Updated March 2015: New York City DAY TRIP SURVIVAL KIT
Overburdened vs. Underprepared
You're not in Kansas anymore.
Or California, Iowa, Texas, France, Senegal, Micronesia... wherever.
You are in the greatest city on earth, at the beginning of a day filled with adventure.
Don't lug along too much stuff--aside from the burden, who wants to look like a tourist?
It's ALL DAY, Folks...There's No Going Back
When I'm at home in Great Falls, Montana, I can run to the house to pick up something I forgot to bring to work, stop home to feed the cats before I run to the gym. I've got plenty of refrigerator and freezer space: I don't care how many grocery sacks I'm going to have to lug in from the car.
When your New York CIty hotel room door clicks shut for the day: THERE'S NO GOING BACK.
You wouldn't go out into the forest without a survival kit. NYC is like a forest, with tall buildings instead of trees and people instead of wild animals.
From the Ground Up...
It might get wet or snowy... or worse. In New York, you never know what you are going to step in.
Look at those shoes.
It's dirty out there. I don't care how 'cute' those light colored sandals are, they aren't disposable, and they're tough to clean. There's a reason New Yorkers are famous for wearing black: it hides the dirt.
Did you know the average New York City resident weighs EIGHT POUNDS less than an average U.S. suburbanite? New Yorkers walk everywhere, and when we're not walking, we're taking the stairs to the subway or jumping in and out of busses or cabs.
If you are going to a dressy event, tuck a pair of $15 'Fast Flats' from Scholl's. Get 'em at Target, Walgreen's, online, wherever. Take them out and TRY THEM ON before you are stuck wearing them. Sometimes they come with a little gold carry-sack, but if not, just stuff a plastic bag in your purse or backpack for these little lifesavers.
Chances are you are going to want to use your feet again tomorrow.
Regardless of the season, if you are prone to blisters, apply some prophylactic bandages to your feet. The neoprene ones (they last for dozens of miles and several days on the backs of my heels) are my "New York Summer Socks". Just in case, slide a couple of extra Band-Aids into your bag. You or a friend might need 'em.
Sandals WITH SOCKS? Hey, this ain't Des Moines, and there's a $29.95 mani-pedi place on every block (once you get out of Midtown or the Upper East Side, where a decent pedicure can cost three times that much--it's worth a cab fare to Chelsea or The Village.
BONUS TIP: If the weather is nice and you're the kind of tourist who needs an after-lunch siesta, scope out a mani-pedi place with nice looking self-massage chairs and take a nap while your toes are being repainted.
Despite being unfashionable, I do recommend that you carry a pair of socks...If you are moving about in the summer and plan to go to a theater during the day: beware. The same air conditioning that's a blessed relief at first blast can make your movie time miserable.
BONUS TIP: Don't go to a TV show taping unless you are here for two weeks or you get a VIP pass: you stand in line for hours, and these stages are usually quite chilly...I've been to several same-day tapings and I hate to say it, but most places treat the audience like cattle, herding you from one part of the building to another, doing necessary security checks, awarding choice seats to the easy-laughers and best-lookers in the crowd (they literally tapped people on the shoulder at the Late Show to fill their front row with winning audience members).
Hemlines and Subway Stairs
I love long dresses in the summer (as long as the forecast does not call for rain). But if you plan to ride the subway, long dresses are a bad idea.
They cause you to trip on stairways, trap dirt and must be lifted for puddles of god-knows-what.
Ditto for winter coats that hit you mid-calf: they swipe every stair in the subway.
A Yoga-style pant or legging is almost always flattering (consider a tunic top if you aren't svelte) and easy to wear. If you are leaving in the morning and not planning to come back until after a Broadway show or a night at Lincoln Center, I've found I can wear a wrap dress with a fabric belt , flats and leggings, and carry heels, a pair of pantyhose and a classy hair clip to go from museum-hopper to show-stopper.
Layer It On and Scarf it Up!
You'll see lots of layers in New York City: use a camisole and/or a tank top as a base layer; a light pullover, a knit wrap dress or tunic in the middle, and if it's cold, top it off with a sweater that you can roll into a ball. Presto: you're ready for anything from 55 to 90 degrees. If it's colder than that, yep, wear a coat.
Don't forget New Yorker's penchant for scarves. Buy them for $5 or $10 on the street. Wrap your shoulders when you're cool, lay it on the bottom of a hard seat at the library for a little cush. Put it over your knees at the theater, and if you get caught in a pinch, tie it up like a hobo bag and carry things inside.
BONUS TIP: Those little 'behind the head' earmuffs are great: when they're not in use, wrap them around your purse strap, along with a hair clip for a blustery day.
