4. Stand in the middle of Times Square

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Well I did it! This was originally going to be one of the last things I completed on my 30 Before 30 list, because I don’t travel often. But when the universe throws you some really huge clues to get on the ball and get out there and make it happen, you make it happen! And that’s exactly what I did, and it was so serendipitous, I think the universe actually aligned in order for me to make it to the Big Apple.

I wasn’t going to go to New York this year, mainly because I assumed I could not afford it. And while that is mostly true, I forgot about how you can make something happen if you just focus on it enough. It seems impossible one day, and then the next day, you’re on a train riding through the eastern United States on your way to Manhattan for the first time.

My friends approached me, around October 2013, about going to New York City. They were planning to attend a wedding in Washington DC and wanted to take a train to NYC once the wedding festivities were over; and I went along for the ride. But when they had first approached me, I immediately said “no.” I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford something like this for a very long time.

Then the holidays came, and I stressed over buying Christmas gifts while simultaneously and periodically checking my bank account as if money would just magically appear. I had been so stressed about presents that I failed to realize something: my bank had given me a credit increase on my credit line of $1000.

One. Thousand. Dollars. Imagine what someone could get done with that kind of money!

Though I use the term “money” loosely. I knew what it truly translated to was not a dollar sign but debt. But I thought about it for a good week or so and realized: New York City was worth the debt. So I finished up my Christmas shopping with ease and then I spent the rest of that “credit” on my flight to Washington DC and then returning home to San Diego, CA.

And I regret nothing!

New York City was, in many ways, exactly how I expected it to be. And then in other ways, nothing how I had imagined it at all. A few friends warned me that this city would wear me down over time. That the hustle and bustle and energy of the city was too much for a non-native to handle for extended periods of time. But I knew in my heart that New York was a part of me. Everything I had ever learned about New York City, everything I had ever read about what to expect, or anytime I had watched a movie or a television show based around the culture of this iconic city, I knew one simple thing: I knew I belonged there!

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Just look at that metal grate. She looks like she’s in a fancy 100-story prison!

My friends and I took turns seeking out our favorite spots and landmarks while in the Big Apple. Some of them we all agreed on: The Empire State building was a must (though I have to admit, I’m not sure why Dr. Mindy Lahiri loves it so much — it was iconic, sure, but beautiful? Well I thought it was a bit rough around the edges.); Central Park was a delightful distraction for one day, and the Statue of Liberty was definitely on all of our must-see lists.

Times Square turned out to be the very first thing we did there, our very first night in New York City.

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I’m glad that we got it out-of-the-way first, because that was the part of the trip I didn’t expect. It was marvelous and iconic and beautiful, but it was also industrial and heavily marketed and flooded with both tourists and busy business goers on their way home perhaps after working in one of those lit-up buildings. It was seething with people who were snapping photos with loved ones or grumbling under their breath about how they hated Times Square and weren’t sure exactly why they decided to walk through it that night.

My guess? No matter how much a native might “hate” it, they know it’s still a part of their striking city. And that in itself makes it something they secretly cannot do without.

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This Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner is now my favorite beer ever. Which is big, considering I don’t really drink beer.

I spent the rest of my trip taking in the atmosphere of New York, from eating at the Spotted Pig to bar hopping with hipsters in Greenwich Village, to sipping on a Coney Island beer at The White Horse Tavern. I relished in my conversations with New Yorkers — who were mostly transplants to the city but still called this hectic place home. I met business owners and bartenders, Brazilian tourists with fancy cigarettes and Broadway babies who frequented cabaret bars. I bumped into celebrities walking their dogs on midnight strolls and I ordered food at a restaurant where I could not pronounce anything on the menu. To say that this trip was glorious, would be an understatement.

I know New York won’t always be so impressive to me. I was starstruck during my four days there, and some of the glitz and appeal might wear off if I ever lived there someday. But despite that, I knew, from the moment I stood in that brightly lit, bustling square in the heart of Lower Manhattan, that I was in my element. New York City was my happy place.

And as for my 30 Before 30 List? I’ve never felt so much more invigorated before. One down, a few more to go.

4. Stand in the middle of Times Square

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