Meet the Locals: Marc Samuels, New York City

“Every place is about relationships,” says Marc Samuels, the owner of PhotoTrek Tours, a company that shows guests New York City through combined private tours and photoshoots. Visitors to New York City can hire a photographer and also book a separate walking tour, but Samuels offers both together. Samuels treats every visitor as an honored guest with individualized and custom experiences, but one tour sticks out. 

A couple booked a tour. Over the course of their visit, the woman mentioned she was living with a serious medical condition. It was her dream to visit New York City. Ending the tour at Brooklyn Bridge, the woman cried tears of joy. “When saying goodbye she gave me the tightest hug and was so grateful to me for taking them around and capturing these memories for her,” recalls Samuels. 

A native New Yorker, Samuels grew up with relationships at the center of his life. Living in every borough except for Queens and Staten Island, his parents moved to Co-Op City, the world’s largest co-op, in the Bronx when he was little. “Although growing up in the Bronx may have been perceived to be dangerous, I have nothing but fond memories of my childhood, [and being] outside all day playing with friends, many of whom I am still close with to this day,” says Samuels. 

His parents encouraged Samuels and his three siblings to take advantage of New York City. Growing up outside of Manhattan, frequent trips to “the City” were part of the family tradition. Often, top tourist destinations like Central Park and The Metropolitan Museum of Art were Samuels’ playground. “There’s never a dull moment in New York City,” reflects Samuels. His family took full advantage.  

A Passion for Photography Emerges

With his heart in the Bronx, Samuels left New York for Washington, D.C. in a Ford Galaxie 500, which his friends nicknamed the “Bronx Bomber.” It was at American University majoring in Communications where Samuels’ passion for photography and visual arts was solidified. After a brief stint working as a production assistant on a feature film, Samuels landed in the import and export industry. 

On several occasions, Samuels’ boss asked him to show foreign clients New York City. Taking the assignment seriously, he customized every tour, snapping photos along the way using a Minolta X-700 film camera. Before the clients flew home, Samuels presented them with the developed photographs as souvenirs. Fast forward many years, he started PhotoTrek Tours to offer the same experience to others from around the world. 

Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and Germany are just a few of the locations guests have traveled from to book one of Samuels’ tours while on vacation in New York City. “I really want to make it special for them,” says Samuels. Days before each tour, he emails the guests to get information from them to help customize a tour that fits their needs and wants. “No tour is the same,” he says. 

As Samuels points out New York City’s landmarks and lesser-known spots, he snaps photos of the guests. Within 48 hours, the guests receive an email from Samuels with a zip file of all the photos. “I don’t hold back on the photos,” he says. His photos end up as cherished mementos for many of his guests. 

Being a native New Yorker, Samuels shows them a more unique side of New York City. For example, when in Little Italy, Samuels shows his guests an easy-to-miss shoe store, the former site of the Ravenite Social Club where John Gotti and his former Gambino mobsters once congregated. And in Central Park, Samuels calls out the park as the site of his very first concert in 1981—Simon and Garfunkel. (Samuels’ parents encouraged him to take advantage of every cultural opportunity in New York City.) 

A City Close to His Heart

As a native New Yorker, he’s proud of his city. He says, “I am a native of New York City so I never really wanted to live anywhere else. I have been fortunate, traveling quite a bit internationally and always felt, although many cities have their own unique culture and vibe, in my view, no place can match what New York City has to offer.” During college, he studied in Copenhagen, Denmark. Although it was a cherished time in a beautiful city for Samuels, New York City had his heart. 

“I hope my passion for NYC shines through on my tours,” Samuels says. With repeat customers, referrals, and positive online reviews, his passion for New York City is contagious. With every tour, Samuels hopes to change the perception that New Yorkers are rude. “If you fall, eight New Yorkers will help you up,” he notes. 

