Austin aside – this post is special (for me). Why? Because being a well-developed human requires exposure to challenge in various dimensions, and I’m very late to the dimension of solo-travel.
To those who have solo-traveled – meaning – a multi-day trip with the sole intention of experiencing things on your own – hats off. To those who have not, I hope this is exact the nudge you need. It’s NOT merely about the destination and what it offers, but what you learn about yourself. Advice to past-me: Consider this closely! This is a growth opportunity. If you knew this, you’d have done it much sooner.
So please, read, smirk, and learn with me… as I uncover anxieties and insights while traveling solo for the first time.
The trip hasn’t even started. Booking the trip went something like this: Is now the best time? Should I even be doing this? What am I trying to prove to myself? WHY Austin, vs anywhere else? Am I going to regret this? Will I dine alone in my hotel room? Staying home to read and write would be nice, rather than this trip. Isn’t everything I need to be happy inside me? If so, why travel at all, ever? Suddenly – these racing circular questions become stupidly obvious. This is what happens when you do something unfamiliar… the brain assails you with unproductive questions. Quiet, brain. Time to book the damn ticket and hotel (with no refund option).
The Perfect Itinerary
Next came the (attempted) creation of a perfect travel agenda. Hours spent on trip advisor and review blogs and reddit trying to find the BEST possible things to see and do. What the hell was I doing? Looking at my 2 day schedule like it was a game of Tetris. I mean sure – it’s good to be familiar with the area and a few highlights, but where is this impulse coming from beyond that – that I want (need?) my trip to be “epic”. The only person who knows or cares about this trip is me – why am I setting the bar so high? Why is there even a bar? Isn’t simply wandering aimlessly in a new place, discovering your OWN highlights, treasure in itself? Just. Go.
Now… the worst, and best, part:
Imaginary Magical Stranger(s)
This third and final theme would be the most powerful and surprising, and linger with me for most of the trip.
Here I was, now several months into this wonderful self-sustaining inner solitude. Years of expecting, anticipating, building-for a life of lifelong partnership with someone, had finally ceased. A deep – deep sense of relaxation was setting in. Months long! Life is good. But here on the eve of this trip – suddenly an urge flares up, that travel needs to be shared.
Go ahead… download a dating app. Just use it lightly, and if you match with a local and do an activity together… cool. If not, also cool. It is seriously harmless.
This thought was spectacularly silly – pure regression into old habits and conditioning and imagined, improbable “happiness”. Let me illuminate that, from two angles:
First, the ENTIRE thrust of this trip was to expand the experience of my own company. This “meeting-someone” urge directly undermines that. Where did this come from? Well, every trip I’ve ever taken in my life has been with friends or a partner. Shared. Someone to collect and re-tell stories with. I wouldn’t have that this time, intentionally. Yet some part of me was itching for it reflexively. Why?
Second, let’s imagine a BEST CASE scenario using a dating app on this trip. It would go something like this: Download app, first swipe, beautiful stranger, amazing deep chemistry, texting intermittently via the app, promptly coordinating a date, brilliant conversation, possibly meeting again, going back home.
At what point – in this BEST case scenario – did I actually spend time with MYSELF? If I am “successful” with the dating app, at what point did I learn anything, push myself out of my comfort zone, see what happens when I’m all on my own in an unfamiliar place? Exposing me and only me – to interact with the world?
Reality was even more comical:
Download app. 100 swipes. Hours and hours later, a few matches start to accumulate. Conversation happens sporadically, usually one sentence every several hours. This is simply how people behave on apps, generally speaking. Apathy reigns supreme. What does this mean? It means opening the app several times per day for fragments of fragments of genuine human interaction. This properly annihilates the quality mind it takes to be immersed-in and appreciate something – especially something like wandering a place where every moment is an opportunity to be present, and savored.
To recap: actually meeting someone from the app would distract from the purpose of the trip. Duh. Beyond that – merely USING the app is like nails on a chalkboard while trying to listen to classical piano. Totally corrosive to a healthy mind. Duh. This is the epitome of touching a hot stove when you know it will burn.
Side note – travel aside: there is something fundamentally off with dating apps.
Good news. I caught myself. Things improved, rapidly.
Welcome to Austin
Scooters strewn about like dirty socks. Bothersome? Nah. Merely interesting to see how they’ve dominated an entire city. Might be more bothered if I lived there and constantly had to avoid them on the sidewalks – both while they’re being ridden and/or left for dead. The “no riding on sidewalks” signs are funny – an inside-joke that clearly means “please – ride on the sidewalks!”.
I spent my first few hours walking – walking walking walking, with my camera. From downtown, all the way to the massive capitol building, and then beyond to UT Austin. It was in these initial hours that I realized – damn – it really doesn’t matter what I do (or don’t do) on this trip. Simply let each moment unfold. Don’t spend the trip anticipating what’s next. Life is happening in every moment. Be with it! This is it. It doesn’t need to be more complicated, or better. And so, that was the spirit of my trip. I hope this comes across in photos, below.
First, a few highlights:
Running. Maybe it was the spring. Maybe it was the thrill of not knowing where I was going. Maybe it was the thousands of other people also outside on running, walking, biking on the path. But this was one of the best and most memorable runs of my life. What a great public path on the Colorado river.
Diversity. Not only of different cultures but totally intermingled with each other. Loved seeing this. Austin obviously has TexMex roots and vibes, but also a strong splash of influence from various other backgrounds. This is evident in the restaurants, the music, the art. And oh, the art…
Art! Murals everywhere. Large and small. Every building facade was a canvas that the community had embraced. The entire city felt like an open-air public museum. Extremely cool.
Bottom line – I loved my trip to Austin. First, I got to watch myself become preoccupied some ridiculous things – until I finally realized what was going on, and let it all go. I sunk fully into Austin for two days and loved it. Loved the run, loved the smoothie shop, the bbq place, the pizza, and the hundreds of people who gather on the bridge to watch about a million bats fly into the sky at sunset, the bike rides, the river. I’ll pass on Voodoo donuts next time – hype. Even the 12 hour flight delay coming home didn’t bother me at all. I simply sat in the airport, and read, and reflected on the trip. More of these trips need to happen. (In fact, one already has).
Without further ado, some photos: