5 Facts I Wish I Knew Before my First Trip to New York

Petya is a traveller who loves to write and share her experience with others. She is currently based in Barcelona, working on her writing and editorial skills. In between blog articles she loves reading, riding her bike along the beach and breathing in the sea drops of the coast of Catalonia.

Traveling to the United States has never been part of my bucket list – I always felt too scared to fly over 10 hours. However, what you don’t know you should never judge! This is the one thing I learned from my first trip to the U.S. More precisely to New York, the Big Apple, the city that never sleeps. All these names have always made me feel that NY is only beautiful on the big screen, that movie directors make it something it is not.

Simply put – boy, was I wrong!

New York has quickly converted from a movie screen into a shining reality! And even though I had a wonderful time there, I want to share some essential survival information:

The 5 things I wish I knew before going on my first trip to New York.

Winters in the Big Apple are no joke

Bethesda Terrace, Central Park

Visiting New York in December made me realize that Moscow and Helsinki are far from being the coldest cities in the world (what I have always mistakenly thought). Even though temperatures to did not fall below 10 degrees (14 degrees Fahrenheit), the wind and humidity did make me freeze to the bones! This is why, if you are brave enough to visit NY in December or it is your first time living there and winter is coming, do invest in the warmest coat possible. This is not something to think about – it is a fact!

Once you’ve got this covered, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful city with its glimmering lights and fancy little cafes all covered in snow. It looks as if New York has put on a white coat and is welcoming you by saying “Come in” at every corner. So dress warm and get ready to take a walk. Apart from a few freezing moments, it is truly magical.

Grocery stores do not sell liquor

Queens Liquors

With the exception of some delicious Belgian beer and many other great selections, you will not be able to buy any hard liquor the typical super or local market. To do so, you should go to the rightfully called “liquor stores.” In most residential areas such as midtown east/west, you will have no trouble finding one. However, if you have decided to celebrate your anniversary at Times Square, do not run like crazy in a search for a bottle of wine or a bottle of champagne! The city centre has a few liquor stores to offer.

Also, do not be surprised if you are over 30/40/50 years of age (doesn’t matter) and you are asked for your ID. This is to verify you are over 21. Most foreigners take it as a compliment, as it is quite unusual to be 45 in Europe and be asked for your ID when buying alcohol. However, in America, things are different.

Furthermore, take note that most liquor stores are closed on Sundays (but there are always some exceptions, which you might stumble upon if you are lucky).

Finding a seat on the subway is all about location, location, location

59th Street

If you feel adventurous and want to experience the authentic feeling of being a New Yorker, take the subway! However, your experience will not be complete, unless you have to fight for your right to sit on the train! Things can get ugly (insults, elbows in all the wrong places, etc.) but you should never get discouraged. Just be brave, don’t make eye contact and most importantly – do not enter a carriage you see is all empty. Trust me – there is a good reason (most commonly a strong smell) for everyone to avoid it. Should you decide to ignore it, it just might haunt you for days.

Visa applications can be your worst nightmare

I suppose this is no surprise to most people who have been through such a process. The scrutiny and complicity of the overall visa application can drive you crazy. However, there is a solution to the problem, and it has been there for a long time – I just never knew about it!

There is a Visa Waiver Program called ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).

38 countries from all over the world form part of the program. All you need to do is visit an authorized website and apply for ESTA.

The overall process is quite simple – you fill in your personal information, answer 4 “Yes” or “No” questions and submit your ESTA registration. I received an email confirmation immediately and my approved ESTA (via email) less than 2 days after I have registered. Conclusion – this is the best way by far to avoid all visa application headaches and get your travel authorization for the United States in no time.

How to pay in New York – tipping secrets revealed

saturday 3/3

Well, these are not real secrets. However, many people are still confused by the fact that the price shown differs from the final amount. This is due to the fact that all prices in restaurants, cafes, bars, stores are before taxes! And taxes in New York are 8.875% of the displayed price.

So when you feel lost and confused at the same time, due to the difference in the total amount and your calculations – just remember that there is an 8.875% tax rate in New York.

Furthermore, tipping is obligatory. You knew that, right? Well, just to remind you, the maximum tipping percentage is 20%. Paying with cash is easy, you just leave 20% more. However, the confusion comes when paying by card. Your bill will be printed on one sheet, and you will receive a separate one with the tipping information. On it, you will need to indicate the amount of the tip you wish to leave, after which it will be added to your final bill. Once this is all done, you will be charged.

Remember that if you do not indicate anything on the separate tipping sheet of paper, you will be charged the maximum tip percentage, which is 20%.

About Emily Luxton

An award-winning writer and travel blogger on a mission to explore the world through deeper, more intelligent travel. Seeking out adventure, cultural exchanges, food experiences and more as she attempts to get to know the world. Lover of the great outdoors, sunsets, good food, and the odd bit of luxury!


  1. These are really interesting to read as an American citizen! It’s always fun to see how things in your country appear to people who are not from here and visiting for the first time. To take the liquor store thing one step further, each state chooses their own ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) policy. In California (and many other states) you can buy liquor, wine and beer anywhere, but in Virginia (where I am now) you can only buy wine and beer everywhere while having to go to a special liquor store for liquor. I do know that some states require a trip to the liquor store even for wine. It can be confusing and quite inconvenient when traveling between states.

    • Oh wow, definitely sounds confusing. In the UK you can buy most kinds of booze pretty much everywhere – definitely in supermarkets. Makes life easier! But then again perhaps it shouldn’t be so easy for us Brits to get our hands on booze!!!

  2. I loved reading this from the perspective of someone outside of the US. I definitely agree with the tip on the winter coat- New York gets very very cold. And everyone reading this who travels to the states- always leave a tip! 15% minimum, 20% maximum- tips are how us servers actually make our paychecks 🙂

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