So I bought a plane ticket (NYC recommendations wanted!)*

February 24, 2013 · 25 comments

honeybee on iris reticulata

In the spring of 2007 when I was eight months married and four months pregnant (with Levi), I visited New York City for the first time. My brother and now sister in law were living in Harlem, finishing their first year of teaching in New York public schools after completing master’s degrees at Columbia Teacher’s College. I booked the trip not because I really wanted to see New York but instead because I just wanted to visit my brother and possibly to be a bright spot in a difficult year for him.

My brother and sister in law were going to be working while I was there, and I really didn’t want to travel around NYC for a week by myself, so I ended up buying a second plane ticket as a present for a good friend from college.

My friend and I flew overnight, arriving at JFK around 6 in the morning, and then we took a long shuttle ride to my brother’s apartment. Travel weary and starving, we set out on our own in Harlem, looking for something to eat. Within an hour, we had polished off the hugest and most delicious pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life from some totally unassuming kinda dive-y pizza place in the neighborhood. The rest of the trip consisted of a vast amount of walking and an equally vast amount of eating (which was completely guiltless because of all the walking and the fact that I was pregnant at the time). We saw some toursity/iconic NYC sights, but we also spent a fair bit of time people watching on the subway and pretending we were New Yorkers in Brooklyn coffee shops. We went out for almost every meal, but because the plane tickets were cheap, lodging was free, and we didn’t partake in too many paid activities, the trip overall was relatively inexpensive. My friend was the perfect travel partner, fun and funny and cheap with many of the same interests as me. I’m so thankful that I had someone to lean on for my first trip to the big city.

In my mind, that vacation has a golden glow around it. It seemed like all the stars aligned to make the week pretty much perfect. I’ve known that I’d never be able to recreate it exactly, but in the nearly six years since, I’ve had this subtle (or at times not-so-subtle) itch to go back. Posts like this one on Mae’s blog were driving me a little crazy (good crazy). I think the internet is partly to blame because it seems like NYC, mostly Brooklyn (and Portland), are so disproportionately represented in many of the best websites and my favorite blogs (Apt. 2B Baking Co. BigBANG studio, Hungry Ghost, La Buena Vida, Brooklyn to West, Reading My Tea Leaves, smitten kitchen, etc. — all of these bloggers are worth following on Instagram, too). I kept waiting for the perfect opportunity to go and the perfect person to go with, but life is complicated and free time doesn’t ever present itself unless I specifically carve it out. I kept hoping to go with my sister in law (who moved with my brother to Oregon a few years back), but she had a baby and a serious job like most of my other friends. I got pretty discouraged about actually making my dream trip a reality.

I should thank Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) for being the first one to plant the seed in my brain about traveling to NYC alone. I read the advice she gave to the 6th questioner in this post. I thought about it a little bit and then set the idea aside until I read this post (and a bunch of the comments) on A Cup of JO. I started daydreaming about the possibilities. I started checking on airline ticket prices. The more I considered it, the less crazy it seemed. I finally brought it up to Henry, and I was really surprised when he didn’t need any convincing at all. “You should do it,” he said.

And so I did it. Or at least I bought a ticket, and I’m planning on doing it. It’s quite a ways off still, but I can’t help but spend a lot of time studying NYC “favorites” lists herehere, and here.

