I’ve been wanting to write about my trip to New York, but couldn’t come up with an angle. Then yesterday, my daughter’s dance teacher sought me out to ask about my trip.
Did you really go to New York on your own? Wow, that’s so brave of you. How did you manage?
And that was it. My angle. That’s what made my trip different. I did it on my own.
So here are some of my thoughts about how I made it work.
- I bought a map. Yes, a paper map. Actually. one of those waterproof paper maps that folds easily in all sorts of directions without tearing, so I could keep it in my pocket and not look like a tourist at every street corner with an unwieldy massive sheet blowing around in the wind (actually, those have become a thing of the past with maps on mobile phones – if you can afford the mobile data bills!). Anyway, my map was great. It gave me a real sense of where everything was in relation to the rest -which when you are spatially challenged like I am is always a bonus. And the walking tours on the back of the map were so good. I love a good treasure trail. There’s no way I would have seen what I saw without that trail to follow. I wouldn’t have known where to start.
- I listened to other people before I went. Like my friend Wendy who told me to just take hand luggage (and I know you all thought I was mad) which I did and that decision turned out to be an absolute godsend when my connections got screwed up in both directions. Wendy also told me to go up the Rockerfeller Centre at about 4:30 and to stay to watch the sun set. Great advice, Wendy. I did, and it was the most wonderful experience. And then my friend Katie told me to take the free Staten Island ferry which goes right past the Statue of Liberty. There was a great view back over Manhattan too. Another good call.
- I had a reason to be there. I’ve been saying to people that I didn’t act like a tourist and they just laugh and ask what a tourist acts like. But I had a sense of purpose in being there and that helped enormously. I had places to be. Appointments. Interviews. I had a role to play and that gave me an inner confidence. I had a reason to interact with real New Yorkers.
- I chose to feel safe. I had every reason not to. New York is quite a scary place. I heard more people speaking other languages than English. There’s a lot of visible poverty. It’s the most multicultural place I’ve ever been. I travelled on the subway alone. Even at night. I walked down quiet side streets. I ate alone in some pretty downmarket places. The place I was staying was pretty downmarket. I found the height of the buildings very claustrophobic and I never felt like I was breathing fresh air. I could have let my fears take over and not left my room for the week. But I played a part. I chose to put my brave face on. I wasn’t stupid. I didn’t take unnecessary risks. I kept my bag close and locked my door at night. But actually, I did feel safe. When you walk with confidence, you blend right in. No one was interested in me in the slightest. I was as invisible as the next person.
- I chose to be positive. There were some bad moments. Like the afternoon I sat waiting for someone for three hours. Like the moment I landed at Amsterdam on the way home and found that the Newcastle flight had been cancelled. But I knew this was a once in a lifetime experience and I wasn’t going to let anything spoil it. I chose to let all the bad stuff go and focus in on the good. Very little of the trip was as I anticipated it would be. Nowhere near as good on paper. But it was all the better for being real. Unforgettable in every way.
- I listened to my body. That’s one advantage of being alone. You really can listen to your body. You can eat when you want and what you want. You can sit down and rest when you want. You can take a shower when you want and go to bed when you want. I looked after myself because I knew there was no one else there who was looking out for me. It worked.
- I really tried to experience New York. I wasn’t on my phone all the time. I wasn’t constantly connected with home. I didn’t read a book or listen to music. I really tried to soak it all in. To listen. To watch. I allowed plenty of time to get places. I never rushed from one place to another. I walked slowly and took everything in. I didn’t go in any shops even. I didn’t want to be where the tourists were. I wanted to be out there. It was so great to take a yoga class at the Jivamukti Yoga Centre in Union Square for example. To be doing what regular people were doing. To feel part of something. To have a chat in the changing rooms.
- I sought out weird stuff. I didn’t feel the need to tick off all the top attractions. I did a few, but missed loads. I didn’t go to the Guggenheim or Ground Zero. I didn’t walk in Central Park. But I did go to a traditional Irish bar called Dead Rabbit which served vintage cocktails – even at 11:30am! I did some of my best thinking there.
Looking back on my time in New York, I loved that version of me. I was positive and bold. Nothing was going to hold me back. I was calm and content. I found pleasure in every little experience.
I want to find a way to be that person here too.
Thank you New York for all that you showed me and taught me.
I may never return, but I will never forget.