I used to be one of those people who believed that travel was not within my means. When I would see people online having amazing experiences and getaways, I told myself that it wasn’t possible for us. Then, I would head to the mall or Target and drown my sorrows with $100 worth of random crap I didn’t need. What I didn’t realize is that if I were to just save that $100 each month, I could have started affording more getaways. However, applying a minimalist mindset to travel was also crucial. In previous years I insisted on buying new clothes before we traveled, picking up souvenirs at each destination, all that jazz. Now that I’ve painted a clearer picture of what I want when I travel (new experiences), I spend way less and experience way more. Here’s how New York went down…on a budget…
Creating a game plan
Whenever it comes to travel, I am a big believer of knowing your “must see” places.
For us, this trip was only booked due to my deep desire to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway before it closes after 35 years (the longest running Broadway show to date).
Having Phantom be my main focus meant anything else was a perk.
Our ultimate goals for New York looked like this:
- See some major New York attractions we had only seen in movies (Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Friends apartment were my top choices)
- Have fun enjoying one another’s company
- Eat good food (this is always a top priority for me)
Once we knew what we wanted to see, we got some intel from people who had been to New York before and started scoping out the map so we could get an idea for how we would organize our day. This is the same concept we used for planning our trip through Glacier National Park.
In total we had one night, one full day and one morning in New York, so we wanted to make the most of it. Of course, before we planned our day, we planned our trip and booked our attractions.
Booking an affordable flight
We didn’t have many limits we had to stick to as far as booking our flight. The only thing we had to make sure of was that we could also book our tickets for Phantom within the same time frame as an affordable flight.
Tips for getting a cheap flight without hassle:
- Keep your dates flexible
- Search Google Flights
- Hit “Reset” on your dates
Hitting the “reset” button on your dates selection allows you to view flights based on prices for each day. The more affordable flights will be colored in green. If you can, select a departure and return date that are both in green to ensure you get the most affordable price.
We booked our tickets through Spirit Airlines since we are both good at packing light, we avoid baggage fees by packing all of our belongings in our backpacks that fit nicely under the overhead seat. Read: How to Pack More Minimalist
If I could change anything, I would have paid a little more for a shorter or no layover as we had a 4 hour layover! (Next time I’ll slow down and read the fine print.)
2 Plane Tickets to New York: $326.32
Even though I had never been to Broadway, I am a girl who likes to dream which means I have scoped out prices on some of my favorite shows many of times before. Because of this I knew that I was more likely to get an affordable ticket for Phantom if I booked on a Tuesday.
You can also usually get cheaper tickets if you wait in line and book last minute. We didn’t have this luxury, so I did my best to book a more affordable time in advance.
Because we flew into New York on a Monday and flew out on a Wednesday, this made booking Tuesday tickets ideal!
2 Tickets to Phantom on Broadway: $216.46
The Rink at Rockefeller Center
Because Tom and I are people who tend to like to move around, I thought I’d look into the prices for ice skating at Rockefeller Center. This was never a big dream I had had but thought it would be really cool to take advantage of the still cold enough weather potentially without the Christmas time prices.
Thankfully, I was right. After browsing their website, I noticed a Monday Night Skate Special that runs from January 23 – March 27 where you can get tickets for only $10 (plus $11 each skate rental).
I booked us tickets for Monday night at 9pm since our plane arrived at 5 I figured this would give us enough time to get to our hotel, do a little Time Square sight seeing and still have plenty of time to make it for ice skating.
2 Tickets plus skates at The Rink: $42.00
Finding an affordable NYC hotel
I knew that booking our trip during February would already reduce our prices on both flight and hotel. New York’s biggest tourist season is usually through the summer and fall and then around Christmas time.
Many people hesitate booking trips in February because the weather isn’t always ideal, however, I have found February to be one of my favorite times to book trips that are more affordable. This is when we took our 3 day Nashville trip for less than $1,000! Being from Minnesota, we didn’t mind the 40 degree weather in New York. We dressed accordingly, did a lot of walking and all around enjoyed the “heat wave.”
Because our main focus for our trip was to see Phantom, I wanted to ensure our hotel was close to Broadway/Times Square. Thankfully, after browsing hotels I found the DoubleTree Hilton Times Square West for around $90 per night (before tax).
2 Night stay at DoubleTree Hilton: $247.40
Thankfully, our oldest daughter and her husband had recently explored New York and multiple cities in Europe and had found an amazing app to help navigate a busy city. They recommended we download the Citymapper app.
The Citymapper app is so amazing because when you type in a location that you want to go to it will give you several options that include subway, bus, taxi and walking so you can do all of the following:
- Decide which route is best
- Get detailed descriptions to where you’re going
The app was free to download and because it helped us know a little better how to navigate the subway system (still a little nerve racking as first-timers), we were able to avoid the taxi and Uber fees we might have otherwise paid.
