New York City may be the destination of a lifetime – but nothing ruins travel dreams like being scowled at by locals who are, quite rightly, upset that you and your suitcase are blocking the subway doors, the sidewalk, the bus doors, the elusive escalators that only exist at a few transit stations ... you get the idea. That said, you can easily and politely navigate your luggage through New York City; people do it all the time. You just need to understand how your transit options work, and keep those in mind as you pack for your trip.
Pack Light to Survive
If you're able to get away with packing light, the whole world of NYC mass transit opens up to you. Although the locals have been known to navigate the subway system with everything from bicycles to furniture, and groceries stowed in their own suitcases, you'll have a much easier time navigating subways, buses, taxis, sidewalks and street crossings if you only bring one bag with you. The smaller that bag is and the sturdier its wheels, the better.
Navigating the Bus System
If you're willing to pair a little walking with a subway or bus ride, you can get almost anywhere in the city. Of the two mass transit modes, it's usually easier to get on and off buses with luggage, and most of the airport-specific bus lines will have a luggage rack on board – although most city bus lines won't. If you're traveling the city buses with a carry-on or backpack, you can hold it on your lap or squash it under the seat in front of you. If you have a larger suitcase, your best bet is to aim for off-peak hours and choose a seat where you can slide the suitcase directly in front of your legs. Under no circumstances should you take up more than one seat space.
Suitcases on the Subway
New York City's subway system usually isn't slowed by any rush-hour gridlock or bad weather on the surface – but it can get very crowded during rush hour. Escalators and elevators are rare finds in a subway station, so anticipate having to haul your suitcase up and down multiple flights of steep stairs. If you can't get it through the entrance turnstile, ask the station attendant to let you in through the service gate. Be conscious of your luggage and make it a point not to block the staircases, escalators or turnstiles; once you board the train, either find a seat or move quickly toward the center of the car so you don't block the doors or the flow of people trying to get on and off at the next stop. If you're nervous about your first luggage foray aboard the subway, plan your first trip to avoid the rush hours, typically from 7 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.
Walking With Luggage
No matter how you're getting around New York City, at some point you'll have to walk. Even if you don't have your luggage with you, you should stay to the right and keep up with the general flow of foot traffic. If you need to stop to take a picture, check your phone or anything else that will slow you down, step to the side. It works the same way with luggage, except that you need to be conscious of where your suitcase is so it doesn't get stuck in a crack or roll over someone's feet. Most New York sidewalks are narrow, so if you're in a group, walk single-file, not abreast. Only start crossing a street right as the pedestrian light turns green, otherwise you might find you and your suitcase marooned in the middle of the road as cars whiz by.
Taxis Are an Option
If you're traveling in a big group or if, for some reason, you can't escape bringing a lot of luggage, it's often worth paying for a car service or taxi to get to your destination instead of trying to juggle everything on the subway or bus. If you take taxis from the airport, follow the airport signs to the official taxi stand, where they'll load you into a yellow cab. Random people offering rides in the airport are usually scammers, so beware.
Depending on how long you'll be in the city, you can also use a number of private luggage storage companies, which will hold your bags for hours or days while you tour the town. And if no hotel shuttle service is available from the airport, you can book advance seats on a shared shuttle bus service like the NYC Airporter or the SuperShuttle. These services tend to be much less expensive than cabs, but can take a lot longer since they won't necessarily go directly to your stop.