After visiting other major cities, Samuels always comes back to New York City. His two favorite neighborhoods are the West Village and Brooklyn Heights. He says, “With the Village, you have the best of many worlds.  You can walk down a quiet, tree-lined street with brownstones and townhouses, and then turn the corner, and you have world class restaurants, live music, and comedy clubs.” It’s similar in Brooklyn Heights—but with a view of the New York City skyline. 

Twenty Years of Tours and Counting

Referrals from happy customers is how Samuels built his 20-year-old business. “Word-of-mouth is very powerful. You always have to bring your A game. You should always want to bring your A game. People talk. Referrals and great reviews are how I receive a good amount of my tours,” Samuels says. Always giving guests New York City tips, like how to navigate the subway, is another perk of his tours that often leads to recommendations. 

“Embrace New York City! Don’t be scared to get around. Put yourself out there and visit the off-the-beaten-path areas,” Samuels says as advice for all who visit New York City. Exploring may lead you to meet new people. After all, every place is about relationships.

Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Follow our series to meet other global professionals sharing their stories from around the world.

A Floridian in New York on New Year’s Eve

Cassidy, her mom, and her sister posing in front of the Rockefeller Tree on New Year's EveFor the last few years, my family and I visited New York City to celebrate New Year’s Eve. This year, our celebrations will be strictly limited to our living room thanks to the pandemic. So, I thought remembering our first New Year’s Eve trip may fill up some of the wanderlust I’ve felt since this whole thing began. This trip inspired my family to start doing family vacations. The years after, my dad and brother joined us for another New York trip, and the whole family visited Ireland the year after. Unfortunately, any plans we had for this year had been diced. I’m just glad I have the photos and memories of these trips to keep me going!

New York on New Year’s Eve

During our first trip, it was just my mom, sister, and I. We were there for an extended weekend. We felt dead set on jamming all of the New York highlights into our trip. It was also the first time we’d been to the city during winter. Although it was milder than our following trips, we splurged at a nearby winter accessories store on 7th Ave. While my mom and sister picked up a pair of wool hats, I grabbed a pair of luxurious mittens (I could write a paragraph about how wonderful these mittens are — seriously, sometimes my hands get sweaty). Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the shop, but definitely keep your eyes peeled for extra-warm looking hats, scarves, and mittens near the theatre district!

We spent most of our trip finding unique breakfast diners and wandering around the city. In just a few days, we managed to squeeze in a horse-carriage ride, saw a peaceful protest in a local park, and took a long walk around Central Park’s lake. Our wanderings took us to Chinatown’s Columbus Park to find a vibrant community playing table games. Plus, we visited the then-brand-new Second Avenue Subway Station, a welcome reprieve from being on our feet.

Times Square on New Year’s Eve

Thanks to my mom’s employment at an NYC-based company, she had racked up enough Hilton points to get us a hotel a short walk away from Times Square. When we stepped out onto the streets on New Year’s Eve morning, the streetscape had been completely transformed. There were police everywhere, with news vans parked on every corner. Barricades blocked the street from any cross traffic. The closer we got to Times Square, the thicker the crowds got. There were people already staking their claim to see the Ball at 10:00am, making for a grueling 14-hour wait.

NYPD preparing for New Year's Eve

A Happy Coincidence

Although we had originally planned on seeing the Ball that night, my mom, sister, and I were completely disinterested in spending one whole day in New York just waiting around. We decided to try to figure something else to do that night. The three of us spent the day exploring Chinatown and LIttle Italy. We ended the night in an Irish pub with no clear plan in sight. With minutes to spare, we decided to return to our hotel to try and see the Ball from our room. 

As we got closer to our hotel, the barricades became increasingly more secure. By the time we had reached 7th Ave, we needed a police escort to cross the street to get to our hotel. As the officer led us through the crowds, he and my mom started chatting about how we were liking New York, what our plans for the evening were, and where we were from. As it turns out, he had visited our hometown quite a few times! Halfway across the street, he stopped us and told us he could try to get us closer to the Ball. 

