I did not go to the Empire State building, or the Rockefeller Centre. I did not spend my days shopping and sight-seeing.  When I mentioned I was heading to New York, people bombarded me with lists of what I had to see, where I had to go, things I had to do. It became a wormhole, I started to panic; had I planned my trip correctly? Was I spending my time in New York correctly? Because apparently, there was a “correct” way to plan your trip to New York.

When we travel, we spend too much time doing and not enough time just being. We are not human doings, we are human beings, and we need to realise that sometimes just being is enough.  Yes, some of these tourist sights are worth visiting, but do not feel pressured to model your trip around that of someone else’s. When I told people I sat in Central Park with a bagel, I got confused looks and “but didn’t you feel like you were wasting time?”. No, I did not. The idea that there is a correct or absolute way to travel is constantly perpetuated and, also, completely wrong.

Photo by Jennifer Cheuk.

The thing about New York is that you need to sit and be to really experience the city’s soul. When you rush around trying to check things off of a tourist checklist, you gloss over the people, the graffiti, the sounds and smells that make New York. There was a morning I woke up to a 5am alarm, jetlagged and tired. Everyone was grumpy and yawning and this was the day we reserved to get tickets into Washington. It didn’t quite work. Everything went wrong – we got lost multiple times, we left our map back at the hotel, we nipped into a café to accidentally pay for the most overpriced and annoyingly cold breakfast.

The day got better when we missed our train and spontaneously decided on a small deli above the station for brunch. We had to re-order more food it was so delicious. These moments were what made the trip to New York. New Zealand does not have the deli culture that New York does, so just enjoy it! You don’t need to head to every tourist trap for that perfect Instagram photo. Find a small graffitied underground café that no one knows about and just be.

Lost on the way to Soho, a lady comes down in her slippers and fluffy pyjamas, interrupts our arguing and says,“I’m not crazy I swear! Even though I’m walking around in my fluffy pyjamas! But if you want some directions I’d like to help?” Not only does she direct us to Soho, but she gives us the name of a fantastic bookstore – The Strand. Four storeys and crammed full of second hand, new, old, antique books. We went back and visited The Strand a total of four times and some trouble packing fifteen books into our luggage on the flight back.

Photo by Jennifer Cheuk.

These people, they make New York what it is. Everyone is dressed up in New York – the streets were like a runway or an art show. Women in high fashion Gucci and Louis Vuitton or fluffy pyjamas would strut past you. Men in goth attire, women in fantastic bohemian dresses, children in Paddington jackets. If you go to New York, or anywhere, just take a moment to look around and properly see. Not just the places from a flight centre pamphlet. See the New York that people don’t talk about.

We need to stop casting judgement and feeling judged for the way we spend our time on our travels. People say I wasted days at delis, bookstores and Central Park, not visiting the Empire State or the Rockefeller. And of course, there is no wrong in doing these things as long as you are doing them because you genuinely feel interested in seeing these sights. For me, the ability to just exist in another city, another country was enough. There is so much emphasis on the ephemerality of time, and thus the need to use up time “correctly”. But if you enjoy what you are doing, whatever that may be, you are absolutely, positively never wasting your time.


JENNIFER CHEUK is an English/Communications and Linguistics major with a passion for graphic novels and sophisticated picture books.  She likes eating grated cheese and watching niche films. Can be found cartooning and writing on instagram: @selcouthbird.