For The First Time: The SIA Brat Goes Solo

More than any other country in the world, the United States of America is the place to go to for me. I love American culture, its television shows and films, its musicians and music, and I love their cities.

When I came across a discounted air ticket to fly from Brisbane to Los Angeles, it was a no-brainer. I was thrilled at the thought of visiting the USA. I had asked my then boyfriend to go with me. However, he had to go home to Norway for Christmas and couldn’t accompany me.

I was undaunted. I wanted to go to the USA. And I was going. My parents initially said no. They didn’t feel it was safe for me to travel all the way to USA on my own. But I was an adult and I felt it was time to spread my wings and fly.

So after months of persuasion and like the SIA Brat I am, some mini tantrums later, I got their permission to go. But! Under these conditions; I was to call or text my Uncle, who lived in Arizona then, every day to check in. And I was also to let my parents know how I was doing every day. Check and check. Easy peasy.

Now comes the hard part. I had to decide which cities to go to and plan the whole trip myself. There are 52 states to choose from and I only had 22 days. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Truth is, the fact that I was going solo helped the planning process. I didn’t have to consult anyone else and I could decide everything myself. But still I had to pick carefully. I didn’t know at the time if I would ever get a second chance to go back to the US. So I had to choose wisely and make full use of the time I had in the US.

Being in the television industry, Los Angeles was at the top of my list of cities to visit. And since the flights were to Los Angeles, it was natural to start in the City of Angels. I also knew I wanted to visit New York City and Las Vegas because two of my favourite cop series are “based” on those cities. And since my Uncle was living in Phoenix, Arizona naturally was on my list. My best friend was studying in Pittsburgh at the time, so that went on the list of cities to visit as well. I did some mental calculations and decided that I could afford to maximize my trip and squeeze in another city. So rounding off my list was San Francisco.

How did my first solo trip go? Awesome!

What I loved about Los Angeles?

‘Behind the Scenes’ stuff is my thing. And Los Angeles is the place to be if you are into film and television. The highlight of my 7 days in Los Angeles was when I visited three of the big four studios – Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros Studios, and Universal Studios. I got to see the props, the sets, go on awesome rides, and got a closer look at the industry I was hellbent on breaking into.

Fondest of Memories

I was being driven around Paramount Pictures in a golf buggy going from stage to stage. It was my first studio tour in Hollywood and everything was very surreal for me. At the time, NCIS: Los Angeles had been picked up for a full season so the cast was filming the new episodes CBS had just ordered. And as luck would have it, the series was filming at Paramount Pictures. At the very same day and time I was touring the studio!

Sadly, the highlight of my time in Los Angeles happened so fast I didn’t even think to snap a photo of it. You see, LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell waved hello at a couple of strangers sitting in a golf buggy. Yeap! I saw LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell in the flesh, and they were just a few feet away from me. They were near their trailers while we drove past them. While everyone was busy snapping away. I was so stunned all I could do was just stare, wave, and smile back at them.

Here’s a tip

Don’t get lost in Downtown LA. Especially if you’re travelling solo. It was my first time travelling alone and when I was planning for my trip I was fearless. But when I was actually there in USA, my first few nights there was terrifying. I decided to be smart about it so I tried to make sure I was back safe and sound in the hotel room before dark. I managed to do that on most days except the day I got lost looking for the Venice Canal Walk. That was on the 3rd night of my solo trip.

The hotel I was staying at was in Downtown LA. I had taken the bus to Santa Monica and from there I walked to Venice Beach. I had wanted to look for the canals. However, I got lost and couldn’t find it. It was getting late and I had a long journey back to my hotel.

I hopped on a cab to return to Santa Monica. I didn’t want to spend the money on a cab back all the way to Downtown LA and I didn’t know what bus or train to take back to my hotel. But by the time I found my way back to the planned bus stop where I would take the bus, magic hour has already come and gone. When I finally got on the bus that would take me back to my hotel, it was already dark. I couldn’t recognise any of the streets the bus was zipping past. And I could feel my heart racing. I was getting more and more nervous.

I peered out into the dark streets of LA and spotted something I thought I recognised. I quickly hit the buzzer and got off the bus. Then it hit me. I had either missed my stop or gotten off too early. I didn’t want to take out my map or ask for directions because that would be a dead giveaway that I was a tourist and give the “easy target” vibe. So I did my best to get my bearings and just kept walking.

I walked for about 25 to 30 minutes and was still lost. I knew I was close as I could smell the familiar stench of dried pee on the sidewalks. But I also knew that I needed to check my map. So I got my map out from my backpack and analyzed it as fast as I could. It could be me imagining things, but the moment I took out my map, I felt like a target and felt instantly insecure. I felt as if all eyes were on me.

