New York City on a Budget

Is New York City expensive?  It can be very expensive if you do not do your research and plan your trip, but if you do your research and plan well, you can visit The Big Apple, even if you’re on a budget, and NO, you do not have to stay in the Motel 6 in the Bronx nor do you have to pull a Supersize Me and eat McDonalds every meal.

My wife and I visited New York on a budget and we had the time of our lives to the point where we still talk about it even two years later.  We stayed in a nice Hotel in Manhattan, we ate at nice restaurants, we toured the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and we spent less than $1000 for the whole trip (we flew for free).

Here are 5 ways to travel to New York City on a budget:

The first part of your trip you need to plan is how to get to New York.  Round trip tickets to New York can cost anywhere between $200 and $500 depending on where you are flying from, the time of year, the airline, etc. etc. etc.  Shop around the different sites such as Expedia, Travelocity, kayak.com, and don’t hesitate to check the actual airline websites for possible deals not listed on 3rd Party booking sights.  Be sure to check jetblue.com as Jet Blue Airlines’ main hub is New York JFK Airport and they often have very good deals from many locations in the USA.

Second, you need to found housing.  You can often find great deals on hotels through priceline.com, booking.com, and if you’re open to staying at someone’s privately owned residence, you can check out airbnb.com and save a ton of money.  If you want to stay on Manhattan and be closer to all the action, but without breaking the bank, stay around Wall Street/Battery Park area (Lower Manhattan).  Avoid hotels at Times Square or around Central Park or you will pay a lot more.  Lower Manhattan not only has lower prices on Hotels, the restaurants and cafes are a lot cheaper than around Times Square.

Third, you need to figure out transportation from the Airport to your Hotel, and around the city as you visit the different sites.  You can travel by taxi, but I hope you’re a millionaire.  You can walk everywhere, but I hope you have lots of time on your hands and very good legs.  The best way to travel around New York is via the subway.  New York boasts the best subway system in the United States.  The trains come very often, and you can get almost anywhere quickly.  If you’re going to be in New York for at least 3 days, purchase the 7 day MTA unlimited pass, which will allow you to travel on subway trains and MTA buses without limit.  Last time I checked, it cost $30 per pass, and it is totally worth it.  You will save after only 8 or 9 subway trips.  My wife and I completed that within one day.  What else is nice, if you pull up Google Maps on your phone while walking around the city, you can see the subway lines by color and know which track to take to get to the site you want to see.  You can purchase your subway pass at the Howard Beach AirTrain Station at JFK airport, or MTA vending machines at LaGuardia.  If you fly into Newark, you have to take the air train to New York Penn Station as the MTA subway does not cross state lines.

Fourth, complete the trip in 4 days and 4 nights.  You’d be surprised how much you can see in such a short time, and the less nights you stay, the more money you save.  My wife and I took a Friday and a Monday off from work and visited New York on a 4 day weekend.

Fifth, plan out your activities and restaurants ahead of time, especially do your research on famous restaurants such as Katz Delicatessen, where a combo meal can cost you $25.  That way you know ahead of time what you will be spending and there will not be unpleasant surprises.

 


New York City: Something for Everyone

Have you been to New York City?  If you have not, I would add that to your bucket list.  If you are looking to travel somewhere unique, but don’t want to hassle with leaving the country, go to New York.  In New York City, there is something for everyone.  Describe your favorite type of vacation, and you will likely find something in New York that will meet it.

My wife and I visited the Big Apple in 2015, and it was one of the best vacation destinations we have visited in the world, and it was the best we have visited within the continental USA.  Since we have returned home, we have urged everyone we know to take a trip there.  Below are some common rebuttals as to why someone would not want to visit New York, but I have an answer for almost every rebuttal out there:

It’s too expensive: This is one of the most common rebuttals, and a New York visit can be expensive, if you fail to plan ahead and if you do not do your research.  My wife and I visited New York on a budget and were able to see a lot and we were able to eat a lot of very good food.  I will cover how to visit New York City on a budget in another blog post.

