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It’s official. You’re finally doing it. You’ve packed your lucky travel socks and you’re ready to follow those twinkling city lights northeast. But your first trip to New York is an important milestone that demands strategic planning. You can’t just head out into the Concrete Jungle without a game plan. From cheap flight preparations pre-trip to commuting once you arrive, there’s a lot to consider ensuring a stress-free vacation. So grab your notebook and study up. Here are five need-to-know tips and tricks to make the most out of your very first trip to New York City.

One: Set a Budget before You Leave and Save When You Arrive

I’m sure you’ve heard it time and time again, but I’ll drill it in one last time; New York is an expensive city. And as with any trip, it’s important to set aside some time to consider your finances. I know, I know it’s not the most glamorous task but it’s an absolute necessity. Nobody wants to do the old one-eyed bank account check in the middle of a vacation. So save yourself the stress. Calculate a reasonable and realistic amount of money you’re willing to spend and build your budget from there.

But never fear my cash-wise friends! Even in a city notorious for its high price tags, the savvy deal finder can still thrive. There are plenty of clever ways to save money. Think outside of the box. You can use Facebook to find cheap and sometimes even free events. Never underestimate the power of finding deals on things to do in NYC. And if you can help it, take a friend who’s never used Uber or Lyft so you can score a free ride with a promo code.

Two: Know Your Airports

There are three major airports with direct access to New York City: John F Kennedy (JFK), LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and Newark Airport (EWR). Before your excitement drives you to book the very first flight you find, consider each location carefully. Think of where you’re planning to stay while in the city. If you’re planning on heading to Manhattan and your flight lands at JFK, you’re looking at a significantly pricier cab fare than if you would’ve flown in to LGA. But if you’re planning on using the light-rail to get to Manhattan, JFK would be the better option. It can be a confusing and anxiety-inducing experience to navigate all of your options. Let’s take a closer look at each airport and compare your options.

  • JFK is the busiest airport in New York. Over 47 million travelers passed through in 2011. A 15 mile commute Northwest will land you in Manhattan. A pro of this airport is the light-rail, Airtrack. It does require a transfer via subway or train to get all the way to Manhattan but it is a nice perk of JFK.
  • EWR is actually situated right outside of New York in New Jersey. But it’s still a great option to get to the city. It’s located a short 16 miles away from Manhattan. It provides direct flights from many cities that its two sister airports don’t. But if you do choose to fly into EWR, be prepared for a hefty cab fare.
  • LGA isn’t quite a big as JFK but it’s still an important hub for travelers. It’s located on Flushing Bay and Bowery Bay in queen. It’s the closest airport to Downtown Manhattan at about 8 miles away. If you’re planning on traveling through LGA, be prepared to take the bus.

Ad one last thing: Do be aware of what airport both your ticket to and from New York is. It’s easy to unknowingly book a flight to JFK and end up with a flight home out of LGA.

Three: Get a Local’s Advice

No matter how thoroughly you dig into the depths of the internet before a trip, locals are always going to know something a simple Google search can never turn up. New York is alive with countless amazing places to explore. You’re bound to have a great time regardless. But existing there among the tourist traps and hotdog stands lies even more hidden gems you’ll be hard pressed to find on your own. Speakeasies, oddities and historic locations; there’s no shortage of cool places to visit. And of course you can find some through online blogs and the likes. But again, locals know the truly underground spots. Enlist the help of someone you know in the city or who used to live there. And if all else fails, it doesn’t hurt to try to make some friends during your stay. Maybe, just maybe, they might elect to guide you off the beaten track.

Four: Become a Commuting Master

Commuting in New York is a game of planning and preparation. Public transport is a key part of the New York experience. Even the residence opt to use alternative forms of transportation with car ownership lower than the national average. But if you do happen to drive to New York, take the park and ferry route. Running 24/7 with service provided every 20 to 30 minutes, the Staten Island Ferry a magical way to make your arrival into the city. Not only do you get a fantastic view of the Statue of Liberty, it’s free to ride!

Commuting within the city is truly up to your own preference. If you want to take the subway, figure out your route beforehand. It can be a bit confusing so it’s important to know exactly where you’re going before you hop on a subway train. Walking is a great way to see a lot while also saving money. And of course Uber and Lyft can be a good option as well.

Five: Be Mindful of What Each Season Has to Offer

Each season in New York has a little something different to offer. You’ll find that the cheapest flights to the city after the holiday season in January. You might even get the chance to score Broadway tickets to shows that are usually sold out. But winters are bitter cold so be prepared to do some major bundling up. Spring is a great time for those wanting to take slap on their walking shoes and take to the streets. This is the time of year when New York truly comes to life with a variety of festivals and events. It’s also when baseball goes into full swing. If you’re willing to bear the heat, summers are a great opportunity to get in on free events. It can be busy but it’s a great route to go if you want to save some cash. Fall is a crowd favorite in New York. The trees dawn their leaves of gold and red. The summer rush is starting to slow to a trickle. It can be tricky to find good deals but there are plenty of opportunities to take a walking tour. Any season can be a great time to plan your trip but it’s important to take into account what you want to get out of your time.