Probably getting a little generous with the title of this one, but “Emily’s Foolproof Guide To Finding Your Happy Place In Cities You’ve Never Been To And Tips On How To Survive There” just isn’t as clickable. But alas, if you haven’t learned something about how to travel by the end of this then I apologise for nothing because you clearly were not paying attention. Okay, backhanded apologies and cinnamon-spiced sass aside (It’s fall ya’ll), here is my mildly pretentious and slightly unwarranted advice.
I’m going to assume you know the basics, like always carry some cash with your cards but leave some at home so if you get mugged you’re not broke, do online check-ins to save time at the airport, try the local cuisine etc. etc. So here’s what I’ve learned that I coudn’t find searching the travel tag on Pinterest.
1. Google Maps + Yelp.
Sure, part of the #wanderlust image is to get lost exploring the streets of an unknown city and inevitably stumble into a charming local watering hole where there are good vegan options and free, strong, wifi. But my experience has been that the watering hole is a run down kebab shop that took me twenty minutes out of the centre of town to find. #NotAllThoseWhoWanderAreLost? Besides, if you’re not wanting to spend your life savings on an uber, you’re going to be walking a lot- why waste precious energy relying on a tumblr-esque idea of travel when you could just look up exactly what you’re in the mood for, read some reviews to find out if it’s gross or slow or has outlets (v important to me) and then know how to find it? Seems obvious but I definitely tried to eat pray love my way through places without a plan at first. Which brings me to my second point-
2. Eat Pray Love.
After months of being around people and then a few weeks travelling with friends post-camp, I’d lost sight of why I wanted to travel solo in the first place. Suddenly I was vulnerable and alone- two things I haven’t felt since a bratty second-grader kicked open the bathroom door while seven year-old me was peeing during recess. I definitely know her name and definitely have her on Facebook, so if you’re reading this, yes, that invasion of privacy still haunts me to this day. Well done. I’m sorry that this listicle keeps turning into my memoir. In Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts* grapples with the idea that she is not being a productive or a contributing member of society. She says something about being in Italy for six weeks and having done nothing but eat. A wise, middle-aged man, who I’m incorrectly remembering to be an Italian Dumbledore, tells her that Americans know entertainment, but they do not know pleasure. Enter the concept of il dolce far niente- the sweetness of doing nothing. One of the biggest things for me when it came to solo travelling was dealing with the unexpected guilt of having zero responsibility to anyone or anything but myself. Everyone around me was rushing around, going to work, looking after their kids, meeting up with friends- the amount of business meetings that occur in a Starbucks would suggest Iced Americanos are the new Golfing. Italian Dumbledore reminded me that now is the perfect time to be selfish. Now is the perfect time to spend each waking moment following an impulse, chasing an idea or staying in bed all day because you have a migraine and the city has waited this long for you, another day won’t hurt.
*Just let me live, okay?
3. Bloating will subside in 12-15 weeks.
When you leave the water supply your body has thrived on your entire life and then attempt to drink a glass of Massachusetts/Vermont/Montreal/Toronto/New York water, you can expect some adjustments. I was consistently bloated for the first 12-15 weeks of my trip. Glamorous af. Peppermint tea and More Important Things are pretty good treatment methods, but just embrace the elastic-waist life while nobody around you knows you well enough to click their tongue at your lack of proper pants.
4. Make a Home.
When you’re travelling somewhere unfamiliar, it’s nice to have somewhere to come home to. I’m not talking about the place you sleep. I’m talking about the Union Square Barnes & Noble, the Williamsburg Whole Foods, the industrial-chic cafe with house brewed cold-drip on Bedford Ave- do your exploring, but find your favourites. It’s important to have a place you can run to when it all becomes a bit much. Or a place you can pick up your local, organic produce. Whichever you need.
5. Have a focus.
I decided to learn French. I’ve maintained a month-long streak on duolingo, cool brag Emily, and committed to writing at least 500 words of story + finishing a short story, poem or dialogue every day. My other goals, like watch and critique more foreign cinema, are coming along a little more slowly. I guess because the app for that is Netflix and season 4 of The Fosters just came out. Point is, it’s good to have a focus. Especially if you’re a creative person wanting to milk the experience for everything it’s worth… and the all-encompassing spiritually-fulfilling stuff as well, obviously.
6. Let some memories be just your own.
While it’s fun to document your travels via social media (I am no stranger to this concept, #emjayusa) I have found that it is equally, if not more, important to have some memories that just belong to you. I have journals teeming with experiences that you won’t find on my Instagram- and that makes them all the more special to me. Wherever you are, whether it’s a big historical landmark or a local cafe or a particularly magical moonlit sky- remember to put your phone/camera/ego aside. Don’t get so caught up in trying to preserve the memory that you forget to make one.
Other general advice you might be interested in: moisturise, stay hydrated, go vegan. But more on that another time.
Peace out homies*
*idk man just go with it