This month I had a rare full weekend off (I usually only get 2 days) so I really wanted to take advantage of my travel benefits for the first time and go somewhere close and quick. I decided to make a jaunt up to New York City, one of my favorite cities in the world.
I woke up at 5:30am on Friday and drove over to Washington Dulles to catch an 8:00am flight to LaGuardia. This flight was actually operated by my airline so the plane was very familiar to me. I got a seat with no problem and soon I was headed to New York!
This was my first time traveling solo. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of solo travel: just going months on end to different countries and exploring just by yourself. Each time I plan an itinerary, I do so with just me in mind because all I’m thinking is how much I want to visit that city. My urges for wanderlust are much more motivated by the need to see a country rather than the free weekend a friend and I both have. But oftentimes I chicken out or I get too nervous and don’t go through with it. Solo travel is really intimidating to me. Who am I supposed to eat meals with? What if I get majorly lost? What if all my money and belongings are stolen and I’m trapped in a foreign place with no help? And actually most importantly, who’s going to take photos of me at all the destinations? (Shallow, but very valid)
At the same time I just really wanted to try it. I loved the idea of planning an itinerary entirely filled with what I wanted to do. No compromise, no arguments about what to prioritize, no deciding what to eat or what type of lodging to book. No debates about budget airlines or business class, five-star restaurants or hole-in-the-walls. Traveling alone seemed pretty ideal, actually. I could decide when to scrimp and when to splurge. When to leave and when to stay longer. When I wanted to take a break and when I wanted to keep exploring.
Additionally, this was one of the most open-ended trips I’ve ever done. I booked a place to stay for just Friday night. I had a list of places I wanted to visit but not really a specific timetable. I didn’t even know if I wanted to come back on Saturday or Sunday yet. (the beauty of flying standby is you can decide when you want to leave at the last minute) As someone who is extremely detailed and Type A, this open-endedness stressed me out a little at first, but then it came to the point where I thought, I’m just going to get to New York, have fun, and figure everything out from there.
First stop: LaGuardia Airport. I figured out the bus and subway system all the way over to my hostel in Queens. I was really proud of myself because I was guided around blindly by New York locals the last two times I came here years ago, and the New York subway is really confusing. But actually, it’s not anymore to me. Plus I figured if I’m able to navigate Tokyo’s subway, I’m set for life.
After dropping off my stuff I went to find some breakfast since I hadn’t had anything since 5:30am. I tried my first (this trip actually had a lot of firsts!) New York bagel ever at Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company, one of whose locations was in Astoria, Queens near my hostel. Speaking of, it was my first time really exploring Queens since my previous visits to New York have been mostly Manhattan and Brooklyn. While the area I visited didn’t have the same brownstone charm as Brooklyn, Queens still had a quieter, homey vibe to it.
Afterwards, I made my way to downtown Manhattan where I found Central Park and the MET (also my first time seeing those places). Because I’m cheap and don’t want to pay for museum tickets, I only took pictures outside the MET haha. Hey, those steps are iconic. xoxo. I then decided to cross Central Park horizontally and find one of the discount Broadway ticket booths on the other side. However I got lost several times going on the wrong path. My wanderings did bring me by Belvedere Castle, though and I eventually found my way out.
I scored some discounted tickets to see the Broadway musical Waitress for me and my friend Melissa. We were classmates during my final semester at Shida in Taiwan last year. She recently moved to the city for grad school at Columbia. She’s a huge fan of Broadway like me so I was delighted when she said she wanted to meet up and see a show. While killing time in Times Square, I also discovered my friend Bo (another classmate from Taiwan) was in New York with Felisa, another friend from Shida. Felisa happens to be going to Columbia as well so we all decided to get dinner together in K-Town. We ate at a really good Korean BBQ restaurant.
After parting ways with Bo and Felisa, Melissa and I made our way to the Brooks Atkinson Theater in Times Square for the show. I was so excited because I had been wanting to see this show ever since I heard Sara Bareilles was writing music for a musical on Broadway. I’m also a huge fan of Jessie Mueller who stars in it, as well as Diane Paulus, the director.
Waitress is a show about Jenna: pie-maker aficionado, small-town diner waitress, and stuck in a bad marriage. She is faced with difficulties when she finds she is pregnant. The theater was repainted bright colors that reminded you of a diner and they were selling mini pies at the concessions stand. The curtain was a big lattice-top pie, too!
I really loved this show. I was blown away by the amazing Jessie Mueller, who plays Jenna. She previously won the Tony Award for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical playing Carole King. Jessie Mueller has this incredible soulful voice that is so smooth yet full of texture. It’s the type of voice that just suits Sara Bareilles’ songwriting and music style, which is perfect. She ranks high as one of my favorite Broadway singers. Waitress was so full of heart, humor, and quirk. I enjoyed every second of it and I’m so happy I was able to see it while in New York.
On Saturday I slept in a little and went down to Williamsburg, Brooklyn because it’s one of my favorite neighborhoods in New York. It really is sort of iconic in and of itself. Williamsburg is what people think of when they hear Brooklyn: artists, coffee shops, boutiques, industrial brown buildings, etc. Because it was a Saturday morning, most of the area was pretty quiet, but when I got to Bedford Avenue things got livelier. I saw lots of people with signs heading over to the Women’s March in Manhattan.
I found a breakfast spot called “egg” off Bedford Avenue to sit, eat, and write a bit about my trip so far. Every time I get a spare minute while I’m traveling – whether it’s on a bus or train or in a cafe – I like to write a bit about my travels. It always sounds so much better reading back when it’s in present tense. It feels like the journey isn’t over yet. And I remember so much more detail.
I had to head over to Manhattan’s Penn Station to catch a train to Newark for my flight home. On my way over I stopped by the Flat Iron Building, one of my favorite buildings in New York. I was in Newark within an hour waiting on standby for my flight back to Washington. Luckily I got on, even with 25 people above me on the list.
This was my 5th trip to New York and one that I will remember distinctly. I enjoyed so much of the city walking all over by myself, finding places to eat on my own and going about at my own pace. And I got to see some old friends and relive some Taiwan memories. This trip to New York will be one for the books.