My plane (hopefully) comes into JFK the morning of Saturday April 27, and I leave the night of Thursday May 2. I haven’t made lodging reservations yet, but I’m thinking I’ll pick out a Williamsburg, Brooklyn Airbnb (possibly this one, this one, this one, or this one) unless you have a better suggestion or specific recommendation. I already have tentative plans to meet up with Yossy, Lisa, Amy (and Anne from Portland), Ariele, and Amelie. I hope to make it to Brooklyn Flea, browse at least one of the Greenmarkets, walk the High Line, and take a tour of Etsy headquarters. I want to eat at Buvette, Vinegar Hill House, Marlow and SonsMomofuku, and some of the other places I’ve seen and heard about on Instagram and blogs. I’ll also admit (reluctantly) that I’m really not a museum person, so with the power to set my own agenda, I think I’m gonna steer clear of the Met and MoMA. (I know that makes me a cultural backwater, but…sorry.) I’d like to hit a Broadway show, but it seems like the good shows often sell out (at pretty high prices), and they don’t start until late in the evening. I think after wandering the streets all day (still on Pacific Time), I’m going to be ready to curl up in bed before the NYC nightlife really gets going. We’ll see. This time around, I don’t really feel the need to do any stereotypically New York things just to say I’ve been there or seen that.

Unlike my first visit to NYC (when before I left I thought I was headed to a third-world country where I could be mugged or murdered at any moment), I’m not really worried about my safety at all. My biggest fears are of being lonely, feeling awkward sitting a restaurant by myself, or spending too much time staring at my iphone because it’s more familiar and comforting than just BEING in the city. Do you have any good tips on traveling alone? I am all ears cuz this is definitely a first for me.

So I’m hoping you, dear readers, will help me prepare for this adventure. Where should I stay? Where should I go? Where should I eat? What should I do? I’m feeling pretty open to anything (preferably not too wild or extraordinarily expensive) on this trip. And…um…do any of you New Yorkers want to go get a cup of coffee or somethin’?

I know some of you are gonna think it’s pretty strange that a major country bumpkin like myself is so in love with one of the biggest cities in the world, but it’s surprisingly true. New York is such a center of American culture (something I became much more aware of after I went the first time), and it was great to actually see some of the places I’ve been hearing about all my life. And the ENERGY…wow!  You might also think it’s kinda stupid to be going BACK to a place that I’ve already been to when there are thousands of places in this country let alone the world that I’ve never been to. I think that’s fair criticism, and I’d love to go to Yellowstone or New Zealand someday (though not by myself), but I don’t feel like I’m done with New York, and I definitely haven’t seen it all (if that’s even possible). That city and I, well, I think we have the makings of a long-term relationship.

* The photo above has absolutely nothing to do with New York or traveling. I just thought the post deserved something pretty. Our iris reticulata are in full bloom, and the bees were crawling all over it during the sunny weather this afternoon. 

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather M February 24, 2013 at 10:28 pm

I’m taking a solo trip there that same time frame! I stay with my sister and wander around by myself during the day while she’s at work. I LOVE being solo in New York. It’s really the best city for it, because no matter how specific your interests are, you can find something to do that fits just perfectly for you. You have a great list already! My list is always way too long before I even start. 🙂


Camille February 25, 2013 at 6:29 pm

I’m worried that I won’t be able to fit everything in. That’s okay, though, cuz there will be something left over for the next trip 😉


Heather M February 25, 2013 at 9:23 pm

I think about it the same way too. I like to start with a list that I think is reasonable, then make it crazy long, eventually just accept that I can’t do it all and enjoy picking and choosing from it all, then, yes, having lots left over for next time! All the anticipation is part of the pleasure.


Heather M February 25, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Also, I’m totally going to lurk in these comments to glean all the knowledge from your readers! If you’re in the West Village, check out Three Lives Bookstore. It’s just one of those old fashioned bookstores where the people who work there are geniuses at recommending books and have read everything. I think it’s worth it to splurge on new books occasionally, especially since, next to yarn, they are my favorite souvenirs. I also love stopping by random public libraries for a rest. There are so many interesting ones, not to mention THE Library on 5th and 42nd. It’s mind-blowing, the things they have there.


Dee February 25, 2013 at 4:32 am

I’m a Brooklyn native and head back every few months to visit. I think you already have some great plans. If you really want to see a Broadway show, try the TKTS booth for discount tickets. Or see a show at BAM in Brooklyn and then grab a bite in Fort Greene. I always pick up a current issue of TimeOut NY and decide what I want to do from there. Enjoy your trip!