But that was a risk worth taking. Thankfully, after looking at the map, I figured out where I was and how to get back. And I did.

Unfortunately in 2009, I didn’t own a smart phone. But the next time I go back to Los Angeles, I’m using a GPS.

To go solo or not?

Paramount Pictures Studio Tour – With like-minded friends, so you can go gaga over meeting LL Cool J and Chris “Robin” O’Donnell!

Walt Disney Concert Hall – Solo, so your non-photography-nut friends won’t tap their feet and chase you to hurry along.

Santa Monica Pier/Pacific Park – Walking solo by the beach is peaceful and helps clear one’s mind.

Venice Beach Boardwalk Ocean Front Walk – Solo for the walk by the beach, with friends for the cool and interesting knick-knacks you can find along the boardwalk.

Warner Bros Deluxe Studio Tour – Definitely with like-minded film and television buffs so you can go crazy and take lots of photographs together.

Star Line Hollywood Movie Star Experience Tour – With friends, again for the crazy photo ops.

Universal VIP Experience Tour – With friends! Because this tour includes Fast Track to rides at the Universal Studios amusement park and going on rides alone is sad and depressing.

Madame Tussauds Hollywood – Go with friends! Read why here.

What I loved about Las Vegas?

Cirque du Soleil ranks high on my list of why I love Las Vegas. But then I think about The Strip and that’s something I love too. Riding a limo and helicopter to see the Grand Canyon and riding a horse by myself in Red Rock Canyon was also pretty awesome! And the CSI: The Experience… CSI was the reason I wanted to visit Las Vegas! And I loved it too! Geez! That’s practically everything! I loved everything about my 6 days in Las Vegas. In fact, 6 days was not enough!

Fondest of Memories

With so many experiences that I enjoyed while in Vegas, it’s hard to choose just one. However, let’s go with one of my first-time experiences.

I was finally in Sin City, how could anyone go to Sin City and not party and gamble right? Partying in a strange city was not something I dared to do alone. So I choose the later, gamble. I was under strict orders by my dad NOT to gamble in the casinos. I suppose he was afraid I’d get hooked.

Well I didn’t. Get hooked that is.

I was at the Bellagio and I decided to try my hand at the slot machines. You see, I had given myself a 50 dollars a day budget for food, souvenirs, and added attractions. But I had scrimped and saved in Los Angeles and had extra cash. So I gave myself a budget. 100 dollars. That was all I get to gamble away. If I lost that, I was going to call it a night and head back to my hotel.

So I wandered into the casino area and looked for a good machine to have my virgin gambling experience.

There were so many to machines to choose from. I wish I could show you the vastness of the place but photography was not allowed inside the casino. The tinkling music of the machines were all calling out to me. “Pick me, pick me” they said. I have no experience whatsoever playing the slots and I didn’t know what to do so I did the smart thing and watched other people play.

I saw an Asian lady playing and she was accompanied by a Caucasian gent. They looked friendly and harmless so I walked over and watched them play. I made the right choice because on top of learning how to play the slots, I made 2 new friends. While the Asian lady was playing, the three of us chatted up a storm. I found out that they are friends living in Los Angeles and they took the bus down to Vegas for a day trip. The lady was pretty lucky at slots too. She was up and on a winning streak. And her friend told her to quit while she was winning. She didn’t and eventually she lost all her would-be-winnings and topped up even more than she had started with.

After they left, it was my turn to give it a shot. I picked a slot machine near theirs and sat down. In the money went. There was no turning back now. I told myself that I would learn from my new friend and quit while I’m ahead. So did I win any money? Nope. I lost that $100. I was up $50 actually but no more than 10 tries later, that $50 and my original capital was eaten up by the machine.

And that’s my fondest of memories. A $100 lesson on quitting while you’re ahead.

Here’s a tip

There are a total of 9 Cirque du Soleil shows in Vegas alone! When I was there, there were only 6 – Mystère, O, Zumanity, KÀ, Love, and Criss Angel Believe. I had missed Viva Elvis by just a few weeks as it premiered on December 16, 2009 at the Aria Resort and Casino. The show has since been retired. Argh!

So with only 5 nights in Las Vegas, I couldn’t go for all. I went to O, KÀ, and Mystère. Which truly burnt a hole in my pocket. So if you too can’t afford the time or money to go for all like me, here’s my top 3 must see shows:

O is the resident show at The Bellagio. It’s pronounced the same way as eau, the French word for “water”, and takes place in, around and above a huge pool of water. You’ll get to see jaw-dropping water acts such as synchronized swimming as well as aerial and ground acts.