A Once-In-A-Lifetime Chance

The officer led us behind the police barricade giving us the OK to the other police officers standing guard. Block after block passed as we sped by what must have at least been a million people crammed onto 7th Ave. My sister and I stole shocked looks at one another the closer we got. After a few conversations with his superiors, he got us a whole TEN BLOCKS closer to the Ball, the closest they would allow civilians to be! We were right there!! He got us so close we were able to see the confetti. We sang Auld Lang Syne and New York, New York with the crowd and danced in the snow, thanking the officer profusely the whole time. It was undeniably the most magical New Year’s Eve I have ever had, to this day. 

Confetti in Times Square on New Year's Eve

After the New Year broke, the crowds quickly dispersed, and our officer friend wished us a happy New Year and a good evening. Discarded New Year’s hats and streamers littered the street and passer-bys shouted “Happy New Year!” to the sky. We knew we had experienced something we would certainly never be able to again. The whole experience felt altogether surreal. Fortunately, I had been videoing our trip the entire time and was able to capture everything on camera. The video is attached below for those interested in watching!

The Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree, which Cassidy and her family visited before New Year's Eve

Be Kind

Although I don’t remember the officer’s name, he gave me and my family a New Year’s Eve celebration I don’t think any of us will forget. This year, if you get the chance, be sure to tell our public workers thank you for everything they’re doing. Remember to be kind and extend a helping hand whenever you can. Although we may not be able to celebrate like normal, the holidays can still be full of love and support. Happy holidays and warm wishes to all!

New York City’s Top Ten Traveler

 

An image of Moshe, the Top Ten Travel Writer

Who is the Top Ten Traveler?

“I’m a 37-year-old guy named Moshe Huberman. Originally from Israel, I’ve lived in New York City for the last four-and-a-half years and have been happily married to my wonderful husband for almost five. He is the best partner I could have ever asked for in everything we do, including traveling. We have a beautiful seven-year-old mixed-Labrador Retriever, and we live a vegan lifestyle together.”

When did you begin traveling?  

“The first time I got on a plane was at the age of ten with my parents. We were on our way to Paris, France. We landed late at night, and everything was closed — even in the airport! The streets were incredibly dark and far too quiet, so my first impression was a bit traumatic. The next morning, when we woke up to our first day in Paris, however, I felt astounded and extremely charmed by everything. I still remember it so vividly. I learned the metro lines by heart after one day and I led all the conversations in English (not my native language). To boot, I even learned a few words in French from the people at the hotel’s front desk. I developed traveler skills at a wonderfully young age.

An image of New York City from a pier, provided by the Top Ten Travel writer

After that, I traveled a few more times in Europe and in the US with my family. When I finished my service in the IDF at the age of 21, I packed my bag and flew to Australia, then New Zealand, for three months. That trip was my first big trip as an independent traveler.”

What started your travel bug?

“I guess it was the first trip to Paris with my parents. Ever since I was a young kid I was a big fan of the world’s countries and cultures. I memorized the world’s capitals and flags. Plus, I read all the volumes of the Geographical Encyclopedia. My older siblings’ Atlas was my favorite book. I always felt excited to watch the Olympics’ opening ceremony just for the Parade of Nations. I had, and still have, the world’s map on my bedroom wall.

An image of New York City from the River, provided by the Top Ten Travel writer

So, the moment I could leave my country for the first time to start seeing and experiencing the things I had only been reading about, was mind-blowing. From there, I just had to see more.”

Why do you like traveling?

“I always felt fascinated by diversity. I grew up in Israel. It’s a small country, but it has an amazing mixture of cultures. The Jews in Israel came from all over the world, bringing their unique traditions, stories, and foods. Even my family’s roots are from both Syria and Poland, which I always liked to explore with my grandparents — where did they come from? What was their childhood like? Etc. For me, traveling is the ability to take this exploration one step further and get to know the diversity of the entire world. I want to know and see how other people live, what their history is, what language they speak, what religion they practice, and, of course, what food they eat.”

Why are you The Top Ten Traveler?

