The more we travel, the more we come home filled with exciting stories to tell, but most of our friends questions’ aren’t really related to that time we stayed in a scary under-construction hostel in Riga that offered free nights in exchange for a 10 rating on Booking. You know what their questions are? How can you afford it? How much did it cost? New York was the city that raised the most eyebrows: “Did you really not win the lottery?”. The (unfortunate) answer is no! But the good news is that New York on a budget is possible! We are here to give you some answers on a detailed budget of how much we (really!) spent on a week in the Big Apple.
Everything is in US dollars and converted to € to make it easy to read and compare to the other budget posts we’ll be sharing. At the time we visited and considering all costs related to buying currency, our exchange rate was 1$=0,98€.
We will focus on four main expenses that all trips have in common: Transportation, Accommodation, Food & Drinks and Attractions. At the end we’ll add an Extra section to give some details on very specific and personal costs. At the end we have prepared a summary of how much we ended up spending per day per person on our time in New York. You will know what to expect and be able to plan your visit to New York accordingly.
We know how important budget is. It is absolutely crucial in such an expensive city – trust us! However, we’re also very conscious that it’s not everyday you are in New York and there were some experiences we really did not want to miss and ended up splurging on. This post is filled with tips on how to save and on what to spend that are useful all year around. However, be aware that we visited it in the third week of January. First tip: choosing low season is key to finding the best prices!
You know when you find flight deals you really just can’t refuse? Lufthansa challenged us with a round trip from Porto to New York for 444€ per person on dates we could actually go, and we just couldn’t say no. Flights are always one of the biggest expenses of a trip, specially when you are going to a different continent, so we were indeed very tempted. Looking back, it was very unlike us to book in the spur of the
moment promotion (we usually have everything planned well ahead of time), but we really wanted to go to the USA while Obama was still POTUS. We won’t include our flights in the final summary because they are very specific to our situation and not actually related to the city’s costs.
All our transportation-related costs (for two):
- Airport Transfers: 66€ / 68$
- Weekly MetroCard: 63€ / 64 $
- Total: 129€ / 132$ for two
Accommodation is the real budget-killer in New York! There is a lot to choose from, but prices were mostly out of our budget, especially in Manhattan. When we go back to New York we’ll consider staying in another borough, but it was our first time and we wanted to tick off many bucket-list-tourist attractions. We were really lucky to find a wonderful hotel smacked in the middle of Manhattan with a very affordable price (for NYC standards, though not ours): Pod 39. We felt at home at this place (certainly one of the best we’ve ever stayed at) and were just so happy that our trip to the city was not tainted by a bad accommodation experience.
This was the only accommodation-related cost we had and we paid a total of 569€ / 580$ for six nights in a super comfortable, though very small, en-suite double bedroom.
Food & Drinks
If there is one thing you really can save on while in New York is food! There is cheap street food everywhere. No, it mostly won’t qualify as healthy. However, it will definitely give you the energy you need to roam the city. You’ll also find takeaways everywhere: from picturesque delis to pizzerias and bagel-shops, what more could you really want? As unsatisfied human beings, of course, we wanted more: we craved delicious lobster and crab rolls that we can’t find anywhere in Portugal. That’s why we splurged on them… twice. In the end, two meals at Luke’s Lobster ended up representing about 30% of all the money we spent eating in a week in NYC, and we don’t regret it at all. We just wish we could have a Luke’s Lobster here in Lisbon to mess up our budget, but delight our taste buds.
We spent a total of 294€ / 300$ for two, which comes at 21€ / 21$ per person per day (includes breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner basically for the price of a cocktail in the city). And though we were very budget-conscious, we did not compromise on the experience: we had many of NYC’s must-haves, including huge pizza slices, delicious pastrami sandwiches and not-so-impressing Shake Shack burgers.
There are a whole lot of amazing free things to do in New York City… you could spend months entertained without spending money in actual attraction fees. Some of our favorite free attractions include: Central Park, New York Public Library, Grand Central Station, and the Dumbo neighborhood in Brooklyn (just to name a few!). Nevertheless, there were some paid experiences we really did not want to miss on, even if it was gutting to click buy and see the money from our bank accounts disappear.
For European standards (and specially Portuguese ones!), attractions are really expensive… Also, do not count on significant discounts! Yet again, they were worth every penny: from the crazy experience of an NBA game (go Knicks!) to the breathtaking view of the sun setting over the city skyline at Top of the Rock, and learning about 9/11, a tragedy that speaks a lot about the city’s identity, strength and willingness to overcome.
All the money we spent on attractions (for two):
- NBA game: 209€ / 213$
- Top of the Rock: 67€ / 68$
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum: 50€ / 56$
- Total: 326€ / 333$ for two
There are always some extra costs, and we feel it’s important to acknowledge them. Way before arriving to the city we had to pay for our ESTAs. Living in the EU really is a privilege and we tend to forget that most people still have to pay for actual Visas when they are travelling. Because we are very responsible adults (or mostly, very scared by the American health system) we also invested on some insurance. Thankfully we didn’t need it (despite the flu)… but we still had to pay for it.
Yes, we did also spend some money on souvenirs, but we won’t really be sharing the costs for those as we don’t need everyone to know how cheap we actually are (joking… or maybe not!). You can find a lot of affordable souvenirs in NYC though you have to look a little deeper than Times Square. Our tip is to find the (sale section) of the Museum shops!
Extra costs (for two):
- Online ESTAs: 28€ / 29$
- Insurance: 58€ / 59$
- Total: 86€ / 88$ for two
New York on a Budget: Final Roundup
All of this seems like a lot of money for a couple on a budget… and it is! This was certainly the most expensive trip we’ve done! But you must look at things in perspective and make the choices that best suit you. This was how much we spent, and it reflects the choices we made. With all the expenses we had in New York, we ended up spending less than 100€ / 100$ per day. This is actually really affordable when you look at the great hotel we stayed at, the amazing experiences we had and the tasty food we still miss… and the fact that we were on one of the most expensive cities in the world.
What about you? Do you keep record of all your travel related expenses? And even if you don’t, can you pinpoint the most expensive trip you’ve ever done?
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