One by one, they introduced themselves (they were nurses from Nebraska; these were their boyfriends and husbands) with varying degrees of complete disinterest. I felt like a college freshman desperately trying to make friends at orientation week, playing the role of the guileless, perky co-ed and not realizing everyone is just rooming with a friend they already knew from back home.
When I could no longer feign interest in the Nebraska boyfriends (“Oh, so you work in IT? Fascinating! What’s that like? No, really! I’m fascinated!”), I looked for a new mob of people to glom onto. A tall boy was checking his phone by a garbage can, next to a woman I assumed was his grandmother. I was right. They were from Canada, and every year the boy and his grandma planned a trip somewhere around the world—Tokyo, Paris, New York, and now Austin. I didn’t have to pretend to care this time. They were warm and charming, instantly adopting me into their little circle, sharing their beers with me on the bus and indulging me when I sheepishly asked for a photo of myself for the ’gram.
But then, one stop into the tour, the bus came to a complete standstill. It was the morning of the Austin marathon, and I had noticed that the past 20 minutes of driving had taken us in a big, slow circle.
The tour was an hour behind schedule. (The bus had been late getting to us…because of marathon road closures.) We had been sitting in traffic so long that two of the nurses asked to be let out to find a bathroom.
I had before me a daunting to-do list of all the places I still wanted to check out in Austin and a choice. And so I leaned into the best part of traveling alone: doing exactly and only what you want to do. I got the hell out of there.
With the help of an electric scooter and feeling just a little Bond-like, I whizzed around Austin, finding the indie bookstore that everyone had been telling me about, eating a doughnut the size of my face, seeing the LBJ Presidential Library, and capping off the day with an amazing meal at the bar of a gourmet restaurant.
Yes, going on a literal surprise trip meant there were little inefficiencies and doubling back. The trip didn’t work like a Swiss watch, but it didn’t have to. With the big-picture stuff taken care of, I just got to enjoy myself and come back to Los Angeles totally ready to take myself on a solo date to find breakfast tacos that can compare with the ones I had in Austin.
The notion of “dating yourself” always sounds like such a dusty prospect, like something from Bridget Jones or a self-help book. But when you’re zipping through a brand-new city, being alone didn’t feel sad or cheesy. It feels like freedom.