Bridget Gleeson writer + illustrator

Ringing in the new year, alone on an airplane

The start of a new year always makes you think.  Traveling alone also makes you think. So what happens when you travel alone to a foreign place over New Year’s?

Take it from me, a person who’s a few days into a ten-day trip to Peru that commenced on December 31, 2013: it’s self-reflection overload.

After the last few days, I can report that the solo New Year’s trip offers a little something for everyone: a chance to look outward, then inward. Plenty of time to agonize over your own personal catalog of faults and failings while staring out the train window. Moments of travel bliss when you feel that anything is possible, that you could be anyone you wanted to be if only you weren’t constricted by the context of your day-to-day existence. Moments of panic when you’re forced to consider your own mortality. Ample opportunities to watch other people and observe what you love and hate about them (airports are good for this) and how you might strive to be more or less like those people.

Here, in no particular order, some of the thoughts and haphazard possible resolutions that ran through my mind while in transit between Philadelphia and Lima on December 31st – my plane landed in Peru moments after midnight amid a vivid spray of fireworks – and into New Year’s Day, as I wandered around the cliffs in the beachfront neighborhood of Miraflores, Lima. Nothing was open because it was a holiday, so it was just me and one million Peruvian families and couples all staring out at the sea.



(Perfecto. Cue the travel-inspired stream-of-consciousness.)

1. Yes, get me to the train station, put me on a plane, let’s do this, the holidays stressed me out and I’ve been traveling constantly and I really need some time alone. I know I’m not that great to be around when I’m stretched too thin. I shouldn’t try to do so much. Actually I could do more. Correction: I should do more for other people. But overall I should do less, and try to do the fewer things better.

2. I like how one flight attendant referred to the others as his ‘friends.’ And the way the Peruvians celebrated when midnight struck, our plane still in the air, and how some women I don’t even know reached out to grab my hands and wish me ‘amor y paz’ in 2014. Perfect strangers can be so unexpectedly warm. I should be friendlier and more human to my own seatmates on flights, and to all the people around me, instead of ignoring them and tuning out with my books and magazines and podcasts.

3. I hate that guy at the reception desk of my hotel who said ‘why doesn’t anyone speak English here?’ Because you’re in Peru, dude. I hated his entitlement and his stupid expensive trekking outfit. I must continue striving to enter foreign places with humility, even if I am tired or scared or frustrated somewhere.

4. I am so glad I finally speak Spanish well enough that no real language barrier exists when I’m traveling in Latin America. But I shouldn’t feel that great about it because if I were born in virtually any other country than the United States, I’d probably speak like four languages by now. I should step up to the plate and work on my Brazilian Portuguese.

5. Does a bag of Inka Chips and a pisco sour count as dinner? Probably not. Instead of (or in addition to) making elaborate dinners for other people all the time – like the night before I left on this trip, which was a bit too ambitious – I should treat myself more nicely, whether I’m traveling or not.

6. Ah, yes, all these couples and families gazing out at the ocean together. Why is it so easy to take out our frustrations on the people around us? I need to try to be calmer and relaxed, and unflappable, damn it, during large, complicated family holidays. And during my life in general.

7. Maybe if I were as beautiful as the Follow Me To girl on Instagram, I’d also have an adoring Russian photographer boyfriend who wanted to accompany me around the world on my adventures. Then again, that whole series is a little on-the-nose for my taste, plus boyfriends always complicate things, including trips. And I like to take my own photos, not be in the frame. Maybe I’m destined to travel alone but I should get a better camera, at least, and take more professional photos. And maybe pick up a backless dress like the kind the Instagram girl wears sometimes. I wonder if I could pull that off.

8. If I don’t take a picture, did it really happen? I should take a nice long break from my electronic devices. Or at least disconnect from them at more frequent intervals. With all the time on my computer at the end of the day, there’s not enough time to read my (electronic) book.

9. Why did that guy call me señora instead of señorita? That rarely happens. Do I look like some kind of older lady? Maybe not, but I am getting older, everyone is, all the time. I know it’s ridiculous and vain to worry about it when some people never have the chance to age. What if my plane goes down? What if this is it? I would be so sad. There are so many things I haven’t done yet. I resolve to worry less and redirect that mental energy towards living a richer life. Please pass the Inka chips.

10. I wonder if any of the friends I just saw in New York and Philadelphia, all hugely successful in their professions, think it’s weird that I’m a travel writer instead of a lawyer, doctor, or professor. I wonder if they think I’m not living up to my… wait…..we’re making our final descent into Cusco. Little lights are coming on in the foothills of the Andes as the sun goes down.. well. This has been fun, but I’m pretty sure this is the part where I said I’d close my laptop.

(Feliz año to all: may you savor the journey in 2014.)