Solo Travel to NYC: Advice & Recommendations
June 8, 2012 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Solo Travel filter: I'm traveling by myself for the first time to NYC July 4-8. Having never traveled by myself, I'm looking for tips and recommendations on the solo travel experience as well as solo activities that are relatively inexpensive or free.

I'm a 29 year old recently single gay male and while I've traveled to NYC often, I've always stayed with family or friends. I'll be traveling by myself on July 4 - 8 and staying by myself for the first time which both excites me and makes me a bit nervous. What are some tips or things you learned during your own solo travels (to NYC or elsewhere) that you wish you'd thought of or situations that you wished you had prepared for ahead of time? Do you have specific advice for a first time solo vacationer that will make me facepalm because I didn't think of it myself?

I do plan to see friends who live in the city, however I want to be able to rely on myself for the majority of my entertainment vs roping my friends into playing tour guide for an evening or four. I plan to visit some of the parks (I love central park and the high line) and there are a few museums that have peaked my interest that I may want to visit. What are some things you enjoy doing by yourself in the city or lend themselves to being done solo?
posted by midnightstorms to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
NYC was in fact the site of my first solo trip. It is a wonderful place to wander around, whether through parks, museums, or simply neighborhoods, and it is a joy to be alone in such cases, because you set the pace. You can sit when you're tired, grab a bite when you're hungry, and leave when you've had enough, all negotiation-free. It might be nice to bring a book to read for those times when you need to put your feet up.

The number one tip I suppose is to listen to yourself. You will have internalized all kinds of ideas about what your trip "should" be, and what museums etc you "should" go to and "should" be enjoying, but you will have a better time if you let your own whims and desires drive the experience. In fact, solo travel to a new place is a great time to try things that you've always wanted to do.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:06 AM on June 8, 2012

There are fairly frequent MeFi meetups in NYC. Keep an eye on that and I can guarantee you a great, if unpredictable evening!
posted by Danf at 8:14 AM on June 8, 2012

Have a great trip!

One thing that helped me enjoy my solo trips when I was single and traveling was to not rush myself. Take your time doing whatever it is you're doing, even if it's just walking around. There's no need to jam-pack your schedule to keep busy. Enjoy just being and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the city!

If I'm traveling solo and have a NEED TO DO SOMETHING WITH PURPOSE, sometimes I'll give myself some goofy little mission, like find a little gift for a friend or something and then go on an epic quest to find the perfect XYZ.

There's so much to do in NYC - wander through the neighborhoods, window shop, get good coffee, walk through the park. Bring a notebook and journal on a bench. People watch. Take pictures. Just be!
posted by floweredfish at 8:18 AM on June 8, 2012

Something I have done twice there is go over to Brooklyn and walk around the Green-Wood Cemetary. There is no way you can see it all, but you might stumble upon some good music, performance art, organized walking tours or other stuff.

Great views of Manhattan from there, also.
posted by Danf at 8:19 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

The number one tip I suppose is to listen to yourself. You will have internalized all kinds of ideas about what your trip "should" be, and what museums etc you "should" go to and "should" be enjoying, but you will have a better time if you let your own whims and desires drive the experience.

Seconding this. I was two days into my recent solo trip to London before I realized "wait a minute...I'm just checking sights off a checklist and not really being here. To hell with that." And I chucked the list and did what I felt like and had a better time that way.

One thing that sometimes scares people about solo travel is being the only one who doesn't know whether you need to take the [foo] subway or the [baz] subway to get to the [schmeh], or that you're just generally concerned about getting lost. One very good resource, if you're concerned about that (and not just for New York), is the Not For Tourists guide. The hard copy version is small enough to fit into a pocket, even, and is very comprehensive (I think they even have floor plans of some of the major museums). For each neighborhood, they also have three separate maps - one showing all the transport options, one showing all the restaurants, bars, shopping, and landmarks, and one showing more "daily life" services like banks and supermarkets (and, amusingly for New York, they include "places to get bagels" in the services map). If you pick up a hard copy of that (you can get them on Amazon and in lots of bookstores), that may be a good resource.

