When my museum plans were derailed yesterday, I decided I was still going to find something fun to do with my day. I did a little poking around online, put together a list of a few places in Berkeley I could check out and headed to the East Bay.
Berkeley was great (more on that to come), but what stuck out to me most about the day was how strange it can be to explore a city by yourself. I had all of Berkeley as my playground and to be honest it was a little bit overwhelming. Should I go shopping? Should I go to parks? Should I wander around the UC Berkeley campus and pretend to be a student doing surveys for a class? All very tempting options, and no one with me to help me decide.
I know there are lots of people who like to travel by themselves. Just do a quick Google search you’ll find endless blogs recounting fantastic adventures of those who are alone but not lonely, tips on solo travel and what to bring (a door stop) and ways to meet up with other people traveling alone. One of my favorite bloggers even said she and her husband agree to always spend a day alone when traveling. It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought to, but yesterday got me thinking about whether I’d actually enjoy traveling alone. (Note: I’m not delusional to think the 20 minute drive to Berkeley constitutes “traveling” alone. Exploring? Yes. But certainly not traveling.)
I found that the parts of my dad that I enjoyed the most were when I was doing something: walking through the Berkeley campus, strolling through Cesar Chavez Park at sunset, reading in a Starbucks.* Eating, shopping, trying to make decisions–all of that was less fun by myself. In general I’d say I enjoyed my day, and I loved getting a feel for the city, but there were times I wished I had someone to share it with. Particularly when I was getting glared at by the waiter in the Indian restaurant I ate at. Apparently they don’t get too many solo diners.
My best tips for exploring a new city alone?
- Take advantage of being alone to do what you really want to do. If you’re a museum person like me you might jump at the opportunity to wander through a museum without being hurried along by that friend who’s really only there to say that she went. If you’re a runner go for a run through the city you’re in to get to know it (being extra careful for sketchy people who abduct runners..). Just take advantage of being unhindered by anyone else to do what seems most fun to you instead of what you “should” do.
- Get lost. This really works better if you have a smart phone or a map, because otherwise getting un-lost can be hard. But sometimes just picking a direction and walking for a while can be a good way to stumble across new places, shops, etc. You’ll also get a better feel for how the city is laid out when you un-lose yourself.
- Forget plans. You aren’t accountable to anyone else, so if you don’t feel like planning your day out then don’t. A loose plan is good, but since you’re totally alone you can go where the day takes you.
- …but also plan a little. Like I said, I looked up a few things to do in Berkeley just to have a good idea of a starting point.
You don’t want to have to rely on strangers to tell you what’s worth seeing in the city.
- People watch to your heart’s content! I took advantage of my brief Starbucks break to people watch and I think it’s such a good way to get to know what the vibe of a place is. And let me tell you, Berkeley did not want for good people watching subjects. There were some definite characters.
- Ask shop owners/workers for suggestions of places to eat. I asked a woman in one of the stores I was in where a good place to eat was and she directed me to the aforementioned Indian food. It tends to be easier than asking someone on the street, since the person on the street inevitably gets frazzled or caught off guard and sends you somewhere really weird. Or abducts you. Jokes I don’t really think I’m going to get abducted in Berkeley.
- Don’t be afraid to look stupid. This is really just general life advice, but sometimes you’re gonna look stupid when you’re somewhere new and have no idea what you should do with your day. I walked back and forth down the same street about 5 times because I forgot something, and then decided I wanted to see that area, and then changed my mind. The whole time I was thinking “If anyone were watching me right now I’d look really dumb.” Except no one was watching me. Because who in Berkeley cares about the movement of a plain looking twenty-something?
As for my actual day in Berkeley? A pictorial overview. There are no pictures of most of my wandering because I didn’t want to be the weirdo taking pictures.
*You can yell at me all you want for going to a Starbucks instead of a local coffee shop but I really had to pee and then thought “Eh, why not have some coffee and read.” Could happen to anyone.