So what you need to do is pack very few clothes, in a small suitcase. Then put that suitcase inside a big, empty suitcase." My sister's silence at the other end of the phone lasts a moment, then the penny drops.
This is a shopping holiday – the chance for Claire, who has never been to America, to spend her hard-earnt-and-saved cash in a whole new array of shops. We're talking volume, rather than monetary value; she knows that I had to buy a new case to transport home some bargain saucepans from Target on a previous trip. We've both been saving for this for ages, and since we're both foodies, we budget for breakfast, lunch and dinner out too – to sustain our epic spree.
But there are first-timer's nerves. New York is not a city for the faint-hearted and Claire is alarmed by my smackdown of the cabbie who tried to charge extra for crossing a bridge from JFK en route to midtown. A flat fare's a flat fare (and I want to prove how savvy I am). Late night, travel-frazzled and slightly daunted by the sheer scale of Manhattan, a shouting match on the sidewalk as suitcases are hurled at a doorman is not exactly "Have a nice day" personified.
Luckily, the Bryant Park hotel offers sanctuary in the midst of metropolitan madness. I've done my research; it's a favourite among fashionistas, for its proximity to the twice-yearly collections venue but during non-catwalk season, it's a brilliant base. We can walk to Grand Central, to burger-bar-of-the-moment Shake Shack, to the Monkey Bar, to the Rockefeller Center (and the bumper Anthropologie and JCrew stores at its base, ahem) easily. The whole of Fifth Avenue beckons, and SoHo's delights are a Noo Yawk bus-hop away.
Those first-night nerves have been calmed by a room with vast beds, a sonic device emitting soothing sounds, from rainforest to birdsong. And there's a bath the size of a small pool. There are mirrors that allow us to scrutinise every outfit with a semi-professional eye. And we're high in the 25-storey building with dazzling views of Manhattan. By day two, the US never-been is happily striding with the Carrie Bradshaws to the deli two blocks over for espresso and bagels. If Claire thought that New York was the city of social x-rays and supermodels and size zero and skimmed milk soya decaf lattes, she's thrilled to be proved wrong.
Then there is the shopping spree. Old Navy runs out of till roll when we settle up; and the assistant in the Kate Spade handbag store in SoHo greets Claire like an old friend when she goes back a third time to get "just one more" iPhone case in silver patent leather. It's easy to forget that pharmacies and food shops are as fun as designer stores and swanky restaurants. Notepads, sneakers, chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds, mugs, caps… and so on. And on.
It's not all shopping. In our five days we try to have five holidays' worth of experiences, just in case we never make it back (children, work, weddings, health issues are all jostling for attention). Opera at the Met: check. Midnight dinner at the Spotted Pig: check. A walk along the entire length of the High Line: check. A day and a night in Brooklyn, complete with you-couldn't make-it-up artisan chocolate makers, achingly hip no-reservations brunch spot, vintage clothing of extraordinary beauty and movie with cocktails seat-side at the Nitehawk Cinema: check.
Best of all is grabbing coffee and heading down to the midtown ferry stop to catch a ride across the east river and back, doing a faux commute to catch the city's skyline from multiple angles.
New York – from the top of the Rock to the bottom of a dirty-martini glass, we love you. From the whoosh of the L-train at Union Square station to the ugh of the ATM covered in vomit next to a Billyburgh brewery, we love you. Boy did we need those extra suitcases. Mwah!
The Bryant Park Hotel is centrally located in Midtown Manhattan, in the historical American Radiator Building. See bryantparkhotel.com or call 001 877-640-9300 to make a reservation
Shop till you drop
* Pointy slippers, Argan oil, kaftans, saffron, frankincense, hand-stitched leather totes, neroli flowers: there's nowhere as seductive to shop as Marrakech. And don't forget the new town's clutch of contemporary designers. lalla.fr
* Toronto is known for its 'Mink Mile' district but Film Festival city also has a wealth of indie outlets and design stores. Queen Street West has a quirky selection, from fair-trade wool to contemporary galleries. Book a walking tour with local arts writer, Betty Anne Jordan, to find the latest shopping spots. artinsite.net
* For that all- under-one-roof experience, Dubai delivers, with malls dedicated to everything from gold to electronics plus big-name fashion labels. The city even has a shopping festival (until 3 February). dubaishoppingfestival2013.com