How the Citymapper app works
- Type in the location you want to go to
- Select which transportation method you prefer
- Follow the step by step instructions
How to pay for the subway
Again, we relied on our kids to give us a quick tutorial on how to pay for subway fares. Thankfully, having already had Apple pay set up on my phone, all it took was tapping my phone at the toll booth.
Tom did not have this set up which made for some funny panic/struggles on his part when he got lost in a sea of New Yorkers after I happily paid my way through the toll booth. From that moment on, he followed in front of me and I simply tapped my phone twice to pay for his toll and then mine.
10 Subway Rides: $27.50
Affordable Food in New York
Thankfully Tom and I are pretty low key when it comes to feeling the need to dine at “fancy” places. We both try to eat relatively healthy which can often make keeping food cheap a little trickier. However, all bets were off in New York, baby!
Getting a New York slice (pizza), was also on our list of things we wanted to do, and we definitely indulged in the coffee shop pastries. (I have never had a better croissant than the 2 I had in New York.) When we were planning for our trip, we were elated to find out that we would be in New York for Restaurant Week. Another good reason to go to New York in February if you are hoping to save money!
What is New York’s Restaurant week?
Restaurant Week in New York is a time when local restaurants put together meal packages at a discount. This allows people to sample more New York cuisine without the higher ticket costs.
The How I Met Your Mother Pub
This was something we had originally planned on partaking in and we had planned to spend a little bit more for a nice dinner on Tuesday, after the Phantom of the Opera. However, after walking and biking all day we were deliriously happy to stumble upon McGee’s Restaurant and Pub the bar that the McLaren’s Pub was based on in the hit sitcom, How I Met Your Mother.
We had made a promise that if we happened to find the bar, we would go in, but didn’t put it at the top of our priorities list. Thankfully it was smack dab in the middle of our walk to our hotel from Central Park.
New York Coffee Shops
Our basic strategy was to opt for a later breakfast so we could have hot coffee while we strolled the street and hopefully tide us over through lunch.
While I will say paying for black coffee and croissants in New York was still pretty expensive compared to Minnesota (over $20 each time), I have never had better croissants in my life. Maybe they slip a little crack into the sugar? It’s cool by me. They were amazing.
New York Pizza
We also enjoyed a late night slice of pizza (OK it was like 10pm, so sue us) after ice skating at Rockefeller Center and were psyched to realize it was one of the pizza places that Santa Claus mentions in the movie, Elf.
“Second, there are, like, 30 Ray’s Pizzas. They all claim to be the original, but the real one’s on 11th.” – Santa
No, we weren’t on 11th, we were in Times Square, but I gotta tell ya, I wasn’t worried about it. The pizza was amazing — clearly homemade dough — not that frozen stuff we’re used to.
Included in our food budget was also the food we purchased at the airport during our layovers. Since we didn’t eat very many New York meals, since airport food is expensive too, I figured I would include it to give you an honest estimate of what you could expect to spend.
Additional meals purchased at airports:
- Breakfast at National Coney Island in Detroit
- 3 Beers at Atwater Brewery in Detroit
- Ahhmazingly good shawarma salad, wrap and drinks at Anita’s Kitchen in Detroit
Food Budget Total: $414.69
While we used to be avid shot glass souvenir collectors, the realization that the shot glasses just sat unused in our cupboard serving no real purpose made us let go of that unnecessary spending habit.
This time, however, I planned my souvenir purchase in advance. Because this was not only my first Broadway show, but one of the final showings of Phantom, the longest running Broadway show, I wanted to purchase a shirt. I had previously seen a Broadway star wearing a long sleeved Phantom shirt that I knew was something I would continue to wear. (If there were no shirts in a style I liked, I wouldn’t have purchased anything.)
I wore my Phantom sweatshirt to the airport on our return home, and for like the next 3 days afterward.
Phantom Souvenir: $75
All in all, this was an amazing trip and Tom and I both really feel we were able to take advantage of our time.
- Times Square
- Radio City Music Hall
- Rockefeller Center
- The Rink at Rockefeller Center
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral
- Battery Park
- Statue of Liberty (from a distance)
- 9/11 Memorial
- Washington Square Park
- Friends Apartment Building
- The Villege
- Central Park (bridges, castle, carousel)
- How I Met Your Mother Bar
- Trump Tower
- Tiffany’s on 5th Ave (I ate breakfast where Audrey Hepburn once did)
Total Cost: $1,349.37
That about wraps it up for our New York budget. Do you want to know our route around the city to see how we managed to see so many things in such little time? Drop a comment and let me know.