A Point of Departure

Written by

As Columbians begin to trickle slowly away from Morningside Heights for the much-anticipated and well-deserved Thanksgiving Holiday, the queues at JFK, La Guardia, Penn Station, and yes even the Port Authority Bus Terminal are beginning to fill out.  In typical fashion, Bwog has asked its most experienced travelers for tips on how best to brave the pre-Thanksgiving exodus that is sure to take place tomorrow afternoon.  Bwog wishes everyone a safe, cheap, and relatively painless journey home.  Bon voyage!

Planning on driving?

  • If you’re going to Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, or anywhere that makes you pass through those places, don’t be conned by your GPS into taking I80/I380/I81 out of New York: it’s a guaranteed way to be stuck in traffic/construction hell.  Take I87 North, then take NYS Route 17- it splits, one way going to Albany, the other going to Binghamton, where it meets up with 81 again.  It’ll shave a cool 45 minutes off your trip, and Route 17 is really scenic. – Really specific, but it changed my life.
  • If you are crazy enough to go down I-95, at least try to leave in the early afternoon (1-2 P.M.) or else you will be caught in the Great New York Exodus.

So you’ve decided to take the bus.

  • Try to get a bus that has guaranteed seating (Vamoose, Bolt, etc.)
  • If you (for some bizarre reason) want to take a cab to Port Authority, ask the cabbie to take the West Side Highway / 9A to 34th street.  Saves lots of time otherwise spent waiting at red lights on Bway.If you’re leaving via Port Authority bus terminal, needless to say get there early because the lines are insane, but also bring sedatives for the ride, because who knows how bad the person next to you is going to smell.

  • For God’s Sake.  Don’t drift off!  Seriously it’s not about the smell.  It’s about the attitude!
  • If you must go through Port Authority, avoid traveling at night. The bus terminal stranger inhabitants come out at this time. Additionally, though lines may be shorter, the extra time between buses negates any gains this might yield.
  • If you’re going to Chinatown, be prepared to slash other ticketholders because any of the major bus companies will have way overbooked each trip.  Getting early makes no difference, you just have to fight through the mob to get a seat.  Also, don’t go at night because it’s a relatively long walk from the subway stop through the non-so-nice part of Chinatown.

Tales of the rail

  • If you live in the Philadephia suburbs, take the NJ Transit to Trenton instead of the Amtrak to Philly. It’s cheaper and Trenton and 30th Street are nearly equidistant from many Philly suburbs.
  • If you’re riding in one of the fancy new NJ Transit double-deckers, head to the bottom level if it’s crowded. Most people seem to prefer the top level and you’re better off trying to find a seat below.
  • If you are going Amtrak, make sure to print your barcode out ahead of time for the automated ticket scanners – saves you about 30 minutes standing in line for the ticket window.
  • If you’re going to Long Island (probably the most painless travel time) and are taking the LIRR it will be a little more hectic than usual. Check train times in advance at and leave either before or after the usual rush hour flow of people. You will actually get a seat this way, and won’t have to pay peak prices.

And finally, for all you jet-setters.

  • Everyone must know this by now, but if your flight is departing from LaGuardia, expect superhuman wait times. Pack the iPod and the book. Maybe the entire syllabus for next semester’s core requirement.
  • Early morning flight? Bring your own snack, because Cinnabon won’t be open yet.
  • Some of the major airports have express lines (or express check-in kiosks) for people without any bags to check.
  • If you are taking a cab to JFK be sure to depart at minimum 3

    hours prior to your scheduled flight, as traffic on the RFK né

    Triborough Bridge is frequently excessive after 12 o’clock on the

    Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving.
  • Remember, many airlines are still charging for any checked

    bags.  So, basically that means don’t take your laundry cross country

    to have your mom wash it for you.
  • With its $2.00 fare, the M60 bus is much cheaper than a cab to LaGuardia, but be prepared for the most crowded bus you’ve ever seen. Give yourself at least an hour-and-a-half of extra time before your flight for the M60’s lengthy ride. Also, don’t take more than a travel suitcase on the bus lest you incur the wrath of other riders, and for the love of God, keep your baggage UNDER the seat.
  • The easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to get to JFK is the E. Take it to the AirTrain, which is a fun monorail thing that only costs $5 and goes right into the airport.

If you feel strongly about any certain travel plans or have any advice that you would be more than magnanimous enough to share with a fellow Columbian headed home for the holidays please kindly email your travel advice to [email protected].

Tags: , , ,


  1. LIRR Lover

    The E is definitely not the fastest way to get to JFK (although it is the cheapest). The LIRR to Jamaica takes you right to the AirTrain and is way faster... it's worth the extra money. Get a one way ticket because sometimes they don't check on the way to Jamaica and you can reuse it on the way back.

    • Agreed

      Also, on the NJ-Transit double-deckers, the lower area doesn't have luggage racks over the seats. That's why most people go upwards.

      If you're lucky enough to live in Westchester/Connecticut, the Metro North is by far the best run of the LIRR/NJTransit/MetroNorth triad. Trains are on time, frequent, and Grand Central is really pretty! Also, you can buy beers cheap at the station, on the platform, and on the train (and drink them on the train freely).

