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LanceVance's avatar

What is your advice to a first-time alone traveler?

Asked by LanceVance (640points) October 3rd, 2010

Hello Fluther. After a long time being inactive, I have decided to come back with a question.

It’s pretty straightforward. I’ve traveled before, but never alone. This time I’m traveling by plane to the USA and am going to visit some places on the East Coast, namely NYC, DC, Boston, New Haven, Princeton.

If anyone’s been there/lives there, what should I watch out for? Secondly, does anyone know a good guidebook for the whole East Coast or only for the cities I’ve mentioned? Thirdly, my plan is nearly complete, including accommodation and transport, however, I still do not know how and where to eat. Sure, fast food is an option, but that kinda won’t be good enough for two weeks.

Thanks y’all.

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14 Answers

BarnacleBill's avatar

First, welcome back to Fluther!

When my daughter lived briefly in NYC, she relied on the Cheap Bastard’s Guides for various cities. You might want to use an application called Urban Spoon to find restaurants. It will give you selections near where you are staying, and let you see menus and patron comments.

lillycoyote's avatar

I don’t know. I live pretty much in, at least part of, exactly where you are going to be traveling, I live between NYC and DC and have travelled to both, and to New England and I couldn’t even tell you “exactly what to watch out for.” You should watch out for the same kind of things any traveler might and should watch out for. We’re really not all that bad here, were not going to jump you. :-) And as to the food, like anywhere, I would suggest taking a nod from the locals, if you want to enjoy regional cuisine. I don’t really have a book to recommend but I have found in my own travels that the people in the hotel, motel or whatever accommodations you have arranged for yourself can usually give you some pretty good tips.

augustlan's avatar

I’m fairly familiar with DC. Like any other metropolitan area, hide your valuables if you’re walking around by yourself. Don’t wear flashy jewelry, and don’t use your iPhone (if you have one), out on the street. There have actually been a rash of iPhone grabs recently, and the police came out with a warning about it. There is fabulous food to be had there, everything from street cart vendors to top of the line gourmet, any type of cuisine you could wish for. I agree with @lillycoyote on asking the hotel employees for recommendations.

Some things to do for free in DC: The National Zoo and The Smithsonian Museums are great. Enjoy your visit!

BarnacleBill's avatar

While public transportation along the east coast is pretty good, sometimes within cities it is not the most convenient, because the US is pretty much a car-dependent culture. Be prepared that you might need to take a cab, especially at night.

LanceVance's avatar

Thanks for all the answers so far. Hope these two get answered too.

Firstly, is there a way to buy a prepaid simcard in the usa and has low data transfer rates
Secondly, how should i tip in nyc (and other cities)?

augustlan's avatar

@LanceVance A great person to ask would be shrubbery. She’s in the States right now, from Australia, and just left New York & got to DC yesterday. Shoot her a PM and I’m sure she’d be happy to help you.

BarnacleBill's avatar

This article should help you out on the simcard question.

Tipping in restaurants where you are served is generally 15–20% I usually eyeball the total, double it, move the decimal place to the left one place, and adjust up or down. For example, if the total was $35.00, double would be $70, moving the decimal to the left one place would be $7 for the tip would be the top-end amount.Since 10% of $35 is $3.50, half-way between $3.50 and $7 is about $5.25, so anything in the range of $5.25 and $7 is good.

Here’s a good blog entry about tipping cabs in NYC.

LanceVance's avatar

Should I tip in McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc, too?

augustlan's avatar

McDonald’s (or any other fast food place), no. Starbucks may have a tip jar/cup at the register that you can just throw your change into.

perg's avatar

In NYC, there are interesting restaurants on Ninth Avenue from about the 20s to 45th street (getting into the theater district). Theater district, of course, has lots of restaurants but try to have dinner a bit late, after curtain time (7–7:30), so to avoid the crowds. They will often have menus posted outside. If you’re OK with a touristy experience and have a place to store the inevitable leftovers, go to Katz’s, Stage or Carnegie delis for their gigantic sandwiches (personal fave is tongue, liverwurst, cole slaw and mustard on pumpernickel from Carnegie, but I’m weird that way). Chinatown is a cool experience – I’d recommend it during the day if you’re solo, as you can wander into not-so-pleasant blocks if you don’t know where you’re going.Check out Pearl River department store, preferably the one in Chinatown (there’s another, I think in Tribeca – but they’re both cool). And just walk around some downtown neighborhoods to really get that NYC flavor. But avoid being obvious with your map wherever you go – wait until you’re in a restaurant, coffee shop or your hotel room to really study it.

