by Flannery Wasson
When I first moved to Washington, I have to admit that I was nervous. I had only visited the city for a single weekend before packing my bags and moving there by myself for the summer. By the end of August, I was giving tourism advice to friends in DC like a pro. In honor of World Tourism Day, I’ll let you know my secrets about exploring a new city by yourself.
My first couple of days in DC I became a hermit. I was somewhat paralyzed by the idea of exploring a city, especially after many friends uttered, “Be safe!” before I left. The summer of 2013 seemed like the prime summer for articles about women and street harassment and I couldn’t seem to shake that out of my mind… until I couldn’t bear to miss out any more. Of course you can find a thousand reasons why Netflix and books are a better idea than stepping outside, but you’re just finding excuses to miss out on adventures! Pre-planning can ease your worries and make sure you know your area and what to expect, so here are some of my tips to exploring your city solo.
1. Study up!
You don’t want your nose buried in your phone and boring museum café food in your stomach, so be proactive! There are plenty of resources online to help you tour like a pro. My secret? I read all the information I could about DC on the website reddit.com. Before you head to a new place, type “city + subreddit” into Google’s search bar to search for the community discussion board about that city. They are often full of local gossip, events, and many subreddits have visitors guides written up, including Washington, DC.
My second weekend in DC happened to be Global Reddit Meetup Day, where they encourage strangers from the community boards to host a picnic to meet each other, and I went from knowing one person in DC to joining up with an established friend group of a dozen people! They already had trivia days set out and events staked out for the summer, so I was thankful to find my in. To this day I am still friends with nearly everyone I met that day and have even been dating someone I met at that picnic for over two years now!
2. Embrace the smartphone
Headed out to tour a new city? Load your phone up to be your best friend. Here’s a peek at my favorite apps for weekend tours in DC:
Google Maps – King of the apps for figuring out walking, buses and metros, and biking directions in seconds.
DC Bikeshare – This app allows me to find the nearest Capital Bikeshare rack so I can grab a bike and go. If you want to know more about Capital Bikeshare memberships, it is well worth your read. You can get a 24 hour pass for $8 that will allow you to take on the length of the National Mall in record time.
NPR One – Okay, this is an odd one but stay with me. NPR is headquartered in DC and you are bound to run into someone in your travels who will ask you about politics or current events, so why not listen and learn while you wander DC? This app cycles through podcasts, news clips, and an hourly update – perfect to keep your mind occupied while you wait for the next train.
3. Embrace your solitude
Exploring DC alone started out as a self-conscious activity and ended up a greatly empowering one. I felt a little weird about visiting these monumental places by myself, worried that if I didn’t have anyone to share the moment with it might not feel special. I have to admit in the beginning I turned to Instagram to invite an audience along on my outings, but that wore off quickly. Being by myself I felt invisible – I could slip in and out of tour groups in museums and I looked delightfully unapproachable on a bench in front of the White House since people thought I was saving a seat for someone else. I could blend in with the crowds and go a whole afternoon just listening to my own thoughts and picking up other visitor’s initial impressions. If I had sat around waiting for a partner to explore, I never would have had the same amount of curiosity or courage to take things slow and just enjoy the scenery.
Bottom line: don’t hold back! I met so many friends in DC who moved to the city and skipped doing the “tourist” stuff. If your city has something that attracts tourists, it’s worth your time, too. Maybe skip the street pretzels but don’t skip an opportunity to learn more about where you live and work. There’s nothing wrong with researching before you go, using awesome apps, or doing it all by yourself. Get out there and explore!
About the Author: Flannery Wasson was a 2013 B. A. Rudolph Foundation Undergraduate Scholar. Today, she works as a production assistant at Double R Productions, a woman-owned communications firm in Washington, DC. Flannery enjoys soaking up Washington-area culture and especially helping new people settle into the area. She spends her free time at the cat café, Dupont’s Farmer’s Market, and Women’s Information Network (WIN) events.