Travels Without Charley or How to Holiday Alone and Not Feel Tragic.
Even though you are on holidays make a rough schedule of small goals which you’d like to achieve during each day. For example, getting up and eating something which has not been purchased in a coffee shop. Otherwise you may find yourself living the real life equivalent of that once scene in Frances Ha where Greta Gerwig goes to to Paris for 48 hours and sleeps through 36 of them.
Always have a book to hand. When you are feeling lonely or, worse still, feel like you might look like you are feeling lonely to those around you, you can read your book. It will give your eyes something to do which is not crying. It will give you the appearance of a seasoned solo traveler. Bill Bryson for example, or the Littlest Hobo, if he was not a dog.
Never order the burger. It is impossible to eat a burger one-handed without looking like a savage and you will require at least one hand with which to hold the book you’ll invariably be reading whilst dining alone. You may try to wedge said book open with the lip of your plate, or use your cutlery to weigh the pages down. It will not work. You will find yourself dripping ketchup all over the book, or awkwardly attempting to hold it open with an elbow or chin. There is no reading pleasure to be had whilst eating a burger. Trust me. I’ve tried. (See ketchup-smeared copy of Sally Rooney’s Normal People). Chips are perfectly safe however, and all manner of eggs. Basically anything that can be eaten with a single fork, turned sideways, like an American.
Before leaving the privacy of your hotel room or apartment talk to yourself, out loud, for at least a minute. This will save you the embarrassment of hearing your voice crack as you say your first audible words of the day to the Dunkin’ Doughnuts employee who takes your mid-morning coffee order.
If you are going to purchase a million books it is best to wait until you have reached the final destination of your trip before buying these books. Otherwise you will have to physically haul them everywhere with you. On a related theme, when traveling alone it is perfectly acceptable to wear cargo pants, army vests and combat jackets. Heavier items can thus be secreted about your person, balancing out the load like a kind of human Buckaroo. Do not resort to purchasing a Kindle. They are not “handy for when you’re traveling.” They are the physical embodiment of dead bookstores.
Always talk to old people. Any old people. Even when you’re in Sweden or Croatia and don’t speak a word of the language. In such situations, nodding and smiling effusively, whilst the old person continues to talk at length, will still make for a heart-warming experience. If old people give you edible items -such as apples or sandwiches- always accept these items, though it is probably best not to consume them if they’re already unwrapped. Do not give your phone number to old people you meet on buses.
Never assume it will be ok to leave your enormous suitcase, just for a second, while you nip to the bathroom. Therein lies the genesis of a bomb scare. (See Minneapolis Grayhound Station circa 2015). Instead drag your enormous suitcase into the bathroom stall with you and learn how to pee sidesaddle in the two inches of space you’ll have left.
Stride purposefully everywhere you go, even if you don’t know where you’re going. If forced to consult a map, lock yourself in the toilets before doing so. This way no one will know you are a tourist. It is your ultimate aim when traveling solo, to avoid looking like a tourist at all costs.
Invest in a pair of statement sunglasses, (See two euro yellow plastic number purchased from Penneys in May 2018). You will be surprised, perhaps even delighted, by how many complete strangers will instigate conversation with you by commenting on your statement sunglasses. (Four so far, on this trip, and I’ve only been traveling for four days).
Unless you specifically want everyone in the bus/pub/line at Target to tell you about their Irish ancestry, never mention the fact that you are Irish, or Northern Irish in public. Nb. Most Americans will not be able to distinguish between the two. Those who can, are likely to have once done a black taxi tour of West Belfast and will consequently offer their ten cents of, mostly misguided, opinions on the subject. (See Portland bus circa 2009 when I was grilled about the potato famine -was it a famine because there were no potatoes to eat, or because the people only had potatoes to eat?- for one hundred and twenty, very painful blocks).
Always ask a local for advice on where to eat, drink and buy your books. Make sure you write the actual name of the places they’re recommending down. Otherwise you will have some fun trying to locate “the place with the sort of swirly sign out front that does good Sushi,” on Google maps.
Do not enter empty restaurants. It does not matter how good a review it got on Trip Advisor, eating alone in a restaurant with no other diners is the restaurant equivalent of being trapped in a lift with a complete stranger. (See also, staying in hotels with no other residents).
Always remember that “table for one,” is secret restaurant code for, “do you have a separate room where I can be seated all by myself, ideally in a corner, facing a wall, so I might spend the entire evening being ignored by the server as my stomach slowly consumes itself.”
Take advantage of the fact that you will probably be paying the same room rate the hotel charges for two people by lying sideways across your enormous football pitch-sized bed, and using every tiny bar of soap they’ve left in your bathroom.
Tapas is not really a concept which works for the solo traveler.
If, at any point in your travels you find yourself beginning to feel a little lonely, stop and remind yourself of all the unpleasant things you would have found yourself partaking in if you were traveling with another person who did not share your, undoubtedly, faultless sense of taste. (At such times I like to imagine myself eating in the Olive Garden, being dragged round a Georgia O’Keefe exhibition, browsing for books in Barnes and Noble or doing one of those open top bus tours. This is always enough to make me appreciate my own company).