Peter McGraw hosts a fun, inspirational discussion about solo travel dreams, fantasies, and realities. Returning guests Mary Delia Allen and Iris Schneider share their vision for where they would go and what they would do alone if given the chance. From a silent retreat in Joshua Tree, to swimming with whales, to volunteering in a war-torn country, Mary Delia and Iris indulge their wildest solo travel dreams. Tune in as they discuss their ideal destinations, upgrade their home space, and brainstorm how they would spend an unexpected three-day weekend at home. This wide-ranging conversation will have you dreaming up your own solo bucket list.
Share your dreams, fantasies, and realities with the Solo community at https://petermcgraw.org/solo/.
Listen to Episode #187 here
Where Would You Go And What Would You Do Alone?
I’ve got two return guests, Mary Delia Allen, who appeared in the Enjoy Your Solo episode named after her book. She’s also a solo love Letter contributor in my forthcoming book. Welcome, Mary.
Thank you. I’m excited.
Also, Iris Schneider. She’s been in lots of episodes, including the controversial Solo Thoughts episode Dancing With Bulls and Truth Or Truth episode, which has gotten some good feedback. Welcome, Iris.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Mary was kind enough to whip up some questions for us to spur a conversation about where you would go and what you would do alone. I suspect not all of this will be about solitude and solitary pursuits, but this is a general theme. Is it fair to say, Mary, that this episode was spurred by your thesis or approach to life? How would you articulate that?
I feel that there is so much energy put into romance, seeing the ideas of what couples do together and they’re so little talked about how we, to use my own title, enjoy our solos. They are so little enthusiasm for our alone time, dreaming of it, putting energy towards it, putting time and effort into the time that you spend with yourself. Many people fritter it away, avoid it or don’t think about it. Putting energy, thought and enthusiasm into time with yourself is incredibly valuable.
This notion and, coincidentally, Iris was on this important episode about Waiting and how much singles, in particular, are placed in this world of waiting for the one and waiting until your life is complete, then you can start living. Now you can go to Rome or Paris with your partner and have a romantic vacation. Some people aren’t waiting for that and some people are, unfortunately, waiting hopelessly for that and putting off these magical growth-worthy experiences.
With this episode, I hope to have a little fun and inspire people to enjoy their solo, as Mary likes to say. Let’s jump into where you would go and what you would do potentially alone. This is in no particular order, but I like this one from the start because I think it’s a challenging one, and that is, if you had to be silent for 72 hours, where would you go? What would you do?
It did make me think about a couple of weekends that I spent alone and where I would not speak to anybody for 48 hours because I would be alone the whole weekend and then on Sunday evening or something, I called my mom and I could not speak anymore because I hadn’t practiced for two days, but 72 is a whole new challenge. In the East of Germany, there’s Saxon Switzerland. I’ve only seen pictures of it. Apparently, it’s like a gorgeous landscape of mountains and there’s a railway that goes through which has been the subject of many paintings and writers went there and everything.
I would go there and then do one of these hikes that goes from a hiking hut where you can just stay. I think I would go to this natural park. Sächsische is a country or state in Germany. It’s mountainy, that’s why they call it Saxon Switzerland. It’s gorgeous. You can also go to the Eiffel, which has similar campsites. There are a lot of Natural Parks where you can lose yourself with yourself for 72 hours and not have to talk. That’s what I would would do.
It’s interesting this idea of being solo, living on your own and enjoying your solitude. You might find yourself in silence by the way of your natural rhythms, taking a weekend away from socializing.
I would have zero problems doing this. I am a very social person, but I love my alone time. My company is delightful. I would have no problem. I’ve worked on some writing projects and I’ve gone to a hotel. This is more of a writing thing, but I had inspirational quotes on all the mirrors. I had the TV turn to YouTube for the subconscious focus and all those things. I thought that was wonderful, but that’s an example of putting effort in, taking those extra steps and saying, “I’m going to be by myself,” and if my mind wanders, I want to stay focused. I’ll see that quote and that’ll be inspirational.” One of the other things that I did is I went to a spa and didn’t eat for five days.