It’s too big and crowded: No doubt that New York City is a big city, it’s the largest city in the USA, and yes, it is crowded, depending on where you go and the time of day.  If you are visiting New York for a week, visit the famous sites such as the Statue of Liberty, or the Rockefeller Center on weekdays.  Visit Central Park on the weekend.  Yes, there are a lot of people in Central Park, but it’s such a huge park that you can always find a section of the park that is secluded.  You can also visit other less crowded Boroughs (counties) outside of Manhattan, such as Brooklyn or Queens.  There may not be as much to see outside of Manhattan, but they still have lots of very good restaurants and even some famous restaurants shown on Travel Channel.

 

I want to go to the beach: New York City is close to beaches.  Yes, you will want to go in the late spring, summer, or early fall to avoid cold weather, but beaches in New York are not bad at all and one who hasn’t done their research would be surprised to find that NY beaches are actually quite nice.

 

It’s too loud, I like peaceful places: Two words for you:  Central Park.  You do not have to stay in your hotel room for peace and quiet in New York, jump onto the subway and go up to Central Park.  Once in Central Park, walk into the park far and find a place with few people.  Instead of hearing traffic and honking horns, you will hear birds and the breeze. Whoever came up with the idea of Central Park is a genius!

 

I want to travel internationally:  As a persistent traveler, I hear ya!  I love travelling internationally too!  Which is why you need to visit New York City.  Think of every nationality, race, culture, and food that exists in the world…..You can find it in New York City….guaranted!

The people in New York are rude:  I thought the same thing, so when we traveled to New York City, I kept my guard up at first, only to find the opposite to be true.  New Yorkers are actually pretty friendly.  They are brutally honest and they are not shy to express their opinions, but they do not mean harm.  Just a word of advice, if you are at a restaurant, don’t be indecisive about want you want to eat.

New York City is too far:  Unless you live in Hawaii or Alaska, you can fly to New York in 5 hours or less.  What more?  New York City has direct flights from almost every airport in the country.  Even right here in Salt Lake City, Utah where we live, we have multiple daily direct flights to New York JFK on Delta Airlines and Jet Blue.

So, if you’re hesitant to travel to New York for whatever reason.  Go anyway, I bet you that your trip will exceed your expectations.


Cancun: Unlimited Free Food and Drinks at Your Hotel?

After we returned from Cancun, one of our friends asked us: What is the cheapest hotel by the beach in Cancun?  Our answer of course was “it depends”.  Hotel prices change all the time.  One day on booking.com, a 4 star hotel might be cheaper than a 2 star hotel.  The next day, that same hotel could be the most expensive hotel.  Hotel prices change all the time, and really, there is far more research to do on your potential hotel than just the price:  What comes with the hotel?  Do you have to pay to rent a beach chair?  Are you charged for beach towels?  Are you charged for bottled water (that’s the only water that’s safe to drink in Cancun, sorry)?, how much does the food cost?  Do you have to pay extra for to have your bed sheets changed (I’m not kidding)?

A so-called cheap hotel on the beach in Cancun can end up costing you a lot more in many other ways.  Most people I know who have visited Cancun swear by the “All Inclusive Hotel”.  All Inclusive means that everything is included in the daily fee for your hotel.  I mean everything: free beach chairs, unlimited free food and free meals, unlimited free drinks (alcoholic drinks included for those who drink), free room service, free shows, highly discounted excursions etc etc.  The wait staff and hotel workers do appreciate tips of 1 dollar or 20 pesos. they take either.

You pay more per night for the hotel, but trust me, I have spoken with people who did not go all inclusive, and they spent well over $100 per day on meals and other costs, and they were completely unprepared financially to pay that much.  All Inclusive Hotels will save you money and there are no surprises.  If you are concerned that the quality of service or the quality of the food will diminish in an all inclusive hotel, trust me, it will not diminish.