    • Naw man (& naw bwog)  

      you're both wrong:

      Take the 1 to 59th, hope on that A and take it all the way to Howard Beach JFK... way way easier & faster than all the transfers to get to the E train and cheaper than LIRR. Depending on your luck timing the trains & whether you catch an express, it takes 1-2 hrs (usually 1 and a quarter) from the time I enter the 116th subway

      • uhh  

        correction: *hop on that A

      • Ahaha

        Are you kidding me? The A is THE SLOWEST way to get to JFK. You can't even take the 2/3 Express. And since ACE is always under construction, the A rarely runs as express all the way through so, in most cases, you're gonna be on it at least 1.5 hours until you get to Howard Beach, plus another 30 minutes for AirTrain waiting and transfer. Repeat: the A is the SLOWEST way to get to JFK, unless you're taking the taxi during rush hour.

        Also, for Newark: although I live off-campus now and walk to Penn Station, do not, for any reason, take the taxi to Newark. Take 1 to 96th, transfer to 2/3 to Penn Station and take the NJTRANSIT to Newark. They come every 20 minutes and tickets are $15 including AirTrain. It's 10 minutes from the train stop at the Airport to your terminal and the AirTrain comes every minute. Budget 1.5 hours for the entire trip.

      • experienced  

        from someone who has done all three:

        A is by far the WORST. Takes forever. Many, many stops, usually crowded. Avoid it like the plague.

        LIRR to Jamaica is fast, and comfortable. Take it if money is no object. Me, I'm stingy.

        So I always take the E. MUCH faster than the A, only a bit slower than the LIRR, empty by the time it gets to the airport, and it's only 2 bucks!

  2. for amtrak  

    no need to print the barcode--just bring the same credit card you used to buy your ticket and swipe it in the quick ticket machine.

  3. question  

    i'm leaving early thursday morning unfortunately. couldn't get a cheap flight wednesday when i was buying. i'm wondering, and sorry if this is a stupid question but i just moved here for grad school this fall, but can you hail a cab up here really early in the morning, like around 5:45-6?? or should i call a car service?

    • ummm  

      I have never had a problem hailing a cab after say 7, but I have never left quite that early.

    • Alum

      After four years of horrible trans-continental Thanksgiving flights, I'm spending my first Thanksgiving away from my family. I also have advice:

      Flying? About to miss your train? TAKE A CAB.

      There will be cabs early in the morning, there will be people needing to get to the airport. Post flyers, ask friends, or just hang out at the gates for a minute and look for people with suitcases.

      The stress of the packed M60, navigating subways with luggage, and discovering that the AirTrain does not let you off near your terminal, are not worth the $25-30 you will spend on a cab (assuming you split it with someone).

      Also: Earplugs + eye mask + decaf warm beverage = happy flight. Lit Hum reading? Not so much.

  4. Thank you, Bwog

    This is very thorough and helpful and is a great service.

  5. what's the best

    way to commute to jersey?

    NJ Train-sit!

  6. Trust Me

    The A Train is miserable.

    The toss-up is E vs LIRR.

    LIRR is a bit faster and more comfortable room-wise, especially if you have luggage. The E train on Wed/Thursdays can be packed all the way to Jamaica.

    Then again, the E is cheaper, and you don't have to conform to the LIRR schedule.

  7. driving  

    Why the fuck you would EVER go north on I91 to get towards upstate NY (Albany, Bing, etc) is beyond me. It's the worst road in the area and it takes you into CT *shudder*

    Also, bwog, if you want to go to Albany the easiest way is just to take 87 straight thru, no need to go onto 17. It runs right next to Albany and is the better way to get to the Capital district and beyond...

  8. thanks guys  

    I feel pretty foolish for having taken the A before - thanks for the words of wisdom guys

  9. Hey though

    Why would you go all the way to Grand Central when the Harlem 125th MetroNorth stop is so close, and accessible by bus from Columbia?

  10. driver tips

    be warned: 87 = TOLLS

    the best, quickest, and truly most beautiful way to go would be the Taconic State Parkway. I will take day trips for the sole purpose of driving on this road, because it is so beautiful. be warned, it is tricky though, with all the sharp turns.

  11. Indeed

    Route 17 is absolutely beautiful, but on a family trip to Buffalo (and then Toronto) one summer, we hit some RIDICULOUSLY dense fog on it -- I'm talking "you can't see three feet from your car in any direction" dense. The road happened to be cut into the side of a cliff.

    It may have been the scariest vehicular experience of my life, even taking into account the few accidents I've been in.

  12. question  

    nj transit, thursday early afternoon (1-2)

    will it be crazy?

    • umm

      but njtransit always has a certain level of craziness.
      prepare for the typical mad dash after the tracks post by not carrying anything heavy and standing somewhere in the middle, equidistant from all the track entrances.

  13. damn it bwog  

    why WHY did you have to tell everyone my nj transit secret?! now everyone will want onto on the express trains to trenton :( :( :(

  14. ahem...  

    i meant "onto one of the"

  15. philly-ny commuter  

    In Penn station right now, there is a ticket machine for NJ Transit that seems to think that SEPTA tickets are $3 each, instead of $8. So save yourself $10 on round-trip tickets and use the third machine on the right-hand level

© 2006-2015 Blue and White Publishing Inc.