Camille February 25, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Will do. Thanks!


ga447 February 25, 2013 at 5:04 am

You are going back to my old home ground, Manhattan – I love the walking and then you see so many different things. I did take the double decker bus and that helped me where to get on and off and see so much great stuff. You are going at a great time. Go to the American Folk art museum.


Camille February 25, 2013 at 6:30 pm

I’m getting so ridiculously excited!


Abby February 25, 2013 at 7:27 am

Sounds like a great adventure! When I’m on my own, I make sure to have a book on hand for quiet moments or solo dining. It helps buck me up considerably.

When I lived in New York, my favorite restaurant was Tea & Sympathy in the Village. A big pot of tea and a few English scones with jam and clotted cream are the perfect pick-me-up in the afternoon.


Camille February 25, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Maybe instead of bringing a book, I’ll have to hit up used bookstores. Book + tea + scones = a perfect afternoon in my opinion.


julia February 25, 2013 at 8:02 am

this sounds awesome! i have only done a little bit of traveling alone (in budapest, six and a half years ago) and i mostly spent my time wandering, drinking coffee and eating pastries, and one amazing day in the turkish baths…i feel like those first two are things you’ll do a lot in nyc.

as far as it being weird for a country bumpkin to be so into nyc…not at all! i am a native manhattanite and would LOVE to run away to the country (i’ve settled for a small city in the midwest in the meantime). every time i go back to visit my family in nyc, i feel totally overwhelmed, but it’s lovely that i have an excuse (and a free place to stay!) to visit there at least once a year. what’s always hard for me is that i haven’t actually lived there since i was 18 so even though i’m from there, i have no idea where to hang out. all the places i used to frequent are either not there anymore, or i don’t want to hang out there anymore because i’m 30 and not in high school anymore. so i often can’t help but feel a little touristy on some fronts…

anyways. have an amazing trip! i’ll be visiting the end of march, so i’ll let you know if i discover any awesome new spots.


Camille February 25, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Coffee and pastries. That pretty much sums up my plans!


mae February 25, 2013 at 10:30 am

Oh, awesome Camille! I’m glad that post lit the fire 😉
Though I’m totally comfortable traveling alone and do it a lot (and had a ton of photo collecting to do) I had the same feelings about being alone and uncomfortable in New York… but after getting there and being so surrounded by action I actually found myself popping into random cafes for a small coffee just to have some “alone time” and people-watch. It sounds like you have a lot of friendly faces to keep you company there too. Don’t miss Chelsea Market and the High Line!


Camille February 25, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I’ve heard so many good things about the High Line, and I’ll take your word for the Chelsea Market. Not sure how I’m going to squeeze it all in, but I’ll try.


paula February 25, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Hi Camille,

Good for you to take a trip on your own. I’m sure you’ll have a great experience.

I live nearby in New Jersey, so I’ve been in a fair amount. I recommend stepping into a church when you’re exhausted for some peace and quiet and a totally different space, even if it’s just for a few minutes. In the summer, the cool and dark can be a balm.

The Staten Island Ferry is free and it allows you to see the city from the water. You’ll see the Statue of Liberty and enjoy fresh air if it’s nice out.

Have a great trip!


Camille February 25, 2013 at 6:24 pm

I did both a church (we were looking for a bathroom) and the Staten Island Ferry last time I was there, and they were great, both worth doing again. Thanks!


Abby February 26, 2013 at 10:32 am

You’ll have a great time Camille, NYC is perfect for solo travelers! Williamsburg is a very good choice for staying – there are tons of things to do and see in that neighborhood. Greenpoint isn’t too far away, which is also very chock full of interesting shops, cafes, etc. You MUST visit Bellocq, a small tea shop in Greenpoint (only open on weekends), if only for a cup of tea.

A few New York experiences that I’d recomend:

Sit at the Grand Central Oyster Bar (in Grand Central Station)- very NYC experience. Have oysters or the oyster pan roast and a glass of wine or beer.

