11 Fabulously Free Things to Do in New York City This Summer
We wish we could find you a free plane ticket to New York City—and a complimentary hotel room when you get here—but once you're in town, NYC rolls out a never-ending supply of amazing activities that most travelers would be more than happy to pay for, but don't have to. Whether it's world-class Shakespeare, a refreshing boat ride, an unforgettable evening at a museum, or just stretching out on the lawn at a relaxing Midtown oasis, summer in the city has never been more affordable.
1. Shakespeare in the Park
The Bard's Coriolanus (July 16 through August 11) will give audiences the opportunity to hear Elizabethan drama presented in the open air, as it was in Shakespeare's day, at the outdoor Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. All tickets to the play, a harrowing tale of democracy under siege by a despotic leader, are free and are distributed in a number of ways, including a line at the theater and online ticketing. To find out how to nab your tickets, visit shakespeareinthepark.org.
2. Staten Island Ferry
Did you know that you can get a boat tour of New York Bay, complete with views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and cool off in the salty breezes? Stop—there's no need to reach for your wallet. New York's iconic Staten Island Ferry makes regular trips between lower Manhattan and the borough of Staten Island free of charge. For schedules, visit siferry.com.
3. The High Line
Psst! In recent years, when you mention how much you love, say, Central Park or Bryant Park to a New Yorker, they may reply, with just a touch of smug, "Well, have you been to the High Line?" This former elevated freight rail line has been converted into a unique public park that runs down the West Side of Manhattan from 30th Street to the West Village, with multiple access points, including wheelchair accessibility, along the way. Although you may not find free Shakespeare or a carousel up there, the chance to see the city from a different angle—included guided walking tours and Tuesday-night stargazing—is priceless. And free. Visit thehighline.org to learn more.
4. New York Botanical Garden
All day each Wednesday, and from 9 to 10 a.m. each Saturday, the New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx, opens its grounds to visitors free of charge. You can hop a subway train or Metro North's Harlem line from Grand Central Terminal to get there, and walk the winding paths among the trees and flowering plants. You'll have to pay to get into the greenhouses or special events—but on a lovely summer's day, the grounds will likely offer more than enough flora to keep you satisfied. Learn more about the botanical garden's summer programs at nybg.org.
5. Central Park
Every single day of the summer, Central Park's calendar is packed with activities like catch-and-release fishing, guided tours of gardens and wild spaces, concerts, theater, and more—not to mention the fact that the park also hosts the charmingly manageable Central Park Zoo, a carousel, puppet theater, and, oh yeah, a museum you may have heard of... the Metropolitan Museum of Art (not free, but residents of the Tri-State area can pay what they wish, and the museum is always free to students with ID). But, honestly, the best way to enjoy Central Park is to wander its paths with someone you love, discovering its ponds (including the one where Stuart Little competed in a miniature-boat race), bridges, and public sculptures (such as the breathtaking Bethesda Fountain, where the closing scene of Angels in America takes place) as you go. If you're the type who must plan ahead, you'll find maps and a somewhat overwhelming schedule of events on the park's official site at centralparknyc.org.
Got a little time on your hands? How about a free concert? Or dance recital? Or how about dozens of free performances in public parks across all five of New York City's boroughs (The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island)? Summerstage arranges an incredible array of free entertainment each year, including music, dance, and comedy. Find a few—or a few dozen—that sound good to you at cityparksfoundation.org/summerstage.
7. Grand Central Terminal
At the corner of 42nd Strett and Vanderbilt Avenue in Midtown, you'll find an architectural treasure that's worth a visit even if you're not planning on hopping on a train. Grand Central Terminal's main hall has the open, uplifting feeling of a cathedral interior, and if you're lucky enough to visit on a sunny, day, you'll see the classic image of sunlight pouring in the building's iconic windows, illuminating the bustle below. For a schedule of the building's award-winning, absolutely free walking tours, visit grandcentralpartnership.org.
8. New York Public Library
Not just a collection of books—though it is quite a collection of books—the New York Public Library's main building at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue also hosts numerous free art and history exhibits with materials from its extensive collection of drawings, paintings, maps, manuscripts, and bound books. If you're a fan of the film Ghostbusters, the building will feel eerily, and comically, familiar. And don't forget to pay the sculpted lions outside a visit. Visit nypl.org for a schedule of exhibits and special events.