Keeping Your Arms Free and Your Valuables Secured
On 14th Street, west of Union Square, in Chinatown, on street corners in Midtown, there are loads of little kiosks that sell tiny shoulder bags. They're called 'crossover bags', and THAT'S WHERE YOU KEEP YOUR WALKING-AROUND MONEY and ID. Be sure you buy one that has a snap, not just a fold-over.
Cross the bag over one shoulder, and wear the bag is IN FRONT of you, not in back. Rest your hand on the bag if you are the nervous type.
Here's what to put inside: SOME of your money, pocket-sized tissue, hand sanitizer, MetroCard (use the subway: it's not hard), cell phone, ID, ONE good credit card, your theater tickets, and some $1 bills for street musicians, etc. Put your band-aids, and a small pillbox with ASSORTED medicine: aspirin, pepto, foldable umbrella, etc. in a SECOND BAG.
It may be embarrassing, but if it looks like rain and you are unwilling to carry an umbrella, consider putting a large black trash bag in your bag. Poke a head hole in the center of the bottom of the bag and two arm holes, and voila...Don't worry, people won't stare: the tourist busses even have their logos printed on the bags and you'll see people atop double decker busses wearing trash can raincoats.
Here's one of the best tips--it's something I do even in the dead of winter. Before going to bed, I put a half-filled water bottle in the freezer. In the morning I fill the remaining space with cold water. Now, PUT IT IN A SOCK. I kid you not. A clean one. Those cheap nice fluffy one works best: it insulates and absorbs condensation, and it keeps your drink cool all day! I slide it in my backpack, and I've been known to whip it out it to relieve carpal tunnel or tackle a hot flash.
Oh, and you did lay all your ID's and credit cards on a photocopier and photocopied the FRONT AND BACK before you left Kansas (or Senegal), didn't you? And you gave the photocopy to your sister or husband or best friend, right? If your crossover bag is lost or stolen, you'll need to call your buddy and get your credit card numbers, etc...
Carry two bags.
Look on the street--many people of both genders are double baggers.
My second bag is a backpack. A lightweight, dark-hued ergonomic one with big compartments. It's okay to carry a backpack into Broadway shows, too, just tuck it under your seat.
A crossover bag is fine for the small stuff, but I often write during the day, so I carry a laptop along with my sweater, extra shoes, etc. And I'm always lugging a book and a notepad (and sometimes the charger for my Mac).
There's something liberating about having both hands free when you are walking five to fifteen miles in one day.
KEEP IN MIND THAT MOST MUSEUMS WILL INSIST THAT YOU CHECK YOUR BACKPACK. Just another reason to keep your valuables in your crossover bag.
Load Up Your Cell Phone & Your Belly
MTA.info is the site that has all the bus and subway routes. Get the app.
BONUS TIP: Subways can be a challenge on weekends. Go to http://web.mta.info/weekender.html to get the latest on subway closures.
Weather.com is important, and of course, you'll need GOOGLEMAPS or the equivalent. Just keep in mind that googlemaps is not always up to date. Check the subway website FIRST--that ten minute subway ride can be forty minutes on a Sunday afternoon!
If you are looking for a great way to spend $2.95, ante up for a month's worth of CLUB FREE TIME, a website that organizes free and low cost events and gatherings in New York City on a by-the-hour calendar. SOooooo convenient! (www.clubfreetime.com).
Learned The Hard Way Tip: If you want to go someplace that you find on the map, CALL THEM FIRST. Be sure they still exist. (Pure Food and Wine: shut down, January 2015!).
There are bodegas all over NYC, so if you are not pressed for time, swing in for an energy bar between meals---there's no need to carry a meal with you. If you are with a group and tend to get hypoglycemic, don't forget to tote a KIND bar, etc--something you can munch on inconspicuously.
Baby Wipes and Bedbug Spray
When you get back to your hotel, you might not have the energy to take a shower.
Don't get into bed with dirty feet! Pick up a pack of baby wipes and at least give your feet a good cleaning before turning in...
BONUS TIP: Bedbugs are a consistent worry--not just in New York City, either. Despite the stigma, bedbugs are often the scourge of clean travelers. These unwelcome hitchhikers can pop up anywhere: go to http://www.bedbugregistry.com/ to report or sniff out the little devils. You'll see people at the movies (and even theater-goers) who sit on plastic bags or who spray their seats.
Me? I don't spray every surface or put plastic bags down under my tuchus. But I take what I regard to be common-sense precautions. Take off your shoes when you enter your room. Discard paper bags (a favorite of bedbugs) and I keep your outerwear hanging on hook or over a chair--NOT in your hotel room closet. Inspect the place by pulling up the corner of the mattress and looking for telltale signs. Leave your luggage by the door, just in case (never toss it on the bed to unpack).
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