Katz’s for pastrami – THE BEST pastrami. Bit of advice: You take a ticket whenyou enter and give it to the counter guys when you order. Then you give the ticket to the cashier when you leave.

Otto- It is an Italian restaurant but one day you should stop in, sit at the bar and have the olive oil gelato (or any of the gelati) and a coffee or a drink. I guarantee that you’ve never had anything like it. You can actually have a full meal at the bar too.

Are there any ethnic foods that you love and can’t get where you live? We have so many – Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Middle Eastern, etc that can be good budget friendly choices.


Nicole February 27, 2013 at 8:35 am

Camille: I travel alone pretty frequently and really prefer to! Sometimes it is from necessity (business travel) but sometimes I will take a day trip without my husband just because.
I’ve grown accustomed to dining solo at many different kinds of restaurants. My tips: when you feel comfortable doing so, dine at the restaurant bar. Its a little less lonely there. I also always carry some light reading with me to keep me company.
Enjoy your trip!


Stephanie March 1, 2013 at 7:39 pm

I definitely recommend Shake Shack for an affordable and memorable meal 🙂 Also, Cup of Joe in Grand Central makes the best caramel latte Ive had in my life. Don’t forget comfortable shoes!!! Listening to music while you walk around town is my recommendation for combatting loneliness 🙂 Give your adventure a soundtrack! Happy planning


Kara March 2, 2013 at 10:15 pm

I am so excited for you!! A small random thing, but if you end up in the upper west side, the Levain Bakery had the best chocolate chip cookie I have ever had in my life I think. Oh my gosh… it was so gooey, warm, and awesome!


pat March 3, 2013 at 10:18 am

Always carry a travel book in your bag, that way if you are feeling uncomfortable eating alone, pull it out and study your next venture….you will forget about the other people, who aren’t paying any attention to you anyway!


Mae March 6, 2013 at 9:36 am

What a great trip that’s going to be!

My sister is a farmer in upstate New York, and she travels down on the weekend sometimes to take part in the Union Square farmer’s market. I haven’t been yet, but it’s supposed to be amazing. Considering your interests, it might be worth stopping by, even if you aren’t planning on doing any cooking while you are there.


Douglas March 9, 2013 at 9:45 am

I, too, am a ‘major country bumpkin’. I visited NYC back in the 1980s. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it … just for visiting. I could never … NEVER live in that place.

I enjoyed the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Within the garden, you feel like you are in the country … but you are in the City. I would almost say it was a breath of fresh air … you get away from the city sights, and the abundance of plant varieties in the garden kept my interest … I love plants.

The city streets were a challenge to me. I enjoy challenges. My friends advised me with how to present myself on the streets (how to blend, so that nobody knows I am really a country bumpkin). I succeeded in having a safe trip to Manhattan. It’s a fascinating place. … Just to visit, though.


Candi April 11, 2013 at 2:30 am

I’m a New Yorker transplanted to Philomath… a strange transition, maybe! My very favorite thing to do in NYC is just walk around and eat. Sad, but true. ; ) I do highly recommend a visit to the NY Public Library in Manhattan. It might seem odd to visit a library on vacation, but for a book lover, this place is enthralling. If you want to visit something out of the ordinary for NYC, you could visit one of the forts… Castle Clinton, Castle Williams, or Fort Totten.

Just remember to go with the flow when walking in crowds there… if you stop and wait to cross a street, someone will inevitably cop an attitude about it. ; ) Also, if you get really bored, my brother owns a wine shop in Brooklyn called “Gowanus Wine Merchants” (you can find them on Facebook). Free tastings every Friday and Saturday!


Douglas U. April 29, 2013 at 8:19 am

You mentioned friends with real jobs. You clearly have a real job, only
unlike many jobs, it sounds like you love it most of the time. Hope you
are having a fantastic time in NYC.


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