New York; the city of dreams, possibilities and the place I wanted my renewed, fresh passport to visit. After a rough year, my travel bugged mind had set a goal to do a solo trip, take away all my worries and experience the joys of seeing The Big Apple. Let’s just say, it didn’t however start out as I had anticipated. First of all, I’d forgotten to apply for a visa ( I know, I’m crazy!), so when I ended up getting to the check in counter I was confronted by a confused staff member, a stunned look on my face and a bucket load of anxiety. Luckily, after all the panic, I ended up acquiring one, threw my bags on the baggage carrier, waved goodbye to my family, and scurried onto that plane in excitement over what was yet to come.
That plane took off, wheels skipped off the ground and the wings flew high in the sky. This sugary, sentimental feeling only lasted lets just say an hour until the reality of flying internationally set in. Glued to my seat in that plane with nowhere to go freaked me out, squished in like sardines in a can and pillows that felt as though my head was resting on concrete. I don’t particularly like flying, but that shouldn’t come as a shock to people who know me best. I had envisioned countless times of those wheels hitting the tarmac and I would spring out of my chair, claim my bags and head off to my adventure. It suddenly dawned on me I had a while to go and little did I know the journey to New York would prove to be a challenging one.
I arrived at LAX airport for my connecting flight to the big city but was left with a feeling of bewilderment, fear and a whole lot of security, control measures and rope to contain people through border security. “Next!” The word that I heard repeatedly over 2 hours interrogating people left, right and centre. The funny thing is that with all the people lessening before me, I started questioning myself and hoped they wouldn’t assume I’d committed some heinous crime, even though I hadn’t and deport me back to Australia. Your head seems to assume worse case scenario and mine did just that. “Next!” This time it was my turn and I’d come face to face with the man who would let me into the country or send me back to where I came from. A number of questions were asked and although I was able to answer them, they were said with a shake in my voice and a slight stammer. “Welcome to America!” He slams down the stamp on my passport and I ran to my connecting flight relieved that was over.
Touchdown; I was here in Manhattan and little did I know it was not only the jetlag that hit me, but the scorching, unbearable humidity that presented itself to me. While I was trying not to pass out in a jumper, ripped jeans and sneakers, I couldn’t believe I was here and what a city New York was. The cutest terrace houses, the beautiful parks, the food carts, the busy roads and the coolest, quirkiest shops I had ever seen. Unfortunately, the time difference managed to hit me like a steam train, and I had a head that felt as though it was being squashed together by two vices. A walk back to my hotel was my only option and I’d have one heck of a sleep and dream of waking up ready to take on this city.
Next day I grabbed as many maps as I possibly could, jotted down where I wanted to go, tied up my sneakers, grabbed my bag and headed out the door with a giddy grin on my face. First stop, Central Park. ‘Oh my God! This is where Home Alone was shot. ‘Call me crazy but with the amount of movies shot in this city, it was hard to contain my excitement seeing these places with my own two eyes. Speaking of crazy, I ‘d never experienced weather like that; searing heat burning through my cornea like the sun had erupted. Although the heat was intense, I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful bridges, gardens, people rowing in the cutest rivers, beautifully decorated buildings from a distance and the sweetest, most decorated monuments. With all this walking, I had built up quite an appetite. Let’s just say I don’t splurge when I travel. New York was such a good place to grab food on the go for such a reasonable price. Food carts with hot dogs, burgers, chips, basically anything imaginable you wanted, they had it. Most of the time I took advantage of them, and I never sat down for a proper meal. This was mainly due to the fact that I was scared of tipping, and sitting down and ordering food by myself is slightly awkward and I wanted to just walk and walk as much as I could.
I was staying on the Upper West Side and let me just say Manhattan was everything I had pictured and more. I found myself mesmerized by the old buildings, the vintage vibes, coffee shops and the closeness of everything. Stories of how bad the coffee was from people who had previously been here confused me. I was drinking so many beautiful cups of coffee at amazing roasteries. I stopped by most mornings at a particular food cart, ordered an egg roll and a brewed coffee placed in a paper bag and walked to Central Park to enjoy the sights and smells. All I could think of was wow this is pretty cool living like the locals.
Monumental places that had made my bucket list I now had the chance to tick off. The Met which was on another creative level, The National Museum of Natural History filled with historical details, The Empire State Building displayed breathtaking sights, Times Square which was illuminated with the brightest of lights, theatres, possibilities and talent, and 1920s buildings that were sustained in such a way you felt as though you had been transported back in time. I had moments where I would stand in the middle of the city and watch how this city performed and moved. Rushes of yellow would dart across my eyes and I’d see so many taxis driving past, blaring their horns like there was no tomorrow, but all I could think of was this is what makes New York the city it is. At times, I could feel my feet blistering on the back of my ankles, but there was so much to explore that I didn’t care. I’d stop by in the afternoons by coffee shops and sit down with a muffin or donut and just take the time to people watch. I’d make my way to the other side of Manhattan over to the Upper East Side. Bright yellow school buses travelling alongside white, clean, crisp buildings created this sense of realism that I had only seen in my dreams for years. I had to explore this area. This place wanted me to just lose myself in it and I did just that. Madison avenue was streamlined with shops and hidden, independent stores, and the food, oh my god, the food was unimaginable. I remember sitting outside in this deli cafe, gorging on macarons and a baguette and I was in heaven. Absolute heaven.
