The satisficer’s guide to NYC.

The satisficer’s guide to NYC.

I’m a born maximizer: when faced with any scenario, I want to make the optimal decision, every time.

However, I have the self-awareness to realize that my maximizer instincts make me crazy, and I’ve spent a good part of my adulthood trying to cultivate my inner satisficer. (“Satisficer” is a real word: it’s someone who makes a decision once their criteria are met, instead of waiting for the best possible option.)

When we planned our trip, I hadn’t been to New York in over a decade. Will had never been. Lucky for me (and for Will, who has suffered plenty because of my maximizer instincts), it was obvious from the beginning that this would be a satisficer’s trip.

First of all, we were going for work: Book Expo America was the reason for the trip. Even though we tacked on an extra day for just touristy stuff, it’s impossible to see all of NYC in 4 days.

This realization wasn’t sad: it was liberating: we didn’t have time to possibly do it all—or anywhere close to it all—so I wasn’t tempted to try. Instead, I was free to enjoy the time I did have. If we didn’t have time to get to an activity we would have loved to do, we told ourselves that we’d be back. We’d get to it next time.

Here’s a glimpse at what our “good enough” trip to New York looked like:

The Larchmont Hotel, NYC

Accomodations:

We looked at a half dozen amazing hotels well in advance of our trip. Unsurprisingly, I was especially captivated by the Library Hotel. I might have been willing to spend out for a unique experience, but was annoyed that rates during BEA were nearly twice as high as any other time during the summer. (Supply/demand, I assume. They know their audience.)

We decided we’d rather spend our money on food and sights than lodging. We ended up at a quiet (and much cheaper) “European-style hotel” (read: no private bathrooms) on a quiet residential street in Greenwich Village. I read about it on a blog (yay blogs!), mapped its proximity to the Strand, and booked a room. Will was nervous about the bathrooms, but it was fine. And the neighborhood was lovely: the residential setting was perfect for our crowd-hating selves, and it was close to good coffee, great food, and the train.

New York Public Library

Sightseeing:

NYC is home to a dizzying number of cultural attractions. We saw almost none of them.

Knowing we had limited time, we made a conscious decision to prioritize seeing the neighborhoods over seeing the sights. We spent 90 minutes at the Met, and 2 hours at MOMA (and we only made it to MOMA because we found an extra half-day when our original flight out was canceled). We slipped inside the New York Public Library and viewed the 9/11 memorial. But we spent the majority of our free hours walking around the city, just taking it in. It almost seemed like we didn’t really do much—but we were doing exactly what we wanted to do.

Penn Station

Getting around:

I read a great tip about minimizing decision fatigue last year: if you arrive in a new city for something like an important meeting, don’t waste your limited mental energy trying to figure out the public transportation system. Just take a cab.

When we arrived at LaGuardia, I was all for taking a taxi. Will pointed out that we’d be taking public transportation all weekend, so we might as well figure it out right then.

We struck a deal: we’d take public transit, but if we were ever exhausted, confused, or lost, we’d take a cab. The trains and buses were surprisingly easy to figure out, and we enjoyed doing it. (The novelty factor at work, I’m sure.) We took exactly one taxi while we were there. I’m glad we took that one, but we only needed one.

Penguin bookmobile

The conference:

Conferences are exhausting, at least to this introvert. I planned accordingly. Aside from some scheduled meetings, I knew I wouldn’t be able to see everything, attend every presentation, or meet every person I wanted to meet.

I also knew that crowds make me hit the wall, and quickly, so we planned coffee (and, er, maybe gelato) breaks accordingly.

BEA haul

Swag:

I talked to many school librarians whose administrators sent them to BEA solely because of the 50-100 free books they’d get for their school’s collection. Many publishers give books away, and it’s completely possible to snag that many titles.

But I’d been warned about weighing myself down with books—even very tempting not-yet-released books—and our conference motto was don’t take the swag. I didn’t want to deal with shipping; I didn’t want to tote it around the city all day.

This is the stack of books I came home with, minus duplicates. (A few editors offered to ship books to me, which helped.) Will also toted a cumbersome Penguin poster around all day Thursday because I really wanted to bring it home. (If I can’t find a great spot for it, I’m in trouble.)

It’s not nothing, but we didn’t pick up so many books that it cramped our style. I passed on some forthcoming releases that might be fantastic, but that was a trade I was willing to make.

brunch

Food:

Will and I both tend to stress about picking restaurants, even at home. We don’t enjoy the hunt, and we knew the potential for serious decision fatigue was high. With that in mind, we asked for recommendations in advance from current and past New Yorkers, and got an on-the-fly recommendation when we needed a great place on the Upper West Side.

