How To: Travel Alone And Not Be A Creep

I know, I know. I haven’t blogged in ages. And I’m not going to do one of those “I’m so sorry guys, I haven’t posted! I know I’ve let my readers down, it won’t happen again!” things, because I know you guys don’t care that much. You’re happy to read over this while doing shots. And that’s fine with me. As Tash said in her first (and only!) guest post for Why Don’t You, ambivalence is cool. Keep it up, everyone. Or don’t. Whatever.

Anyway, the reason I have not been posting is because I have been swept up in the delight that is being a solo tourist in the city of New York. I’m here for three weeks before I begin a University exchange for six months in Santa Cruz.

Before I came here, I thought travelling alone to be the most romantic concept ever. I would sit in cafes reading my book whilst handsome strangers questioned me about my clearly fascinating life and ideas. I would peruse cute little flea markets and make friends with everyone I talked to. I would never, ever be lonely. Unless of course it suited the song I was listening to (here’s looking at you, “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” by LCD Soundsystem). The thing is, travelling alone in a foreign city isn’t actually like this. Weirdly, native New Yorkers don’t just jump at the chance of being friends with that random chick they see sitting at the coffee shop. The people likely to talk to you at bars are not poets and bankers with hearts. They are sleazes. Or they are the bartender, asking if you would like the bill or your fifth margarita. At least that’s been my experience. Please don’t comment if it hasn’t been yours, it will just make me depressed. This is for those of us who don’t look like Miranda Kerr.

All this being said, my time in NY has been amazing. I’ve met great people and seen amazing things and drunk just plain weird things. But this has not happened through the laissez faire methods I had first envisaged. So here is a list identifying the fool-proof ways to make friends and discover the awesome stuff in whatever city you happen to be flying solo in.

  1. Stay Somewhere That People Have to Talk to You
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my caravan!

This can be a hostel, or a b and b or a shared room. Just make sure you avoid hotels, because they are the most depressing places ever if you are travelling alone and not a ridiculously gregarious person (a la Bill Murray if he hadn’t come across Scarlett Johannson in Lost In Translation). I’ve been staying in a caravan within this awesome artist’s commune place in Brooklyn. I know it sounds wanky, but it’s actually great for meeting people who do interesting things. They’re all artists and carpenters and ‘video artists’ and shit like that. Suspend your cynicism, because they’re all actually really cool. If you loiter around the communal kitchen area long enough, you’re bound to crack up a conversation with someone you think is funny and who will come to lunch with you (success!) In fact, the place I’m staying at ends up in a party most nights. If you’re in NY this Saturday, we’re having another portrait party as part of this art project that a few guys here are doing. They’re making a music video using antique tin-type photography and having a series of parties to celebrate. PM me for the address/ more info. I found my accommodation through air b and b. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a website through which you can rent out rooms in people’s apartments and houses (and communes!) I highly recommend it and it’s usually way cheaper than hotels.

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My Tin-Type Portrait!

 2. Hang Around Bookstores

Bookstores are great! I mean, if you’re not interested in books, clearly don’t hang around in bookstores. But if you are, then this a sure place to meet people with similar interests to you. Don’t go some generic bookstore. Pick a really arty one with a weird 80s theme or something so you can pretend to share a passion with the person standing next to you. I’m such a weirdo that I was just wandering around Chelsea and I heard this cool looking old guy say to his friend that he was walking to a particular bookstore nearby, so I literally followed him there. A bit dodgy on my part? Yes. But did it end up in me meeting these really cool Aussie blokes and one American and having a rad night drinking cocktails from dive bars and going to funny art exhibition openings? Yes. Seriously, book stores. They are the new Friendster.

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one of the artworks at the gallery we ended up at.
it’s so true.
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it’s a garden of plastic cameras!
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so true you can’t even see ‘thru’ it

3. Be Enigmatic at Markets

Markets are wonderful because people only see you for a second and then you disappear from sight amongst a throng of hip people. So, according to their naïve worldview, you might be a mysterious novelist from a foreign land walking through the market on your way to write a book about eggs! I went to Williamsburg Flea Market on my lonesome, ate a falafel roll and started reading my book (Zadie Smith’s ‘On Beauty’ – really good by the way) and then as it turned out the guy next to me was reading the exact same book. So then we got talking and he took me to a poetry reading that night. Too easy! Thanks Zadie, I owe you one.

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Williamsburg Flea Markets

4. Look at Paintings for A Long Time In Art Galleries

Because if you look at paintings for a short time, the dark stranger in the corner will assume you are a shallow tourist. If you stare at them for more than five minutes each, he/she will know that you are both interested and interesting. Then he/she will ask you what you think of the metaphorical composition of the cross-hatching, and you will respond that although you see its relevance within the circumference of fifteenth century Spanish fundamentalist sculpture, it doesn’t resonate with you as much as the simple zip painting on the floor above. This way he/she will note that your intelligence is tempered by self-aware modesty and the two of you will share a knowing laugh. By the way, this didn’t happen to me. But it might happen to you!

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it’s a penis chair… insightful?

5. Get A Positive Tattoo

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This way people will know that you are deep and tortured enough to get a tattoo, but not so depressed that you don’t want to talk to them. I got a tattoo in Williamsburg the other day and it reads ‘all will be well’ in my own handwriting. I actually did get it because it is something that my Dad always says to me when I am feeling catatonic/depressed/generally sad and it always gives me a light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to, but strangers don’t know that! They think I am just a fun-loving chick with an optimistic attitude to life! This is great, because even if I’m in a bad mood or my dress has tucked itself into my undies, they assume that I’ll get through it with a smile on my face! And then they will invite me to a rad warehouse party in Bushwick!

6. Drink

Need I say more? You’ll never be alone for long. And if you are, at least you’ll be having a good time.

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alone in a cafe

OR

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around a campfire w some random Germans (luv u conrad!)

6 Replies to “How To: Travel Alone And Not Be A Creep”

  1. Haha I totally agree! I am also on exchange (in Montreal) and have done a bit of solo travelling – hostels are great for this. The first person to walk into my hostel in Ottawa was another Australian! I also watched Lost in Translation on the plane and felt exactly like Scarlet/Bill when I first arrived in Montreal. Being alone in a city where the official language is different to your first language can often be a bit isolating I think. But great tips and great blog 🙂 I started one of my own here too: http://matterofthymetravels.blogspot.ca/

  2. Another tip is probably ‘don’t be judgemental’. At least not if you want company. You can write off the person who seems kind of dumb, or uncultured or, at the other end of the spectrum, overly chic, and sometimes it might even save you the trouble of avoiding them later, but if you rush to do that conclusion, you won’t make any friends.

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