New York is an amazing place, but if you’re going to take in all the sites you’re probably going to be spending a lot of time walking, and it can be an endurance trial trust me. With that in mind here are our top 10 things to pack if you’re sightseeing in New York.
Comfortable shoes – Shoes you will be comfortable walking/standing/stomping around in all day. On a recent trip we averaged around 14000 steps a day despite using the metro and buses for long distances. I was in brand new walking boots and my girlfriend was wearing trainers with a memory foam insole, obviously she was the sensible one and came away much better, and she made sure I knew it.
A light backpack or daypack – Taking a bag on top of your usual suitcase, carry on and personal luggage item may seem like a waste of space, but bear with me. A freshly packed backpack can be tweaked on a daily basis for whatever you’re doing, it can cope with impulse purchases, and drinks and snacks. In addition most of the big sights in New York have almost airport level security (The 9/11 Memorial especially), and knowing exactly what you have in your bag saves both time and embarrassment (ladies with cluttered handbags I am looking at you).
A light waterproof coat – It may surprise you that the average annual precipitation of New York is double that of London, most of that is likely to be snow, but it means that New York tends to be wetter than the movies let on. Taking a light waterproof jacket is easier than an umbrella and is arguably more socially acceptable given the often crowded streets. If you’re going in winter it will be colder than London, so pack something warm instead.
Cash – I don’t mean money, I mean actual physical cash, the US is very archaic in this respect, with cash being the easiest medium for the majority of transactions. Having cash means you can be quick, and will be able to tip a very important thing to remember in the US. Acceptable tips for waiting staff in New York are around the 18% mark, 20-22% if you’re happy, or less if you’re not. A 10% tip as you might give in the UK does not mean the same in New York, it’s likely to get you some dark looks from the person that served you and maintain the stereotype that people from the UK are bad tippers.
A note on credit and debit cards: chip and pin is almost non-existent in New York, expect to have to sign with your card, but don’t expect anyone to compare it to the signature on the back. I would still recommend a pre-paid card (or two) simply for the control and security they offer, but actual purchases are much more time consuming with them.
New York Pass or Citypass – This is very sight seeing specific, but if you’re planning on packing stuff into a few days this is a great way of doing it. It’s not so much the savings you’ll benefit from, it’s the options it gives you and the better ability to plan. We ended up spending more, but still felt it was a great investment and would use the same card again. I would opt out of the included bus package if I were to go again.
A list of places friends have recommended – I realise this isn’t always possible, but it’s great to be able to send photos back and share common talking points with your friends, in addition you can find some great places that are not quite so obvious. We found the Carnegie Deli and had one of their open face Reuben sandwiches (we were about to order one each, but the waiter kindly stopped us). Their Cheesecake was also pretty amazing.
A Map – Old school admittedly but very helpful, you can use them to plan where you want to visit, get an idea of the road layout (numbered avenues count down from west to east, streets count up from bottom to top, Broadway cuts diagonally across). Don’t be afraid to take a map out with you (even native New Yorkers need to find where they are going), but do be mindful of where you are standing (not in the middle of the pavement) and of course your surroundings.
American plug adapters and a multiplug – The volume of digital devices a couple can be carrying nowadays is huge, and if you each have a phone and a tablet that is already 4 plug sockets taken up. A couple of adapters and multiplugs should see you clear, failing that look out for some US plug to USB adapters in drug stores when you get there.
A mobile phone that won’t charge you for roaming – Providers have become a lot more forgiving about roaming over the last couple of years, and that makes staying in touch on holidaying even easier. If you’re with 3 mobile you may not get charged any extra at all for data or calls to the UK. Check with your provider and see what offers they have, it can really make the difference.
A couple of things you may not want to take:
Hair straighteners – I have some bad news, your hair straighteners unless specifically designed to do so are unlikely to work in the US. US voltage is only 110v less than half the 230v used in the UK and EU. The safest option is probably to buy a cheap set of hair straighteners (and maybe a hair dryer as those won’t work nearly as well) when you arrive.
Books – There is just too much to do and see to spend time reading, you’re in the city that never sleeps, and if you’re doing the sight seeing right you should be fit to drop by the end of the each day. As controversial as it seems, books are unlikely to get a look in.