There are several small things that are useful to know ahead of your trip to NYC, so here they are.
1) Carry Photo ID. You are supposed to carry photo ID with you and can often get asked for it to prove your identity when paying for a credit card, or for proof of age in bars – the legal drinking age in NYC is 21, but it can vary between states, so check first. They regularly ID people and you will be refused entry to a bar or club if you can’t prove your age, even if you are clearly over 21! So, take your UK driver’s licence as this works well and means you can leave your passport in the hotel safe.
2) Travel Insurance. Make sure you have this, and particularly medical cover. There is no free medical cover, there is nothing like the NHS. Medical treatment can be excessively expensive. A visit to an emergency doctor for a few hours treatment can quickly reach $2,000 – I know, I’ve been there, but happily I had insurance.
3) Tipping. If in doubt, tip is the easy answer. The doorman at the hotel who gets you a cab ($1-2), the taxi driver (10%-20%), and definitely in restaurants –see below. A useful rule of thumb is to double the sales tax that is always added to your restaurant bill, and then add that to the total. Anything from 15-20% is usual. It seems a lot, but food and restaurants are generally cheaper and service is usually much better than elsewhere!
4) Free Wi-Fi. There are lots of free Wi-Fi spots in the Big Apple, so you can save on those extortionate data roaming charges. Starbucks, Le Pain Quotidien and Apple Stores all offer free Wi-Fi and a plug point, as do many independent coffee shops and cafes.
5) Sales Tax. At the moment this is 8.875%. So, if you see something marked $10 in a store, when you get to check out and you’re ready with your $10 note, the cashier will ask you for $10.89. I forget every time! And you cannot claim it back at the airport as you can do with VAT if you’re a non-European citizen. It’s this tax that you can double as a good rule of thumb for restaurant tipping – see item 3.
6) Getting To and From New York Airports. The easiest way to do this is by taxi. There are other alternatives but none of these are very direct or easy as you have to change trains at least once to reach your hotel (unless you’re coming from Newark and have a hotel next to Penn Station). There is nothing like the Heathrow or Gatwick Express in NY, and if you have luggage and it’s rush hour, it can be a nightmare. There is usually a short wait for the cab, but they come regularly. The taxi ranks at the airports have a cab marshall who will direct you to the right cab.
Taxi trips from JFK airport are a fixed price, so you will be charged $52, however, they will add the tolls for the bridges or tunnels that they use (there are some that are free, but the traffic is worse on them), and there are a number of surcharges of a few dollars maximum, but I still can’t work out exactly how these work. Still, the total should be around $60.00 and then you need to add a tip of around 10-20%. Taxis to and from Newark are metered, with tolls and surcharges (a whopping $17.50) added as necessary.
7) Cabs. They are relatively cheap and are around everywhere. A few things to know. The illuminated white light on the roof of the yellow cab means it’s available. Just stick your hand out and hail one from anywhere in town. You are supposed to wear your seatbelt – or buckle up as they say. You can pay by credit card, but cash is faster. There are a couple of good apps that you can use, Way2Ride and RideLinQ. You put your credit card details in and then just check-in when you’re in the cab, and it does the rest for you. You can just skip out when you arrive at your destination. It adds a 20% tip, but that’s the going rate. There is something you need to be aware of though – between 4pm and 5.30pm lots of cabs go off duty as this is when they switch shifts. Most NY cabs are run 24/7, and are shared between several drivers. Between these times, they go back to base and change drivers. It’s so annoying as lots of cabs do this at exactly the time when you need a cab!
8) Pedi cabs or Bike Rickshaws. A general word of advice – avoid these. They are extortionately expensive, in my experience, and don’t get you anywhere very fast. The drivers try to convince you to “pay what you like”, but they will try and push you to pay more once you reach your destination – claiming that they have worked hard to get you to your destination!
9) Rentable Bikes. As in many big cities now, you can rent Citi Bikes (like London’s Barclays/Santander Bikes) from stands placed around the city. These are a good option if you are confident on a bike. It can be fun to take one to ride around Central Park – most people tend to go anticlockwise around the park. There are dedicated cycle paths in the Park, so make sure you stick to them. But do watch out for tourists wandering into the road/cycle paths. On the upside, dogs need to be kept on a leash (lead) after 9.30am, but do watch out for them if you’re in the park before then.
10) Walking Shoes. Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes. There’s something about this town that makes you walk and walk. It’s so easy with the grid system of streets and avenues. You will walk for miles and miles.
11) The Subway. This is a great way to get around, especially long distances. Get a Metrocard from any Subway station, they can be for a certain number of days or you can charge them with a $ value. Each local journey costs the same ($2.75) however long or short it is. This also works on the buses and on the cable car over to Roosevelt Island. Just be aware that there are often repair works done at the weekend and there can be changes and closures to the system. Check out www.mta.info – it has tons of info.