Guest blogger Tex Fisher explores New York, Toronto and Wasington DC and tries not to blow the budget in the process.
Everyone I told I was going to America rolled their eyes and asked the same question: “Made of money now are we?” which was a little disconcerting, as sadly, I’m not. But even for the most financially conscious voyager, it can be done on a budget. After all, I’ve just turned 20, and like the majority of my globetrotting, I’d be going on my own, so not totally bankrupting myself was something I’d like to make sure didn’t happen. If you book it and plan it well, and it can be achieved on a budget.
I managed to get a return flight with Virgin Atlantic for £375, flying from Heathrow to JFK. Great on board food, the cutest free on-board amenity kit, and the finest in-flight entertainment you could hope for made it the perfect flight. When you get to JFK, jump on the Airtrain which will take you to the E line subway, and from there you sail straight into The Big Apple.
To squeeze the best out of the Empire State, don’t waste time. There is so much to see there, the city is so fast paced, and you need to be quick if you have limited time. Try and mix and match the big sights with the little ones. If you try and do all the big sights in one day then most of that day will be spent waiting in queues.
I mixed it up so each day was made up of a sight from each category. I did one high place, something water-related, a main tourist sight, and something off the wall. For example, one of my days was The Empire State Building, Staten Island Ferry, Times Square and a helicopter flight over Manhattan (plus a few mini things in between like Chinatown). Another day involved Top of the Rock, Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and art shopping along the High Line walk.
NYC has something for everyone, but for a stand-out trip and a memory of a lifetime, take a helicopter flight over the skyline. I booked a 20-minute trip with HeliNY and it cost around $160. It’s a lot but it certainly is worth it for the experience.
Another thing you can consider is Roosevelt Island. You can get a cable car from near Lexington Avenue subway and ride it right across the river. It comes under the cost of your Metrocard, so it’s technically free. And the sights are amazing from the gondola.
As for food, live like the locals – grab and go. Snack on some pizzas at Sbarro (their garlic sticks are very nice), experience the frosty shakes at Wendy’s, and the root beer at A&W burger.
Once my time in New York was done, I booked myself on a hopper plane up to Toronto for £120. Canada is exceptionally close to New York State, so if you have time then go and experience it. Toronto, the capital of Ontario, is the nearest big Canadian city. I covered it in around 5 hours. You can go to the top of the CN Tower (it’s taller than the Empire State Building), take a ferry over to Wards Island for the most adorable little community of houses and the best views of the skyline and shop at the Eaton Centre.
Perhaps the handiest thing about Toronto is that in just 70 minutes you can be at Niagara Falls, one of the most spectacular places you will ever see. You can get to Niagara from Toronto very cheaply by coach. Once you’re there, you can take a walk behind the falls; it’s expensive but worth it for getting right up next to the wall of water . Most of the resort is seasonal, but the falls are of course viewable 24/7. You can also jump across the rainbow bridge to America and back, although allow time for customs – the American Border Agency’s hobbies include keeping you waiting for a very long time.
Once I had seen Niagara, I hopped on a 12-hour overnight coach down to Washington DC (the journey was, shall we say, an experience?), then the next day took an Amtrak up to Philadelphia and then back to Newark for my flight home. Washington is a very federal and government orientated city. The highlight is the Capitol Building – you can book a free tour there and don’t miss the giant Lincoln monument.
You can squeeze the best out of America with good planning – get your itinerary sorted, then book each step in advance for the best prices. America is a huge place, but on the east coast you can city-jump with ease. With New York especially, just think carefully in advance of what you want to see and you can easily core the big apple and spit out the pips.
For great prices on flights to all the North American cities mentioned in the post, view our Airfare Deals.