i’m terrified of the designated role “tour guide”.
of course i love to travel, and write about travel, and encourage others to seek out new experiences for themselves and yet, when i think of all my best travel moments, they are all squarely in the category of the “unexpected” or the “never in a million years would i have thought i’d find myself here”.
i’d like to share what I can, so here’s a description of what happened when my family visiting from arizona designated me a “tour guide” of new york city.
phase one: discovery
travel is like a limitless expression of the human experience. the internet is full of lists of “countries to see before you die”, “cities to you must visit”, “dishes you must eat” and there will always be the “8 wonders of the world”. this is one form of inspiration, but I like to get more specific than that when charting a course. what makes me feel alive? maybe i can find it all over the world. that’s how i started running marathons in foreign countries. it’s what i love about surfing.
so to plan a nice day in new york, an endless smorgasburg of choice unto itself, i started by asking my family what they wanted to do. actually, they knew what was up - the shop for best chocolate chip cookies, italian food, village walks, specialty retailers- they just needed someone to help them swipe their metrocards at the right speed.
phase two: how does this make a plan?
shout out to someone i met once with a travel blog titled “my no-plan-plan”. if i’m asked to make plans for anyone outside myself (and even myself, in the beginning), i have this inevitable freak out where I try to create a slick and detailed schedule to show that everything’s under control. one of my favorite mental soundbites is from an early surf lesson in rockaway. my brooklyn native instructor let me get a few extra waves past the 1-hr lesson mark because “this ain’t the military”. -which is basically my approach to scheduling vacations. they require a different time plane, that’s subject to being pushed back 3 hours and changed at any time. my advice- make a nice-looking schedule if it instills confidence in your group, but more importantly, have a head full of ideas for variations that will make everyone happy.
phase three: prioritize
after a discovery process of voraciously scanning time out nyc for a show-stopping weekend plan, then talking to my sixteen year old cousin, it became clear, the real highlight item would not be getting into the “museum of pizza” opening or meeting the barefoot contessa on pier 96. no, the #1 make-or-break the day item would be a massive cookie pull at Levain Bakery. Experience told me there could be ferocious lines on the Upper West Side, so we headed there first, a convienent subway transfer from the LIRR in Penn Station. After that, we had a bucket of different ideas - Chelsea Market, The High Line, Washington Square Park, Opening Ceremony, Eataly, Glossier, but it seemed wherever the day took us would be OK if we ate this bucket-list cookie of Blake Lively fame. Pro tip: Cookies usually make everyone happy.
phase four: make it up as you go along
what else in the upper west side? well, we could walk along central park to get out of the upper west side again. where are we going? well, no one’s hungry now that we each ate our own meal-replacement cookie, so let’s go for that walk around the village. more walking you day? sure, we can get off a subway stop early. once we were in the village, my cousin seemed set on direction: glossier showroom, and it was a pretty satisfying retail experience. a light line outside to build the hype, an instagram-worthy interior, and reasonably priced but sleekly packaged cosmetics for a chance to shop and leave with things that wouldn’t push your carry-on over the limit or break the bank like shopping soho for hours.
final phase: food made with love
italian food in little italy? apart from taking a hard line NEVER! let’s just say i’ve been burned before. there’s no shortage of places to eat in the city, from Mott St. holes-in-the-wall to something high end like Le CouCou, that’s well, just around the corner. i am adamant that what makes any culinary experience is love. food that’s lovingly prepared and shared with love. that’s why my grandmother’s eggplant parm will always be better than any i’ve ever found at a restaurant, that’s the true tragedy of fast food or tourist restaurants. in the end, we took the train uptown to flatiron and ate at the restaurant on top of eataly with a wonderful view of the flatiron building, the pasta and cheese was fresh and the company was great.