9. Bryant Park
Right behind the main library, Bryant Park is an oasis of green—and blood-pressure-lowering serenity—in the midst of Midtown. A children's carousel imported from France plays Edith Piaf recordings as the kids whirl around on beautifully carved and painted horses, bunnies, and cats, and there are a few spots to buy lunch or dinner in the park. But a seat by the fountain on a hot summer day is just about all it takes to relax and recharge—as many New Yorkers do on their lunch hours. The park's summer film festival presents a free movie every Monday night—bring a blanket and a picnic dinner, and get there early to nab a spot on the lawn where you can enjoy a classic like Coming to America, Goodfellas, and Anchorman. To find out what's going on at the park, visit bryantpark.org.
10. St. Patrick's Cathedral
As long as you remember that you're stepping into a house of worship (hats off, voices low), a stop at St. Patrick's is a lovely way to escape the summer heat and hoards of shoppers on Fifth Avenue. Religious sculptures, stained glass windows, and soaring architecture can almost convince you that you've stepped into a time machine—or been transported to a European capital. Visit saintpatrickscathedral.org for a schedule of events, including masses and concerts.
11. National Museum of the American Indian
New Yorkers who envy Washingtonians for their free access to the Smithsonian museums are forgetting that Manhattan has a Smithsonian museum of its own: the National Museum of the American Indian. Located downtown at the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, the museum is devoted to the history and culture of America's native peoples and in addition to permanent exhibits also offers regular music and dance presentations. Visit nmai.si.edu/visit/newyork to learn more.
Money Exchange: 8 Things to Know Before You Go
Traveling abroad? Nabbing a great exchange rate is one of the best ways to save money. Unfortunately, many international travelers make mistakes when converting their dollars to foreign currency. But, with a little planning you can find a great exchange rate and make the most of every dollar you spend abroad. Here are eight things to know before exchanging money overseas. 1. Check what the official exchange rate is before you go This will give you a benchmark that you can use to compare exchange rate offers. To see what the current exchange rate is, simply Google “currency converter” and select the currency at your destination. 2. Avoid currency exchanges at airports A big flub international travelers make is exchanging money at an airport. Sure, it’s convenient, but that convenience comes at a price. Indeed, exchange kiosks at airports tend to charge significantly higher rates, since travelers who just touched down at their destination often need local money ASAP. Some airport exchange centers charge as high as a 15% premium. Thus, your best approach is to exchange for foreign currency at a local bank or credit union before leaving the U.S. 3. Find a bank that doesn’t charge commission Be prepared to shop around if you’re truly determined to find the best exchange rate you can get. Some U.S. banks and credit unions charge commission and extra fees when exchanging currency, while others don’t. Find one that’s going to give you a fair shake. 4. Consider withdrawing cash from an ATM abroad Withdrawing money abroad using a debit card means typically you’ll get a better exchange rate than you’d get from a bank or credit union, a recent study from WalletHub of the most popular currency exchange services found. But, make sure you’re bringing a debit card with low international ATM withdrawal fees. This NerdWallet chart shows that the foreign ATM and debit card transaction fees are at more than 20 national and online banks. Some financial institutions (Alliant and Ally) charge fees as low as 1%. Pro tip: bring a small amount of cash with you so that you have a little money to pay for any expenses you’ll have to shoulder before you can access an ATM, like taxi fare from the airport to your hotel. Also, don’t forget to notify your bank of your travel plans before you go—if you don’t, your bank will likely freeze your account when you start making withdrawals or purchases abroad. 5. Only exchange as much money as you’ll need Ideally, you want to only get as much foreign cash as you need for your trip. Why? Because you’ll end up paying an exchange fee again to convert any money you have leftover back to U.S. dollars when you get home. Also, you don’t want to be carrying around a ton of cash; cash is untraceable, meaning if it’s stolen there’s no way to get it back. Granted, this entails figuring out roughly how much money you’ll have to spend on your vacation. The best way to do this is to use a spreadsheet. There are a number of travel-budgeting spreadsheets that are available online for free. Our favorite is this easy-to-use template from Vertex42.com. As you enter your travel costs into the worksheet, the handy pie chart will show you exactly where your money is going based on spending categories (e.g., hotels, meals, flights). Pretty nifty. 