New York City is my absolute favourite place to visit. I’m absolutely in love with the rumble of the city. Once, while in New York, Grant Hinds described the place as follows:
You can put your hands up against a building or a wall and it feels like they are humming. The city has this constant current of electricity running through it.
He probably doesn’t remember saying it but it sums up New York so damn well. I’m in awe every single time I go there because it really is just a melting pot of incredible beauty, craziness and an energy that I’ve yet to see replicated anywhere else. The Skyscrapers and architecture are pretty damn amazing too if you’re interested in that sort of stuff! I’ve been to New York City twice, once on a press trip and once on my own dime. I have a pretty good grasp of what to expect when you arrive, especially if you’re a Tech Girl like me looking for the best electronics deals, easiest ways to get around town and the cheapest ways to share your adventures on Instagram.
Here are my tech travel tips when visiting New York City.
WiFi and Phone Connectivity
There’s this assumption that being first world and the United States of America, there must be WiFi everywhere. Um… not true. JFK International Airport has free WiFi after you agree to watch an advert (I’m still on the fence if this is smart digital marketing because for the most part it just annoys me). However, the streets and restaurants are not littered with free WiFi. There are a few random boxes in the likes of Time Square that allow you to make calls or access WiFi but you’ll struggle through the crowds. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – I have a KnowRoaming sim so it is relatively easy for me to get connected. If you’re not a regular overseas traveller though you can purchase a sim card from the vending machines in the airport. I’ve never needed to get a sim card in New York but I did have to buy one in San Francisco a few years back. I thought the cost of data was a bit much but then I am converting from dollars to rands. This might have also changed a bit so I might not be the best source here.
I also found the hotels to be a bit cheeky. Most offer free WiFi but encourage you to upgrade (and pay) to the premium package, the free WiFi is usually pretty slow and dismissal. Again, a bit of a blanket statement as I’ve only stayed in two hotels but just my experience. Because of the way the city is laid out: you get streets and avenues. Streets run east and west, Avenues run north and south. Avenues are also usually wider than streets. If the street numbers are going up (think 42nd to 43rd) you’re going north and south if they’re descending. McDonalds also has great free WiFi which you can abuse. Most also have bathrooms if you’ve been walking for awhile and get lost. Just be sure to buy something because they’re for paying customers only (they also sometimes house the occasional drunk homeless person in the more packed restaurants which can be entertaining or terrifying depending on your mood that day).
My top tech travel tip: You can download Google Maps to work offline – so you don’t need to worry about having no data and getting lost!
Transportation in New York City
I mentioned how the streets are set up in New York. Based off that relatively easy to navigate structure I found I walked most of the time. In fact, if you’re based in Manhattan and have a decent pair of sneakers you can happily get where ever you need to go. Just make sure that in Winter you have a decent water proof jacket and a fluffy beanie. Alternatively, try avoid those yellow cabs. I know the tourist in you might want to ride in one but the truth is that traffic in New York is horrific. The cost of those yellow cabs is pretty extreme. Ubers are a bit cheaper but, again, traffic is awful in the city and that could hike the price up.
You may be inclined to jump on one of the tourist buses that zoom around. There is a red one, a green one, a red one that is actually the green one trying to rebrand….. They offer you a hop on hop off experience to all the major sites for a fee. Honestly? Avoid at all costs. These buses are over priced, they hardly arrive on time and you will end up having to spend more money at some point to get home. Trust me.
The cheapest way to get around New York is the subway. You can also get out of Manhattan to the other boroughs. Brooklyn is a must visit – even if it is just to pop past Barcade. I know it can be a little bit daunting if you’re not used to an underground system but the New York subway is really easy to navigate. I used City Mapper (a really helpful app) to navigate where I wanted to go, what trains I needed to take and how to get there. You’ll need to budget roughly $5 a day for one ride (to and from).
Make sure you plan to get to and from the airport as well. JFK International is pretty far out. Catching an Uber in to the city is going to cost you and a yellow cab even more so. I’d really suggest getting the sky train and then hopping on to the Subway. It costs less than $10 in total and is really easy. Alternatively there is a city bus that you can catch (I think that was around $18) and makes stops at most of the major tourist spots as well as hotels in Manhattan.
My top tech travel tip: I’d usually plan my route via City Mapper in the morning at the hotel and then screen grab the routes and stop points. That way I didn’t have to stress about WiFi when I was out (or under the streets).
Talking about hotels – I did my New York booking on booking.com. I find it the best place to secure a booking and they always have great specials and offers running. Handy tip: many of the big chains of hotel in America are trying to sell time share. Their laws are pretty stringent so they have to reward you with a “gift” for sitting through a time share presentation. Those “gifts” are really impressive. For example, I covered the full cost of a broadway ticket with my “entertainment gift”. You don’t have to sign anything but you will have to sit through a one hour presentation on time share and then politely decline an extremely pushy salesman about 17 times. However, the cost of a broadway ticket is completely worth that one hour.
My top tech travel tip: Make sure you ask for early check in at your hotel. Nothing worse than landing in the morning and not being able to take a shower and change – it is a LONG flight!
The best places to buy electronics and gadgets
If you’re anything like me, you absolutely have to buy electronics and gadgets when you’re in the States. They have so many things we don’t. My first stop is Best Buy. They have the biggest selection of items from phones to laptops to Google Home. There is also a Best Buy on nearly every corner so if one store doesn’t have what you one, a store a block away will. Also, on my last trip to New York I visited the ThinkGeek store on 33rd street and Broadway (it is inside a gaming store called Gamestop). I freaking love this store and you absolutely have to go there. They have the best selection of geek merchandise and you will spend hours in there. Go visit!
My top tech travel tip: Order some stuff online via Amazon the week before you arrive in New York. Put the delivery address as your hotel. When you arrive your items will be there!
Final quick tip: You’re going to need an adapter for your chargers and the like. America’s standard plug is one with two flat blades side by side. Most international airports will have adapters, try buy one in your country before leaving.