Don’t judge a book by its cover, we’re taught from an early age. But we do – it’s human nature to have preconceived notions. Yet, these expectations (or lack of) shouldn’t change your actions.

Growing up, New York, heck the whole of America, was this far-off country where celebrities walk the streets and everything is ‘better’ – a pipedream. You go to art performances on a Monday night, grab $1 beers with friends on Wednesday, watch a comedy show on Friday, and that’s all before the weekend even starts.

Hollywood and the media reinforced these assumptions of the years. So, I put New York in my ‘I wish’ pile, and I continued to look on in wonder, until last year.

Seeing NYC with my own eyes humanised it

I can’t stress enough the importance of action, even with a certain idea already in your head. It’s like that old saying goes: You’ve got to see it to believe it.

Visiting New York in the fall of 2016 humanised what once was the city that was inaccessible to me. I walked the streets, met the people who call it home, and realised that only some stereotypes were real (like 99c pizza and artsy fire escapes).

This is what drives me to travel. To prove myself wrong. To prove society wrong. To prove the world wrong.

I fell in love with NYC. I strangely felt at home there. I found peace in the sirens, horns, music, and voices. The coffee shops filled with people working on their MacBook’s. The aspiring creatives living off tips, doing whatever they can, just to bring their dreams to life.

I found an undeniable sense of self in NYC. And it scared me because how the hell was I going to live there, I’d think to myself. But like all things, if you want it bad enough, you’ll make it happen.

I boarded that plane at JKF feeling unfinished. And I was going to come back to live.

Moving to NYC. Overcoming the ‘can I afford it?’. 

There’s a huge difference between travelling and living in New York. My experience of the city was only based on a one-week trip there, so I needed to research as much as I could.

After cruising through countless blogs, tuning into dozens of YouTube videos, and checking out alternative ways to live, like Airbnb, I came up with a budget, AU $100/day. But you’ve got to flexible and be ok with change.

There are four things that I accounted for in my budget – accommodation, food, subway ticket, and entertainment. Let’s go through all four.

Accommodation

This will chew up most of your budget, yet you’ll get little for what you pay. That’s just life in New York. Book a few of nights in a house or hostel, and go from there. We had a great space in Nolita, Soho.

It had a whole level dedicated to ‘chilling.’ This meant we didn’t have to go out to work in a coffee shop and spend money. However, the rooms were small and we didn’t have easy access to kitchen facilities. It was costing us $130/night, so $65 each.

All it took was a quick search on Airbnb and we found a cute loft-type apartment in East Village, one suburb over. We’d have a whole room to ourselves, plus the kitchen and bathroom. It was listed as only $81/night, which brought our accommodation per night down to just over $40.

The apartment is the ‘real’ New York, like something you’d see in ‘Girls.’ We now feel like true New Yorkers.

Accommodation = $40/day 

Food

With $40 a day already gone to our accommodation, we can’t just go out every meal and live the high life, if we’re going to stick to budget. So, because NYC comes to life at night, we choose dinner as our ‘one meal out.’

We allow US $15 each for our dinners, which when you add tips and tax, then convert to Australian dollars it’s about $22.

For our breakfasts and lunches, we walk to the Wholefoods down the road and buy yogurt and fruit, and wraps with chicken for lunch. They’re very basic meals, but they do the job. We’re busy working during the day, so leaving our eating out until the night is completely fine. We get the best of both worlds.

We probably spend US $30 every three days on groceries. That works to be US $10/day on breakfast and lunch, split by two, so $5 because we half everything. When we convert that to Australian dollars, it’s about $7-8.

And just like all New Yorkers do, we simply must walk around in the morning with a coffee in hand. We pick a new place to try for our morning coffee, or go back to one of our favourites, and work there or wander around. Coffee normally costs us US $4, so AU $6.

All up, we spend approximately $35/day on food, including grabbing a morning coffee, preparing breakfast and lunch in our apartment, and eating out for dinner.

Food = $35/day 

Subway ticket 

The easiest (and cheapest) way to get around is the subway. There’s always a stop about 10 minutes away from our apartment, so we get in a little walk either side, too.

You can either buy a one-week unlimited pass for US $31 or a monthly pass for US $116. There could be a week that you spend around your neighbourhood, walking everywhere. If so, it’s cheaper to buy three, one-week passes for US $93, instead of spending US $116.

But for the sake of our calculations, let’s base our budget on the monthly pass, which comes to approximately AU $160. Break this down day-by-day and it costs me just over $5/day.

Subway pass = $5/day 

Entertainment  

Ok, so far I’ve got our accommodation, food and transport sorted. I’m staying in a cosy NY loft, trying a new coffee shop every day, eating out for dinner, and getting around just fine.

All of this comes to AU $80/day, so we’ve still got $20 to play with. Either you can have a bit of leeway with buying drinks at dinner and small daily purchases, or save it up and have $140 a week to buy bigger purchases, like Broadway tickets.

One of the things that makes NYC so energetic is all the creatives, like the comedians, musicians, artists, dancers, and singers. They just want to get their voice heard, which often means doing it for free. Any night of the week, there’s a free event going on.

So far, we’ve been to a free two-hour comedy show, a travel storytelling event, and we’ve got free tickets to a second Broadway show. This week, we’re going to ice skate in Central Park, meander through the Chelsea Markets, and have dinner at a rooftop looking out to the Empire State Building. Again, these are all free things to do.

It’s what you make of it

Every day, we get lost walking the streets of New York. We lose track of the time and realise we’ve been out for hours. It’s just the kind of effect NY has on us. This unquenchable thirst for more. Every corner, every street, every neighbourhood, there’s something new.

Just like everywhere, you can live as cheap or expensive as you want. You can get delicious $6 dishes at questionable-looking Chinese joints, and you can spend upwards of $20 for a meal, too.

You have the power on how you spend your money. Leave your assumptions at home, and be open to living in a whole new way.

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