We ate so much good food while we were there, and even the restaurants we picked on our own in the Village were pretty fantastic.

Our schedule was packed, but we made spending the time and money to eat well a priority. I don’t necessarily mean fancy (one highlight: cheap dim sum in Chinatown), but real meals at the right times. The right food at the right time makes everything better, especially if you’re conferencing and walking twelve miles a day.

For next time:

The sheer scale of NYC forced me to beat back my inner maximizer. It worked so well that I’m thinking about how I can deliberately cultivate my latent satisficer on future trips, no matter the destination.

Hit me with your best tips on “good enough” traveling in comments. 

The satisficer's guide to NYC.

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44 comments

  1. Ciera S says:

    Sounds like a great taste of New York! Thanks for sharing this through the lens of “maximixer vs. satisficer” and “decision fatigue.” I had never heard these terms before but definitely relate to them–I’m glad to have a vocabulary for dealing with this concept!

  2. Brittany says:

    I’m the same way. I tirelessly research ever possible food, activity, and hotel option for every trip. It’s exhausting but I get a thrill from it.

  3. Stacey B. says:

    I tend to feel overwhelmed when there’s a trip coming up; I don’t want to miss anything! What if we never go back to that particular location?? To try and “cure” myself of this anxiety, every trip has a purpose. For example…our yearly anniversary trip is ONLY about spending downtime away from kids in a hotel, so we choose an amazing hotel, and in my mind, I know the trip is only about enjoying downtime in an amazing hotel. No pressure to sight see or anything. Just enjoy the room and the amenities and whatever novelty the hotel provides or historical significance, and that’s it. I can really relax this way.

  4. Laura says:

    The conference sounds awesome- was it mostly book vendors? (Also, The Boy in the Boat is great, especially if you have ever been a rower.)

    • Anne says:

      Book vendors were probably about half of the exhibitors. And that’s The Boys in the Boat young readers edition: I’m hoping my older two kids are the right age for it!

  5. I’m a satisficer but even I started getting that decision fatigue in NYC. However, my good friend Heather (who also reads your blog – Hi Heather :)) told me something that felt really liberating. She said, “Marcia, we’ve been coming for 4-day trips to NYC for the last 13 years and we STILL haven’t seen everything. Just enjoy what you can see and leave the rest”

    GREAT advice… and we did 🙂

  6. The husband in a couple friend of ours takes a sick day in the middle of their vacations. The wife is the planner and a maximizer and he needs the break. 🙂 I love your approach to the NYC trip. We’re planning a trip to Europe next year and I’ve been considering the idea of visiting one attraction each day and then spending the rest of the day exploring the neighborhood near the attraction. Hoping I can convince my family that’s a good plan.

  7. Katia says:

    When I travel, I am definitely a maximizer, unless I know that there is no way I will have the time or energy to see it all. Once I remind myself of the fact that my time in the particular place is limited, I decide what I want to do and see, and go with my plan, without being too rigid about it. I love to be organized and study the city’s map in advance, so as to be able to make my way around the city, but I also love the adventure that comes with wandering somewhere unusual. Sigh… This post makes me want to visit NYC.

  8. Dianne says:

    My husband had a work trip on the east coast. We decided to go a few days early and start the trip with a few days in NYC. We originally thought we would stay in NJ and take the train in every morning. Found the Larchmont and loved the experience. Got to meet many European and Australian travelers staying there. It was SO worth the trade off to wake up in Greenwich Village every morning!

  9. Breanne says:

    We were in NYC a couple of years ago and we knew we only had a brief time there. We booked a hotel near Times Square, walked everywhere and booked a tour bus. We saw so many highlights of the city that we would have never seen on our own, the tour schedule was set so we didn’t have to decide between which places we wanted to see. We never do the bus tour but in this case it was worth it and a great overview to the city.
    My favourite time there was just people watching in Central Park.

    Now that we travel with small children we have to limit ourselves, we pick something for them and something for us and tell ourselves we can come keep to do the rest.

    Loved reading about your time in NYC and learning a new word! =)

  10. jeri says:

    I see a Brene Brown book in your stack. I just recently saw her title “I thought it was just me”. You must like to read her if you are willing to carry the book home.

  11. I like to plan the daylights out of just about everything, while my husband is Mr. Spontaneous. But when we go on vacation, we totally reverse roles. I always find it amusing that he is the one lining up the kids’ shoes and scoping out the best attractions while I am free and easy. I guess we both need a vacation from ourselves sometimes!

  12. Christine says:

    I agree with you… I have a tendency to over-plan for trips and make myself crazy trying to fit everything in. Our last trip was super laid-back and it was one of the most enjoyable!

