New York City is one of the safest big cities in the country, but it’s still important for visitors to stay sharp and make smart decisions while exploring the Big Apple. The massive scope and crowded streets of the city can be intimidating, but you can navigate them like a pro by using common sense and following these travel safety tips.
Here’s everything you need to know to make sure your NYC trip is a success.
Whether you land at JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark, the key to starting your trip off right is planning. Decide on your ground transportation plan before leaving your hometown. Make sure your luggage is easy to identify and manageable for you to carry on your own.
Don’t leave your bags unattended. If you have to visit the restroom, take everything with you and don’t be tempted to leave bags on the counter or near the door. Avoid strangers asking to carry your bags or anyone that offers you a deal on a ride that sounds too good to be true — because it probably is.
Never get into an unmarked cab. All NYC taxicabs are clearly identified. The largest and most well-known fleet are yellow with a light on the roof that displays the cab driver’s medallion number. You can also spot the ID number on the hood. If you don’t see those three elements, move on. Outside Manhattan, look for light green Street Hail Livery taxis.
Other services like Lyft and Uber are also available, but since they aren’t regulated by the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, use them with caution. Know where you’re going before you get in and speak confidently to the driver. Always exit on the curbside, and keep an eye out for cyclists, pedestrians, and other vehicles. Don’t forget to tip, as stiffing a driver can get you involved in a heated altercation.
There are over 100,000 hotel rooms in New York City. Make sure you get a safe room by reading hotel reviews and finding out about the neighborhood where your room is located before making reservations. Choosing a hotel over alternative options (homestays, and couch surfing for example) is a much safer option considering they have a secured internet line, 24-hour security and a safe available.
Go straight to your hotel from the airport; you don’t want to have your luggage with you as you start to explore the city. Once in your room, put all valuables in the safe and get to know the front desk staff and the concierge. Never open your door without verifying who is on the other side. If you didn’t call housekeeping, don’t automatically let them in.
Walking the City
New York is a great city for walking, but with so many people and so many things to look at, you need to take a few smart precautions. Stick to main streets and pathways and always cross at the intersection. Follow the traffic signals and pay attention to cars and cyclists. Be hyper-vigilant at night and stick to well-lit, populated streets.
Plot out your path before heading out — and stick to it. Take note of landmarks and cross streets that will help you get back to your room with ease. Save the heels for a night out on the town and opt for supportive shoes when exploring the city. If you get lost, seek out a police officer or shop owner to help you find your way.
The subway is an efficient, affordable way to get around, but you need to know what you’re doing. Buy MetroCards only from approved vendors in the station. When you’re waiting for the train, always stand behind the yellow line on the platform and mind the gap.
Keep your limbs and possessions away from the doors—don’t try to hold them open. If you’re riding the subway late at night, try to get on the conductor’s car. This is usually a middle car, and there are signs on the platform to indicate the position of that car when each train arrives. Don’t move from car to car unless directed to do so.
There will be panhandlers on the streets. Many have some truly sad stories, but most will be deterred with a single “sorry.” If you feel compelled to give, consider offering a MetroCard or some food instead of cash, and then quickly move on.
Beware of all the Disney and superhero characters in Times Square. Many of them are hustling for “tips.” If you’re traveling with small children, be sure to make a plan in advance to keep them from getting overexcited. Don’t take any pictures without permission, as the characters may demand payment.
Don’t let a lifted wallet ruin your vacation. Keep your belongings close and pay attention to your surroundings. Women should consider a purse they can wear across their body, and everyone should keep things out of their back pockets.
Pay special attention to pickpockets working as teams—one will cause a disturbance while their partner takes advantage of the distraction to relieve bystanders of their valuables. Street performances often attract pickpockets. Make sure to pay attention to the people and actions around you when you stop to appreciate the local talent.
Best Areas to Explore
The good news is that most of New York City can be explored freely. Pretty much anywhere in Manhattan is going to be safe. The Financial District is full of hustle and bustle, adding to the sense of safety. Greenwich Village has charming, winding streets lined with brownstones and tucked-away dining spots.
Chelsea is a great place to experience the New York art scene and big city nightlife at its best. Midtown and Times Square are crowded, but because they’re such popular areas they are well-patrolled and great spots for tourists. If you want to get a taste of New York’s most interesting cuisine and aren’t afraid of public transportation, Queens and Brooklyn have to be on your list.
Spots to Watch Out For
New York City is safer than ever, but there are still some neighborhoods you might want to skip— especially after the sun goes down. Alphabet City and the Lower East Side should be explored with caution. Hell’s Kitchen is still known for muggings, and areas like Brownsville and Hunts Point still struggle with high violent crime rates and prostitution.
Most of these areas aren’t tourist hot spots, so they’re easy to avoid. If you do want to venture into some of these neighborhoods, be sure to do it during the day and know exactly where you are going. These aren’t the best places to wander aimlessly.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
The last thing you want to do is suck all the fun out of your vacation by worrying about everything that can go wrong. Here are some things you can relax about.
- It’s a friendly city: The Big Apple is full of friendly people who are usually happy to help out with directions or a dinner recommendation.
- Technology is there to help you: Thanks to smartphones and other helpful travel gadgets, it’s easier than ever to plan a vacation, find your way, and stay safe. Check out interactive crime maps to find the safest places in the city and use your GPS to get from Point A to Point B.
- Don’t be afraid to explore: The Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building are definitely worth Room5g out, but it’s okay to venture off the usual tourist path. Use common sense and these safety tips to help you branch out with confidence.
Traveling to New York City is exciting, and we know you want to squeeze every ounce of pleasure out of your trip. You’ll be able to make memories that will last a lifetime when you approach your travel with safety smarts. Now that you know how to navigate the city safely, upgrade your safety level with the best safety products out there for people on the go.
*Feature image courtesy of Roberto Nickson, Unsplash