Here are some examples of food at an all inclusive hotel:

Dessert

 

Fish marinated in a Mayan Red Chile Sauce

 

Marinated Steak

 

Tasty Mexican Food from the buffet

 

Daily Breakfast Buffet with fruit, chilaquiles, beans, eggs, pan con chorizo (yum)

 

Would you like to eat all these foods for free?  I haven’t even scratched the surface with all the choices.  On top of the food, the service from the staff is beyond exceptional, better than I have seen even in the states.

So, if you make the right choice to visit Cancun, go all inclusive!  Google “Cancun all inclusive” or visit one of the major travel booking sights to find deals.


Mayan Ruins in Mexico

It’s no doubt that Cancun is one of the best beach destinations in the world, but if you visit Cancun without visiting the nearby Mayan Ruins, you are merely getting “half” a Cancun Vacation, maybe not even half.  I admit, it’s very tempting to get caught up in the relaxation of laying out on the beach everyday eating chips and salsa, and sipping on margaritas, and really, who wants to set their alarm for 6:00 in the morning in order to catch the bus for an all day excursion away from the beach?  But, anyone who has been on any of these excursions will tell you that it was by far the best part of their Cancun trip.

Their are multiple adventurous and cultural excursions you can take in Cancun, some of the more famous ones are Tulúm, Chichen Itza, and Cobá.  Chichen Itza is the most popular, and one of the best excursions, but it’s the longest.  You can expect to leave early in the morning and return to the hotel after dark.

Chichen Itza:

My wife and I visited Cobá, it wasn’t quite as long as Chichen Itza, we were back to our hotel shortly before 5:00 in the evening. We still had time to relax at the beach before dark, we had a nice dinner, and we were able to catch another show at our hotel.

Cobá is a Mayan village deep in Mexican Jungle.  It has ancient structures and pyramids just as the other Mayan Ruins have, except you can actually climb up some of the pyramids.  In the other Mayan Ruins, climbing the pyramids is against the law.

Cobá

 

Hiking to the top of the pyramid is much harder than it looks, getting down is downright scary.  If you look at the picture close enough, you will see a rope from the top of the pyramid to the bottom.  Climbing down without using the rope is suicide, especially if the rocks are wet.  Good fortune brought us a thunderstorm and a heavy downpour right at the moment we reached the top, so getting down was a very slow step by step, slippery and treacherous experience.  But, despite how difficult the climb was, it was totally worth it.  The view of the jungle from up high is breathtaking.  The below picture doesn’t do justice, but it’s the best we could do with a cell phone camera on an overcast day.

The fun does not end at the pyramids.  On our excursion, we also visited a deep cave with a swimming pool:

And we also visited a Mayan family’s home where the children warmly greeted us with a performance:

When going on these excursions, be prepared to hike and be prepared to sweat.  Bring lots of water and electrolytes with you to keep yourself hydrated.  The temperature is noticeably warmer in the jungle and you don’t get the ocean breeze as you do at the beach.  We visited Cancun and Cobá in November, and it was a sweltering 90° F (32° C) with high humidity.  On top of that, be sure to bring some bug spray.  In the jungle, the bugs are big, the bugs are huge, and the bugs are aggressive.

In conclusion, if you decide to visit Cancun, go on at least one excursion.  Be willing to get up early that one day.  Be prepared as mentioned above.  Be prepared to hike (no flip flops) and prepare for heat and humidity.  Do this and you will likely find that your excursion to the Mayan Ruins will be your favorite part of your Cancun Vacation as it was for my wife and I.


Cancun with Kids?

My wife and I were under the impression that Cancun was a place primarily for adults and young adults.  There is lots of alcohol, clubs such as Coco Bongo and many others, swimming pool bars, etc etc etc.  No doubt, Cancun is perfect for the adults and young adults, perfect for spring break, and a perfect place for working adults to chill out for a week.  After staying in Cancun for a week, my wife and I began to notice all the fun activities for children.  If you decide to visit Cancun with kids, they will have fun activities to do for sure.

