One thing that I have learnt is that if your traveling alone, its the people that you meet on your adventures that make it something. Sometimes you WANT to be alone. And this is completely cool. However, your own company sometimes wears thin. Especially during the evenings when most evening activities seem to designed for 2+ people. Clubs, Gigs, restaurant seating….You could have the best meal in the world, but what does it mean if you can’t recommend that to someone in a bar, or your hostel? or share the meal with a light conversation with a group of people who you just met.
Before I leave for anywhere new (especially) I usually send out an email to friends. These days I’ll twitter it – although i often get cultural advise but not accommodation & meet up offers, and probably get a spambot telling me I can get cheap flights for the mentioned place, or I put it on Facebook. What usually happens is that i get advise and hook-ups from friends of friends (of friends) and it’s awesome.
Here’s some proof of how my trips have been enlightened by the generosity and company of a human soul.
In summer 2008 – I was interning at a shit-hot gallery in Chelsea NYC. I was living THE DREAM. I rented an apartment in Williamburg for $500 a month. It was THE SHIT. I had a balcony that overlooked the magnificent skyline of Manhattan, we had access to the roof for summer BBQ’s and we had all the luxuries a student should need: cable, wi-fi and a cleaner. Pretty sweet deal right? the apartment was beautifully furnished. Real big, 2 floors within, with a spiral metal staircase to the bedrooms. It was too good to be true, and it was because I was sharing my room with 5 others on bunk beds.
But it didn’t faze me. I was worried about getting lonely. This definitely solved that problem for me. It was hollywood magic, we had bedsheets from IKEA, towels from Bed, Bath and Beyond and I was in NYC. I had roommates from all around the USA and world – all doing amazing things with their life. One girl I instantly bonded with. She was called Erin. An aspiring actress, recent collage graduate, all the way from Alabama. She was in NYC trying make her dream a reality on very little money. She was only renting the apartment for a month whilst she found her own place. We went Poetry Slams, Museum free nights, we got bites to eat.
3 years on, if I ever need a place to crash, Erin has got my back! (she now lives in Brooklyn)
The same summer, Independence Day was looming. As a Brit, I don’t really care for it. Naturally. But it seemed like I was the only kid without any plans. Having already celebrated 4th July the previous year when I was working at camp, i thought – this is nothing special. Plus i kept getting stupid kids saying, ” I bet the UK wishes it was independent” – but i’m not going to get into that right now.
Having already learnt the trick of emailing around people, my Professor at the time used to be from NYC. He had given me a bunch of cool things to do and people I should get in touch with. I was prepared to spend the whole 4th of July on my own in Central Park or in a bar that served food (I was 19 at the time). 2 weeks before 4th of July I emailed a guy my Professor had told me to get in touch with – about seeing New York’s coolest, historic fire boat, John J. Harvey.
This turned out to be AMAZING timing. The generosity of people in America always astounds me. I found myself with an invite onto the Fireboat on 4th July to eat burgers and watch the expensive Macy’s 4th July Fireworks from THE HUDSON. That’s right. If only I had a twitter account then! And the crazy thing was, I had no idea who this person was who invited me until about 1 hour and half on the boat. I asked around, until I met a woman in her late 20’s and her mother. They were from California. We talked and they told me all about the differences between California and NY and how much they loved their trip to London. When food was being served, they had found the guy i was looking for!
So after being really shy, I bucked up the courage to say hey and thank him for this out of the world invite! The guy and his family were perfect & as you guessed, extremely generous with their time and offerings. I just couldn’t believe my luck. After the sun set, we watched the fireworks and i felt like this just couldn’t be real. Then before we docked, the late-20’s woman & her mom were like, ‘SARAH! WE HAVE A SURPRISE FOR YOU!” They had bought me a John J. Harvey fireboat T-shirt to remember the whole experience by. Something told me I would never forget my fireboat experience.
I still think about it now. If I never emailed about seeing the boat, or even asked my professor, or if my professor didn’t reply. What would I have done that day? It taught me more about the American culture and helped me appreciate that independence day isn’t JUST about beating the UK but more an excuse to share pride and spread the love . It also taught me the power of companionship/company on a what could have been a very lonely NYC quest. Nearly 3 years on I still wear my Fireboat T-shirt regularly and think of how lucky I am to have had such a unique experience and had the chance to share it.
Next up, Couch Surfing!