Travel, like life, can be totally unpredictable. While it was sad and frustrating, having my dream trip plans completely change at the last minute, the weeks I spent in NYC were an exercise in making lemons into lemonade.
Whether you’re planning a solo trip to New York City or just looking for the best NYC recommendations, here are some of my tips for travelling solo in New York City.
Shift your energy.
If you were originally meant to be travelling with a friend or loved one and now you’re not, give yourself the space to mourn the changed circumstances. Next, shift your energy from a “we” to “me” mentality. This is your chance to be selfish and do whatever you want to do in this new place. Start by doing things that bring you joy. Do you love museums? Amazing restaurants? Got a geeky hobby that only you’re into? Take your change in travel plans as an opportunity to do it all without having to consider the needs of anyone else.
Also, if you can find a way to make the experience even more enjoyable, do it. For example, I discovered I really like listening to podcasts and audiobooks when travelling solo. Navigating New York City solo can be an alienating experience. Having some great audio content to listen to while I rode public transit and dealt with the throngs of rush hour traffic, definitely felt comforting and helped keep loneliness at bay.
Stay somewhere that feels safe and comfortable.
People will tell you, “it doesn’t really matter where you stay because you won’t be spending much time there while you’re in New York City,” but I call B.S. on this. New York is a crazy, vibrant city that’s pulsating with life and sometimes you need a break from that. Everyone is different, but if my Airbnb consists of a bunkbed in some dude’s kitchen, I’m not going to enjoy that much needed down time.
Pretty much all of the Airbnb accommodations in New York City are shared (due to legal restrictions). Maybe it’s because I’ve become accustomed to luxury hotels, but a few hours into my stay at my Airbnb, I realized that sharing a bathroom with a stranger (even if that bathroom is super cute) doesn’t feel fun or exciting.
A quick online search revealed that you can find a simple but cute hotel on Hotel Tonight for almost the same price as shared accommodation in Manhattan. I cancelled my Airbnb and checked myself into the Pod 39 hotel, which turned out to be perfect: cute, functional and located right near Grand Central Station. Oh, and there’s a taco restaurant in the lobby!
Check out free and discounted days at Museums.
NYC can get expensive, but luckily a lot of the museums offer free or discounted “pay what you can” days. Here’s a complete list of all the free museum and pay what you wish days in New York City. There are also lots of smaller galleries in areas like Chelsea that you can check out free of charge.
One of my favourite stops was the Brooklyn Museum — if you have time to go, do it! The exhibits were amazing and the vibe was much more mellow than MoMa and The Whitney. If anything, go to see the gorgeous Kehinde Wiley piece in the lobby and to check out the amazing gift shop.
Cross something off your bucket list.
Obviously, everyone’s list is going to be different but if you need help narrowing down your NYC bucket list, this piece on 101 Things to do in New York City by Local Adventurer is an amazing place to start. My NYC bucket list included going on a Hip Hop History Tour, eating at the Red Rooster and Cosme, and seeing the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Whitney.
Go see a show.
Another thing on my NYC bucket list: see Avenue Q on Broadway (because everyone loves puppets!) While I’ll never recover emotionally from seeing two Muppets make sweet furry love on stage, the show was a blast. I bought last minute discounted tickets through TodayTix. The process was so easy, I wish I’d gone to see at least one other show while I was in town (namely, Mean Girls).
Take some tours.
NYC can feel overwhelming. There’s so much to see, it’s hard to know where to start. The solution? Sign up for a few tours! I’m a big fan of Airbnb Experiences. While in New York, I signed up for a shopping and fashion history tour of Harlem and a vintage + thrift shopping tour that took me through the East Village and Soho. Both were excellent!
I also checked off a bucket list item and went on The Birthplace of Hip Hop Tour with Hush Tours. During the 4 hour tour, our host (a known rapper featured in the Netflix documentary series Hip Hop Evolution) took us to throughout Harlem and the Bronx, and to historic locations and famous music video spots — all while giving us a master class on hip hop history. The tour ended with a delicious Soulfood lunch at Manna’s in Harlem.
Become a regular somewhere.
Maybe this is a symptom of watching Seinfeld re-runs, but I love the idea of becoming a regular somewhere in New York City. Having a spot that you revisit (whether that’s a coffee shop or your corner bodega) can feel grounding. So, where did I become a regular? Katz’s Deli! I love the old school cafeteria feel and their latkes are comfort food at it’s finest.
Take yourself out for an indulgent meal (or three)
My plan was to take myself out for a very indulgent meal at Cosme (the duck tacos!), which I did. But, I also had some other really great meals solo — namely, my dinner at Red Rooster in Harlem, which was delicious and the ramen I had at Ippudo (with my friend Gary).
Talk to strangers.
I found the myth that New Yorkers are unfriendly to be untrue. I ended up having conversations with people sitting next to me at restaurants, bars and even in stores I visited. Human contact is important! Don’t be afraid to say hello.
Ask people to take your photo.
This is one of the biggest hurdles I’ve overcome as a solo female traveller — asking strangers to take my photo! While native New Yorkers may be (rightfully) too busy to help you take a photo, if you’re at a popular spot, don’t hesitate to ask another visitor to help you capture the perfect shot.
Do it anyway.
Take yourself for that nice meal. Go see that movie. Watch that Broadway show. Sign up for that tour. If I’ve learned anything from travelling solo is that there is very little that you can’t do by yourself. Even if you wish someone else was there to enjoy the experience with you — do it anyway.
Got a question about travelling to New York City solo? Hit me up in the comments or drop me a line.