going it alone while traveling

DC MetroOur DC visit is a work trip for my husband, which means that I'm on my own for daytime sightseeing. The idea of navigating an unfamiliar city by myself was intimidating the first few times we made similar trips, but it seemed pointless to bother going along just to sit in the hotel room and read the whole time. These days, all I want is a week or two of notice to study up on museums, used bookshops, and public transportation schedules.

Wandering around by yourself for up to a week can get lonely, especially when you see something amazing that you'd love to have shared. It's still worth it, though. The only person that has to be satisfied with what you've done each day is yourself. You can go wherever you want, see what you're most interested in, and then leave, because you've planned your own schedule based on your biggest priorities. I tend to sit in a parks and write, eat Italian for lunch every day, and linger in gift shops. I skip the modern art galleries, but spend hours with the types of paintings I love.

Another benefit for those of us whose confidence sometimes outstrips our planning skills is that if you screw up, nobody knows about it unless you tell them. Accidentally ride the metro all the way to Virginia? Walk ten blocks to a gallery that turns out to be closed for renovation? It can be our little secret. Even if you do fess up, the story still ends up being a goofy thing you did rather than a foot-swelling torture that you inflicted on someone else.

The best part of going your own way is that you can have unique experiences that you'd never have bothered taking the time for if you were worried about someone else enjoying themselves. I once spent hours reading scholarly essays about Edgar Rice Burroughs in the Library of Congress, which is something I can't imagine suggesting to a traveling companion. In Boston, I took an entire day to flit around between various book stores and had a great time.

I still prefer doing touristy stuff with friends or family, but it's fun to take time for myself, too. Today, the plan is to go to the Renwick Gallery and then check out a couple of used bookshops. It's entirely possible that will change at least twice before lunch, but I'm sure I'll find my way into something interesting.

photo by Jared Tarbell used under Creative Commons

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