I’ve never truly experienced a new place while left to my own thoughts and sense of curiosity. Family vacations as a child meant every last activity was planned down to the finest detail. These days, when I do travel, it’s for work or to visit someone. I rarely have the opportunity to get lost in a strange place.
Earlier this year, I went through the pain of getting a passport and the stress of a six-hour layover in homophobic Russia for a visit with my brother and his family in Stuttgart, Germany. It was a charming little town that seems like a perfect place to raise a family. I also happened to catch their spring beer festival which was quite the experience, even though I don’t particularly care for beer.
But being my first time in Europe, I desperately wanted to get the quintessential European experience. Although my brother has always been the nomadic type, his recent role as husband and father of three didn’t leave him with much freedom to wander the continent. But luckily, I had the rare craving for independence that I’m never able to work up when I’m invited to an event, always making sure I have a plus-one for a social buffer.
This was different. My usual social anxiety was replaced with a sense of adventure, a need to escape everything and everyone I knew.
It was a cold morning when my sister-in-law dropped me at their public transit stop. I was slightly annoyed that she couldn’t drive the extra 20 minutes to the station where I was catching my train to Paris. But somehow, I was able to navigate the directions written in a foreign language to make my train at the very last minute. It was a beautifully scenic excursion through the French countryside.
After catching an Uber to my hotel, I dropped off my bags and went for a walk. I was just a block away from the Champs-Élysées, a perfect place to begin my journey into the city with its blocks of shops and restaurants.
But I had a particular spot in mind for a quick brunch. I ventured down the famous avenue from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, where I crossed the Seine. It’s a beautiful view of the river with the Eiffel Tower anchoring the Parisian skyline.
From there, it was a short trek to Café de Flore. After learning that James Baldwin wrote Go Tell It On the Mountain in this beloved local establishment, I knew I had to start my day there. The croque-madame was truly worth the walk – and a vast improvement from the microwavable version I was served on the plane.
From there, I had to engage in the typical tourist activities. From snapping an unflattering selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower to strolling through the Jardin des Tuileries to the Louvre. I also managed to get in some shopping, stocking up on wine and macarons.
After dropping off freshening up and lightening my load at the hotel, I went back out. This time, I headed toward Le Marais, the popular gay neighborhood with blocks of charming shops and gay bars.
I stopped for dinner at Tata Burger, a homo-centric eatery decorated with neon lighting and Ken dolls. My burger was complemented with a specialty pink cocktail, garnished with colorful candy. It was a perfectly gay way to end my day in Paris.
The next morning, I caught an early train to London. Although the Kip Hotel was quite the Uber ride from the train station, it was the perfect temporary home for a solo traveler. A modern dwelling with convenient amenities, it was just what I was looking for.
Luckily, I was at an advantage when it came to navigating the city, since everything is in English. And being that their public transit makes New York’s look like a public restroom at Penn Station, I didn’t mind taking the train into the city. I immediately got the tourist checklist out of the way, seeing the London Eye, walking Westminster Bridge to Big Ben and then to Buckingham Palace.
Although the lady of the house wasn’t available, I knew where to find a good queen. So, from there, I went to Soho where I met up with internationally-renowned artist, Daniel Lismore. After a quick tour of the neighborhood’s gay staples, we got drinks at a charming underground dive bar, the façade of which just appears to be an apartment building, shielding it from the wandering masses.
As I caught my flight home, I was overcome with a rare sense of empowerment. I was able to step out of my comfort zone and explore some of the world’s most beautiful cities, foreign as the may be to me. Although the right travel companion is always welcome, there’s something about exploring the world on your own that reminds you of your own strength.
Glenn Garner is an assistant editor for Out Magazine and Out Traveler, as well as a frequent contributor to BlackBook. He’s also written for Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, NewNowNext, Into, and Bello Magazine. In addition to writing, he contributes on occasion as a photographer and video producer.