    My tips are: 1) pick one or two main activities, with the rest of the time available for exploring the area at a relaxed place.
    2) We use priceline’s “name your price,” so we can pick the quality of the hotel (# of stars) and the area of the city, but priceline does the rest. We’ve gotten to stay at some new-to-us hotels that were SO nice at a cheap rate!

  13. EmilyR says:

    We travel a lot with our three kids and have become accustomed to choosing one activity each day or one smaller activity in the morning and one in the afternoon. Everything else is unplanned and stems from what strikes our fancy. It works well for all five of us, and as the kids have gotten older, they get to choose many of the activities.

  14. Nicole N. says:

    My husband and I took a trip to NYC and the main goal was to see Ellis island and the Statue of Liberty. It made the most sense to do this on the last day of our trip due to timing of meeting friends etc. Well, we ran into a problem and on the last day we couldn’t go. It was heartbreaking. Now we make sure we each pick our one must see/do and take care if it early in our trip. Having only one thing per person on the agenda is liberating because then everything else is just a bonus.

  15. 'Becca says:

    What a great trip! Thanks for the hotel tip. Their prices are quite good for NYC.

    We visited NYC when our son was 6, taking public transit for the whole trip from Pittsburgh. The trip also included staying with relatives in NJ and Philadelphia, and we did ride in their cars, but we were never in a taxi. One thing to consider when traveling with children is that you will not have time to install a car seat in a taxi, and your small child is less safe without a car seat…but did you know that a child properly restrained in a car is 4 times as likely to die as a child riding public transit, per mile traveled? A lot of people assume buses, subways, etc. are dangerous for kids because no car seats, but in fact they are safer than cars because of the larger size of the vehicle.

    We each had a few things we wanted to see in NYC, so we prioritized those and also saw what we happened upon along the way. It was a great trip!!

  16. Leigh says:

    I love that word. I am totally a Satisficer.
    We did our NY trip as a law school grad present to ourselves. With a fifteen month old. We are both museum people (with a few hours at the Strand) so built our trip around that with lots of places for the boy to run around. We also saved a mint by staying with a friends parents in Park Slope. Walking was often easier than getting the umbrella stroller around on the trains. We often find that even without kids, for us walking is the least stressful and most enjoyable.

  17. Sarah M says:

    I would LOVE to go to this kind of conference some day, but I’d sort of need a reason…do people go just because they LOVE all kinds of books? Or is it more of a crowd of librarians, teachers, writers, etc?
    Looks like you guys had fun and the plans beforehand helped!
    Sarah M

    • Anne says:

      BEA was publishing professions (authors, editors, publishers, librarians). The fan event BookCon was for booklovers of all stripes. More thoughts coming soon.

  18. Steph J says:

    I don’t have any tips. I actually avoid planning vacations simply because I can’t handle all the decisions! (Sad, I know) I’m a maximizer when I know that I have to plan for other people (family included)–I always end up regretful because someone can always find something to complain about and then I feel like I didn’t do well enough at getting every possible piece of information to plan! But I had a trip to a conference in Chicago last year completely alone and enjoyed just taking one afternoon away from the conference to go to the Art Institute and some mini breaks walking around. I was a bit lonely but had much more peace with my decisions!

  19. Dana says:

    Been to NYC once a number of years ago and only there 2 days. I have been wanting to go back and your post really intensifies that desire.

    When we travel we use public transportation when it is feasible and well-run. Chicago is one of our favorite places and the great public transit system is one reason.

    We usually decide ahead of time which one thing for each of us is the most important activity or place and do those first. For my husband it usually involves a baseball game : ) and for me it is always the art museum(s). After that we have a list of places that would be nice to go if there is time and stamina left. When we both hit sight-seeing fatigue we find a bookstore or other restful spot ( parks) and we read or people-watch. We both always have a book with us.
    Scheduling short afternoon naps before dinner seems to help us as well.
    Also we have found that eating at the right times and the right things makes all the difference in our ( read MY) attitudes and energy levels.

  20. Laurel says:

    We recently made just such a trip to NYC for the same number of days with two young children in tow. It was the perfect way to enjoy the city without being overwhelmed or burnt out from too much. We chose our “musts” and scheduled accordingly. Everything else we took as it came. It was a surprisingly enjoyable trip and made me want to visit again soon!

  21. joanna says:

    I call it slow travel. And i love it. Its much more enjoyable. As I new yorker I think seeing neighborhoods is way better than attractions especially in NYC. thx for sharing.