KÀ by Cirque du Soleil is my favourite of the 3 shows I saw. I liked that it had a proper storyline to follow. A resident show at MGM Grand, it is about “the coming of age of a young man and a young woman through their encounters with love, conflict and the duality of Kà, the fire that can unite or separate, destroy or illuminate.” If you’re into martial arts and stunts, you’ll love KÀ.

You cannot leave Sin City and not see Zumanity! Yeah, yeah, yeah I know. I left without seeing it. Silly me. When I go back to Las Vegas, this show is definitely on my list. Zumanity is the resident cabaret-style show at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino. Premiered in 2003, it is the first “adult-themed” Cirque du Soleil show and is said to show “the sensual side of Cirque du Soleil.”

Now I said the top 3 must-see shows so you’re probably wondering why there’s 2 others trailer here. Well, that’s because if you’re a Michael Jackson fan you need to see Michael Jackson: One. It opened in 2013 at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and is actually the second Michael Jackson-based production in the history of Cirque du Soleil, after “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. And there’s a storyline so that should be an interesting one to watch. But if you’re not a fan of Michael Jackson or if you love The Beatles, you’ll want to head The Mirage to watch Love.

To go solo or not?

Madame Tussauds Las Vegas – Again, go with friends!

Phantom Of The Opera: Behind the Scenes – Going solo or with friends are both fine I feel. But again, going with friends means you are more likely to get nicer photographs taken of you.

Red Rock Canyon Tour – Going solo was fun. You get a horse of your own anyway. Going with friends would be fun too but who says you can’t make friends while on horseback? I did.

CSI: The Experience – Go with friends if you need the company, do it alone if you want to really fully take the time to enjoy the entire experience.

Cirque du Soleil shows – Go with friends. So you can gawk and gasp together in unison.

Bally’s ‘Backstage’ Tour – Solo or with friends are both fine too.

Bellagio fountain show – Solo, so you can take your time with the photographs and enjoyment of the light and water show.

All American Grand Canyon Tour – I liked flying on my own. Made me feel like a celebrity. Lonely but privileged.

What I loved about San Francisco?

I believe I would have loved the Golden Gate Park and Golden Gate Bridge the most had I not been sick in San Francisco. But given the fact that I only visited Alcatraz, Lombard Street, and a little bit of Union Square, I’d have to say Lombard Street was my favourite part of my 3 days in San Francisco.

Fondest of Memories

Truth be told, San Francisco didn’t sweep me off my feet. And there are 2 reasons why. None of which was San Francisco’s fault. I only had 3 days in San Francisco which is really insufficient. And to make maters worse, because I was not feeling well, I essentially only had a day to see this city. And one day is definitely not enough to make judgement on a city.

Here’s a tip

Walk instead of drive down Lombard Street. Walking up or down the  “crookedest street in the world” will allow you to have the time to slowly appreciate how insanely beautiful and crooked this street really is. Plus in your car, you’re more likely to be minding the road than enjoying the view.

To go solo or not?

Lombard Street – Go solo and take your time appreciating this interesting street. But even if you go with friends, I think it can be just as fun.

Alcatraz Tour – Go to this jail with friends. It’s definitely more fun and less creepy.

What I loved about New York City?

Gosh! Everything. New York City is my favourite city in the world. I love the bright lights and big city. It’s lively and exciting. I was in New York for 3 days so I only got a glimpse of the city but it teased me enough to want to go back there so badly.

Fondest of Memories

Walking from 12th Avenue and West 30th Street back to my hotel at West 56th Street after my helicopter night flight tour. That’s about 2 miles. Yup! I can’t remember how long that took me but I walked all the way home. I think I walked up to 20 blocks that night. I walked a lot in Los Angeles too and got hopelessly lost. I walked from Hollywood Boulevard to Paramount Pictures that’s about 2.5 miles.

I think walking might have been my fondest memories during my solo trip in the US. And the 2 mile walk in New York was my favourite.

Almost every 2 blocks I would see a Starbucks. And after the 4th or 5th Starbucks I saw, I went in and got an iced hazelnut chocolate. I couldn’t resist the temptation. But all that walking made me take a closer look at the city I was in. I was actually more afraid walking in Los Angeles than I was in New York City.

By the time I had gotten to New York, maybe I had become used to walking alone in a strange city.

Here’s a tip

If you want to see the classic view of New York City, including famous landmarks like The Empire State Building and Central Park, head up to Rockefeller Center instead to get the bird’s eye view of the city. Go in the late afternoon and slowly take your time up there and wait till the sun sets and New York City switches on for the night. It’s a breathtaking sight. 2 amazing different views of the city for the price of one ticket.

To go solo or not?