As for free: the first Saturday of every month, the Brooklyn Museum has free hours in the evenings. MoMA also has free evening hours every Friday. And there will be a CRAPTON of free movies and concerts all over the city that week (summer is a total jackpot of "Free stuff to do" in New York).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:21 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've spent time wandering around NYC alone during the day (well, Manhattan, mostly) and really enjoy it. Some basics: get a subway app for your smartphone. I haven't looked at the offerings lately. Museums are an obvious solo activity: check out their websites in advance. In terms of things to do out and about, the recently introduced East River Ferry and much lauded High Line are easy to work in.

Though you're not there for all that long, if you want to get out of the city for a day, tickets upstate on the Metro North line are cheap, as are one-day car rentals upstate, made in advance through discount sites. It's very, very pretty this time of the year up there.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:26 AM on June 8, 2012

That NFT guide mentioned above is worth its weight in gold.

They're available all over the place, but the easiest way to pick one up is at the Strand bookstore. It's easy enough without a guide to get to Union Square -- head there, and then head south on Broadway for four blocks or so.

The Strand is a real New York destination in its own right, and you'll need to pick up one of the cheapo t-shirts as a souvenir anyway, so there you go.

Yeah. NFT guide. So helpful. Nothing like finding out later on that you were just steps away from whatever, only you didn't know it was there. The NFT fixes that nicely.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:30 AM on June 8, 2012

I love bumming around on the HighLine alone with popsicles, but the first week of July might be a little too repulsively hot for that sort of thing. It's fairly quiet on weekday mornings, though.
posted by elizardbits at 8:33 AM on June 8, 2012

Oh, forgot - the NFT guide also has maps and floor plans to the airports and train stations, which is also amazingly helpful; they also have phone numbers for lots of different services in every neighborhood. I've lived here for 20 years and I still have a copy, because it's a great resource for everything from "what's a car service in this neighborhood that would get me home from this weird bar my friends brought me to" to "now, where's that secret tunnel that will get me from Grand Central to 49th Street again?".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:36 AM on June 8, 2012

Make sure you have a really excellent pair of headphones/earbuds and a portable music player all loaded up with your favorite stuff. One of the best things about being in NYC by yourself is going on long, meandering, contemplative walks with nothing but your thoughts and your iPod for company.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:41 AM on June 8, 2012

I like wandering round the Greenmarket in Union Square, picking up nice things to eat and chatting to the vendors. While I'm in that area, I always call into PetCo to see the cats they have available for adoption, and then pop down to the Strand where one of MeFi's best-known members works to say hi, if he's around, and to check out the books and the odd characters.
posted by essexjan at 8:43 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd go to tkts and see if I could see a show. Having SEEN the Book Of Mormon, I recommend that you go for the lottery to see if you can score a ticket.

It's a holiday, you should have some good luck with that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:02 AM on June 8, 2012

Some basics: get a subway app for your smartphone. I haven't looked at the offerings lately.

Fir the iPhone, Hopstop and iTrans. iTrans is more sophisticated IMO.

Not For Tourists also has an iPhone app.

Don't be afraid to get a bite to eat or drink solo. If you sit at the bar, you can chat with the bartender or just watch other people. Also, places that have a long wait for two people for a table will be a very short wait for one person who wants to dine at the bar. Many people dine alone in New York City and it's one of the most solo dining-friendly cities around.
posted by kathryn at 9:24 AM on June 8, 2012

IMO, NYC ranks among one of the best places to travel solo and I've done a fair bit of solo traveling. First there is so much to see and do.

I love going to art museums on my own as I can spend as much or as little time as I want viewing individual paintings, sketch if inspiration strikes without feeling self-conscious, or just engage in a quick visit if that's all I'm up for.

I love to walk in NYC and as I've never had a license, I tend to have a lot more stamina for walking than some of the people with whom I've traveled in the past. Alone, I can be an efficient speed walker or stolling flaneur (flanuesse?) as the mood and scenery strikes. I can window shop without having to worry if my companion is getting bored.

It's pretty unremarkable to have dinner at a nice or nicish restaurant on your own in NYC and wherever I'm dining if I sit at the bar, I have frequently had conversations with people, which doesn't happen to me in DC. Despite sometimes having a reputation to the contrary; I've generally found NYC to be a very friendly place.

I always have something to read, these days it's a kindle, but I do that even when I'm not traveling. Typically my "day bag" contains my iphone, kindle, a zip case that includes some pens, pencils and small journal for sketching or writing) wallet, sunscreen, etc and I have everything that I need to entertain myself for the day. I do generally like being on my own and I live alone so I'm used to it, but I think anyone could entertain themselves in NYC.
posted by kaybdc at 9:54 AM on June 8, 2012

Fun to read some of these ideas I've never heard of before.