  22. Dawn says:

    I’ve been to NYC a few times (love it), and I just have to tell you that on my very first night there ever, we stayed in the Larchmont Hotel in the Village. That was 15 years ago. I recognized the entry immediately; I have a picture of myself in front of it. I’m glad to see it’s still doing well!

  23. Monica says:

    I recently traveled to Busan with my fiance and although normally I am a maximizor as well, we tried to enjoy our short trip rather than trying to go everywhere. Traffic was bad so we barely hit anything on my list but had the best time! I think knowing I can go back again anytime really freed my mind. I can totally relate to most of your posts but this one especially.

  24. Debbie says:

    I am also a travel maximizer while my husband is the more spontaneous type. I think my MIL learned that the hard way when she traveled with us to Paris and I was squeezing every minute of the day to see all that I could fit in. She ended up sitting exhausted in a Metro station in Paris waiting for us while we went to see the Arc de Triomphe up close at night. Oops. Recently we went to Vienna and while I wanted to maximize, I’ve learned to be more of a satisficer. Instead of trying to see all the famous art museums or choosing the best one, we decided to forego all of them and see other equally interesting, but maybe less famous museums instead, like the military history and music.

  25. Dorothy says:

    I’m reading this in the midst of a trip myself. It is so hard to see everything (or everyone to visit!)when you’re in a big city. Visiting Chicago for 3 nights and family to see gets hectic. This morning we’re resting and usbg the pool. I have to remember to plan the rest on road trips.

  26. I loved this post because we just moved home (to Mississippi) after living in Brooklyn for fifteen months- for an adventure. My favorite thing you said was about seeing neighborhoods instead of sights. That was one of the best things about NYC to me- how different and vibrant all the neighborhoods are and all the people that make up the city.

  27. jessica says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I used to live in NY and it was so much easier to do one activity/event/museum. Now that I don’t live there, I understand the sheer size and pick a few ‘can’t miss’ experiences and focus a schedule around those. It is key to leave plenty of time for strolling since I find that to be a wonderful way to enjoy the city. I love calling it a satisficer’s method!!

  28. Heather says:

    My husband and I have the joy of living overseas this year (we are teaching) and due to cheap travel options like Ryanair, we’ve been traveling frequently. We’ve been negotiating our desire to leisurely enjoy a city for a long weekend with the inner pressure (where does it come from?!) to “see it all” (which is entirely unrealistic). Our favorite long weekend was in Rome, where we stayed in a wonderful Airbnb in a neighborhood outside all of the hubbub, ate at more “locals-only” restaurants, and wandered the city on foot. At night, we purposefully planned to head back to our apartment for an hour of reading before a nice dinner out, and then we again retreated to read and talk before turning in for the night. We’ve also pretty much decided that when we travel, we don’t get up before 9 unless we have something already scheduled. It’s been so freeing to tell ourselves that we don’t have to see it all–and we can’t see it all!–and that it is more than OK to plan in reading time, journalling at cafes, and even sleeping in even when there are things to see right outside.

  29. Kaitlin says:

    I like to stick to personal recommendations or blog posts like this one when I’m planning a trip somewhere – so much less overwhelming than tourism or travel websites. It is easier to hear from one or two real people that enjoy similar things to you and just go with that.

  30. Joe Joe says:

    We live in Europe and travel extensively. When we go to a new city here are a few of our tips: Know yourselves: when we’re with the small kids we like to hit up the parks and find the bell towers and churches, our kids like those things and that makes them happy. Then we hit a highlight or two and one meal typical of that city. Anything else is a bonus! We love to just wander and experience “the feel” of the city rather than all the sights.
    We have lived in big cities so we learned how to ride public trains buses etc. Most cities operate their transport in similar ways. i.e. Signs and posting of directions of trains and buses and maps are somewhat similar. So when we get to a knew city we take 5-10 minutes to look and see if we can get a feel for their system and see if we can navigate. If so, we confidently go ahead and use that. If not, we takes taxis. This saves some mental energy or can save some money. Overtime I guess we have become satisficers, but take me to a new museum and that is a different story….

  31. Colleen says:

    Traveling with young kids brings out the satisficer in me! Tokyo in four days, New Zealand in eleven – you’ll never see everything anyway, and if you try everyone will be miserable!!

    So, here are a few tips from our experience traveling with kids:
    Alternate long, busy days with lazy ones, spent next to a pool or at a playground. After a 10-12 hour day of sightseeing – be it a boat tour, a children’s museum, zoo, the Sydney Opera House, or just walking the neighborhoods – we make rest and naptime priorities the following day.
    Don’t bother with a restaurant after a long day out, especially if you’re in a culture where restaurant meals are long and drawn out affairs. Eating in their room in their pjs lets kids unwind and jump into bed right after.

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