There is something about seeing the world with a broken heart.
How easy it is to forget that your feet know where to go and that many others have been where you are before you. Same place, same pain, same joy, same humanity. In a city like New York you see so clearly how life is rooted in the past, but changing so quickly that the future seems right on the horizon. On this trip, I reflected quite a bit on duality. How things can be both past and future. How we can seem ok, but really be devastated. How we can bounce back, rebuild or reinvent ourselves, and recover from anything if we are able to accept all the mess, let time move with us, and be gentle with our hearts.
This trip to New York was a spontaneous use of last year’s air miles (thank you 2018 travel!). I got the tickets with no idea of where I would stay, if I would be alone, or what I would do there. Luckily, everything fell into place: one of my closest friends was able to come with me, one of my favorite bands was playing, museums had exhibits I really wanted to see, a good friend had a place for us to crash, and my cousin had a day off to hang out. Things just came together.
What I didn’t realize was that I would be so busy I wouldn’t have much time to just be my introvert self in New York. I also didn’t realize how much I need that when I travel, especially when feeling a little heartsick and reflective. To just wander a city in silence, to quietly observe strangers around me, to just sit and read or write somewhere. I was perhaps a bit too eager to avoid processing some of the things in my life, so it was easy to fall into busyness. I try not to travel with too many expectations. I prefer to appreciate what people and places have to offer and keep myself open to those experiences. One of the reasons I love travel is that you can’t take it personally when places unexpectedly delight or disappoint you. Unlike people, places have no choice but to show you the truth of who they are if you look beyond the obvious. No bullshit, no need to impress, just a piece of earth filled with grit, humor, beauty, and endless possibilities. It’s why I choose to visit cities, rather than resorts. Take country drives, rather than tours. If you pay attention, you can even learn something about yourself.
One of the benefits of traveling often and for short periods of time is that you quickly discover how you like to explore the world and experience new things. Some people find they like to take in all they can before they return to their life (I once saw every floor of the British Museum in under 2 hours). Others like to escape into the experience and leave their usual self behind (what happens in vacation, stays on vacation). My philosophy is to have some balance: Don’t just spend time doing the things that draw people to visit. Instead try to do the things that inspire people to stay. Be true to yourself, but open to the discomfort of change.
For me, the best parts of travel are the simple things: a stroll in a park, museum, or street that could only exist in the place where I am (think landmarks, skyline, local businesses).
I like to get lost for bit. Not really lost, but to walk without a destination. Allowing the journey to be the adventure, rather than where you are headed. Taking chances on places and being willing to change plans.
When I travel, listening to music as much as possible and buying music that reminds me of where I am (physically and emotionally) is also a must.
Also, indulging in food and drink with the abandon of an explorer, but not forgetting what makes my body feel good. Taking care of myself..
Overall, it is a romantic notion of allowing the place to show me around. It knows who it is better than I ever will in a few days, weeks, or even a lifetime. If someone recommends a place--I go. It shows me something about both the city and the person.
What I also realized is key, is knowing why I am going and what I want to get out of your experience. Setting an intention for myself.
I knew in advance that this trip was a distraction from some things in my life. The past few months have been busy, emotional, and a bit chaotic. I needed to get out of my head. Many people don’t like to travel when things are hard or busy because they are too distracted to enjoy themselves. That whole, “you take your problems with you” thing. But, I have no problem using travel as a way to stop doing a million things at once (working, parenting, adulting, etc) and just take care of me. New York is the kind of place where change is happening all the time and I knew I could be away from daily expectations and overthinking--New York forces you to think on your feet. If you are lucky, you challenge yourself just enough to discover something about your resiliency, how you handle fear, and just how quickly you fall back into your habitual patterns. I always get value from seeing myself through the lens of a new experience or place, especially one that has so much possibility. The bookends of getting to and from somewhere are also a great time to think about expectations, decompress, and reflect a bit. I mean, you are literally forced to spend hours in a little seat with yourself, why pass up the opportunity to become your own friend?
I lost sight of my intention for this trip a bit. I didn’t spend much time alone or process the things on my mind, but there were lots of other benefits in exchange--good conversation, so much laughter, an opportunity to catch up with amazing people, cry out some sadness, and set some boundaries for myself. It is good for me to remember that while I enjoy solitude, when you travel with people you get all the joy, and frustration, of their experience too. You get the unique ability to see things twice, and share them with someone else.
When you face the unexpected, you can get angry and fall apart or you can follow your heart and intuition, even if that means people you thought would be with you have gone a different way. I did not leave New York with answers or feeling rejuvenated (honestly, it has taken me days to get back to myself), but I learned a lot about what I want to get from my upcoming adventures, both contemplative and impulsive. I also realized that I do not need a city to entertain me, if it is worth anything it will not need help of activities to be interesting. You could live in New York your entire life and not see everything, so why try? We bring ourselves to a city, so be in it and let it open up for you. The best way to leave is with a list of things you want to do more of. That is how you know a place, or person, is worth falling in love with.