Most of the Hotels have a kids’ section with a pool. The hotel we visited; the Royal Solaris Resort, has a kids’ pool and club.  You can drop them off there for a couple hours at a time as the club and pool are supervised.

Kids’ pool at the Royal Solaris

Many of the hotels put on kid-friendly shows in the evening.  Our hotel had a Disney night, many of the Disney shows and songs were performed in Spanish although some in English.  It was interesting for us to see their way of portraying and performing Disney pieces in Mexico versus the United States.  The little ones that were in the theatre watching this show really enjoyed seeing their favorite Disney characters dancing and singing their favorite Disney songs in Spanish.

On top of the kids’ swimming pools, clubs, and performances, your young ones will love playing on the beach.  The sand is soft and white on Cancun beaches and is perfect for building sand castles.  There is also a water park with water slides if you are looking to take your children off hotel premises.  So, should you go to Cancun with kids?  YES!!!

Cancun, Mexico: See the Shows!

Do you normally watch the live shows in your Hotel?  If you are anything like me, you probably do not.  When you travel, you often want to do other activities.  If you’re in the big city, you probably want to go sightseeing at night.  If you’re on the beach, you probably want to take a night time stroll up the beach barefoot while the moon rises over the horizon.  Let’s be honest, if your hotel offers a live show, concert, or stand-up comedian, there are likely other more interesting activities to do, unless you’re in Las Vegas……or……CANCUN!

Spend as much time at the beach during the day as possible, so you can see the live shows at night.  Believe me, they are worth it!  They will usually have performances displaying Mexico’s history and culture.  The performances consist of music, song, dance, and some humor.  We went to such a performance at the end of our second day in Cancun, below are some clips of the performances we watched.  This performance was called “The Mexican” and it was performed at the Royal Solaris Hotel on November 7, 2016.

At our hotel and at most Hotels in Cancun, there are similar performances.  The other nights they had other performances, such Disney Night, Moulin Rouge, and others.  If you really not interested in going to shows, just do yourself a favor and only go to one show, but make sure it’s a live show displaying Mexican Culture.  You really need to take in the culture when you visit Mexico, and really at any foreign country you visit.


Cancun Mexico: More Than Just Beaches

Cancun is one of the most underrated destinations.  It really does not get enough credit.  If everyone knew how great a vacation spot it is, everybody would be lining up at the post office to apply for passports so they could visit this place.

Cancun is more than just beaches, and believe me, there are no beaches anywhere in the US of A as nice as Cancun beaches.  Florida can’t even compete.  Southern California certainly can’t compete.  Even Hawaiian beaches fall short.  The picture below is taken with a cheap smartphone camera.  The water is clear, light blue, and warm.

 

Compare that with Cocoa Beach, Florida (taken with the same smartphone camera (see below)……

 

Also, compare it with Oceanside, California (see below) (also taken with the same smartphone camera)……….I rest my case.

On top of the beaches, there is so much more to Cancun.  The level of service you receive from the Hotels is beyond amazing.  The food is out-of-this-world delicious, and it’s free if you get an “All-Inclusive Hotel (more on that later).  Do you like fancily designed food from a talented chef?  A dish like this in France could cost you big time:

 

The excursions to the Mayan villages and ruins are an unforgettable experience.  The cultural experiences from the live shows in the Hotel are definitely worth sacrificing that evening stroll on the beach.

If you are hesitant to travel to Mexico because some nutcase on TV told you not to go because the Drug Cartels will kidnap you from your hotel room, don’t listen to them.  Cancun has more visitors from other countries around the world than they do from the USA, and I blame it on the fear so many Americans have of traveling outside the country. As I stated in a previous blog post, Mexico is the best, first foreign country to visit.  Go there for a week, and you will see why.