6. Forget about using travelers’ checks Though travelers’ checks were once a popular option for exchanging money, they’ve largely been replaced by debit and credit cards, especially those with no foreign transaction fees. Another reason to steer clear travelers’ checks: they can be a hassle to exchange, often requiring you to hunt down a bank at your destination that accepts them. And, FYI: many banks no longer accept travelers’ checks, and some banks charge a fee of 1% to 3% for cashing them. Also, fewer stores and hotels accept travelers’ checks than in the past. 7. Find out what form of money is widely accepted How you pay for things while on vacation depends on where you’re going and what form of money is commonly accepted there. In some countries, such as Sweden, cash is on the verge of extinction, as more hotels, shops, and other merchants are only accepting debt or credit cards. However, in countries like Germany, cash is still king. Cuba, for example, doesn’t have the infrastructure in place for widespread acceptance of credit cards. (Also, American dollars are subject to an extra 10% fee in Cuba on top of all exchange rates!) 8. Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees when you can No matter how much research you do, chances are you’ll essentially “lose money” when exchanging dollars for foreign currency, since you’ll get hit what some type of fee. That’s why Bill Hardekopf, a credit expert at LowCards.com, recommends international travelers rely on a credit card with no foreign transaction fees when making purchases abroad, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, or United MileagePlus Explorer card. The caveat? Because credit cards with no foreign transaction fees often have higher interest rates, they’re not right for everyone. “You shouldn’t have a rewards card unless you’re going to pay off the balance each month,” Hardekopf says.
Do You Really Need to Get a Travel Vaccine?
You've just told a friend about your upcoming trip to a once-in-a-lifetime locale like Machu Picchu or an African game park and he turns your wanderlust to whomp-whomp with a simple question: "Have you gotten your shots?" The question is not as bratty as it sounds. There are a handful of places on earth you literally can't visit without getting vaccinated, and a wide array of countries where a few recommended shots could be the difference between a dream vacay and a medevac. Get the essential shots "No matter where you're traveling, you should make sure you're up-to-date on routine vaccinations like T-dap (diptheria/tetanus/whopping cough), measles/mumps/rubella, and annual flu shots," recommends David Freeman, M.D., professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and treasurer/secretary of the International Society of Travel Medicine. Yawn? Think again: Measles is on the rise in Europe, where an anti-vaccine movement has discouraged many parents from having their kids inoculated against this potentially deadly disease. And nothing says "There's no place like home" like a bout of flu on the road. Find out if your destination poses health risks Visit a user-friendly web resource, such as the Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov), to find a country-by-country index that explains what vaccinations are recommended. Headed for a South Africa game park? You should consider, with a doctor's advice, shots for typhoid, rabies, and hepatitis A. But if your game park is in Kenya, you may be advised to add a yellow fever vaccine to the list. In fact, many less-developed countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Amazon River basin actually require visitors to show proof of yellow fever inoculation before they enter the country. And, though there's no vaccine against malaria, it is rampant in lower Africa and you should ask your doctor for an antimalarial prescription before you leave the U.S. Weigh the costs of vaccinations Freeman recommends that before traveling to a developing region, you visit a travel clinic—where the doctors' major focus is on helping you stay healthy on the road—at least four weeks before your trip. But there's a catch: Although routine shots are covered by most health insurance plans, a trip to a travel clinic and vaccines that are recommended or required for travel are usually not. That means that, on top of airfare and lodging, you may have to add $50-$100 for your exam/consult, $250-$300 for typhoid and hepatitis A shots, $150-$200 for yellow fever, and up to $1,000 for a rabies series. We're not suggesting you miss the chance to see the Big Five or explore the rain forest—just arm yourself with information and, if you must, roll up your sleeve!
