In Boston last week, I spent 80 per cent of the week on my own.
I ate all of my meals alone, I rode the subway alone, I woke up alone (and sweaty! That East Coast summer, man...), I walked the streets alone and drank coffee alone.
It wasn't all one big silent movie. I was there for work purposes, and there were a handful of meetings as well as a lot of research to do, and I was staying with a family friend of LP's and so we crossed paths and I had some drinks with friends my last night in town.
But by and large it was a giant me-fest.
Many people won't travel alone. I get that.
I can take a solo trip from time to time. It's fun to have complete control, but it is a test sometimes to get in the moment without a co-pilot. I'm always intrigued about how I respond to my own company and the places I can get to in my head.
I think the largest tradeoff is the total control over your itinerary, versus not having anybody to share your experiences with.
I had five nights in Boston (one I arrived in for at about 11pm, so it doesn't really count) and though it wasn't strictly tourism, it was still a return to a former home of mine. I cherry-picked my schedule, breezily.
On my first evening I reacquainted myself with Harvard Square. I had a beer and a sandwich at Clover for dinner, and followed it up with a stroll through the Harvard Bookstore. On Tuesday I hit up my favourite burrito and ice cream joints. I got caught in a rainstorm on Wednesday and wasn't feeling it at all, so I sulked off to a movie (The Watch... bad, in a slightly good way, but I hadn't dragged anyone to see it with me, so I didn't have to feel bad) and spent a whopping $3.40 eating off McDonald's $1 menu for dinner.
On my last night, I enjoyed an extra drink or two when I was with friends, not having to preserve someone else's schedule.
I spent a day driving through rural Massachusetts and New Hampshire, indulging all of my podcast whims on the stereo, and creating my own playlists to sing along to at eardrum shattering levels, sans all judgment and self-consciousness. It was superb.
But I missed having a buddy around. I particularly missed having LP around.
Late on Sunday night, I walked off the train in Davis Square and the first thing I encountered was a group of local sports-bros making fun of Mexicans in thick local accents. It was deliciously Boston. I knew instinctively from the level of slightly drunken joy in the air for this time on a Sunday evening, that the Red Sox had probably just won. It turns out they had. I enjoyed the moment. But it just wasn't the same explaining this kind of awful but hilarious moment to LP on the phone.
Driving through New Hampshire on Tuesday, I was lost in thought about how New Hampshire is about the weirdest state of America, so beautiful and friendly, but so weirdly, staunchly libertarian (e.g. the state motto is Live Free or Die, motorcycle helmets are not law, lax gun control) with such strange cities.
Swamped in these thoughts, a gigantic gang of elderly motorbikers, all looking as though they were off to audition for ZZ Top, swamped my car.
It was terrifying and awesome. The memory died with me.
The same thing happened when I saw Meat Loaf walking down the street in Boston, and when I found myself depressed and angry at the brand of people who visit casinos in Connecticut at 10am on a Friday (I was there myself for journalistic reasons, of course).
I processed it alone and moved along.
It's different being on your own for new experiences. So much of how we process things is filtered and altered by our companions.
You know when you go to a movie with a group, and you're walking out, and there's that suspenseful moment before you all get out of the cinema and can share your opinions?
The perceptions of the group shift the perceptions of the individual. I'm sure of it.
Our travelling partners can amplify joys. We can laugh with them at the awesome ridiculousness of a gigantic biker gang.
But they share our miseries too. It's better to get caught in a rainstorm with a friend and be wet together, than just end up fuming and uncomfortable and alone.
Travelling alone for me is a test to stay in the moment. I find myself at restaurants eating quickly and tearing out the door faster. I visit places, and find it harder to linger. I'm much more likely to be ahead of schedule.
I take a book with me everywhere and end up reading prodigiously.
Invariably after a few days I get bored of myself. I think I get bored of myself a bit more quickly now than I did 10 years ago.
I arrived in New York late on Friday night. Jon, a dear old friend, is in New York at the same time as I am, and we corresponded to stay at the same hostel.
I wasn't aware of how ready I was for more constant company, but a few minutes after we were reunited, I felt a little relief.
So will you travel alone?
If so, are there any rituals or habits you adhere to when doing so?
Is there anything that surprises you about your own company?
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