Budget Vacation to NYC- Less than $1,200!

It’s no secret that traveling is expensive,

-Especially when heading to big cities like NYC. My husband and I have made it our mission in life to visit at least one major city in every state, so far we’ve only checked off three- Chicago, Indianapolis, and Detroit, but we’ve only been married for a year. With our anniversary approaching we’ve decided to head East and check off a few cities along the way, culminating in a week in NYC, but a quick look at costs in the area knocked that idea from our heads in a minute.

I, however, am not so easily swayed. I was raised by a mother who made four course meals from the food bank and vacations out of park visits, so I knew that with enough research and time, I could make an affordable- and incredible vacation happen.

The Big Problems With The Big Apple

A quick google search, “How much would a NYC vacation for two cost” gives you a shocking number. $3,351. I don’t know about you, but as a young, newlywed(ish) couple in 2020, my husband and I don’t have that kind of money to splash around on a vacation. If we did, we wouldn’t be living in a studio apartment in Elkhart.

Seeing that kind of price tag lead me to doing some research, mainly, what on earth makes a New York vacation so expensive? I read multiple travel blogs and haunted NYC local’s social media for clues, and after a few hours I managed to put together the top three reasons your Manhattan vacation could cost you three months rent- and how to avoid them.

#3 Hitting The Bars A Little Too Hard

I get it, New York is a food capital, and it’s tough to not make your plans around Michelin Starred restaurants and hip, inventive bars. My husband I are major foodies, and we knew right away that we wanted to eat at as many places as possible in New York. I also knew, however, that so many visitors have blown as much as $400 a day eating all of the city’s delicious offerings. A tip to avoid the budget strain while achieving the belt strain? Travel off the beaten path to delicious local spots and ethnic eateries. The surrounding areas, which are easily accessible by subway and metro services have food festivals, artisan bakeries and all kinds of wonderful surprises where you can eat and drink for less than $30 a person a day. Check out our trip itinerary below for more delicious foodie finds. As for bars? The average cost of a beer in Manhattan is around $7.50. Yep, you read that right. For reference you can pick up a bottle of beer for around $3.50 where I live. If you’re planning to do some drinking while you’re in the city, you may want to hit up a liquor store and take it back to wherever you’re staying.

#2 Staying Where The Party Is

I learned to drive in a sixteen passenger van in downtown Chicago in the middle of winter. If you said I had to drive across cracking lava rocks above a volcano while children in the backseat tried to distract me I wouldn’t flinch. Still, however, I’d be lying if I said I’m not scared of driving in New York City. When my husband and I were first planning our trip my instinct was to find a hotel right on Times Square and walk around the city like we lived there. A quick search for hotels revealed that staying on the square however would launch our trip budget through the roof. While yes, you can find gems like The Pod Hotel for as low as $75 a night during the off season, parking alone will set you back at least $50 a night. As tempting as it might be to just sleep in your car at those costs, there are better solutions! Stay outside of the city where free and cheap parking abounds and take a train into the city, or check out our solutions down below!

#1 Taxis, Transportation and Tears

Like I mentioned above, parking in a city garage will set you back a pretty penny, and if you do manage to find a place that won’t leave you starving for the rest of your trip you can be sure you won’t be able to leave that spot for fear of it getting stolen. While locals might have secret spots or encourage you to use a website especially for finding parking in the city, I’ll tell you that the most obvious solution is the best. Take the train. The subway costs roughly $2.75 per trip, regardless of destination, which is much, much less than a taxi would set you back, and if you’re planning on being in town for a while, an unlimited use metro card will only set you back $34.

So How Did We Do It?

I’ve listed a few different ways to avoid some of the major costs on your journey, but how did we actually put it all together? Here’s a rough itinerary of our trip, including our plans for activities, food, and transportation.

To begin with, we chose to drive to New York, roughly an eleven hour drive from our apartment in Elkhart. That’s too far to do in one day, so we found the halfway point using the nifty tool travelmath. Our halfway point is Youngstown, Ohio, so we booked a hotel room there. We drive a car that gets about 40mpg, and costs about $40 to fill. Our hotel in Youngstown costs $75 after taxes and fees. We keep a cooler full of snacks and eat fast food, so for there and back we’re at $200.

But where, exactly are we going? An AirBnB in Brooklyn ($512 for the stay, after taxes and fees), only blocks from a Metro Station, for which we’ve already bought week long passes for both of us for $70.

It’s now 4p in Brooklyn on a Sunday night, we’re ready for dinner, and where better to go in Brooklyn than Vanessa’s Dumpling House, where dinner and leftovers for two exhausted adults only costs us $15.

Early Monday morning we hop the train to Hell’s Kitchen, grab an incredible breakfast at Westway Diner ($25) and wander around Central Park for a few hours. Around 2p we hop a train back to Brooklyn and pick up our car from our free street parking outside the entire apartment we rented, and head out for Area53, a lasertag/paintball/airsoft arena that sets us back $80 for five hours of fun. Afterwards we stop by Pho Mac for a wonderful, $35 dinner. We walk around the area by our apartment and find a spot to watch the sun set over the river.

Tuesday is the day we’ve dedicated to spending big bucks, but even so our walking-distance breakfast at The Corner Grind only sets us back $20. After breakfast we walk the High Line and take pictures before spending our touristy time in Times Square. That night we head to La Masseria, a stunning restaurant in the theater district. It sets us back a hefty $114, but is worth it in every aspect.

On Wednesday my first order of bbusiness is going straight to The Corner Grid for a $16 breakfast. It’s that good. After that I drag my husband to The Bronx Museum of Art for some culture. We then walk gardens hunt for food trucks until the sun sets($35). It sounds like a boring day, but is one of my favorites.

On Thursday we go back to The Corner Grind one more time ($21), they know us by name now. We grab our car and drive to Japan Village, where we fill up on street food and explore ($36). We explore the surrounding area before heading back into Times Square again.

Friday morning we say goodbye to our adorable rented apartment and head out to Smorgasburg ($37), which is a chaotic and delicious celebration of America’s melting pot. From there we begin our two day journey back home.

The Total Damage

Were you keeping track of all that? That was a five day adventure in Manhattan for a grand total of $1,166. Of course this isn’t including souvenirs or snacks, but for my husband and I that’s just a few hundred more than our monthly rent, making it a completely affordable get away. Notice I didn’t get tickets for shows or anything major, as I was trying to make this as accessible as possible, but with a total cost like this, you could grab nose-bleeds to Wicked and still come out under $1,500. Or, if like my husband and I, you wind up eating at the same restaurant three days running, you could leave the staff with a very generous gift and leave them wondering who you were. Either way, long-term trips, even to places as expensive as NYC don’t have to break your bank, with a little bit of planning you can get nearly anywhere in the states for less than $2,000!

If you have any questions, suggestions, or need any advice (or someone to plan a vacation for you!), comment below and let’s discuss!

Happy Travels,


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