Back in July, I travelled overseas alone for the first time. It wasn’t just any old trip either, or a relaxing solo beach holiday. Nope, I took on New York City for the first time, completely solo. I travelled there for an advertising strategy competition, and spent just over a week in NYC and then a couple of days in New Haven with one of my oldest and dearest friends and her husband, plus 48 hours or so in transit. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, but I certainly learnt some lessons…
1// Stress less
I was so stressed out for my trip, partly because it was relatively short notice for an overseas trip and I didn’t have much time to save money or really plan beyond booking flights and finding safe and affordable acommodation. I was also anxious about the actual travel (Sydney to New York is an exceptionally long journey), and even though I’d been overseas and even entered the US before, I was still nervous about airport things like customs, immigration and security. I arrived super early for everything, made sure I had all the important stuff (passport, money, phone) easy to hand and told myself it would all be fine. Of course, it was. I know that if I’d had company I would have stressed a lot less, but I also wouldn’t have had the same experience.
2// Be financially organised & buy a pre-paid sim card or phone when you arrive
I didn’t have time to sort out a credit card before I went, but I will never travel again without one. I was a nervous wreck the whole trip, worrying constantly about running out of money and what would happen if I couldn’t pay my hotel bills or afford to feed myself. I made myself take stock every night and reminded myself that I had a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and a return flight booked to get myself home. But having the financial safety net of a credit card would have made the whole trip a much more pleasant experience. Of course, don’t get one with a limit you can’t afford to pay back, and don’t intend to rely on it solely. A credit card should be a back up option only!
As for the pre-paid sim card – I had planned on getting one, and then decided I would just rely on wifi where I could. By the second day of travelling alone, I realised that I really needed to feel like I could contact people when I wanted or needed to, even if they were on the other side of the world. Also, even though New York is incredibly easy to navigate, I wanted easy access to Google Maps and the like. I bought a pre-paid sim card on day 2, and instantly felt safer and more in touch with my loved ones.
3// Give yourself a break
By far the hardest part of the trip was being alone in the evenings. When I’m at home in Sydney, I relish the odd evening alone after being surrounded by people all day. But when travelling solo, the evenings can be really lonely after spending the day with no one but yourself for company. Take a book or three (I read this!), and let your evenings become your breaks. I found that in NYC I was doing so much walking and sightseeing that by the evening, I would be exhausted. I planned some evening activities and restaurants where I wanted to eat, but for a couple of evenings I let myself do nothing. Being in the city that never sleeps, I felt like I was cheating myself but not being out and about at night time, but I needed those evening breaks for my sanity.
Also, please take a couple of days off before going back to work when you return home. I didn’t, and ended up completely crashing the next week and taking 3 sick days to catch up again.
4// Plan as much as you can (and try to see people you know!)
New York has always been a dream of mine, so I was lucky enough to know a lot of the activities I wanted to do and sights I wanted to see, and places I wanted to eat. Having a list and then knowing which activities were close to each other helped me fill in the days by myself (although it’s not like that’s an issue in New York!). I also tried to see anyone and everyone I knew who was living in NYC, and spent a whole morning in Chelsea/Meatpacking with an old friend – we’ve literally known each other our whole lives. Having a plan of attack for each day helped combat any feelings of loneliness, and also gave me a way to resist the lure of bed and jet lag!
Some of my favourite activities were wandering Central Park with an iced tea in hand (iced tea is one thing the Americans do so much better than Australians), then when the day got too warm, switching to wandering the Met, walking the High Line as soon as it opened in the morning so I could avoid too many tourists and the heat, Top of The Rock for unparalleled views of the city including the Empire State Building, wandering in and out of shops on 5th Ave, and eating solo at the bar at Midtown East location of The Smith.
5// You’re stronger than you realise
I knew I was pretty resilient, but travelling alone without anyone else to fall back on really made me realise that I’m smarter and stronger than I even knew. Of course, my family, boyfriend and friends were only a text away, but they were on the opposite timezone and couldn’t be of immediate help if I needed something. Given I was travelling to take on an amazing opportunity to develop my career, I knew that any loneliness, anxiety or uncertainty would be worth it. I definitely had to talk myself into leaving the hotel room a couple of mornings – it’s scary being in a totally foreign city by yourself, but hey, at least New Yorkers speak English! At the end of each day, I would write down the things I had accomplished. If you’re travelling alone and nervous about it, I’d recommend making a list at the end of each of what you did – even if it’s as small as finding vegemite toast in the heart of midtown.