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How to Plan a Great Overnight Pittsburgh-to-NYC Trip

You don't need to block off a big chunk of the calendar to plan a worthwhile one-night trip to New York.

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For years, I’ve been talking a big game about the viability of overnight trips to New York. I know that Gotham is a bit more of a haul than Cleveland or Baltimore, but it’s not so far as to render a quick visit unreasonable; as long as you don’t hate being in the car, I’ve argued, there’s no reason not to drive up one day and home the next.

I just hadn’t actually tested out this concept.

A few weekends ago, though, an opportunity for a quick trip to see a show arose — I could make it happen, but I couldn’t spare more than two days.

I woke up early. I drove. I made it happen. And it was pretty great.

Pittsburgh is closer to New York than you’d think, and you needn’t dedicate a week — or even a long weekend — to a trip in order to enjoy it. Popping up for some culture and dining can absolutely be a regular and, yes, overnight journey. Here’s how to do it, for less cash and with less hassle than you’d think.


  • Get up early. The drive should take you between six and seven hours, depending on how you make your way into the city. If you’re the type to dawdle on the morning of the trip, you’re going to cost yourself too much time. Pack the car the night before and get to bed early, then hit the road around 6 or 7; you’ll be there in time for lunch, with a full day ahead of you.

  • Don’t take the Turnpike. Tolls will take a big swipe at your wallet — and contrary to popular belief, the Pennsylvania Turnpike doesn’t actually save you that much time en route to New York (between 15 and 45 minutes, depending on traffic). Those saved minutes aren’t worth the cash. The most obvious alternate route, from Pittsburgh to State College and then along I-80, is a more pleasant drive anyway.

  • Book a stay at a Pod Hotel. The Pod Hotels, a chain with three locations in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn and one in Washington, D.C., offer rooms with all the amenities you need in a very tight space. You’ll get a bed, a shower and room for your stuff, and no more space than that. In return, you’ll save considerably over normal New York hotel rates (I just checked for this weekend; a room at Pod Times Square is as low as $149). You’re not going to do anything with the room but change and sleep, so don’t sink money into more space than you need. (I also find the Pods cozy and relaxing after a busy day.)

  • See a show — and make it your main activity. Lots of tourist-type activities are time-consuming; if you’re going for the night, you’re not going to make it to museums and landmarks. Instead, build the trip around Broadway tickets or a concert. Pick something you’ve been itching to see and keep an eye on StubHub, or look for deals on the show’s website; I scored tickets to “Chicago” for $50 apiece.

  • Park close, without going broke, with SpotHero. The SpotHero app allows you to book parking spots in major cities in advance, like you’d book a hotel room, for much less than you’d spend just by pulling up to a garage. On my last trip, I got 12 hours of parking time in Times Square for $25 and a full day near my Pod Hotel in Brooklyn for $17; the posted rates at the garages were double what I paid.

  • Don’t agonize over the dinner reservations. As you may have heard, there are lots of places to eat in New York, with plenty of under-the-radar spots worth your time and attention; don’t fret if you’re not at an internationally renowned spot. I had a fantastic meal at a place called Miss Thailand in Williamsburg. I’m not too proud to admit that I found it on Yelp.

  • Take your time on the way home. Admittedly, six-plus hours in the car on back-to-back days is a bit trying, even if you don’t mind being in the car. So on the way back — after a morning of bagels, coffee and wandering around the city — take your time. Stretch the drive into a full day, stopping anywhere that catches your fancy along the way; a vacation day on the road won’t have quite the glamour of a day in New York, but it can still pack plenty of charm.


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