Just to second the usefulness of smartphone apps (subway especially). The New Yorker has a free "Goings On" app that I found really useful as well. (It also comes with audio walking tours of popular spots like the High Line.)
posted by Jon44 at 10:45 AM on June 8, 2012

What are some things you enjoy doing by yourself in the city or lend themselves to being done solo?

I love taking long walks in cities and prefer to do it alone with just my podcasts or audio tours (e.g. these ones from the NY Times, which I haven't heard) to keep me company. You could walk the length of Broadway, or some other arbitrary goal.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:56 AM on June 8, 2012

Cities are great for solo travel and New York is fantastic! I spent two weeks there by myself and it was a great trip. I loved the High Line, walking across Brooklyn Bridge hanging out in Central Park. I would usually carry something to read so if I found a good coffee shop or a nice bench somewhere, I could hang out for a while. I would often eat out for brunch or lunch rather than dinner, and have take out for dinner - in part because I'd be tired from all the walking anyway, but if you are not used to eating out alone, you will possibly find this easier. Museums and galleries are great by yourself, you can do it at your own fast or slow pace. When I feel like I need a bit of company, I like walking tours (Scott's Pizza Tour was great fun) or cooking classes (but there is bound to be a class or talk in New York that meets your interests.. doesn't have to be aimed at tourists, can be something that locals would go to). If you are tired of walking, go take the ferry, or even take a bus to just look at the city.
posted by AnnaRat at 5:08 PM on June 8, 2012

I often recommend Park Slope in Brooklyn for wandering.

Park Slope: Take the R to Union St. and 4th Avenue, then walk over to 5th. Take 5th Avenue down to 9th Street, then turn left on 9th and walk up 7th Avenue to Atlantic Avenue and take whatever train gets you back to your hotel (almost everything stops at Atlantic). There are tons of cute boutiques, restaurants, and cafes down these streets. For a really cool, interesting, not super-sceney evening out, check out Barbes on 9th at, I think 6th Avenue. They often have really neat live international or regional music (old timey jug bands, Slavic soul bands, etc.).

Some easy add-ons are Green-Wood Cemetery--it's about 20 blocks south of 9th Avenue, totally walkable, or you can take the R--and Prospect Park, which is a couple of avenues past 7th. Prospect Park is just as lovely and huge as Central Park. Still want something to do? The Brooklyn Museum is an awesome alternative to the Met--great art, both contemporary and old, and a really neat Egyptian collection. Once you get back to Atlantic Avenue, overshoot the train station and go to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a great art movie or a play or concert. That's a really full day, or two.

Coney Island is kind of a nutty awesome place to wander around, too.
posted by elizeh at 8:33 PM on June 8, 2012

Thank you all for the wonderful responses. You've given me some really spectacular ideas on how to be with myself as well as how to keep myself entertained at my own pace.
posted by midnightstorms at 5:44 AM on June 9, 2012

I popped back into to add that evenings can be the most difficult time to fill during solo travel. When I'm in NYC and tired from walking all day, but not ready to spend all night in my room, I like to go to a movie, especially one that may not make it to where I live. I especially like Film Forum, but there are tons of other theaters and museums showing films.
posted by kaybdc at 11:35 AM on June 9, 2012

Governor's Island is a fun outing, incidentally; there are free ferries to get you there on the weekends, and once you're there there's great places to just wander. It's a fascinating mix of a place right now - about half the island is National Park Service buildings, so you can see how the admirals and officers lived when it was still an army or coast guard base (there's a building with some GREAT WPA murals in the hall), but then they also turned a few of the buildings over to artists, and there's an art group that does outside installations every year - including a minigolf course. A handful of trendy food trucks also have set up camp there, so rather than just hot dogs and pretzels for the food cars, you can also get, like, vegan ice cream or Sichuan dumplings, maybe (depends on who's out there).

Half the island is still closed to the public because they're figuring out what to do with it; but you can ride a bike (they're available for rent) the whole perimeter, and while most of the stuff to do is up at the north end, they've opened up a little section of the south as a picnicking ground, and even set up some hammocks down there for people to grab. The views of the Statue of Liberty down at that end are amazing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:55 AM on June 10, 2012

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