Two Types of Travel…..What Do You Prefer?

Although it seems there are many types of vacations, they typically fall into two categories:  (1) Relaxing vacations and (2) Tourist vacations.  A single vacation will be one, the other, or both.  Which one do you prefer?

Tourist vacations or sightseeing vacations are typically vacations where you visit a big city, another country, or anywhere where your day-to-day activities will be actively visiting famous sights, hiking a famous mountain, visiting famous museums, etc. etc. etc.  Tourist vacation spots may including places such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Paris, Madrid.  When you visit those cities, you are usually on the up and up every day seeing all the famous sights you possibly can.  Tourist Vacations are usually not physically relaxing, but they are mentally and spiritually relaxing.

My wife and I visited New York City two years ago and we visited for 4 days.  We squeezed so much activity in those four days that we were exhausted.  However, when I returned to work, I found that my mind was clear, and I felt refreshed as I would after a relaxing vacation.

A relaxing vacation typically would be a vacation at the beach where you can lounge around in a beach chair for the entire day without doing much at all.  It may also be a destination with a spa where you can experience massages, mud baths, and pure relaxation for a few days.  After returning back home from such a vacation, you will be fully relaxed both physically and mentally, and you will be ready to return back to work fully recharged.

Then there are those vacations where you get both.  This is the type of vacation I prefer.  My wife and I recently returned from Cancun Mexico, a famous beach destination.  We spend most days relaxing, but we also spent a day touring and sightseeing Mayan Ruins.  When we returned home from our trip, we were physically, mentally, and spiritually recharged.


The Best, First Foreign Country to Visit

Most Americans have traveled at least a few times in their life, some have traveled quite extensively.  Most Americans have traveled across the United States, but very few have ventured outside of US Soil.  For those few who have traveled to foreign lands, whether it be for work, for vacation, or for military purposes, there is one thing we all have in common:  we all experienced a first time doing it.  We all experienced culture shock on our initial step off the airplane and into the real world of whatever country we were visiting.

I have been to a few countries, the first country I visited was Spain.  Although Spain is a beautiful country with very friendly people, great food, and a rich culture, I experienced pretty serious culture shock.  It was uncomfortable for my first few days.  I didn’t know the Spanish language very well, the electric outlets are completely different, I jumped 8 time zones forward in time, so I experienced severe jet lag, the customs were different, and I felt like the awkward foreigner that I often saw in the United States.

So, what would I recommend as the best, first foreign country to visit?  If you are thinking England, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand, then sorry, I do not recommend those countries as the first foreign country to visit for first-time foreign travelers.

So, in my opinion, what is the best, first foreign country to visit?  Drumroll………………………MEXICO!  Yes, your eyes are not crossed.  If you want to take your first trip out of the country, I recommend Mexico.

Start out at a beach resort such as Cancun, Cabo, or Puerto Vallarta.  Spanish is the first language for natives of Mexico as we all know, but in the resort areas, almost every Mexican speaks fluent English.  The hotels require it for employment.  What more?  You do not have to deal with jet lag in Mexico.  Cancun, the furthest east tourist city is in the Eastern Time zone, the same as New York and Miami.  So unless you are visiting from Alaska or Hawaii, jet-leg is non-existent.  Immigration is a breeze at the airport, probably one of the easiest in the world.  The resort areas of Mexico are modernly built, they use the same 120V electric outlets we have in the USA.  The food there is amazing, so much more whole, natural, and better tasting than food here.  The cultural experience is out of this world.  For example, if you are staying in Cancun you can visit Mayan pyramids and Mayan villages such as Chichen Itza or Cobá.  Also, Mexico is very inexpensive, in fact many hotels offer all inclusive meals and drinks (including alcoholic drinks) free of charge just by staying at their Hotel.

So, if you are planning your first trip out of the country, I urge you to try Mexico.  You will not regret it.