Afterthoughts: Alone Time

What it’s like for a control freak to travel solo.

Ever since I was a kid, I’d bombard my parents with questions. Things like what was for lunch. And dinner. And breakfast the next day. And what we were doing that weekend. I’ve always been a big fan of plans and knowing what’s next, much to their chagrin. It never occurred to me that they might not have all the answers. They encouraged me to be patient, just live in the moment.


It never really worked.


This fall, I took a trip to Seattle and Portland to visit friends. Since I’d never been to either city, I starred restaurants, parks and attractions recommended by my friends on Google Maps. The last thing I wanted was to blow my year’s supply of vacation on this one trip and show up at the Seattle Art Museum when it was closed or forget to pencil in a stop at Blue Star Donuts, so I made myself a schedule. It’s easy to forget things when you’re overwhelmed with possibilities, so prep was key.

  Alone time

illustration: kim sielbeck


I should’ve known that my plans would change.


After a jam-packed week of adventures in Seattle, just two days before heading south, I found out I no longer had a place to stay in Portland. Even my backups fell through. And friends who were supposed to be free to spend the day with me suddenly needed to go to work. I had to come up with totally new plans, sometimes on the spot. I may have had a breakdown (or two) and FOMO—the fear of missing out—hit hard.


Honestly, I panicked a little. But, after a few frantic texts, my friends swooped in and offered me a new place to stay. I settled in and took a therapeutic bubble bath, reminding myself that this was supposed to be a vacation—so stop stressing out! Maybe I should actually just live in the moment, like my parents said, take advantage of being alone and explore. After all, I’m fairly independent in my day-to-day life. If there’s something I want to do, I’ll often venture out by myself, because that can be easier and less stressful than reaching out to friends to check their interest, rearranging my schedule to fit theirs and then inevitably compromising.


So I changed course. I curled up under the warm duvet for a few extra hours each chilly morning and ate brunch at noon. I walked much farther than I would in Hawai‘i just to get a cup of coffee. I breathed in the crisp fall air and exhaled little clouds. I counted how many yards had signs that said “Black Lives Matter” or “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” and yearned for a little old house with front steps leading up to a porch. I watched crows and squirrels and thought about how weird it is that Hawai‘i isn’t better at composting. I spent three hours reading in Powell’s City of Books. I treated myself to a fancy meal at a restaurant on the top floor of a nice hotel. Instead of an agenda, I narrowed down the possibilities to a few must-do’s. With nobody waiting for me, I could take my time.


I’m still learning to be more flexible and go with the flow. Planning is a big part of who I am, so I have to remind myself that things usually work out fine in the end. I love being with people I care about, whether we’re grabbing a couple of beers in an arcade-slash-bar, getting pelted by hail in the middle of a Summer of Love-themed corn maze or screaming our lungs out on stage at Emo Nite. But this trip also gave me some valuable quiet moments to myself. While meandering through Portland’s Washington Park, I found myself at the International Rose Test Garden. And, for once, I stopped to smell the roses.