This past month I took a super frugal trip to New York. I was in town for a conference, and was initially a little worried about the budget. But it turns out, even in one of the most expensive cities on Earth, there are always affordable ways to travel.
The first thing I looked at when I was deciding if this sojourn was even going to be possible was accommodations. The conference was happening at a hotel in Times Square, and even the discounted conference rate was oppressive.
I decided to turn to Airbnb. It’s an option I’ve been reluctant to use in the past. Sleeping in a stranger’s house seemed, well, scary. But when we went to Canada we tried it out for the first time and had a stellar experience. Stellar as in these were the views from the private apartment we rented:
I’ve learned from personal experience and from watching others use the platform that reading reviews is critical. You want a place with lots of reviews to scroll through, and you want the vast majority of those reviews to be glowing. I applied this same method to NYC and found a place in the heart of Times Square for a grand total of $181– for three nights.
The place I stayed was set up similar to a hostel. Initially, I had planned to keep to myself and get a lot of work done. But as soon as I got there, I was bombarded with invitations to go grab some food, check out nightlife or just chat.
I took the offers I could within the conference schedule, and I’m so glad I did. I made new friends, learned amazing stories from new acquaintances, and saw far more of the area than I would have if left to my own devices. It felt like going away to summer camp, except your bunk mates were these amazing women from around the world.
I highly endorse Airbnb for budget travel. It’s saved me a ton of money over a hotel multiple times, and, after carefully reading the reviews, has felt incredibly safe and led to amazing experiences I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t rented space from a local. If you want to try it out, too, you can get a $40 travel credit by signing up here.
I found a Megabus ticket from Pittsburgh to NYC for $72 roundtrip. That included reserving seats, which was an optional add-on. (My favorite was on the top in the front of the bus.)
It was my first time using them. Wifi was spotty, which I expected. It was nonexistent on my way in, but on my way home I was able to knock a lot of work out. I had heard the buses were “dirty,” but I didn’t have that experience. Maybe I’m just too used to PAT buses, which can be pretty gross sometimes. Everything’s relative.
While in New York, I bought three subway tickets. I had a really easy time using it on the way in, and spent $3 on a one-time pass. But I got confused while heading to catch the Megabus out, so I ended up having to buy two one-time tickets for a total of $6.
I had some amazing eats while in the city. One day while I was in town, the conference provided free lunch and breakfast. Another day, my mom’s cousin was generous enough to treat me to lunch at Thalia. It was the first time each of us were trying the restaurant, and it was amazing.
With friends from the Airbnb, I tried some Indian, and old-school diner and an Irish pub. One night we grabbed a drink at Hard Rock, too.
Grand total: $84.00
The Conference: THINK17
My friends at CO-OP invited me to check out their annual conference: THINK17. I wasn’t able to stay for the entire thing because of prior obligations that week, but I’m so glad I made it for the two days I did. It was the most interesting and dynamic conference I’ve ever been to.
We listened to speakers who challenged the norm, spoke with credit union reps who were completely dedicated to making their members’ experiences beyond spectacular, and got to hear from some of the winners of their THINK17 prize, which invited innovation in the digital financial experience for those 50+.
Aside from the awesome financial nerd discussions and inspirational speakers, we also were privy to some top notch entertainment, including a sampler of Hamilton during opening:
And a Cirque-esque performance at our first night’s party:
I didn’t spend a lot going to shows or anything of the like while I was in NYC. I found that walking around in the evening brought enough free entertainment that I didn’t have to pay for it. Just walking around Times Square my Airbnb friends and I were able to see some great performances, including a talented break dancing troupe.
The above video is in 360. Best viewed through your VR headset, but you can also look around by clicking and dragging to change your perspective with your mouse.
I did learn, however, that if you want to go see a show, you can purchase any leftover tickets at the TKTS booth in the middle of Times Square. You have to be flexible in what you’re willing to see, but you’ll score a great deal.
New York City on a Budget
If doing NYC for four days under $350 is possible, you can do anywhere on a budget of less than $100/day. I wouldn’t trade my frugal experiences for the world—whether we’re talking about the new friends I made or the new ideas and experiences I have in my tool belt for work.
What destinations have you done for cheap? Share your story in the comments!