Last week, I went to New York City for the first time. I traveled alone, and stayed in the home of someone I had never met before. I realize that may sound a bit daunting, but in all honesty, it was the most fulfilling experience of my life.

I learned a lot last week, about the world and about myself. New York is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. Everywhere you turn there are all types of food, people, languages being spoken, and art to be observed.

Everything you need is within your reach. Really. On every corner, there are wide varieties of grocery stores, bodegas, pizza places, and bakeries. And if you can’t find exactly what you need in your general vicinity, it is probably a quick subway ride away.

Despite not having a tour guide, I was able to learn a lot of things about the city on my own.

8. Self-reliance and an open mind are key – I stayed with a 26-year-old lawyer, who works 14-hour days, and therefore, did not have much time to show me around the city. I heavily relied on my maps app to show me how to get to places. For example, when I wanted to wake up early and go to Central Park, I typed “Central Park” on my maps app, and followed the mass transit instructions. The subway is fairly easy to figure out, and is available on a 24/7 – 365 basis.

7. Staying in someone’s home allows for a feel of what living there is like – If you plan on moving to New York (or any other big city), I would highly recommend staying in someone’s home, as opposed to a hotel. Hosts can be found on services such as Airbnb and Couchsurfing. Luckily, my host was one of my older brother’s friends, so I wasn’t staying with a complete stranger, however, if you are staying with someone that you have no previous connection to, you should probably keep in regular contact with them via text and video chat for a few months prior to your trip.

6. There is a store for literally EVERYTHING – On my second day in town, I met up with someone named Daniel (whom I had previously come across on Couchsurfing months ago), and he showed me around SoHo. One of the shops we visited was called Rice To Riches, a build-your-own-rice pudding bar. Despite being a bit costly, it was delicious, and a unique experience.

The Butterscotch Boulevard flavor  with the oatmeal crisp topping from Rice to Riches

5. Always carry cash – A lot of the souvenir shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in New York only accept cash, or the require a $10 minimum purchase if using a debit or credit card. Luckily, there are banks and ATMs almost everywhere you turn in New York.

4. You don’t always have to break the bank – Websites such as TimeOut or Buzzfeed have lists of free things you can do while in New York. A lot of the notable museums offer discounted ticket prices to students who present a valid ID, and some are even free after a certain time. Attending morning talk shows such as Today and Good Morning America are also free, and I was even featured on a segment. You can view the clip here (fast forward to 2:40), and please note that what I said was not meant to throw shade towards anyone I’ve dated, it just happened to be relevant to that day’s topic.


Me on The Other View, a relationship-themed segment on The Today Show

3. One week is not enough – Before I went to New York, I made a list of about forty things I wanted to do while I was in town. By the time the week was over, I had barely touched on half of the things on the list. And it’s not because I got lazy or apathetic, it’s because the city itself has so much to offer. I literally saw something interesting everywhere I turned, and felt like I had to check it all out.

2. Stay hydrated – If you’re going to any big city as a tourist, especially New York, you are going to be doing a lot of walking. It is important that you drink the required eight cups of water each day, otherwise, you will feel lethargic and worn out. It was very cold when I was in New York and on many occasions, I felt my skin drying and my lips chapping, due to the fact that I hadn’t been drinking enough water.

1. Never fly Spirit Airlines – Don’t be fooled by the low airfares. Spirit is a shitty excuse for an airline. The minute you purchase a ticket, so many hidden fees are thrown your way. You can bring on one personal item free of charge, however you must pay extra for carry-ons and other bags. Luckily, I was able to fit all of my stuff in a small backpack, which counted as my personal item. However, on the day I was supposed to fly back home to Dallas, my flight was cancelled at the very last minute, and I did not receive any notification until hours before my flight. They wouldn’t let me reschedule my flight online, so I had to go all the way to the airport to reschedule. Obviously, I was not opposed to staying in New York for one more day, however, rescheduling my flight was a stressful process. It’s safe to say, I will never fly with Spirit ever again.

Overall, traveling alone to New York was the best experience of my life. I learned a lot being on my own, and I hope to eventually move up there.