How to ride the subway in New York City while Keeping Clean and Sane

How to ride the subway in New York City while Keeping Clean and Sane

It is in my opinion always better to take the subway than to ride a cab or ride a bus. Although, I prefer good old-fashioned walking.  I walk over two miles each day. Used to be four miles before I gave birth.  Because I walk the city much, much more than riding the subways, these tips are not necessarily ones I implement myself on a daily basis.  Yet, keep in mind that there are 468 total stops in the subway system and it is one of the only 24 hour subway systems in the world. Basically, you can ride the subway all night long and it is only $2.50. That price for that mileage cannot be beat.   Of course, it is not all as easy as apple pie. A few weeks back, I was generous in my advice regarding how to walk the city. Here I provide some tips on how to navigate the subways of NY.

  1. Wear good headphones. Your headphones should help you tune out the crazy world around you in the subway and should be such that other people around you do not have to hear your music as well.
  1. Read the subway maps before getting on the train. First off, you can get a free subway map from the train station agent. Many people do not know that. Get your map and study it outside somewhere.   Make note of the stops you want and what train lines go there. Make note of what is uptown and what is downtown.  There are maps in the train, but if the train is full it may be a bit hard to peer over the tight spaces.
  1. Don’t wear mega big backpacks. Remove any large item from your back or shoulder and carry it in your hands or place in between your legs in front of you. This will make more room for the other passengers who will be trying to squeeze in after you.
  1. Don’t take ten minutes to buy your fare card, especially during rush hour. Have your money or credit card ready. Learn the options beforehand. There is an MTA website that can walk you through the options. So, go to the fare machine, enter your desired amount and fare type and swipe. Then go to the side and put everything away deep into your handbag.   However, keep your metrocard in hand till you get to the turnstyle.
  1. Learn the crazy rules. There are express and local trains. Although, at times the local trains will be express and the express will run local. Some subway entrances are only going downtown or uptown. Check before you head down the subway staircase. Some platforms after midnight, just like Cinderella, become something else.
  1. If it’s a full train and an empty seat don’t be fooled. The seat may have a drink spilled on it or something worse. Yes. Something worse. So, always look before you sit.
  1. Don’t hold on the pole down below. Trust me on that one. I hope I do not have to explain why.
  1. Place your metrocard in a safe place. Do not hold it against your electronic devices. This happens to me all the time in hotels as well. Which is why I always get two hotel keycards since inevitably my key card’s magnetic strip goes haywire. The same happens with subway cards.
  1. Be ready to exercise. Sadly, New York is not very handicapped, pregnant or tired friendly. What do I mean? There are not that many escalators and not that many elevators. The elevators that do exist are often being repaired. At times, the indecipherable PA system announcement will let you know that a certain station’s elevator is out of order. However you would have to be able to understand the announcement which is more often than not garbled. When I was pregnant, I tried to walk everywhere I could. Yet, at my eighth month of pregnancy in the summertime, I eventually caved in and started using the subway. That was quite an ordeal with staircase after staircase being completely crowded. So, be prepared to climb many stairs.

10.Keep nothing of value in any outside pocket. I usually carry my wallet deep within a pocket within my handbag. On top of which I have tissues, pens, papers and candy wrappers. As my mom would say knock on wood, I have yet to be robbed in NYC. I have instead been robbed in Atlanta and Barcelona.  Oh, and no fanny packs.  Such a bad fashion choice alone will be cause for being picked on.

11. Leave the Starbucks drink for the city streets. Don’t bring hot coffee onto the subway and then stand while not holding onto the poles. If you fall on someone with hot coffee you will be lucky if you just get screamed at.

12.Carry baby wipes. Don’t have a child with you? Doesn’t matter. Baby wipes are your friends in the NYC subway system. Especially keep in mind items 6, 7, and 11 above.

Throughout it all just keep a smile on your face while looking vacuous. Don’t look at anyone, but be mindful of what is going on.  Wear headphones but listen carefully for any overhead announcements that will rapidly change your train route.   And, have a sense of humor if you end up in the Bronx when you were trying to get to Brooklyn.   It happens.

12 replies »

  1. Your subway system sounds scary! 468 stops?! And to explain the train routes to first time subway users in LA is already found overwhelming (it’s not even close to 468! I don’t know exactly how many).
    The poles in the subway LA are pretty much worth holding on to and clean. There are only certain times and certain stops that get dodgy.
    Great post! I will keep that in mind when in New York!


  2. Great stuff, Mimi. I would follow every word if I were in NYC; however, as an ex-pat, who traveled the subway system for years while working, I can see I would need all of your advice. Things certainly have changed since I used the “down under.” Great post.


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