In DC, you really have to at least peep into some of the Smithsonian museums. You will never have enough time to see all of them so the one(s) you choose is really a matter of personal interest. It’s been a couple of years, but the restaurant in the new-ish Museum of the American Indian was pretty good when I tried it. And of course the whole experience of walking down the Mall is de rigueur.

Haven’t been to Boston in a while, but it seemed like I never failed choosing a random Italian restaurant in the North End. Look into historic walking tours, too. I really enjoyed Durgin Park for seafood but the experience might be different for someone going solo (you sit at huge long tables with other people). Maybe your hotel can recommend a more low-key local seafood place.

perg's avatar

Oh, and as for transport: I rode the NYC subway at every hour of the day and night, but I was pretty familiar with my routes. If you’re staying in Manhattan, the subway should be fine most of the time – if you are riding late, aim to sit in the front car (where the driver is) or the middle car (where the conductor is – he/she will look out the window in stations to check for platform hazards). Buses are good but I almost never took them so can’t give tips. Cabs are generally easy to get in Manhattan until you get to Harlem – a vacant cab has its top light on; it’s turned off when they have passengers. Try to flag them near corners so they have somewhere to pull over that’s at least nominally out of traffic, or can stop with the light. Make sure they turn on their meter when you get in. Note the cab number if you have problems (the license should be posted inside the cab and the number is also on the door and roof light).

In Washington (and locals, please correct anything I say that’s old info), I think the subway stops running at late hours. I seem to recall there are multiple cab companies so the cars will look different, and when I lived there, they ran on a zone system – flat fares based on whether you stayed in one “zone” or moved to others. The maps were posted inside the cabs.

In both cities, if you are having trouble getting a cab, go to a hotel entrance and see if the doorman will help.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

The main thing to watch for in all of those places and every place in between is traffic. Whether you’re driving, bicycling, walking or taking public transit, traffic is a bitch everywhere. Even trying to sleep at night sometimes traffic is a bear. So watch for that.

Might I suggest for dining, if you can’t rustle up some dinner companions with their own recommendations (and company!) that you join meetups for each of the various places that you’ll be and look for some of the “dining” meetups. Even if you don’t join any particular meetup group for any of the nights you’ll be in the various towns (and you’d be entirely welcome, of course, to drop in at all of them if your schedules intersect, since that’s what Meetup is all about), you’ll have a list of places around each of those towns that have had successful meetups in the past, links to the restaurants, addresses, menus, etc.

If you can while you’re in Connecticut, join us on the “Ethnic Dining” Meetup for the Hartford area. Hartford is only about a half-hour away from New Haven (in normal traffic) and we often meet midway between those places. We’d be happy to have you join us if we have any meetups scheduled while you’re in Connecticut—but it’s not a sure thing that we will.

Good luck, and enjoy your trip.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Any place where you order for yourself at the counter, you don’t have to tip, even if they have to bring your food out to you.

Certain types of restaurants pay their waitstaff around $2.50 an hour, as opposed to the $7.25 an hour average. Some states pay a little more than $7.25 because the cost of living is less. At a lot of restaurants, the waitstaff share the tip money with the bussing help (clears tables, gets water, etc.). I believe this is different than in the UK. If you’re good at waiting tables, you can make decent money on tips, so service is usually pretty attentive.

tapestryofregret's avatar

After any period of sitting down in excess of 6 hours, find somewhere you can sit comfortably for a couple hours and take a laxative. It sounds dumb, but bloated constipation isn’t always obvious but certainly does affect your mood and willingness to do things.

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