Solo on the Go
A recent workday lunch revealed that one of my coworkers had never been to the movies by herself. While I was taken aback, our other lunch companions weren’t surprised in the least – in fact, another concurred and said she had also never had a drink in a bar alone nor eaten in a restaurant alone. Bwuhh? Really? These are women over 30 years old, living in New York City. I asked if next they were going to tell me they’d never owned a vibrator. (Oops, did I say that out loud at work? Yes, yes I did.) One woman explained that it wasn’t that she was afraid or embarrassed to go to the movies alone, but simply that it never occurred to her. Why would she go alone when she has friends and a husband that she would rather spend her free time with?
This made me think of a discussion I had with another friend, who was surprised to hear that I haven’t really traveled alone very much. I’m independent, and perfectly capable of enjoyment without a companion, but recreational travel is just not something I’ve done much on my own – aside from visiting my parents in Texas, which may or may not technically qualify as “recreation”. By the time I was in a place in life that I had both time and money to travel, I was in a relationship with someone wonderful, and I want to spend my hard-earned vacation days with him.
That being said, over the past few years, I have taken several quick weekend trips alone, and found it can be a lot of fun. Going it alone can be a great way to get to know yourself and your likes and dislikes, without the need to accommodate anyone else. (To the dirty-minded reader: I’m talking about travel here, but the parallels are not lost on me.) Despite the occasional awkwardness of navigating public situations on my own, I still enjoy exploring a new place, for business or for pleasure. And I love having time to myself, away from the distractions of home, to get lost in thought or to just do whatever it is I want to do at any given moment.
Being alone at the hotel is unequivocally enjoyable for me. (Again, dirty-minded: I applaud you, but let’s stay on topic.) I can do all the ridiculous things I like to do at hotels without judgment or ridicule. The first thing I do is to fill the ice bucket and scout out the vending machines. Do I need ice, or a bag of M&Ms from a machine? Undoubtedly I do not, but it’s what I do. Then I stroll by the gym and pretend that I’m thinking of working out, and occasionally I actually return. I always take a long bath, and if robe and/or slippers are provided, I always wear them. I stay up too late and watch TV in bed, and I often order room service at least once, despite its often being overpriced and/or horrible. These things are fun for me and they make me feel like I’m independent and strong and totally awesome for being alone in a hotel. I have a friend who often travels for work, and she assures me that the thrill of hotels wears off, but I really can’t imagine that’s true.
Generally when I’ve been on solo treks, it’s been for a few days only and there was a specific purpose (such as a class or seminar or exiling myself to write), so I wasn’t necessarily out sightseeing on my own…but a girl’s gotta eat, and a writer’s gotta procrastinate. I tend to wander the streets a bit, or take a look online and scout the options. I have been a party of one, and it can be great, particularly if the place has outdoor seating and/or you can enjoy some interesting people-watching as you dine. That said, although I have eaten at restaurants on my own and definitely have gone for the occasional burger and beer at a pub, most of the time I try to locate a nice market with prepared foods to take back to my cozy nest of a hotel room. And I’m certainly not above decent fast food (Chipotle, Subway, and Panera come to mind).
One noteworthy solo dining experience was a recent trip to the free breakfast buffet at the hotel where I was staying. Allow me to offer some suggestions if you find yourself alone in such a situation:
First, you need to get everything in one trip, because if you get up to refill your beverage, they will probably clear your table, as there’s no one there to guard it. You could try leaving something behind, like a purse or phone, but let’s face it; living in New York has made me hesitant to leave anything just lying around on a table unsupervised. You could ask someone to watch the table, but personally I don’t want to burden others just because I am eating alone and want more cranberry juice.
Second, when you arrive with your overloaded tray at the seating area, you will take an available table because you need to sit and eat like everyone else, and then you will be given the evil eye by the family who comes in with a toddler and an infant and sees a lone person taking up what they think should be their table. They may even ask to sit with you, even if you are at a small 2- or 4-top table. I’m not saying that I would outright refuse, but I also don’t think this is a reasonable request if it’s a small table. Why should I have to try to eat crammed in with your family, when your infant is screaming and your toddler is throwing half-eaten scrambled eggs onto my plate (which, come on, is disgusting)? Parents, I know that you need to sit those kids down and eat, but really, if there are no tables, you should wait like anyone else. If the situation were reversed, I as a single diner would certainly not ask to sit with your family of two adults, a toddler and an infant in a high chair at a table for four, and trust me, I am lazy and prefer awkward conversation whilst sitting to standing in peaceful silence. Also, no one wants to sit with someone else’s screaming kids first thing in the morning, with the possible exception of my mother, who tragically has no grandchildren. (This is tragic for her, not for me.) And yes, I’m completely fine if you want to leave me comments about how I’m not being fair to parents and how kids are a blessing and I should be honored to eat breakfast with your entire posse at a small table, but I respectfully disagree.
Third, be prepared for people to talk to you or about you. For example, I was eating one morning while reading the news on my iPad and some guy eating with his family felt the need to tell me, “Be careful you don’t spill anything on that, those things are expensive.” I wanted to say, “I know, I purchased it, you moron,” but instead I went with “Yeah, thanks”.) Then he started talking about me, as if I couldn’t hear the entire conversation. (“You know, I just don’t see the need to spend all this money on these things, these iPad, iPhones, what are these kids doing all the time that they need that every minute?”) I mean, I was right there. He spoke directly to me about my iPad and then loudly made this comment not three feet away. Perhaps he mistakenly thought that the iPad created a soundproof bubble around me (which would be a FABULOUS feature update, if any Apple wizards are reading). On the upside, I was somehow lumped into the “these kids” category, which I am now old enough to consider a massive compliment.
When traveling alone I have admittedly noticed that I tend to spend a good bit of time staring down at my phone while others around me are interacting with their travel companion(s). Although to be fair, half of those people are spending more time staring down at their phones than their travel companions as well. I recently stayed at a hotel that hosted a free wine reception in the evenings. (You may have noticed a pattern of my staying in hotels that offer freebies.) This sounds lovely, until you’re standing there, holding a glass of cabernet next to the table where they set up a few wine bottles, with no chair because the place is small and the two large tables are surrounded by people who all seem to either be best friends or extreme extroverts. I’m not overly shy, but I’m not likely to walk up to a full table of people and interject my non-existent opinion about the wedding they all apparently came to attend. I ended up leaning against a wall and staring down at my phone, pretending that I was very busy with work or that alternately I was just waiting for a friend who was running late. This was all, of course, in my head, because in reality no one even noticed what I was doing because they have their own lives and concerns and weddings to attend.
Which is, I suppose, the moral of this story; do whatever makes you comfortable and happy, because THAT is the best part of traveling on your own, and honestly, few will notice what you do and fewer still will give a shit.
(Unless you’re a celebrity – in which case, everyone will notice and everyone will give a shit, but it’s irrelevant because as a celebrity you’re not going to be traveling alone anyway. OR unless what makes you happy and comfortable is running down the street naked, in which case everyone will notice and you should probably go put some pants on.)