The Top of the Rock – I went alone and with friends to Rockefeller Center and I think it can be explored with or without your friends. It all depends on whether your friends are the patient sort who are willing to wait until you get all the photographs of the city you want.

New York TV and Movie Sites – I got to see the shot of the staircase and the apartment building used in the television series Friends. Ate a slice from Lenny’s Pizza in Brooklyn, where John Travolta bought his famous slice in Saturday Night Fever. I even saw the front door Will Smith supposedly came out of in the film I Am Legend. Go with friends for more crazy photo opportunities.

Gossip Girl Sites – Go alone unless your friends are all Gossip Girl fans.

New York Manhattan Lights Helicopter Tour – Zip Helicopter Tours was great. A must do alone or with friends. Even if your friends don’t want to cough up that kind of dough to go with you, it’ll be fun.

Madame Tussauds – Go with friends!

What I loved about Pittsburgh?

Honestly, by the time I got to Pittsburgh, I was so drained from my long journey alone. I was just thrilled to be among friends. I crashed on my best friend’s couch in the apartment he shared with his girlfriend. I think I enjoyed hanging out with him so much I forgot to enjoy the city or take any photos of it.

Fondest of Memories

Getting to know his then girlfriend. My best friend and I have a strange relationship. We almost never talk. We can go for a year or more without talking. But when we miss each other or need advice, we’ll call and then we’ll talk and talk and talk. You get the picture. I had heard a lot about this girlfriend of his and I was just glad to be able to get to know her and reconnect with him. I think staying at a proper home was also a great respite from all the tiny mid range hotels I had been staying at. If only I had discovered Airbnb then.

Here’s a tip

I have none. I pretty much fazed out in Pittsburgh. But, I remember asking my best friend if we could go to a Pittsburgh Penguins game. Unfortunately there were no games available while I was there. After all I had only stayed there for 2 nights.

To go solo or not?

I think Pittsburgh is a city you can explore on your own. It’s a quaint classic town with pretty interesting architecture and character.

What I loved about Arizona?

Thanksgiving with family. My first and so far only thanksgiving ever. I had wanted to spend thanksgiving in New York City and watch the parade live. But, thanksgiving is about family time and my cousin would also be coming home to spend thanksgiving with her parents, my uncle and aunt. So I arranged it so that I would end my solo trip with family in Arizona. I had also stopped taking photos and just focused on enjoying the company of family and friends in Pittsburgh and Arizona.

Fondest of Memories

Waking up at 4am in the morning just to queue up for Black Friday sales. My aunt, uncle and cousin decided that Black Friday was something I could not miss.

We waited outside for the longest time. I was really bored out of my mind. But hey, I was there for the experience right. I have never waited in line for something that long and that early in my life! And when they finally let us in, I just stood in the middle of the chaos and watched.

I didn’t know where to go, what to see or buy. I just stood there and watched as chaos unfolded before me. That was quite surreal. When I finally got my feet to move, I was walking at a snail’s pace compared to other people around me. It was just another day at the mall for me.

Oh, if you didn’t already know, I am not the shopping kind of girl. 3 hours and my hands are up in the air surrendering to my aching feet. Yeap, this girl can walk 2.5 miles in Los Angeles in search of Paramount Pictures but cannot stand shopping.

Black Friday was something I do not regret and enjoyed for the experience of it all. But, I did not buy a single thing that day.

Here’s a tip

Once again, I don’t really have a tip for Arizona. However, I’d have loved to go see Hoover’s Dam from Arizona. Although you could go from Las Vegas or Arizona. Either way works. I’d love to do the Sky Walk at the Grand Canyon too.

To go solo or not?

Black Friday shopping – Go with like-minded friends, you’ll need them to kill the time while waiting for the stores to open.

Thanksgiving – Definitely something you should do with family and friends. Even if you don’t have friends who are from USA, you should go with friends and be part of the festivities.

Going on a solo trip is something I’d love to do again one day. However, as I grow older, I appreciate the company much more than I did before. I suppose when you’re younger and you’re searching for meaning and for yourself, going on a solo trip helps to give you a better idea of what you want to do next or who you want to be.

I did this amazing trip a year before I was due to graduate with a Masters Degree, specialising in scriptwriting. This trip to USA made me want to build a future that included the world of film and television. It affirmed my feelings about the industry I wasn’t sure I really wanted to pursue.

Funny how my goals and dreams have changed since then. While I will always want those dreams of yesteryear, I have new hopes and dreams that are more practical. That’s just life I guess.

What do you think?
Have you ever gone on a solo trip? Would you like to? What is keeping you from going on a solo trip? If you’ve been on a solo trip before, what do you enjoy most about going solo? 

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