Solo Traveling in New York-A Photographer’s Personal Triumphs and Loneliness

Change is difficult…whether it’s good or bad, and figuring out how to live without my children for half of our lives for the rest of their childhood is a daily struggle. But not as big of a struggle as dealing with the fact that it was my choice. I elected to live half time with them. I made the decision to not kiss them goodnight for 7 straight nights in a row for 26 weeks out of the year. I did this and they had no say in the matter. That shit is hard to swallow.

I’m not going to give details of my former marriage or divorce. My babies will be okay. I/we will be okay. The goal of the divorce was for us all to lead a better but alternate future, and that’s what I’m working at.

A common theme that I have read articles on, watched movies inspired by, and listened to friends rave about when seeking insight on how to cope with major life changes was solo traveling. Phrases like “a religious experience” and “finding oneself” would pop up during my nonchalant research. They showed women being liberated, feeling independence, finding new found strength and understanding. I didn’t know if I really needed all of that, but I found myself peeling my eyes back and keeping my ears open for any clues on how to find my center…or footing…or balance. Anything!

Reflecting back on my New York trip in August of 2019, I find my self saying, “Solo traveling is not for me.” I am proud of myself for doing it, don’t get me wrong. I have pride in the fact that I navigated one of the world’s largest airports on my own. I rented a car and drove hundreds of miles in the state of New York. I walked over 12 miles in ONE DAY covering Midtown Manhattan, Lower Manhattan, and back with a phone battery at 1%. I hopped on a subway late at night because my phone battery wouldn’t survive the walk back to my hotel. I checked two items off of my bucket list. I made conversation with dozens of strangers, both tourists, locals, and long-term visitors of the city. I drank a Manhattan in Manhattan. I saw sights that I’ve only seen in pictures and movies or heard about in songs. I’m pretty sure I passed Diane Lane on 5th Avenue. I took breathtaking photos. I discovered an underground shopping center with the most amazing mini-donuts shop. I stopped at antique shops on the way to Cooperstown. I witnessed my 12-year-old son hit his first over-the-fence home run. I visited the Baseball Hall of Fame. After 4 attempts, I finally found a real New York style pizza and it was everything I had hoped…I also shared it with a tourist from Spain. I drove 10 miles and paid $35 for a half hour of parking for that half of pizza. It was worth it. I walked Coney Island at night and took photos of the sunset.

So why isn’t solo traveling for me? While I have this great sense of independence, strength and pride…it is matched with loneliness and seclusion. I was surrounded by millions of people, but felt so alone, insignificant and small. I’m not kidding when I report that I would turn to my side to show the person I was with that amazing building…only to remember no one was there. I didn’t have a hand to hold and tug along with excitement. I came upon bars and cafes that I normally would hop into and have a drink, but stopped myself as I didn’t want to do it alone. I wanted to share this experience with my partner, my kids, my family, my best friend…but the best I could do was snap a quick selfie and text it to them. It hurt. I cried. I almost stayed inside my hotel room two of the four nights I was there because I didn’t want to experience the immense city alone. Fortunately I had a voice of reasoning on the other end of the phone telling me how much I would regret not heading out and encouraging me to take the photos I dreamed of. Thank you Brian.

If I had to do it again, all the same, I would. It was an amazing experience. But If I had to do it again, with an adjustment, I would have someone by my side to point at sights in awe together. There is just something about sharing an experience with a loved one. It makes it more memorable and meaningful. So hey, if you have solo travel plans, maybe consider bringing your photographer friend along…you won’t be lonely, and you’ll score great photos of your memories 😀

When the time came to book solo travel arrangements to New York for my son’s baseball tournament, there was excitement and dread. Excitement for a 13-day experience in New York and baseball. Dread for a 13-day experience in New York alone. Once the baseball tournament began I would reunite with my kids thank goodness, but I did have 4 full days to entertain myself in New York City.

The baseball tournament was taking place in Cooperstown which was a 3 hour drive from NYC. The best option for transportation was a rental car so I could fly into to NYC and head to the tournament after my first few nights. Navigating and driving in Manhattan was a task I was looking forward to conquering! I’m actually a bit disappointed to report that it wasn’t as much of a feat as I imagined. It was cake. Proudly puffing up my chest to claim “I drove through the chaotic streets of Manhattan” doesn’t seem as cool anymore.

I booked a hotel near Times Square knowing there would be plenty of photographic opportunities within walking distance. As soon as I settled in (that meaning throwing my luggage on the bed), I strapped my backpack on, grabbed my camera and tripod and headed out the door at 9:00PM. My goal for the night was to capture the movement of Times Square and have a hot dog. It took a few attempts at different locations until I was satisfied with my angle. Multiple times I had to tell myself “act like you belong.” There were so many cars, people and police. If I wanted the shot I had in my head, I would have to stand in the street and make others go around me. Which I did, and no one made a fuss.

Once I was happy with my images, I grabbed a hot dog from one of the dozens of carts on the corner and played the tourist card. I walked Broadway and stared at all of the dazzling posters and sparkly signs.