Pizza places were my go to for dinner and the slices were as big as your head with the biggest selection of toppings. I’d walk through Central Park with my bright white pizza box, proud as punch and I’d go to my hotel, open the box, let the cheese droop over and devour this crusty creation. Maccas was also my lazy excuse for dinner at times, and Starbucks my lazy excuse for coffee, which was literally on every corner, and I mean literally. Hey a girl sometimes likes her comfort things, and although I didn’t particularly get home sick I wanted to see how the Americans did it.
I took so many pictures like a typical tourist does, but the hard thing being a solo traveler is that you don’t have the familiarity you do when you’re with someone else. It’s just you and your wild imagination and the views in sight waiting for that camera to click. I heckled people so many times to get them to take my photo, and obviously I only approached people that looked friendly to me. I mean I didn’t exactly want someone to take my picture then steal my phone straight afterwards. Common sense was in order and you need it in times especially when you’re just relying on yourself. Checking into hotels, phoning cabs, knowing how the hell you’re going to get back to your original location, airport transfers and finding your way around the city was a challenge. The great thing, was that it was a challenge. It scared me but in a good way. My senses were heightened, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, I faced my fears and I could do things I would never usually do by myself, but I did.
My second location where I stayed was in Chinatown and I found this at first to be incredibly overwhelming. Dragging a suitcase through these narrow streets with people everywhere proved to be difficult. I could feel my arm muscles tensing up as I was trying to drag these tiny suitcase wheels up hills, yet trying to avoid hitting anyone while attempting to navigate myself to my hotel. It was a challenge. I got lost so many times and the streets seemed to merge together. After looking bewildered and refreshing my phone over and over again with locations and directions, I’d finally conquered these streets and at last I could see the name of my hotel. The relief was unreal.
I had 2 days to see as many places as I could before I flew home. My legs were ready and I’d sling that bag over my shoulder ready to do some sightseeing. I say this though , I’ll admit to having incredible anxiety in this particular location. Because the streets were so crowded, I found it hard to leave my hotel room being that it was so quiet and cosy. Still, what could I see in my hotel room when there were bustling crowds, culture and sights I’d never seen before. Chinatown was like no other place. I had this urge to run up the stairs attached to every single building, taste all the street food, laugh with the locals and be immersed with the colours and sounds it offered. Walking, walking, walking that’s all I seemed to do and my feet took me places. I found my way out of Chinatown and made my way to Soho, which if anyone loves vintage shops, art like places, deli foods and the feel for fashion this was the place to be. I had to visit every shop, smell every scent and lose myself in those cobblestone streets. Shop doors swung open, and I would light up finding something different every time I stepped into stores. I can’t even count how many times I’d have to use my phone to track my location. Unless you knew this place extremely well, it felt like a rabbit warrant.
Little Italy was a place I stumbled upon that my feet took me to. I could feel festival vibes and food stalls that were all lined up with the most beautiful Italian food, with colourful banners all stretched and lined up across the street. I had to try something. Bolognaise! I mean, too bad we can’t send food through technology because I wanted family and friends back home to taste what I was tasting. Rich, glorious, simple food was all I needed and I was consuming it like a champion. After a full stomach ,my legs took me next to Greenwich village and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the apartment of friends. Apparently I wasn’t the only one as one corner was surrounded by tourists like me taking pictures of this place. Greenwich village had a particular quietness to it compared to the rest of New York. You could just wander and you wouldn’t have to worry about a crowd full of people around you. It was serene, laced with boutiques and pizza places that filled the city with charm.
Next day, my final day I left slightly late but headed towards Brooklyn. Brooklyn Bridge was a sight and walking across that structure was a mammoth task, but so worth the sights it provided. Although the bridge was consumed with tourists and the busyness was at another level, I had the chance to look over and see the statue of liberty, the harbor and the Hudson River. As I had walked over for about an hour in the searing heat, across timber surfaces I had finally reached Brooklyn. What a step back in time. I loved the old brick warehouses, the harbor lookouts, the vintage 1920s feel, the quietness and the hilly streets. Brooklyn had ice-cream shops and a killer view of the bridges and the opposite side of New York. I couldn’t help but ask a local for a photo. I immersed myself as much as I could in Brooklyn and headed back across the bridge, back over to grab one last ice-cream, back to Chinatown to find my hotel, and the night would arrive to which I would have one final sleep until I would have to leave this place.
The next day I would fly out back home and dream of the reality that presented itself in New York. Let’s just say solo travelling has its perks and its cons. I mean I had an amazing trip, but not having that company at times was difficult. Being able to do your own thing though was great and I never stopped moving because I didn’t have to wait for anyone. It was just me. Obviously another con was that New York isn’t cheap and I tried to find the most affordable hotels in great locations. My one regret was that I didn’t try Air BnBs. I stayed in some amazing places but I will start by saying, the service was not my top 10 greatest impressions of New York. At times this busy city presented itself with people on the go constantly, rude staff who depended on tips, but didn’t particularly earn it and being a solo traveler I craved interaction and small talk at times. I would say to anyone contemplating solo travelling to do it, because it’s like nothing else and it challenged me in so many ways and I grew just from stepping out of my comfort zone. Live life and travel with a full heart, be open to possibilities and seek out the greatest places filled with the most wondrous destinations.