Recently my whole family came to visit me in New York. Like only arrived back in Aus in the last 24 hours type of recently. It was the first time to the U.S. for three of them, first time to New York for all four, the first time overseas ever for one, and the first time overseas in 35 years for another. Being the organized person I am, I had planned to develop a short list of basics to help orient them all.
You know, a few do’s and don’ts to help them on their New York “journey”. Instead I spent ages on a matrix which mapped all their desired activities to the location in New York, cross referenced with if it was a good day or night time activity, double cross referenced with the activities I wanted to join them on. Which of course we didn’t use once. But in the interest of helping other people out, even if not my own family, I finished the list and here it is: a short list of low key helpful hints if your fam come to visit.
Walk on the right side of the footpath
This is first on the list because it is one very, very simple thing that will make your life much smoother on the streets of New York. But it is also the one thing that is hardest to do. It has been ingrained in us since we could walk to keep to the left, so keeping to the right doesn’t come naturally. But if you’re from the country, and like to walk slowly through the crowds (just a random example … ), this will make life infinitely better. Of course, people in New York do whatever the fuck they want, so this tip is only effective 68% of the time.
Take good care of your metro card
I.e., don’t put it in your back pocket and sit on it so that it bends and you can never swipe it properly and your daughter or son-in-law has to wait and swipe it for you every time. Equally as handy is to keep it in a place you can easily access when using the subway, and grab it out before you get to the turnstile. No-one enjoys waiting two minutes in peak hour in a growing line while you rummage around and eventually find your metro card at the bottom of your backpack.
Check which direction the train is going before you enter the station
Thankfully I remembered to pass this one before they used any other subway station other than Bedford where you can catch both lines from the same platform. Some lines have cross overs or unders, but a lot of Manhattan stations clearly mark which direction you are going and need you to enter in that one. Doesn’t seem like much of an issue if you get it wrong, just walk back up and out right? And then have to wait another 15 mins before you can swipe your unlimited metrocard again. Keeping this one in mind will just help save a bit of confusion, waiting around, and even possible minor rage.
Count your belongings before you get off the train
New York and transport can be a tad overwhelming, I will be the first to admit. So if you have a handbag, a backpack, and a suitcase, make sure you count all three things before you get off the train. I mean, this is a useful trip when travelling anywhere and useful in everyday life as well, but it never hurts as a reminder. Especially if your companions have to rush back through the Amtrak station and hope the train hasn’t left on its return trip with your handbag in tow.
All money looks the same, so learn to deal with this
No use complaining for the tenth time that the money all looks the same, it won’t miraculously turn it pink, blue, orange, yellow, and green. Instead try taking a couple mins each day to order it in your wallet or purse, smallest note to biggest, and chucking your coins out or into a dish for your Airbnb host. Coins here are honestly confusing and good for nothing except doing your own laundry, if that’s your thing. It is mine, cause I’m broke and poor.
A European adaptor will not work in the U.S.
Seems simple hey? We made this mistake twice. Double check all labels and holes to make sure.
CVS has everything you need. EVERYTHING
Like a U.S. to world adaptor! And cold and flu. And fruit. And other snacks. And umbrellas. And ATMs. And makeup. And toilet paper. Honestly, if you forget or need anything, make CVS your first stop. If they don’t have it, it might not exist and you should consider re-evaluating if you really need it TBH.
Not all soft drinks are created equal
You want lemonade? Ask for Sprite. You want lemon squash? Ask for lemonade. You want soda water? Ask for seltzer. Other generic names for soft drink are pop, soda, and sometimes a general, if somewhat confusing, “coke” will do to cover all the drinks.
Tip, tip, tip.
No, it doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with the fact that they don’t pay their workers a decent living wage, and no, not tipping in protest won’t help this change. You’re in another country, adhere to their customs and respect the people serving you. To be fair, my family were really good about this, but I’ve heard it said before. As a general rule, tip between 15% and 20% depending on service, and $1 cash for a drink if you’re at a bar (more if you’re feeling generous!). To work out tip easily I often work out 10% (if it’s $17.80, that’s $1.78) then multiply that by two. I suck at math. So if I can do it, anyone can do it.
Strangers may not like it when you talk to them
Not everyone in New York is as down to chat about the weather or the history of the subway system or what the colors of the subway lines mean or how the boroughs got their names or the plans for D.C. to give back some land to Maryland or how the running race they just ran was. Some people might be though, so def give it a go, but just be warned that what is considered good neighborly manners back in Aus might be considered annoying here in the U.S.
There you go! This list won’t protect you from everything, but it will provide your visitors with a good base for understanding some of the things about the U.S. and New York in particular. And one last hot tip from me: DO NOT bother with a matrix. Unless you really need to distract yourself from your day job. In which case, go hard.