The next morning would kick off my first full day in NYC! I had no idea, and too many ideas, on what to do. Forecast called for rain, so I didn’t want to plan too many outdoor activities. After a little research, I learned that B&H Photo & Video was only a mile or so away from my hotel so it was a no-brainer to begin my day there. I put on my walking shoes, strapped on my camera and backpack, grabbed a coffee and headed out.

The store was fantastic. Full of gadgets and gizmos that every photographer dreams of having in their toolkit. I could have spend hours and hours in there. I even got to get in front of their cameras for a quick headshot (still waiting on delivery of that…must not have turned out!!! haha).

After shopping at the store that has been on my bucket list for 10 years, I headed south. To where? I don’t know…whatever came up. The only goal I had for that day was an image of the Brooklyn Bridge at night. My favorite movie, “A Lot Like Love” has a scene where Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet say their goodbyes. Peet grabs Kutcher’s camera and haphazardly snaps a blurry, but meaningful, photo of the Brooklyn Bridge. Kutcher’s character prints and frames the photo to keepsake the memory which in turn reveals to Peet’s character that her calling is to become a photographer. Ahhhh!!! It pulls at my heart strings even now! This iphone pic is the exact spot they (and now me!!) stood in.

So…I had one goal…that wouldn’t take place until nightfall. I needed to fill the rest of the day with photography opportunities. I decided to head toward the 911 Memorial and hit anything on the way. I walked along the Hudson Bay and was amazed at the manicured parks designated for fitness, kids and peaceful moments. I actually saw a “Mommy and Me” play group. This made me laugh with amusement for some reason. Here I was in this chaotic city so packed that schools were placed in the middle of concrete roads and a perimeter of black fences, and here sat a group of 5 young and gorgeous moms and their babes on a patch of grass singing songs along the Hudson River. I felt like I was watching a movie being filmed.

I cruised the High Line, told tourists over and over again that I had no idea where the subway was, got caught in the rain and stumbled upon the most iconic residential New York City street I’ve ever laid eyes on. The excitement I experienced at seeing the black railing and brick entryways is comical to me. I couldn’t take enough photos of them. It was straight out of Sex and the City (which by the way I just learned I was only 3 blocks way from Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment and had no idea!). Better planning would have been a great idea, but I sorta just wanted to wing it in a way.

Getting caught in the rain was probably one of my favorite parts of my trip. It was just warm enough not to be cold, thank goodness because I did not prepare myself. Since I didn’t have a plan that day, I really didn’t think I’d still be out when the rain came. So there I was in shorts and a tank top completely drenched and still photographing anything that interested me. A few times the rain was coming down so hard and fast I had to find cover…as did many other tourists and locals.

Once the rain seemed to let up I saw this perfectly cute brick building with a cafe on street level. I thought, “well isn’t this just picture perfect with all the people walking around?” So I set up my tripod and started snapping photos in the middle of the street. Other people started following suit and doing the same. Assuming everyone around me noticed that I had a great eye for photography, I thought I was super cool and giving people confidence to just shoot!! Then more people stopped and took photos. Most people were posing in front of the building. I thought “What the hell? Why is this building so popular?” I took out my phone (that was at 20% battery life even AFTER plugging it into my mobile charger) and saw on Maps that there was a cute little photo icon identifying this corner as the Friends Apartment. “What!?!?!?! I’m a COMPLETE obsessed Friends fan and I had NO IDEA I was photographing the apartment building.” Guys, I completely embarrassed myself and was utterly ashamed at my lack of planning and knowledge. But super proud of my ability to stumble upon Grove Street!

Keeping a close eye of my location on my phone’s map (and draining the battery), I saw that Chinatown was coming up. So I strolled down colorful Pell St. Then I saw that I passed Little Italy, so I walked back north…grabbing an entire pizza of course. I was on a mad dash to find that perfect New York style pizza.

I will say that while Lombardi’s pizza was good, it wasn’t the style I was looking for. I later found that at Grimaldi’s !!

After drying off a bit I headed further south to the 911 Memorial, scoped the spot I would be standing to capture the Brooklyn Bridge, and watched a little urban basketball. Once the sun went down I began photographing the Brooklyn Bridge which is definitely a highlight of my trip. There were two other photographers there doing the same, both from NYC (I was proud to find that my Spokane, WA skills kicked their NY skills asses!! They weren’t so impressed).

Once I achieved my goals I headed back around 8:30pm and my phone was at 7% battery life. I had been using Maps to help navigate me and now I had to find a way to get back to Midtown possibly without my phone. This image shows my walking route until I hopped onto a subway (after charging my phone at a super convenient charging hub!!) to get closer to my hotel.

I’ll end my writing here and just upload a handful of images. If you have a chance to travel and experience sights alone, go ahead. Give it a shot. It will prove to you that you are capable and strong…but I already knew that about myself. I knew I could do it…I just never had before, and now I know I prefer a loved one at my side to share it with.

I tried replicating the blurry image Peet’s character created in A Lot Like Love

Solo Traveling in New York-A Photographer’s Personal Triumphs and Loneliness | / Posted on | Shoots

All Photography and Original Text © Crystal Madsen Photography

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *