I didn’t think I’d ever do this. I didn’t think I’d ever need to. But god knows I bore myself talking about ‘post-married life’ and ‘things that have happened since I became single’ and so I will speak on this just as a Rosie. Just as a person in the world. I’m certainly not feeling sorry for myself for being a person who has travelled across the Atlantic and is now sitting on the sofa of a cosy East Austin Air BnB. I am so bloody lucky to be here.
My immense gratitude does not of course, take away from the fact that I have been through an extensive period of growth and ‘becoming’ in the last 18 months. I don’t need any ‘pats on the back’ – I’ve taken some right turns and some wrong turns and I am where I am. With the help of my amazing friends and family – without whom I would not be on the sofa of a cosy East Austin Air BnB – I have realised that I cannot (and do not wish to) put my life on hold whilst I don’t have a significant other and so I need to continue to do all of the things I would have done if I were still in a partnership. And that included snapping up those bargainous flights to Austin, Texas back in December, knowing that it was a city that had long been on my bucket list. As it transpired, my friend Fleur – who lives in Ohio – wanted to come and meet me for a few days of the trip, but I would still have a few days on my own to explore. I was nervous, but excited. Mostly excited. But a little bit nervous.
Arriving here, I just feel so liberated. It’s a toned down version of solo travel in a way. Everyone speaks English and the US is so easy to travel around – I can use Uber, connect to WiFi in shops and restaurants and extensively research where I’m going before I get there (backpacking through Central Asia this is not). But it’s another little step out of my comfort zone, another little journey out on a limb. And frankly it’s been easy – and that’s also gratifying. Everything is set up in a way that makes it very possible to travel, eat, drink and explore alone. The only challenge, in a way, is my own brain. I was walking around this morning and I passed taco stands with long queues and canoodling couples, then cafes with confusing table allocations, and I kept walking (even though I was hungry and wanted to stop). The only thing moving me from managing to get around to effortlessly acing getting around is my own levels of confidence. It’s not easy, but it could be, one day. Just a few more inches out of my comfort zone. It’s incremental. Little pushes, tiny nudges every time.
I have to push myself into a Mexican restaurant at lunchtime – it’s noon, I haven’t eaten yet and I’ve walked about five miles around downtown Austin searching for something simple – somewhere that doesn’t require me to ask many questions or understand the menu. I have butterflies in my stomach and I feel out of place. The restaurant is empty and so I’m immediately swarmed by the six or so waiters that are indifferently chatting at the bar. Asking for a ‘table for one’ feels somehow sad but I confirm it with a smile on my face – ‘just me,’ I grin. It’s not false, or forced; I mean the grin. I’m proud to be here. Gratitude helps. I am grateful for the job that has paid for my flight, for my parents who drove me to the airport, for my friends who nudged me towards independence, for the money in my wallet that will pay for these delicious breakfast tacos – wolfed down with an ice cold lemonade, watched by an expectant crow (who steals a tortilla chip when I’m counting my change).
Like anything, there is pleasure and pain associated with solo travel; rough and smooth. There is a delectable selfishness to be found in deciding exactly how to spend my time – to not being tutted at as I indecisively stalk the aisles of Sephora and pick up the same Fenty Beauty lipstick I ogled when I first walked in. I ventured home at 2pm because my feet were hurting and I needed to retreat back to the comfort of the Air BnB – and I was not judged for not ‘making the most of the day’. I ate American candy for breakfast and Pringles for dinner – with no-one to raise their eyebrows at my rather unhealthy choices. My time is my own and my agenda is self-driven, and this is in both parts glorious and saddening. Sometimes I find it pleasurable to fall in with another’s plan, to allow someone else to make decisions. When I’m walking past the taco stand and frowning at the queue, I wish for someone to put their hand on my shoulder and remind me of how much I wanted to eat there. My inner voice does not do this on my behalf – ‘keep walking’ it whispers; find an easier option.
I need to be my own ‘encouraging boyfriend’, I think. I need to train that inner voice to push me, to be my own hand on my shoulder. And I will get there. It’s easy to berate yourself for things not always being seamless – for sometimes holding yourself back. But recognise how far you’ve come. Savour that breakfast burrito – you earned it.