from $22. I never got around to getting a ticket from Today Tix, I had my eye on a performance of Come From Away but sadly I ran out of time.

Broadway Box

Broadway Box is similar to Today Tix but there are select shows that have discounts, usually mid-week and matinees, and you use a discount code to get the special prices. You can buy these discounted tickets through the Broadway Box website or app or you can give the code to your sales person at the box office and get the ticket in person. I bought tickets for both Chicago and Puffs! The Play though this website using various discount codes. On Broadway Box you can get Waitress tickets up to 70% off, Kinky Boots up to 40% off, Anastasia and Chicago up to $50 off, Puffs! The Play up to 29% off, Avenue Q up to 38% off and many more.

Lotteries

Sadly I didn’t win any lotteries but they’re worth giving a try. Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are all shows that are expensive to go to, hard to get tickets to and often sold out so I’d recommend trying these ones.

To enter the Hamilton lottery you need to download the Hamilton app. You can enter to get up to two tickets and if you win, tickets only cost a Hamilton ($10 each). There are lottery tickets available for every show.

The Dear Evan Hansen lottery is also online and you have until midnight the day before the performance to enter and you can win up to two tickets. Winners for matinee performances will be drawn and notified around 9am on the day of the performance and will receive email instructions on how to proceed. You must complete your purchase of the tickets by 11am and you can pick up you ticket 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the show. The protocol for evening performances is similar. You will be notified around 2pm and you must complete your purchase by 4pm.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child does lotteries a little differently. They call it the Friday 40 where they release 40 tickets for every show in the upcoming week for $40 ($20 per part). The Friday 40 opens at 12.01 every Friday morning (Thursday night) and is open until 1pm on Friday afternoon. Winners will be notified between 1 and 5pm and will have one hour to buy the tickets. Due to the split nature of the show, Cursed Child runs four performances each week. Again, you can win up to two tickets and you can enter the lottery here.

NOTE: If you have your heart set on seeing any one of these three shows I’d recommend buying them full price in advance as chances of winning any of these lotteries is slim.

Being a theatregoer isn’t a cheap hobby so I look for discounts wherever I can get them, especially while travelling. Let me know how you scored cheap theatre tickets or if you’re going to try any of the methods I outlined above. If you’re headed to New York sometime soon check out Laura’s articles on 5 Free Things to do in NYC and how to use the New York Subway System.

Your Guide to the New York Subway System

By Laura Jemetta

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Photo by Jack Gittoes on Pexels.com

The New York subway system can seem very overwhelming at first – that multi-coloured map with it’s criss-crossing lines looks like a bit of a mess. I had so many questions about the subway when I arrived in New York. How was I going to buy a ticket? How would I know which line to take? What if I get lost?

But don’t worry! The subway is a fantastic, reliable, and, most importantly, user-friendly mode of transport that will get you around New York City with no hassles.

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Map of the New York Subway System

The subway map features all the subway lines that service both Manhattan and the outer boroughs. Yes, it looks confusing at first, but it’s actually handy to have every line on the same map. Each subway line is denoted by both a colour, and either a number or letter. For example, the line I took most often when I was in New York was the ‘green line’; or the 4, 5 or 6 train. You can see it on the east side of the map above.

What you need to know

As you can see, most lines travel either uptown or downtown Manhattan, rather than across town. There are a few exceptions, including the seven train, but it is always more difficult to travel across town than it is to just travel straight up and down the island. Use the subway to travel uptown or downtown, and then you can easily walk across town to wherever you want to go.

But how do I pick the right station?

It’s easy. Locate the nearest subway station to you, and check out the sign on the front of the station. It will have the name of the station, (for example: 56th Street), followed by the colour and number/letter of the lines that service the station. Most importantly, the sign will say whether the trains at this station are travelling uptown or downtown. Don’t worry, if you find yourself at an uptown station, it’s downtown counterpart will be close by – usually across the street, or at most, a block away.

Important Tips

  • Download the app ‘NYC Subway‘ app – it is a fantastic guide to the subway system. I used it when I was in New York, and it features the all important subway map, service updates and a route planner. I highly recommend it.
  • You might make mistakes, and that’s okay! Everything is well signposted, and most stations have station-attendants to help
  • Don’t get overwhelmed. Remember that you will more than likely just be travelling up or down Manhattan. If you make a mistake, it is easy to get off the train and simply go back in the other direction.
  • If you are planning on making good use of the subway, purchasing a weekly ticket is more cost effective than several daily ones.
  • Every station is well signposted, so you won’t be stuck on a train wondering where you are.

Let me know your best Subway tips and tricks in the comments below. I’d love to read them!

