How To Travel Alone

“I hoped to arrive at an awakening of some sort.”

How To Travel Alone

Just beyond the copper shores of Posto 2 but before Rio de Janeiro’s Avenida Atlântica reaches its end, sits a quiet, unassuming chicken shop named Quick Galetos. I came across the casual-dining eatery one night during the summer of 2015, as I snaked through Copacabana’s sweaty, trash-checkered streets where some of the most beautiful tropical flora hangs from high-above windowsills with the kind of haloed grace often captured in movies. Having landed in Rio just 24 hours earlier, eager to taste local dishes and indulge in Copa’s gumbo of culture — it’s perhaps the seaside city’s most fabled neighborhood — I entered without a second thought.

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Even now, it’s hard to say if tourists intentionally seek out Quick Galetos; it’s marked by a simple blue-and-burgundy sign that hangs above two large doors, but it’s just as easily missed. Had it not been one of the few places open late into the evening, a stream of yellow light spilling onto the sidewalk, I likely would have passed it. Still, if you are fortunate enough to stumble upon it, like I did under the damp elixir of a mid-July night, do this: go inside, sit at the U-shaped bar, and order the roasted chicken (with a side of fries and Guaraná Antarctica, a local soda). Food has transformative power, and the simple meal thrust me into a surprising state of bliss. A bronzed bird was pulled from the large brick oven, which loiters in the center of the restaurant, and placed before me. I took a bite. Then another. And another. A mine eld of flavors crackled in my mouth. I felt something like ascension, almost like flying somewhere outside myself. In my lifetime, only a handful of family members have been able to execute chicken seasoned to utterly joyous perfection. Yet Quick Galetos seems to pull this off nightly, and with ease.

The reason I so intently sought any form of distraction that particular night, and what propelled me into Rio’s meandering streets in the first place, is a much more inelegant story: on the day I set foot in Rio, I learned that Gawker, the news website I worked for at the time, published a report that, in essence, outed a media executive by exposing private details of his personal life. The story went viral in the worst possible way; days later, my boss would resign. As I sat in Quick Galetos, a world away from work strife, I made a very simple, but very deliberate decision: I would finish eating the chicken, wander into the night, and worry about work when I got back home to New York.

“Arrival signals a starting off — not an end but a beginning. To arrive is to brave possibility, to challenge what towers ahead.”

Traveling to Rio de Janeiro was part of a plan I’d made years earlier, in 2012. At a personal and professional crossroads, I made a promise. In an effort to detach from all that was making me unhappy — a soul-sucking job, a mountain of social obligations, the pull of having to be plugged into the internet 24/7 — I would begin to take better care of myself. Atop the list of remedies: once a year, travel to a new, unfamiliar city alone. This promise wasn’t about challenging myself or setting a particular life-goal, the reasoning was much less impassioned: I wanted evade the pressures of New York City, with its daily obstacle course of physical and psychological hurdles, even if only for a short time. In part, deciding to travel by myself was also about my desire to arrive — not just at a physical destination but, I hoped, at a personal awakening of some sort.

At the juncture of arrival, the thinking goes, the sum of the previous roads traveled comes into view. If the journey has offered varying degrees of difficulty, then the culmination of that journey — arrival — is meant to serve as a port of reprieve. An end point. In reality, though, arrival narratives are messy things. They routinely call into question the measures by which one emerged into the present moment. The opposite belief, and one I find myself more fascinated by at the dawn of my thirties, is that arrival signals a starting off — not an end but a beginning. To arrive is to brave possibility, to challenge what towers ahead. The undertaking does not mean you arrive fully formed, ready and prepared for what is to come; rather, it implies you have chosen to give into a line of thinking that requires courage and the most precarious kind of faith: faith of the self.

According to separate studies conducted by Visa and ABTA in 2015, 15 to 24 percent of people embark on solo trips annually, ranging from financially equipped millennials to senior citizens. At any age, our appetite for the world cannot be quelled: we are innately curious beings, hungry for an assortment of excitement, surprise, and adventure. It is true that we all travel for different reasons, but it is the act itself that is most important — deciding to make your way through a world that does not always seek to reward.

In the five years since, I’ve sojourned to Miami, Puerto Rico, Antigua, Brazil, Morocco, and Portugal — and each terrain has endowed me with a stronger, more resolute faith in myself. There is no real trick to travelling alone. Because, really, it is rationally straightforward: decide what you want out of life — be it less stress, more unexpected discovery, or general self-renewal — pack light, and find a way to get to that harbor of refuge. For me, sitting in Quick Galetos as one chapter of my career came to an unexpected close (I would be laid off in the coming months in a staff overhaul, partly as a result of the viral story), I decided I would eat. And eat well. During my week in Rio, I returned to the restaurant five times, forgoing more well-known dining emporiums and new experiences for the succulence of something familiar and certain. I had arrived where I needed to be.

July 27, 2017
How To Travel Alone