Posting a Complaint on Social Media: Our Top 10 Tips
We’ve all been there: You’re at the airport getting ready to embark on a vacation, only to find out your flight has been delayed three hours. Or, you’re trying to check into a hotel but the front desk can’t find your reservation. Before you panic or flip out, though, consider lodging a complaint on social media. Nearly half (46%) of consumers have used social media to “call out” or complain about a business, according to a recent survey by Sprout Social, which sells social media tracking software for businesses. The bad news? Only about one in 10 messages to companies on social media receive a response. Don’t let your complaint to get lost in the vacuum. Take these steps to make sure your voice is heard and get the results you’re looking for. Be specific Don’t just say that you’re “having a problem” or “need assistance”—provide specific information explaining what the issue is. How many days was your luggage lost by the airline? Were there stain-covered carpets or cockroaches in your hotel room? Why did the rental car break down? These kinds of details provide customer service professionals with context.The caveat: Social media isn't always the right place for consumers to go when they have complex issues, like when they miss a flight because someone is sick. Use relevant hashtags to gain traction Weave appropriate hashtags into your Facebook or Twitter post to increase exposure. See what’s trending: If a lot of other flyers are tweeting #JetBlueFail, for instance, follow their lead. Mind your appearance To increase the likelihood of receiving a response, your own social account has to look professional. On Twitter, for example, if you don’t have a bio or you’ve never tweeted before, the company might think you’re account is fake. Having a professional looking profile picture can also affect your response rate. Read: complaining from an account that has a custom photo—say, a simple headshot of yourself—is more effective than complaining from a Twitter account with the default egg or from a Facebook account with a gray-and-white silhouette. Tweet at the right account Check to see if the business you’re targeting has a social media account that’s dedicated to supporting customer service (e.g., @ASOS_HeretoHelp and @comcastcares). Indeed, more than one third of top brands have a Twitter handle they use to directly support complaints, according to social analytics firm Simply Measured. However, make sure the company is actively using the account. Hootsuite, a social media management tool, has a @Hootsuite_Help Twitter account, but its last tweet was on November 28, 2018. Don’t be afraid to write more than one message If you don’t receive a response, don’t give up. In fact, lodging multiple messages for the same complaint may help you receive a response. The more you gripe, the more likely it is that other customers will see your complaint—and no business wants to have a bad reputation. In fact, about 74% of millennial Twitter users said they would be less likely to buy from a brand that has negative comments from other consumers on social media platforms, a recent survey from Twitter and enterprise social technology company Sprinklr found. Think about timing Though some companies check their social media accounts and respond to complaints around the clock, other businesses are only monitoring their accounts during regular business hours. By posting your complaint within that window, you may be more likely to receive a response. Another pro tip: don’t lodge a complaint on social media during a holiday expecting a timely response. Leave a Facebook review Worried that the company will just delete your complaint and erase all evidence that you have an issue? Fortunately for consumers, companies can’t remove reviews on Facebook that customers wrote if they’re truthful. This can give customers bargaining power—for instance, by offering to delete your own review when the business resolves your issue, you’ll be in a much stronger position. Stay calm No matter how frustrated you get, the last thing you want to do is go on a tirade against a company on social media. It’s like berating a customer service agent on the phone—you’ll probably get nowhere, and the employee may have been able to assist you had you kept a cool head. So, avoid using expletives, put downs, or sarcasm when writing your complaint. Avoid posting personal information Don’t publicly share your phone number, email address, or account information in messages to companies on social media. If you do, you could be exposing yourself to spammers or potentially even hackers. Be clear about what you want Ask yourself what your goal is. Are you looking for a full refund? Do you want a free upgrade to first class on your next flight? Knowing what your end game is—and articulating it clearly in your message—is crucial.
