One of the fun things that comes with having a full-time job is time off. Instead of staying at home, reading, curling up with my cat and crying while listening to indie folk records, I decided to actually travel.
I finally had the means to do so and after years of being the person who went home for break in college or stayed home in junior high and high school–which really isn’t fair because my family did visit Chicago and New York when I was in ninth and tenth grade, respectively. (Also, I went to New York with my family instead of going on the orchestra’s cruise. More on my feelings on cruises later.) Compared to a lot of people, it felt like I did significantly less traveling.
I decided to use my first grouping of vacation days to just pick somewhere and visit. I decided on a place that struck a lot of people as odd: St. Louis.
Hear me out on St. Louis: It has a lot of gorgeous historical buildings, features a brewery tour, has the freaking Gateway Arch and has what I’ve heard is a world class zoo that has free admission. I was also going to visit in June, which would also mean The Muny would begin its season. Plus, traveling to St. Louis would be relatively inexpensive between Amtrak fares and hotel rates.
I requested a tourism guide and began marking all of the places I wanted to visit. The City Museum, the Budweiser brewery, a farmer’s market, the St. Louis Zoo, a museum of religious iconography. I was becoming incredibly excited as I kept hearing from people, “St. Louis? Why? Do you know anyone there? What’s there to do in St. Louis?” as well as various racist and off-color comments about Ferguson.
Then, while I was still hard at work on a Friday, I found out Amtrak cancelled my train, so I had the option of taking a train to Urbana, Illinois and then taking a bus to St. Louis. I would arrive much later than I initially would and having taken Amtrak loads of times, I know the arrival time posted is when you should arrive, but rarely is when you do. I made the decision to call off the trip and find somewhere else to go.
I made this decision two weeks before I was supposed to travel.
After searching every travel website I could, I decided on New York City because plane fares to New York from Milwaukee are at least less than I would have expected. I booked my plane, found a hotel in the Flatiron District, bought a ticket for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and then embarked on a whirlwind adventure to New York.
This was of course met with some questions from people. “New York City? By yourself? Aren’t you scared?” “Do you know people there?” “Isn’t that expensive?” The answers to these questions were yes, yes, no, yes, and depends on what you do.
I loved being in New York and after years of hating flying, I felt relaxed while thousands of feet in the air. The only problem with being in New York for about 36 hours is you can pack a lot in during that time, but leave not feeling fulfilled. Still, I felt happy to get away and just explore somewhere.
I returned to New York City in September and decided to do my previous idea of just doing as few things set in stone and the rest I was going to just do by wandering around. Again, I was asked the same questions and managed to do New York City fairly cheaply, even if I was prone to popping into Pret a Manger to grab a fruit cup to keep me going through the day. I found a bagel shop in Brooklyn with cheap bagels not far from where I was staying, wandered into as many parks as I could manage and still squeezed in meeting with friends.
This brings in the part about the joy of traveling alone: I can do whatever I want. If I want to wander into a shop in Greenwich Village, I can do just that. There’s no itinerary, no limits, other than my bank account. I can spend as much time in a place as I want. If I feel like getting off a subway station and walking around Williamsburg, I just have to follow my feet.
Traveling, especially alone, is liberating in its own ways. Sure, I was frequently texting my parents and even called my dad a couple of times while on vacation, but that’s different from being with a group or with another person. Want to take the subway back to where you’re staying instead of paying for a cab fare? Go right ahead. (Also, take the express bus from Harlem instead of cabbing it to LaGuardia. You’ll thank me later.)
I’ve been revisiting my thoughts on traveling alone as I’m planning a road trip. I keep thinking I may want someone with me as I’m driving all the way to Michigan. But ultimately I’m going there for hockey and to catch up with friends from college. I don’t want to make someone feel like a third wheel or be dragged to a hockey game. I also realized driving alone means I can sing showtunes at the top of my lungs and not be asked, “We’re going to listen to “Hamilton” again?”
Besides, I have made the drive from Michigan to Milwaukee possibly a dozen times and have the routine down pat. Make sure you start off with “Dennehy” by Serengeti because you can’t be sad while listening to that song. Stop at the Portage McDonald’s, because it’s a really nice McDonald’s. If you have the extra money and want to save time, feel free to take the Chicago Skyway.
And above all, enjoy the trip.