If you’re joining me for my American trip recap, you’ll have read about my time at the Children’s Institute
. If you’re jumping in now, you’ll read about my holiday in New York and how much it contributed to personal change. Soon, you’ll be able to read about my literary wake up call and motivational kickstart at the Highlights Foundation
. It’s about to get real…
I want to start this post by pointing out two things for full disclosure.
- This trip would not have been possible had it not been for the Neilma Sidney Travel Fund awarded by Writers Victoria and the Myer Foundation.
- The travel fund paid for my flight from the conference in New Orleans to Pennsylvania, it just happened that those two professional development activities had a two week break in between so, en route, I paid for my own time in New York.
You can get most of my tourist activities in New York by checking out my #MichaelWalksRainbows
posts on Instagram. I was quite diligent in keeping social media up to date and painting a very pretty picture about my time away. New York got the most attention. Between my #BookshopOfTheDay
posts and the daily recaps, not to mention the Instagram stories (most of which are still viewable in my highlights) there’s picturesque coverage of ‘a man on a wonderful holiday’.
But, as we’re all aware, social media is only half the story. It’s very selective, sometimes aspirational even when it has captured something that actually happened. I’d like this to be a more realistic account, one that covers what the trip was like for me, and what it meant for me. Because it’s hard to describe to people how much this month overseas changed my life when I just list a bunch of tourist and cultural attractions that I visited. That’s not the heart of it at all.
To completely understand, there are a few things you should know about me. Talking with strangers is not something that comes naturally. Also, until this trip, I had effectively never been ‘alone’ in my entire life. By this I mean I moved out of home, into a very insular, domestic relationship that lasted sixteen years. When that ended, I stayed with friends for three months before getting back home and my wonderful housemate moved in the next day. I’ve always had friends and family at hand. I was on the other side of the world, alone. New Orleans had structure and purpose. Now, I found myself in a city of over eight million people, knowing no one, and making my own schedule.
Keep in mind, I was still affected by said sixteen-year relationship and its trailing aftermath, I was navigating developments in another relationship and generally still finding my feet as to who I am, and who I wanted to be as a person. And I’d never travelled before, and never on my own.
In short, I was lonely. So incredibly lonely.
All the joy you see in my Instagram posts, that’s real. I was in awe of being somewhere I had never been. I wanted to see it all. I pushed myself to see those sights and have those experiences. But between the photos, the smiles, the wonder, I was struggling. Really struggling. I’d never been so far outside my comfort zone.
I have a bit of a problem with overthinking, self-esteem and anxiety. By a bit, I mean the dial kinda fell off after someone turned it up to eleven. Being alone brought it all to the forefront. Looking back, parts of that were completely unfounded. It’s hard to reason with your overactive brain. Other fears turned out to be entirely justified. What’s with hindsight being so smug all the time?
It was with all that going on in my head I went out and tried to be a capable adult who is on their first amazing trip and tried not to constantly wish that I was at home.
Then I got some advice from people I was relying on at home. Firstly, I was told that if I always push these negative thoughts to the front of my mind, and my life, then I’m going to inadvertently bring them around. This was key in helping me approach them more reasonably.
The other thing that was said was that if I was having such a bad time overseas, change my flight and come home. Having it put so bluntly, and so achievably, made me see that this was an incredible opportunity that I was letting my head get between me and not only enjoying it, but from learning from it.
So, I took a day off. From everything. I’d been non-stop sightseeing since I landed. I took the advance copy of Patrick Ness’s latest that I’d snagged at the conference and went to Central Park. I found a secluded spot where I only saw about three people in as many hours and read it from cover to cover. I told myself that I didn’t need to achieve anything that day. I was allowed to just be. The city would still be there tomorrow, and I still had over a week to keep exploring it.
I started worrying less that I wasn’t being the best tourist I could be. I decided that the performance of ‘man on ideal holiday’ wasn’t what mattered. ‘Man on holiday of his own design’ was my only concern. I let myself embrace the discomfort of the unknown. I let my guard down with strangers and made friends. I pushed myself to do things that scared me, singing at an open mic night and performing in a walk-off at a drag bar. I stopped crying.
A friend from Sydney was in New York for a few days, and we caught up and hung out. Having a known, friendly face there with me was rejuvenating.
By the end of my second week in that intense and beautiful and messy and overwhelming and wonderful city, I was ready for a change of pace. I felt that I’d seen all I needed to on this particular trip. My last day was low key, peaceful and filled with memory-fuelled gratitude.
I left with a changed perspective on myself and on travel.
To quote from my travel journal:
“I want to be more of a whole person, and I feel like I’m on my way.
I know, now, that I can travel across the world on my own. Something I would not have done 2 years ago.
I’ve found that seeing the world can be grand. Next time, though, I’d like it to be somewhere more unfamiliar. That’s one thing I’ve noticed.
I want to challenge myself.
I want to be in the minority.
I want to be slightly uncomfortable in the unfamiliar.
I want to try new foods, new drinks.
I want to learn a language, or two.
I want to hear from people who have had different lives to me.
I want to learn about the world.”