I spent the last week of January gloriously alone on a solo trip to New York.
I went to New York for a conference, which ended up being fairly disappointing, but the trip itself was wonderful and five days alone was restorative in so many ways. It was the first time I'd been away for any longer than a quick overnight work trip since my son was born almost two years ago, and my first truly solo excursion since I went to Fiji for a week on my way home from a year as an au pair in New Zealand, almost 20 years ago.
I've been to New York before, so I felt fairly comfortable and oriented wandering around the city by myself. It turns out, though, that I'm not all that good at going into restaurants and bars alone.
My first night in New York I walked to Union Square and hit up Whole Foods and Trader Joe's to fill the fridge in my tiny AirBnB apartment in the East Village. On my walk home I kept passing cool-looking spots, but came up with a litany of excuses to not go in to any of them.They were too busy. My bags were too heavy. The crowd looked too young. The crowd looked too old. The crowd looked too cool, too hip, not hip enough.
In the end I took my groceries home and made a dinner picnic in bed from the Whole Foods salad bar while watching old episodes of Grey's Anatomy on my laptop. You know, as one does on their first night in NYC.
At the conference, too, I felt like a fish out of water. The first night was a mingling event, and although I knew that this couldn't be the case, it seemed as if every other person (out of the hundreds of people there) knew someone there and it was just lonely old me who was all alone.
Had I been presenting at the conference? No problem. Teaching a class or workshop? No big deal. But weaving my way through a mingler event with a glass of cheap prosecco in my hand trying desperately to catch someone's eye and strike up a conversation? Yeah, I suck at that.
I finished Brené Brown's book Braving The Wilderness on the flight home, and highlighted this passage from it:
Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you you don't belong. You will always find it because you've made that your mission. Stop scouring people's faces for evidence that you're not enough. You will always find it because you've made that your goal.
True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don't negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.
Damn, Brené! I wish I had read that passage on the way there. I don't know whether or not it would have made a difference, but I'll certainly take this forward with me to other trips and other events: no one belongs here more than you.
Although I found it difficult to be alone in crowds of people, I really relished the alone time on this trip. The conference was an excuse to go away, but really, the trip was about self-care.
The apartment I rented was blissfully quiet, and I'd spend my mornings sipping tea and getting work done on my own schedule. I took a yoga mat with me - one I was prepared to leave behind if my bags filled up too much - and carved out a bit of time each day to carry on with my 30-day yoga challenge.
My to-do list in New York was really more of a to-eat list. Since pizza is something that Sweden really doesn't get right, I ate pizza (by the slice ????) almost every day I was there. My favourites were Bakers Pizza (Avenue A at East 12th Street) and Best Pizza (Williamsburg). On my last day I walked into NoLita and stood in line for 30 minutes for the infamous SoHo Square (pictured below) at Prince Street Pizza, and was frankly underwhelmed by it.
Momofuku was on my list, both the Milk Bar, where I bought one of every kind of cookie and a bottle of corn powder so I can try making their infamous corn cookies at home, and the noodle bar. At Momofuku Noodle Bar there was a short wait for a spot at the bar, and I ended up seated next to another solo traveller.
Since she was on her last night after three months in the city, she indulged in a $50 bowl of ramen topped with truffles, which she generously gave me a taste of. I stuck with a regular old bowl of ramen topped with crispy chickpeas, which was also wonderful. After dinner we decided to get a drink together (see dummy, you can do this stuff) and wandered to a nearby speakeasy that you enter through a secret phone booth in the back of a hotdog shop. I love New York!
Other food-related wanderings took me on a march across town to one of the Doughnut Plant locations, where I asked for a selection of their best doughnuts (omg, their creme brûlée doughnut...). In the interest of time I took them with me, so checked into my health conference with a box of doughnuts stuffed into my purse ????????♀️
From there I walked to Chelsea Market to pick up some Suite One Studio mugs (not an affiliate link) I've been coveting from Anthropologie, and then through the West Village to Murray's Cheese Shop where my friends insisted I must have a grilled cheese sandwich. I did, and it was cheesey and gooey and good.
On my last evening in New York, after a looooong day at the conference, I met a friend for wine and a bite to eat at Terroir Wine Bar in Tribeca. Cork Dork was one of my favourite reads of 2017, and Terroir was featured prominently in the book. I sat at the bar all fan-girl gushing over the infamous binder of wines, met the eccentric owner, and let them take me on a journey, as they're known for. It was a really great last evening in New York.
It really was a lovely trip, even if I found parts of travelling alone challenging. I learned that perhaps I'm a bit more introverted than I realized, and that I have work to do on my sense of belonging. The time to myself, the break from being a mother and wife and business lady was restorative, and I've decided that I want to make it an annual thing.
Now I'm back home, working on getting my pizza-to-vegetable ratio back in check, and will be back to the regular programming shortly!
Oooh, I also loved reading this! There are a lot of us out there judging from the comments. I want to travel too but can never find a friend to go & would love to be brave enough to go it alone. Kudos to Rebecca for going to a country where they speak a different language, Italy is a dream of mine. I just discovered your site Katie & look forward to making some of your recipes. Tonite it's the turmeric latte mix. Thank you!!!
Italy is fantastic, Michele, you should totally go! So much fantastic food! I hope you enjoy the turmeric latte mix, I'm sipping a latte at this very moment and enjoying the spicy warmth on a cold March morning 🙂
i've so been in that situation on work trips. it's not easy to push yourself into social settings, especially in a new environment. for me, dining alone always feels so awkward and uncomfortable, but i try to remind myself that probably no one else is paying attention to me, and it only feels that way to me! i bet that applies to mixers, too. i'm sure everyone feels that sense of isolation to an extent, but some are better than hiding it or pushing through than others. i LOVE the brene quote you shared because i always feel like the odd one but i'm also constantly looking for that validation in a crowd -- and she's right, i'll always find it. on the other hand, it's also so nice to have some leisure time on solo trips, and so i'm glad you were able to take advantage!
That Brené quote really spoke to me as well - if only I hadn't have read it on the flight home! But I think it's a really important idea to take forward into our lives: if you look for reasons to not belong, you'll find them. So just always know that you belong - easier said than done, right?!
Oh I loved this! I went to Italy alone. Few years ago. The first trip I ever took where I’d never been, knew no one and went alone. It was the best thing I ever did and now I love going away to new and even familiar places alone. I’m going to nyc in April so thank you for your food blog I’m going to find that phone box bar lol!!!
The phone box bar is called Please Don't Tell, and I highly recommend! I have lots of other New York recommendations compiled from my two trips there, so if you shoot me an email I'll give you the full list.
I can sooooo relate to this Katie. I think what makes you special is that you make everyone else who reads this smile and say yup! thats me in a room full of people I don't know!! And some rooms where I have know a few!! Thanks for all you do for us who follow you!!
You're right, Anne! Rooms where you know just a few people can be just as intimidating as rooms full of strangers at times! Glad you enjoyed the read, Anne!
Oh, love this! I can completely identify with your introvert side. I'm fine giving lectures but chuck me in with a load of people I don't know and be expected to small talk my way around a room, no way! Usually I can identify at least one other lost soul who I bravely approach and (hopefully) they are relieved to be rescued from looking intently at their shoes. Anyway. I totally enjoyed reading this. Too bad the conference wasn't as expected, but hey, you did awesome! And props to your pizza and doughnut eating. ????????
I'm glad you can relate, Kellie! And this conference was HUGE compared to the one we met at - I don't recall you and I having any trouble connecting at that one, but it seemed on so many levels cozier and easier to navigate the mingling. Anyways, working on strategies for future events where I can be a little braver!