New York State is considerably larger than many people realize; the drive from New York City to Niagara Falls can take 7 or 8 hours, while the nearest point in the Finger Lakes is nearly 5 hours from the city. Before you commit to hours of drive time, you may want to weigh the alternatives.
CommutAir (www.commutair.com), a partner of Continental Airlines (tel. 800/525-0280; www.continental.com), offers flights from its Albany hub to Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Elmira, White Plains, Islip, Plattsburg, and Lake Placid. Reservations must be made through Continental.
JetBlue Airways (tel. 800/538-2583; www.jetblue.com) is hard to beat, with consistently low ticket prices and daily runs from New York City (JFK Airport) to Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse.
US Airways (tel. 800/428-4322; www.usairways.com) and its partner Colgan Air (www.colganair.com) provide direct flights from New York City to Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Rochester, and Syracuse, as well as service from Albany to Buffalo and Islip. Northwest Airlines (tel. 800/225-2525; www.nwa.com) flies to Ithaca.
Overseas visitors can take advantage of the APEX (Advance Purchase Excursion) reductions offered by all major U.S. and European carriers. In addition, some large airlines offer transatlantic or transpacific passengers special discount tickets under the name Visit USA, which allows mostly one-way travel from one U.S. destination to another at very low prices. Unavailable in the U.S., these tickets must be purchased abroad in conjunction with your international fare. This is the easiest, fastest, cheapest way to see the country.
Unless you plan to spend the bulk of your vacation in a city where walking is the best way to get around (read: NYC), the most cost-effective way to travel in New York State is by car.
If you're visiting from abroad and plan to rent a car in the United States, keep in mind that foreign driver's licenses are usually recognized in the U.S., but you should get an international one if your home license is not in English.
Check out Breezenet.com, which offers domestic car-rental discounts with some of the most competitive rates around.
Gas prices in New York State tend to be about 10¢ higher than the national average. Of the major cities, Albany and Binghamton have the cheapest gas. Not surprisingly, New York City's is the most expensive (as much as 50¢ higher per gallon).
If you plan to travel between December and March, be advised that winter weather can present significant obstacles, such as wet or icy pavement, poor visibility, or routes that are just plain shut down. Make sure that your vehicle is adequately prepared with snow tires and working windshield wipers, battery, and defrosters. Most likely, though, you won't run into too many problems. Roads are well maintained in the winter, and even after a storm, side streets and highways alike are cleared fairly quickly.
Highway speed limits are 55 or 65 mph. The speed limit in New York City is 30 mph unless otherwise posted. "Right on red" (making a right turn at a red light after coming to a complete stop) is permitted in most parts of New York State, but not in New York City. Motorcyclists must wear helmets, and goggles if helmets are not equipped with face shields. State law requires drivers, front-seat passengers, and children under 10 to wear seat belts. Children under 4 must ride in safety seats. Fines can run up to $100. Talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving (without an earpiece) is punishable by a fine of up to $100 (exceptions are made for emergency situations, such as calls to the police). Drivers can be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) for having a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher and sentenced to a fine or jail time upon conviction.
The train won't get you where you're going any faster, but it will cut down on the amount of time you have to spend behind the wheel. Once you get where you're going, though, you'll probably need to rent a car anyway since public transportation is not very extensive beyond New York City.
Amtrak (tel. 800/USA-RAIL; www.amtrak.com) basically follows the same paths as the New York State Thruway and the Adirondack Northway (rtes. 90 and 87), leaving much of the state inaccessible by rail.
Visitors to Long Island can take the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR; tel. 718/217-5477; www.mta.nyc.ny.us/lirr). With service from New York City's Penn Station, the LIRR is the main mode of transportation for commuters as well as Manhattanites weekending in the Hamptons. Since seating is normally unreserved, trains are often standing-room-only during the summer vacation season. Hamptons Reserve Service (tel. 718/558-8070) guarantees passengers a seat on the Friday express train for an extra fee in addition to the regular fare.
Metro-North Railroad (tel. 800/METRO-INFO or 212/532-4900; www.mta.nyc.ny.us/mnr/index.html) makes the Hudson Valley region easily reachable from New York City's Grand Central Station with commuter lines extending as far north as Poughkeepsie and Wassaic, and west to Port Jervis.
International visitors can buy a USA Rail Pass, good for 5, 15, or 30 days of unlimited travel on Amtrak (tel. 800/USA-RAIL; www.amtrak.com). The pass is available online or through many overseas travel agents. See Amtrak's website for the cost of travel within the western, eastern, or northwestern United States. Reservations are generally required and should be made as early as possible. Regional rail passes are also available.
Greyhound (tel. 800/231-2222; www.greyhound.com) is the sole nationwide bus line. International visitors can obtain information about the Greyhound North American Discovery Pass. The pass, which offers unlimited travel and stopovers in the U.S. and Canada, can be obtained from foreign travel agents or through www.discoverypass.com.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.