Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Many Pleasures of Vacationing Alone

I recently took a trip by myself to Boston and the greater New England area.  This came as a shock to pretty much everyone in my life when I first said I was going.  I live in a world of couples, and all of them had the same reaction to me going alone: "what?" and "really?"  Typically, as a single man, when I go on vacation I usually bring along a relative of some sort (most commonly a parent), who can help to split the hotel costs and who can keep me honest about how many museums I'm going to, and because most of my relatives wouldn't care to venture to NYC (my most common vacation hotspot) without a seasoned guide so it's something of a quid pro quo.  However, I figured I'd go through four of my favorite things about vacationing alone, and the one that really sticks out as being terrible about doing it.

1. You Can Easily Disconnect

As a proper introvert, one who had very few close friends growing up, I am pretty easily sustained by my own invention and natural curiosity.  As a result, I'm already relatively disconnected from the world around me, and go at my own pace.  Still, there's something about going on a vacation, one that's truly a vacation and not accompanied by a laptop from work or a series of familial visiting obligations, that shows some perspective for how much we live our lives for other people.  I realized this less than one day into my vacation.  After being up since 2 AM and braving through the ridiculousness of Boston's speed limits (mild rant I have to put into the universe: the New England speed limit laws are ridiculous; I don't mind people speeding, but why would you have a 55 MPH speed limit on an 8-lane highway where no one is going under 80?  I get that I'm an outsider on this front, but come on-at least move the speed limit up to 70 so that the law isn't being obnoxiously overrun), I cozied into a giant, freshly made king-size bed and just relaxed in my underwear while watching bad TV.  No one is putting pressure on me to pick out what we're having for dinner (I'm always the one who picks every activity on vacations, particularly every food-related one, and considering I have to do that regularly in my real-life, I hate having the pressure of doing it for two people while on vacation), and I just sat in bed, drinking a bunch of ice water and having some local pizza.  It was divine, and weirdly one of my favorite moments of my vacation because I didn't have to think about pleasing anyone, and just got to live in the moment.  That's rare, and nearly impossible, if you're with another person and it's hard to do when you're at home and you can see the laundry or novel you're supposed to read or know there's three hours of work you have due by Monday morning all staring you in the face.  Vacationing alone is about the only way you can actually hit the snooze button on your life and live for the moment.

2. People Don't Actually Stare at You

I think the horror from people around me when I say I go to a restaurant or vacation spot by myself is that other people will notice you or be judging you for sitting in a restaurant by yourself.  The reality is, though, that no one ever notices you sitting by yourself unless you want them to do so.  I went for a drink at a bar, sat at several breakfast cafes, and the only people who noticed me were the servers, and in one case a cute bartender I was hoping would notice me.  By-and-large, people don't do so many things they have every means to do and wish they could do because of fear of how others around them will judge them for going at it alone.  But when you're in a restaurant, you only notice the people at your table or someone acting obnoxious.  Anyone quietly reading, nursing a nice glass of wine or reading through the latest from Joyce Carol Oates in a snug booth goes undetected.  If you need acknowledgement from strangers (which some people do...though no one actually is willing to fess up to having such a tendency), then this is probably going to be an issue, but if you genuinely can handle being alone with a plate of good food or walking on a nature hike by yourself, you'll be fine, and get exactly what you're hoping for out of the situation.

3. Vacationing is On Your Own Terms

I am not a night person-haven't really been since I started a full-time job.  I am a morning person who occasionally enjoys a night out, but not of drinking (instead, likely at a jazz club or staring at the stars or, most likely, in the comfortable warmth of a movie theater).  So on vacation, I can bounce out of bed at six o'clock, slap on some clothes, and be out on the road in a matter of twenty minutes.  And then I can go exactly where I want to go, without debate of worry of whether it's worth it to drive for an hour to walk a wintery beach in New Hampshire or whether Walden Pond will actually warrant the $10 on parking.  Admittedly, it's fun to be with loved ones in certain places to share the awe of seeing Paul Revere's house (and marvel at how cramped the surroundings were...not to mention how the man could possibly have produced sixteen children), but I'm not here to make apologies or excuses for something people accept as normal.  I'm saying that there are times when enjoying something you've wanted to see alone can be more fun than doing it with other people.  This is particularly true on vacation when you're being super tourist-y: you can push onwards to that last destination, even if you're a bit tired and haven't eaten in a while, or you can check out for the day at 3 PM, cozy up in your hotel room with a bunch of potato chips from Target, and watch free HBO until dawn.  The world is your oyster in this regard.

4. You Can Genuflect on Your Life Without Worry

One of the things that vacationing does that brings focus into your life is it shows you what you've been missing, and what things you wish you could insert more into your regular routine.  I was able to find, in my time away, that I don't spend enough time emotionally recharging with nature (I love hiking, but never take the time when I live in a suburban universe), or that I need to be more planful about travel, and saving up for it, because it gives me such a boost of confidence in the world.  These things are possible with other people, but as a general rule you don't get to it that much because there's a pressure to have conversation with another person for days, rather than just quietly staying in your own thoughts and world.  I spend most of my time alone, so in a way this one does feel somewhat redundant, but a change of perspective brings about different thoughts than you get when you're alone in your typical environment.  It's easier to think about the world when you're wandering across a hundreds-year-old bridge and looking at a river that has provided life force for tens of thousands of years.  It puts things into a different vantage point, but you oftentimes don't get the chance to just sit and thoughtfully ponder the universe when you have someone next to you, hoping to get to the next spot (and frequently you're also interrupting or not identifying their moments of peace).

5. The Return Home Can Be a Bit Jarring

The reality is, then, that there are lots of things that lend themselves well to traveling solo, but I won't say it's all lovely.  You can do math (presumably) so you can see the expenses that are slashed by sharing a hotel room or splitting groceries/gas money, but I'm talking more about the return back and the days preceding.  You frequently have people subtly (or not so subtly) casting digs on you vacationing on your own, as if it's something to be shameful of doing.  I frequently found a lot of "well, I could never do that, so good for you's" which is basically the same thing as saying "you're brave for being able to wear something like that"-it's a complete dig at you.  You get judged on your choices after the fact, particularly when they aren't coinciding what another person would have done.  You have cover with a companion (you can, whether truthfully or not, state that person didn't want to see X or didn't think eating Y was important), but when it's just you it's hard to say that "Walden Pond" was better than hitting a specific seafood restaurant that everyone else is gaga over, or whether you should have gone out clubbing even when you hate clubbing.  Additionally, when your actual favorite parts of the trip were the quiet moments with yourself, it feels weird to say that to a stranger because societally we are sort of verboden to speak in such a way.  All-in-all, though, considering how quickly people stop caring about your vacation (it's fast), it's worth it for the hours of leisure you gave yourself, even if you broke the taboo of enjoying time alone.

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