Until last summer I had never really had the urge to travel alone. I’d recovered from a bad break-up but my confidence still needed work. And so I decided to go and live in New York for three months. I had no plan – just a hotel for the first two nights – but leaping out of my comfort zone and into the Big Apple turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And I learned a few things when I was there, too.
Things like this…
1. To know what it feels like to be overwhelmed and out-of-place but empowered and exhilarated at the same time.
2. To pack a multi UK plug extension lead.
3. To laugh through settling-in fails like toppling backwards after strapping on my backpack at JFK airport
4. …and setting the fire alarm off (by accident) in my hotel
5. …and it taking 30 minutes for me to realise I was in the wrong bar on my first friend date.
6. To love the fact that New York doesn’t care if you go to a bar by yourself
7. …or if you go to the movies, museums, breakfast, lunch or dinner by yourself
8. …and that there’s comfort in learning to really enjoy your own company.
9. To not like the fact that New York is expensive AF
10. …but that I can stick to a budget when I have no choice.
11. To appreciate the kindness of strangers after a woman gave me her metro card when she saw I had lost mine.
12. To avoid the creepiness of strangers after a man flashed his gold teeth and said he’d just got out of jail for murder.
13. To spend hours researching EVERYTHING to do in New York
14. …and commit to doing at least one new thing every day
15. …but also see benefits from days I did nothing but walk and eat.
16. To know that I can revisit places tinged with sadness because of old holiday memories with my ex
17. …and replace them with happy new ones.
18. To stay positive when my “cool and cosy” Airbnb turned out to be a cheesy-smelling, cockroach-crawling flat
19. …and even more positive when discovering the broken bed, punch holes in my door and a dodgy, drug-dealing flatmate who never left the lounge and played video games 24/7.
20. To be pleased I never left Facebook because it’s useful for finding cockroach-free apartments with really fun flatmates
21. … and roof terraces that make you do a little dance of excitement.
22. To say yes to everything
23. …but not to Sam in Starbucks when he tried to lure me into a pyramid-scheme-slash-crazy-cult.
24. To not put pressure on myself.
25. To swap “it’s the most self-indulgent thing I’ve ever done” with “self-exploring” when people asked why I’d come to New York
26. …and to worry less about what people think.
27. To know the difference between being alone, and feeling lonely
28. …and know that it’s OK to experience both.
29. To never know why I suddenly enjoyed eating Brussels sprouts.
30. To embrace, not cringe, at the phrase “reaching out” when building contacts for work.
31. To go with my gut and make smart, speedy decisions.
32. To always check the seat on public transport before sitting down
33. …and be forever grateful to the woman on the L train who saved me from sitting in poo.
34. To wear my glasses more.
35. To give myself a mini high five for going to a huge party where I didn’t know anyone.
36. To discover confidence I never knew I had
37. …and that relying completely on yourself in another country is a pretty life-altering thing.
38. To agree that Brooklyn Bridge Park is an amazing spot for skyline views
39. …but that the roof on my East Village apartment had the best skyline views
40. …and that I never tired of taking photos of skyline views.
41. To know that if I was ever having a weak moment, my loved ones were always there in my favourite WhatsApp groups
42. …and that if I was ever dancing in an underground bar or walking around with no WiFi, I’d have 287 missed messages to get through.
43. To shut out FOMO
44. …and really live in the moment
45. …and feel pure happiness from living in the moment.
46. To keep caj when Jake Gyllenhaal had brunch next to me.
47. To observe how sometimes New York is just like the movies
48. …and that the sky is bluer
49. …and that people do blast out "Empire State of Mind" from their cars.
50. To stay away from the madness of Midtown
51. …unless working in the Rose Main Reading Room in New York Public Library
52. …or going for a bike ride in Central Park
53. …or whizzing past Times Square in an Uber at 3am.
54. To discover the best slice of pizza is at Joe’s in Greenwich Village
55. …but that the hole-in-the-wall, dollar-slice joints are also one of New York’s greatest gifts at 3.15am.
56. To love how my dad and I became email pen pals.
57. To realise walking is the best way to explore a city
58. …and getting lost helps you explore it deeper.
59. To appreciate the therapeutic power of walking
60. …and that 20,000 steps a day can help burn off the pizza.
61. To put my phone away more
62. …and to look up and around more
63. …but to also look in front of me more because fire hydrants are painful buggers.
64. To seriously wear my glasses more.
65. To experience the bad side of dating in New York after a guy invited three of his girl ‘friends’ to join us on the first date.
66. To experience the good side of dating in New York after a guy took me to a secret bar on the Hudson to watch the sunset.
67. To experience dating when I least expect it after a guy randomly chatted me up when I was reading in a park.
68. To appreciate that friend dating can be just as nerve-wracking as romantic dating
69. …but it’s more than worth it when you click with a few special ones
70. … and they take you for cocktails, cook you dinner, invite you apple-picking upstate and to baseball games – even their work socials.
71. To find New York nooks that soon felt like my favourite
72. To hope cheap drop-off laundry takes off in the UK.
73. To love how New Yorkers really embrace Sundays
74. …and brunch
75. …and Halloween
76. …and parades.
77. To find ways to drown out my incessant replaying of “I couldn’t help but wonder…”
78. To make a mental note to go to more feminist reading groups.
79. To wish more than anything that I was with my mum the day she called to say my precious nan passed away
80. …and that I’ve never felt so helpless seeing my family’s pain on a phone screen
81. …and that channelling my nan’s courage would somehow carry me through those grief-stricken days.
82. To understand why it’s nice to spend a whole day giving thanks
83. …and to remember to be thankful on all the other days, too
84. …especially when you witness the harsh reality of people who are homeless.
85. To notice my perspective shift, my overthinking mind grow quiet and feel a vast appreciation for the little things
86. …and for what I have back home.
87. To realise that perhaps I’m braver than I think
88. …and that everyone’s 'brave' is different so what makes us feel nervous or proud is different, too.
89. To listen to my inner voice when it tells me to keep going
90. …and to remember my nan’s wise words when she told me to "make the most of it".