I went on my second semi spontaneous/all on my own/multi-stop road trip for the last couple of weeks. And though I stayed with family and friends along the way, one of my stops was completely on my own.
I drove 10 hours out of my way to spend less than 24 hours in a city in which I knew no one. It was one of the most intimidating things I have ever done, but those few quiet, lonely, observant hours have changed the way I will approach new situations in the future.
I did my research as soon as I got to the hotel a few miles away from downtown Savannah. I looked up bars, restaurants, and sights that I needed to see. Then before I lost my nerve, I drove into town, and meandered around the old streets and a 1877 cemetery while it was still light out. I braved some rain, and saw many other tourists out and about (though usually in massive groups and matching shirts).
I then walked downtown. Taking in park after park along my walk, and memorizing the cross streets I left my car on. I approached a bar with a group of people outside smoking that looked friendly enough, and decided with assertion to walk in. Turns out, the bar was empty sans the group outside, which included the bartender. and they were all friends.
So here I am. Plopped on a bar stool, an outsider at an obviously local hangout where everyone knows each other, ordering a strong cocktail at 8pm on a Tuesday night. Alone.
And do you know what I decided. I belonged there. I belonged there because I chose to be there. I did not need to qualify to these strangers by staring at my phone or acting distracted, or striking up a conversation that it was ok for me to be there alone. It just simply was, OK.
It sounds like a minute revelation, but for me it is important. There are so many times that I have felt out of place, especially in a social setting. But if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it with conviction. How do business owners get more money? By new customers walking through their doors. Just because you don’t know “how it works” or who the regular staff is doesn’t give you any less reign over a situation.
By the time I got my coffee the next morning and sat in silence, trying contiously not to bury my head in my cellphone, it wasn’t quite so hard.
So I learned. Embrace the discomfort. Go somewhere new. You belong there.