Travel: A Quick, Solo Trip to New York City in January

A few times a year, I travel from Philly to New York to remind myself why I don’t live there. Just kidding, I like New York fine, and lived there for a few years, but going there does remind me of why I love Philadelphia so much.

I’ve found that, the slight risk for major blizzards and freezing temperatures aside, January is really the ideal time for a solo trip to New York. The hotels are relatively inexpensive, the crowds have thinned, and the sales are still going on. Here’s a quick round-up of what I did, where I stayed, and what I recommend when you’ve got 48 hours to spend in the city on your own.

where to stay during solo trip to new york city
The super narrow mirror at the Pod 39 hotel

Where to Stay

If you’re traveling on your own and are looking for something that’s pretty  much just a crash pad, I can’t recommend the Pod 39 hotel enough. In January, I’ve found that their per night prices tend to fall to less than $100, while the rest of the year they are pushing $300 per night. Although the price is affordable, it’s not a budget hotel. It’s clean, it’s somewhat trendy, and it has plenty of modern amenities, such as a flat screen TV, free WiFi, and a nice, rainfall shower.

The downside is that it’s tiny. This year, I got a double room, which pretty much had room for a double bed and a small desk. (I’ve previously stayed in a queen-sized room, which has a bit more space.) There was an attached bathroom with a small sink, shower and a ledge for your stuff. The room I stayed in also featured what might be the least useful mirror I’ve ever seen. As you can see in the photo, there’s no real closet, so the hangers (which were attached to coat hooks) blocked the mirror, which also happened to be right in the corner by the door. Another drawback: there’s no kettle or coffee maker in the room, and they don’t have free coffee in the lobby. There is a restaurant, Salvation Taco, that will sell you breakfast and coffee, if you wish.

Some might also argue that the location of Pod 39, Murray Hill, is a downside. OK, it is a little douchey there, but you can say the same about a lot of New York. It’s just a few blocks from the Grand Centeral 4/5/6 stop, so you can leave in a hurry if you want. There are also lots of places nearby to get a quick bite to eat or a drink if need be. Plus, you’re within walking distance to pretty much everything in Manhattan.

Mondrian Composition No.2 in Red and Blue
Mondrian Composition No.2 in Red and Blue

What to Do

Typically, I plan on seeing a few shows when in New York. This year, I saw The Glory of the World at BAM and Masters at Work at the NYC Ballet. The NYC Ballet can be pricey, but I managed to get a seat on the far side of the orchestra, in the second row, for just $30.

I had thought about going to the Met Museum, since I’ve actually  never been to it, but got lazy and didn’t want to walk up to 86th street, so I went to the Museum of Modern Art instead. That turned out to be a good decision, since MoMA had an exhibition looking back on the works of Jackson Pollock and an exhibition of sculptures by Picasso.

Usually, when I visit MoMA, it’s insanely crowded and it takes like an hour to check your coat (which is free and they recommend doing.) This time, there was no line and the museum was relatively uncrowded, which  made looking at the exhibitions a lot more enjoyable. I don’t know if it was the time of day or the month that kept the crowds away.

I almost dropped into the Paris Movie Theater on my last night, just because I happened to walk by it, but decided against it, because it was just a bit too late (the movie would have started at 10, and I wouldn’t have gotten back to the hotel until after midnight. God, I’m old).

I also just enjoy wandering around the city. Manhattan is pretty small and you can easily walk it, especially if you avoid the crowded areas, like Times Square and the area around Penn Station/Herald Square. I ended up walking from the hotel over to Lincoln Center over the course of the day, and then back again at night.Walking back to the Pod 39 after the ballet, 5th Avenue was pretty much deserted. It was great.

lincoln_center_stage

Shopping

I did stop into J.Crew on my trip (I actually went to two stores, one on Madison Ave, and the one in the Time Warner Center), and have some reviews of the most recent arrivals. I also went to Saks Fifth Avenue, just to see. It was so pretty (especially this Marc Jacobs skirt and this amazing military jacket from Polo Ralph Lauren), but I felt very out of place there. Like, I felt like everyone could tell my scarf was from Gap and that maybe they were a bit disdainful of it and clearly, I wasn’t going to buy anything, so why was I there? It was the tail end of sale season, though, so they did have a few racks of items marked down 60 to 70%. Nothing that caught my eye or was in my size, though.

Working

I’m self-employed, which means that most of my trips are working vacations. The best place to work in New York, in my opinion? The public library. I tend to go to the Midtown Branch, at 40th and 5th, but any branch will do. There’s plenty of seating and tables, the WiFi is free (you don’t need a library card or password), and you can sit and work all day. The downside: the bathrooms are a nightmare. Just don’t even go in them.

Eating

When I travel alone, I don’t really get very adventurous when it comes to eating. I guess I don’t really get adventurous when it comes to eating in general, as I don’t really care about the latest place to eat or what have you. So, I don’t really have much to offer when it comes to where to eat in the city. I like Pret a Manger, embarrassingly enough, and will pretty much just go there the entire time I’m in NY. The fact that there’s one pretty much every block doesn’t help matters. Yeah. Let’s all just pretend I didn’t admit that.

5 Things That You Need to Bring to Reykjavik in Winter

In my post on packing for Iceland in December, I mentioned feeling a bit of uncertainty about what to expect weather and temperature wise. Would there be snow? Would things be super cold? Would I look like a tourist? As it turned out, yes, sort of yes, and no, but it’s possible that your mileage may vary if you visit the country in the late fall, too.

Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss Waterfall

My travel happened to be bookended by two blizzards, leaving about 16 inches of snow in Reykjavik before I arrived. The day I left, the city was gearing up to be hit with a “once every 25 years or so” blizzard featuring hurricane speed winds. But, while I was there, the weather was fairly mild. It averaged around 0 degrees Celsius, although one day the temperature did fall to -8 C. There was the occasional snow and some pretty strong winds. Still, it was all in all not that bad.

Although a lot of guesswork was involved in terms of what to bring (my main concerns were getting my carry-on under the 10 kg weight limit IcelandAir has and not being cold), in the end, I was completely fine. Aside from one day spent on a bus traveling the Golden Circle, I spent most of my time in the capital city itself. Here are my recommendations for things to take along on a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland, so that you don’t look like a super tourist and so that you don’t freeze.

 

1. Doc Martens

I’ll be honest here, I almost didn’t pack my Doc Martens. I thought they took up too much space in my suitcase (they did) and that they weighed too much (they didn’t. I weighed them and they were just 2.5 pounds). I was going to pack a floppy pair of suede boots instead.

Am I glad I didn’t do that. Let’s just say this, Docs are awesome. They look good, they keep your feet warm, and you can stomp through huge amounts of snow in them without getting your feet wet. As I mentioned, there was a lot of snow in Reykjavik. Some of it was shoveled away the first few days I was there, a lot of it wasn’t. Which meant that I had to walk through piles of snow to get from point A to B. In the Docs, that totally didn’t matter.

Ok, sure, you can get “winter boots” like Sorels, but I think they look a little obvious and aren’t nearly as versatile as Docs. They’d be fine if you’re going out on an adventure in the country, but if you’re wearing them around the city, you might stand out a bit.

2. Uniqlo Heattech Stuff

I’m not really sure how Uniqlo’s Heattech clothing and accessories works in terms of keeping you warm — it traps in your body heat and recirculates it around you or something, but it’s really pretty effective. I got a long-sleeved “extra warm” top and a short-sleeved top, plus a pair of gloves and some tights and was perfectly comfortable, even on that -8 degree day.

The great thing about Heattech tops is that they are thin and tight fitting, so they don’t add a lot of bulk to your shape and you can wear them under even the tightest fitting tops. I have a pretty fitted merino sweater that I wore over top of the long-sleeved top and it didn’t look bumpy or weird.

As far as the tights went, I found them warm enough to wear on their own with just a wool skirt over top. They also came in handy on the night we saw (or rather, sort of saw) the  Northern Lights, when I wore them under a pair of jeans. I also put a pair of socks on over top of the feet part of the tights to keep my feet warm.

The Heattech gloves I had weren’t actually all that warm. They were fine on the warmer days (when it was above 0), but on the cold ones I actually put on another pair on top of them for extra warmth. You can use the Heattech gloves with your phone or other touch screen devices, which is nice when you’re trying to take a picture outdoors and really don’t want to take your gloves off.

3. Something Waterproof

It either snows or rains frequently throughout the day, so you want something that will keep the water off of you that isn’t an umbrella, which will just get shredded in the wind. I went the down jacket route as my outer layer, but I’m sure anything is fine as long as it repels water and keeps you warm. The Patagonia jacket I got is hydrophobic, so water actually forms beads on the surface of it, which looks cool. I would just brush the water away when needed. It was also windproof, so the gusts of wind didn’t bother me either.

iceland_picture

Although a waterproof coat is a must, I’m going to say that waterproof pants are probably overkill if you’ll only be hanging around in the city. I saw a few people wearing them around Reykjavik and they just looked overdressed. I mean, what to do I know, they might have been about to go tour an ice cave or tramp around the mountains in the snow. But, when you’re sitting in a toasty warm bakery in the middle of a city, drinking coffee and eating breakfast, looking like you just came off of a ski slope looks a bit silly. And like a tourist.

4. Fitted Jeans

As you might know, I recently got a pair of flares from Madewell and they are great. So great that I almost brought them along with me. Thanks to the snow, I’m glad I didn’t. The flares would have just dragged on the ground and gotten soggy. It’s no wonder you see Icelanders wearing skinny jeans a lot. My recommendation is to pick jeans that fit close to the ankle or that are slightly bootleg, so that they cover the top of your boots. I worn a slim fitting pair of bootleg jeans from Loft and ended up cuffing them slightly so that they didn’t drag.

5. Your Swimsuit

Swimming’s a big thing in Iceland. You can shell out the big bucks and hit up the Blue Lagoon, or you can do what I did and visit a public swimming pool. I think admission to the pools is something like 600 ISK, which is slightly less than $5 (at time of writing). If you get a Reykjavik City Card (which I totally recommend), the cost of admission to the pool is included for the time the card is valid, so you can pretty much go for free.

I ended up going to Sundhollin, which is the oldest pool in the city. It also happens to be near the city center, so it was a short walk from my hotel. And, the swimming pools at Sundhollin are indoors, while most of the other pools in the city and surrounding area are outside. The hot pots (hot tubs) at  Sundhollin are outside, but they are heated to a toasty 42 Celsius or 39 Celsius (there are two) so you don’t even notice the cold air around you.

The one thing I didn’t have was a towel, but no worries, as you can rent one from the pool for around $5. You can also rent a swimsuit, too, but do you really want to do that?

You can probably totally leave the tractor at home, too.
You can probably totally leave the tractor at home, too.