Where NOT to stay when visiting New York City

hotelpennsylvaniaEspecially if you are used to finding hotels in any other city in the United States, finding a hotel in New York City can be complicated. It’s actually more like Europe in the sense that rooms in the city center tend to be on the small side, even if you are paying a fortune. That’s just the way it is, and it’s better to get used to that idea than try to “beat the system” because you can’t.

This year has been a great one for budget travelers, and finding a cheap hotel in New York hasn’t been this easy in any recent year. And of course airline tickets have also been crazy cheap, so it seems like booking a great NYC trip will be easy, but it’s still a little complicated.

Location is critical and hotel-booking sites will try to trick you

I regularly write about great hotels deals on this site, and I always mention places that have central locations, even though they aren’t the cheapest rooms in the area. I just checked over at Travelzoo.com, which I like a lot, but I noticed several of the New York hotel “deals” were for far-flung places that I’d never recommend. One says it’s a New Jersey hotel, adjacent to train, and 10 minutes to Manhattan. All of that is certainly true, but that means the train takes 10 minutes to get to Manhattan, once it’s underway, and that’s the closest corner of Manhattan. Long story short, you are probably 45 minutes from Times Square if you stay there, instead of walking distance like hotels with smaller rooms. The search for discount hotels can easily lead you astray, and into a vacation you’d rather forget.

The unfortunate geography of New York

The thing here is that Manhattan contains about 95% of everything you’ve ever heard of in “New York City” and there are no hotel areas that are nearby. There are, of course, hotels in Brooklyn or Queens, but the decent ones are quite a ways from Manhattan so you spend half your day going back and forth, only to save $20 per night. It’s just not worth it.

Hotels by any of the airports are also terribly inconvenient unless you’ve got a car, but if you have a car then everything in Manhattan is terribly inconvenient, so you still lose. There are a few dodgy hotels just across the tunnels in New Jersey, but again, it’s a pain in the ass to get into Manhattan from there unless you’ve got a car, which you really don’t want.

If you go north you have to go all the way through The Bronx to Westchester before you find any good hotels at decent rates, and again this is quite a long haul and not worth it for most people.

So what to do?

My best advice is to find a hotel in Manhattan that fits your budget and then prepare yourself for a small room. The whole city is set up this way so it’s more authentic as well. When my parents used to visit me they’d see my small apartment and ask what I would do if I wanted to have guests for dinner. I told them I’d do what almost all New Yorkers do, and meet them at one of the 20 or so small restaurants within a couple blocks of my apartment. You’ll do the same thing when you are staying here, so don’t sweat the small room.

Another option if Manhattan hotels are too expensive is to book yourself into one of the hostels in New York City. Most of them have private rooms that are cheaper than normal budget hotel rooms, and if you have 3 or 4 in your group you might be able to all fit in one room anyway, making it private.