“After I graduated from university and started my first real job, I realized that I could not travel three to four months out of a year anymore. My trips now must align with the vacation days I receive and with my work responsibilities. It changed my perception:  more short trips in a year, rather than one exceptionally long. Now, when taking shorter trips, your time is limited. You need to know well in advance what you want to see and do. This is where the top ten come in. Ten is a magical number; if there are not ten things to see or do in a place, it’s not worth going. If there are more, I really tried to focus on the top ten things I could not miss.

When I started The Top Ten Traveler, I did it for two main reasons. First, to share my experiences and to re-experience them through writing. Secondly, to give people an easy summary of the main ten things to see and do in each destination. I think listing the top ten things is easier to read, easier to remember, and easier to execute when you travel.”

What is the best trip you have taken in the last five years and why?

“I would say my trip to Playa del Carmen and Cancun, Mexico. On one hand, it was the first trip in which I have learned how to relax on the beach for a few hours without becoming bored. On the other hand, we traveled and learned about the interesting history of the Mayan culture in sites like Chichen Itza and the ruins of Tulum. Plus, the Mexican food was amazing. It was the perfect combination of exploration, relaxation, shopping, and partying.”

An image of Moshe, the Top Ten Travel writer, at a Mayan ruin.

If you had one place to recommend to someone who has never traveled before what would it be?

“That is an easy one:  Argentina. It is an amazing country for travelers (but not for living, unfortunately). It is huge and has everything to offer from glaciers to deserts, from mountains to beaches, from awesome cities to a beautiful countryside. The people are some of the nicest and warmest in the world. It is one of the safest countries in South America (though you always need to keep your eyes open when you travel, all over the world) and it is relatively cheap, so you can get more with your foreign currency. Therefore, for a first-time traveler, this is the ideal place.”

Which place do you want to visit the most but haven’t had the chance yet?

“There are so many places in the world that I want to visit, each for its own unique reasons. However, if I need to choose only one, it would be Syria. Although not the country you would think about for traveling, I feel really intrigued to see where my family came from. More than that, I follow other people who traveled in Syria and they always fall in love with this country. The food is said to be one of the best in the world (which I grew up on, so I can definitely relate to that). They also have many historical and archaeological sites, like Palmyra, which dates back to over 3,000 years ago, and the old city of Aleppo, which has now been partially destroyed after the war.”

You live in New York City — Is this by choice or for work?

“My workplace relocated me from Israel to New York City at the end of 2015. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live abroad, so we jumped on it. After all, exploration is at the heart of the Top Ten Traveler. I didn’t know how the move would affect my husband and I as a young couple, but after experiencing the New York City way of life, we liked it and decided to stay. New York City is amazing and it never ceases to surprise me. I still don’t think I know all of its hidden gems.”

An image of a New York City bridge, provided by the Top Ten Travel Writer

What would you recommend to do if someone only had a day to visit New York City?

“Explore the city by foot. The streets and avenues of the city are amazing and different. Fifth Avenue is nothing like Ninth Avenue and is nothing like the streets of Soho, Financial District, or other neighborhoods. So strolling between them, you can catch all the important landmarks of the city while also enjoying the unique charm of each area or neighborhood. I once had a 12-hour layover in the city on my way from Israel to Argentina. To kill some time, I walked from Central Park to Battery Park, just to see the statue of Liberty. It was so much fun, and on the second flight, I slept like a baby. For a lunch or dinner break, I’d recommend trying one of my favorite vegan restaurants in the city, as described in my Top 10 Vegan Restaurants in New York City post.”

What would you recommend a frequent traveler to do in New York City?

“Many people come to New York City to watch a show on Broadway. I have watched a few and I really love the theater, but there are crazier and more special theatrical experiences than Broadway. One that comes to mind is Sleep No More. It’s an interactive show performed in a five-story building designed to look like an old hotel. You can follow the actors and move from one scene to another whenever you want. Two tips: come in your sneakers and walk alone.”

by Moshe Huberman

Visit Moshe’s website, The Top Ten Traveler, to find the top ten best sites to visit on your next travel destination!