These Smartphone Accessories Will Change the Way You Travel
Like it or not, smartphones have changed the way we explore the world. From electronic ticketing to GPS, not to mention those all-important social-media updates, our phones are our constant companions; even out of service range or in airplane mode, we're using our devices to take pictures, navigate Google Maps, and supply the soundtrack for new adventures. Since we won't be leaving home without 'em anytime soon, we found six accessories that will make your phone even better—all for $70 or less. Get Up Close and Personal (Courtesy SIRUI USA) Cheap smartphone clip-on lenses are readily available for less than $20 a set, but if you’re serious about photography—or stepping up your Insta game—paying a little more for higher-quality versions will garner better results. “If you use your phone for more then just snapshots, you should have a 60mm lens,” says Budget Travel photo director Amy Lundeen. “The Sirui 60mm clips on easily and ups the quality for portraits and details like flowers and food—the images are nice and sharp, even if you’re a little further away from the subject then you might want.” The only downside? It weighs down the phone a bit, making it a little more difficult to hold, but if you’re not willing to invest in a real camera or tote around the one you have, this is the way to go. It’s available individually, but it also comes as part of a set, in a carrying case alongside a fish-eye and an 18mm wide-angle, for $150. Sirui 60mm Portrait Lens, $70, bhphotovideo.com. Fit More in the Frame (Courtesy Bower) To capture that expansive skyline shot, a wide-angle lens is also a must. “The wide-angle is perfect for a sunset or rooftop view,” Lundeen says. “It gives just enough extra in the frame to make images from your favorite destination more dramatic.” Cheaply made lenses will lend a fish-eye look to your photos, but this one from Bower offers 50 times the magnification with a 110-degree field of view, giving you more room to play with only a hint of curve around the edges. It has a built-in clip so it's compatible with front and back cameras, but it doesn’t fit well with a phone case—I had to remove mine in order to get the lens to line up properly. As long as you’re willing to run the risk of droppage to get the perfect shot, though, this is an ideal option. Bower HD Cinema-Wide Lens for Smartphones, $50, bhphotovideo.com. Light It Up (Courtesy LuMee) Let’s get two things out of the way: Yes, this LuMee light-up case was designed to take better selfies, and yes, it’s been endorsed by the most famous Kardashian. But thanks to LED rails on the front and back, it’s good for much more than just snapping well-lit self portraits. As a former food blogger, I have a compulsive need to document everything I eat, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much better this made my shots, especially in dimly lit dining rooms and dark, divey bars. I did feel a bit conspicuous whipping it out in close quarters—the backlight is pretty bright, even on the lowest setting—but when I saw the results, I was converted. That said, the case adds quite a bit of bulk to your phone, and it’s so difficult to get on and off that the company had to make a video to show how it’s done; plus, without a way to lock it, it’s all too easy to graze the power button and turn it on unintentionally. But those quibbles aside, this case is a great tool to have if you often find yourself taking pics in low-light situations. LuMee Duo, from $39, amazon.com. Go Hands-Free (Courtesy KobraTech) With social-media platforms leaning ever more toward personal broadcasting (see: Facebook Live and Instagram’s new TV feature), you don’t have to be a professional to justify an equipment upgrade. This 10-inch tripod offers a lot of bang for not a lot of buck, with bendable legs that anchor your phone to take steady shots, even when a level surface isn’t available, as well as an adjustable, universal phone mount that allows you to change up the POV. (It also comes with mounts for a proper camera and a GoPro.) And, with a shutter remote that works up to 30 feet away, it can even serve as a selfie stick—especially good news for solo travelers. KobraTech Triflex Mini Cell Phone Tripod With Remote, $25, amazon.com. Juice It Up (Courtesy Jackery) I’ve been using this portable charger for seven months and counting, and let me tell you, it is a game-changer. Weighing in at just six ounces, at 4-¼ inches long by 2 inches wide and just ½-inch deep, this little guy takes up next-to-no space in my bag, and its built-in lightning iPhone and micro USB cables not only give a serious battery boost in very little time, they also eliminate the need to carry around extra cords. It takes four hours to reach full capacity, but it holds a lot of power—during a recent weekend in San Francisco, it had enough juice to top up my phone and a friend’s multiple times before it needed to be recharged. Just two drawbacks to note: The power button is super-sensitive (on more than one occasion, I’ve pulled it out of my pocket only to discover that I’d accidentally turned it on), and given the positioning of the cables, it can be slightly awkward to hold both phone and charger in one hand—the cables are flexible, but the two units don’t stack very easily. But despite those caveats, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Jackery Bolt 6000, from $30, amazon.com. Boost That Battery (Courtesy Anker) Content distribution manager Amanda McCadams carried this charger on her last trip to Puerto Rico, and she came back raving about it. “When I travel, I use my phone non-stop: for navigating, selecting places to eat, looking up opening hours at attractions, buying tickets, checking my email, and constantly texting and taking calls if need be,” she says. “Plus, I’m using my phone to take photos and videos of nearly every interesting thing I encounter, so I quickly drain my battery. This Anker charger was awesome—I used it at least twice a day to charge up my phone, and it still had enough juice that it didn’t make me nervous.” With a slim profile and nine-ounce weight, it fits nicely in a day bag or backpack, and when you pair it with an extra-long USB cord, you can stash it in your pack and keep using your phone while the battery replenishes. It also comes with a case to wrangle your cords, and it charges via USB, so you'll only need to carry one brick for all of your devices. Anker PowerCore II Slim 10000, $34, amazon.com.