Backpacking in New York: Cheaper than you Think

backpacking new york

backpacking new york

New York is an amazing city. Its somewhere I’ve always wanted to go and last month got to visit for the first time. My interest in business and finance kept it high on my list plus the fact it is the most used movie and TV backdrop – I’ve seen so many movies set in NYC its like I already knew the place.

There is LOTS to do in New York. Like seriously heaps. So much that I would guess 99% of New Yorkers have only done half, if that. Not only is there lots, but there is a great range, something to fit all ages, budgets and tastes.

Seeing how I visited New York as part of a larger trip, I didn’t get the rich and glamorous experience I dreamt of. I was on a budget and the expected expensive price tag of the city was somewhat of a concern. But to my surprise, it wasn’t as pricey as expected.

Below is a breakdown of my expenses while in NYC. (All prices in USD)



I flew into New Ark airport, which is a total dump airport in New Jersey. This airport scared me… New Ark is a hassle to get out of, but the transport is still cheap. Catch a bus for $2 then a two trains into Manhattan on the PATH train network (the subway that connects Manhattan and Jersey City) which costs $1.75.

If you’re planning to spend some time in New York, stick $10 on a Metro Card which will give you access to the NYC Subways. You get a $1.50 bonus deposit and wont have to worry about buying a ticket for the next few days.

The NYC subways are the shit (in a good way). Best transport network for a backpacker ever. They cost $2.25 a trip, there are stations every two blocks, they run all across Manhattan and the other 4 burrows 24 hours a day! Its very comforting to know you can run around the city at ridiculous times in the morning and not have to worry about how you’re going to get home.

(super cheap tip: once inside the gates of the subway station, there is no way of telling if you have paid or not. Late at night some of the side doors to the stations are open and you can walk straight in. I found this by accident as I ran for a train and someone was walking out of the door)


Land is the hot commodity in New York. When people say this city is expensive, they are talking about the land (and thus accommodation). There isn’t an inch of unused space. Hostels as usual will be your best bet. I stayed in a Hostel on the Upper West Side next to Central Park on Manhattan Island for $25 a night. About a 20 min walk or 5 min Subway ride to the bottom of Central Park where ‘downtown’ starts. This included a bed in a 10 bed dorm, shared bathrooms, free towels and a free continental breakfast (which I didn’t wake up in time for once..).

With this as your minimum, you can go up to thousands of dollars a night. But for example a small double room with ensuite and TV in Greenwich area can be found for about $100 per night.


Food can be found everywhere for fairly cheap. There are your standard fast food options, pizza by the slice, pita (doner kebab) and hot dog stands and 24 hour sandwich-convenience-beer stores on every corner. Expect to pay $4 for a slice of pizza or hot dog, $5 for a pita wrap, $8 for a fast food meal and $3-6 for a sandwich.

For a healthier option, check out a wholefoods store. Wholefoods is a grocery store that focuses on healthy eating. But they also have a buffet and large eating area (in most stores). There is a salad, cold, hot, soup and desert bar. With over 100 options of different, pre-prepared healthy foods to choose from. You can mix and match what ever you want and they charge you $7.99 per pound. I found one of these stores half way through my stay and returned every day.



Alcohol in New York (and America in general) is surprisingly cheap. If you buy from any type of corner store or supermarket, expect to pay less than $1 for a local beer. You can go even cheaper if you hit the malt liquor ‘40s’. That’s the same price as like, Thailand…

Drinking in bars can be more expensive. Head down to some of the trendy areas like Soho or Greenwich and expect to pay $5-8 for a pint. More if you’re clubbing in the Meatpacking District. But there are still some good deals to be found. If you’re on a tight budget, consider searching for the student bars. I was staying near Columbia university and found bars that had house beers for $3 a pint, $2 during happy hour. I hear there are similar steals near NYU.

On a side note, beware of going out in New York. It seriously is the city that never sleeps. You will find busy places every night of the week and can find yourself in a pattern of sleeping at 5am.



There are lots of free sights in New York. $2.25 on the subway will get you to most of them. Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, Staten Island Ferry, Liberty State Park (a few dollars to get the ferry over to the statue), Coney Island board walk, Times Square, Grand Central Station, Wall St and the New York Stock Exchange.

A trip up the Empire State Building to both floors and an audio guide (well worth it) will set you back about $45 and a Broadway show will cost $60-100 depending on the day and show.

The next items on your agenda should be to pick a few of the 200+ museums. New York has the most museums of any city in the world and some of the greatest collections of…. everything. A must is the museum of Natural History. The last hour is free (4:15-5:15pm I think). I went in with the plan to run through it quickly in the hour and see at least half. Upon entering I asked the lady at the front what the recommended time is to see the museum, her response: “3 days”… The place is MASSIVE. So it might be worth paying to spend a day there if you have the time. Make sure check out the dinosaurs. Biggest collection of dinosaur bones in the world.

I can’t go through all the sights in New York. There is shopping, sporting, arts, food, history and much much more. It really depends on your taste, time and dimes.

A small budget is no excuse for missing the grand New York City. You may not get the ‘celebrity’ experience but there is still plenty to do and lots to see. A must if you’re in that part of the world.

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8 responses to “Backpacking in New York: Cheaper than you Think”

  1. It really depends on what your into… Like I mentioned above, there is so much to to in NY. For me, I had the most fun in the nights. Wandering around Greenwich village checking out all the cool random bars. But the Empire State Building is a must do. Get the audio tour like I mentioned and aim to get up there just before sunset. You will see the skyline in the day and night and the audio tour gives you a good overview of the city plus will give you some new ideas of what to do next.

  2. I grew up about 4 hours drive north of NYC in the Boston area. Although I’ve been to New York City a handful of times, this post has definitely opened my eyes to some great things to check out! 😀

    As a frugal traveler, I loved the “cheap” aspect too; NYC is definitely not one of those places known for cheap travel!

    I haven’t taken the subway yet — I’ve always been intimidated by its size and complexity and opted to walk. 😉 I’ve walked from Lower Manhattan to the Upper West side several times.

  3. Hi, thanks for great info and tips! I’m looking for cheap accommodation for my trip to NYC. You mentioned the Hostel on the Upper West Side next to Central Park on Manhattan Island for $25. Will you please give me the address and the name of that place?

  4. Hey bro, im traveling through NYC from South Africa. What is the name of the hostel you were at?

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