5 Free Things to do in New York City

By Laura Jemetta

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There are so many ways to explore the real New York City that are actually free! Keep reading to discover some of my favourite free things to do in New York.

Explore Central Park

This is such a fantastic thing to do in New York, and the fact that it’s free is just a bonus. Central Park is just massive, it could take several days to explore the whole thing, which can make it a little overwhelming to start with. My approach has always been to explore Central Park bit by bit; taking it easy and enjoying whatever I have time to see while I’m in New York.

There is something for everybody to see in Central Park. Book lovers can take a stroll down the Mall and Literary Walk, and music lovers can discover Strawberry Fields – the tribute to the Beatles’ John Lennon, who was assassinated blocks away. Take kids, or the young at heart to the popular statue of Alice in Wonderland, or the nearby Hans Christian Andersen. You can watch the boaters on the lake at the Loeb Boathouse, check out the famous Central Park Carousel, and explore Belvedere Castle, a victorian folly right in Central Park.

Whatever you do in Central Park, I know you will love it like I do; sprawling and beautiful, rambling through Central Park is one of the best ways to explore New York.

Visit the New York Public Library

This is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. The New York Public Library is open to the public, and there are some interesting things to be found there; see the first Guttenberg Bible in the new world, visit the library’s free exhibitions, or see the real life toys that inspired AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, in person. This library is a must-see for any book lover, if only for the fantastic gift shop and the stunning architecture. Put it on your itinerary – you won’t be disappointed.

Walk the Highline

Built on the tracks of a disused railway system, the Highline is now a beautiful walking trail 30 feet above the Manhattan streets. This perspective makes for some terrific and unique views of New York City, and the walk itself is both low-impact and lovely. The entire length of the Highline is 2.33km, stretching from the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. My advice: put on your walking shoes, take yourself to the Meatpacking District, and take a nice stroll down the whole length of the Highline, stopping at all the lookouts, and taking in this unique perspective on New York City.

Ride the Staten Island Ferry

Riding the Staten Island Ferry is a fantastic – and free – way to see the Statue of Liberty! You could spend a fortune paying a very pushy tour company to take you onto Ellis Island, and (possibly) up to the viewing part of the statue. Don’t get me wrong; this is worth doing once in your life. But if you are in New York for the second time, or are strapped for cash, then taking a trip on the Staten Island Ferry is such a terrific way to get closer to Lady Liberty.

The Staten Island Ferry is a free ferry to – you guessed it – Staten Island. The ferry leaves every 30 minutes from the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, and travels to Staten Island, where you will need to disembark. You have the option of staying to look around Staten Island, or you can get straight back onto the ferry for the return trip. The ferry is a great opportunity to get some sunshine, as well as some terrific photos of the Statue of Liberty, as well as some unique ones of the New York skyline from the water.

It’s a lovely way to spend a morning – standing on the deck of the Staten Island Ferry, on the water, watching the iconic Lady Liberty grow nearer. I highly recommend taking the subway down to the financial district and riding the ferry – it’s such a valuable free service, and you won’t regret the spectacular views you get from the water.

Top-Tip: As you approach the Ferry Terminal, there will be hawkers from the expensive Statue of Liberty tour company’s. They will say, (or shout), anything to stop you from seeing the Statue of Liberty for free; including that tourists aren’t allowed to ride the Staten Island Ferry: Don’t listen to them. Tour company’s station hawkers at the ferry terminal to trick unwitting tourists into paying for unnecessary tours, but the Staten Island Ferry is a completely free service available to anybody who wishes to make use of it. Just keep walking, and enjoy the free ride you are entitled to!

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

Haven’t you always wanted to walk all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge? I have – and last time I was in New York, I did it! It’s a fantastic way to spend a sunny afternoon, and I highly recommend it to anybody wanting to see the city from a different perspective.

The pedestrian walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge is 2.09km long, and a slow walk all the way from Manhattan to Brooklyn should take about 45 minutes. It’s important to be aware of how crowded the Brooklyn Bridge can get, mainly due to it’s popularity with tourists. I would make sure to avoid peak times, when New Yorkers use the bridge to get to and from work, and be aware that you will probably be sharing the bridge with hundreds of other people, no matter what time you go.

My advice: take yourself down to the financial district mid-morning, hop onto the bridge, and go for an easy stroll all the way to Brooklyn. Make sure to take in all the sights from the bridge, don’t let the crowds deter you, and spend the rest of the day exploring Brooklyn!

There are so many fantastic and free things to do in New York City – it can actually be a really budget friendly city. I would love to hear if you have enjoyed any of the free things on this list, or let me know below your favourite free thing is to do in New York!