You did a five-day fast.
You drink stuff all day. I got on that first-class flight home and had a salad and two vodkas. I hope that it worked, but it was restful not to eat. Not talking is the same way. It’s a type of rest that we are unaware that we need and you can come out refreshed from it. Instead of thinking that as a denial like, “I’m not socializing. I’m not talking to anyone,” think of it as, “I am resting. I’m gathering my thoughts myself.” It’s incredibly valuable.
It’s a fascinating question in part because there are people who have never gone 72 hours in silence. Even the fact that you will try and how that will open up possibilities to think about yourself and reflect on how you naturally behave, and also the fact that it might be challenging. My first reaction to this was, “I don’t want to do that. That seems hard.”
I have a friend who has gone on silent retreats. You’re amongst people. You dine, walk and meditate with people. No one speaks the entire 72 hours or whatever the length of this is. I think that’s a proper challenge. It would be a difficult one at first probably. After 1 day or 2, you start to lean into it and appreciate how it changes dynamics, how you can still be connected to people and how you can still communicate with people without using your voice.
Being with people and being silent would be harder than just enjoying your own company.
It’s because you have to coordinate. When other people are there, you need to coordinate with them. When you sit down at the table, you need something or you’re waiting, going without speaking when I would be at home wouldn’t be hard until I have to get takeout or go to the grocery store and not say hello to people or something. When you have people around, you need to communicate with them to coordinate. That I will make a hard but probably it works because I read about people doing that like for a week in some monastery. Apparently, coordination-wise, it works or maybe it’s coordinated by one person who does speak. Is that the case?
I don’t know. I don’t I don’t think so. I’m sure they go through ground rules maybe some tips and so on.
I don’t think it would be the same because I feel like I would be animated if other people were around even if I had to do it non-verbally. That restful experience of spending time with yourself would not happen for this introvert and extrovert if other people were around.
You’re observed by other people.
I do feel like there are moments in time when I have an aversive reaction to an idea. In some cases, I’m like, “I don’t want to do that.” For example, skydiving. I don’t feel like my life is worse off. I don’t feel like I have to prove anything with it. I find it aversive. I don’t want to do that, but there are things like this idea of going on a silent retreat with other people that is also aversive, but I’m like, “I should probably do that.” That’s the thing I should do because it’s a challenge that there’s very likely to be growth. I don’t think I’m going to grow by jumping out of an airplane, but I think I would grow by going to a silent retreat.
I’m very surprised that you find the idea adverse. You can still read. That should be silent for 72 hours.
I am a guy who has hundreds of episodes, so I’m a talker. Talking is my superpower, I think. My answer is not us retreat, though. Mary, I like your idea of fasting as a metaphor for this, like taking a break from things that we do and nourishing us can have a benefit with regard to understanding our will and needs, giving our body and brain a change.
When you don’t eat for all those days, you have loads of time. You can’t have the coffee or breakfast. It is restful in a way that is unexpected.
Learning to fast is an empowering thing. Suddenly, you can control food rather than food controlling you. In this way, you’re suggesting that you fast with your voice and that you control your voice rather than your voice controls you. My answer was HiFi Homestead in Joshua Tree, which I’ve talked about in the show, which is a place that I’ve spent days, weeks and months at mostly alone. That is a place of reflection, solitude and a healthy place for me. That’s cheating a little bit because I would never be tempted to talk to anyone because I’ll never come across anyone, but nonetheless, that’s the place that serves that purpose.
I was thinking, what are you fasting? I cannot talk to anybody but then not text anybody. No communication with other people. I think that’s an interesting thing. You are alone with your thoughts. You cannot dump them on other people. You cannot bounce them off other people and also in a moment you have to experience it completely by yourself. Often, when we experience something, immediately, we have to share the experience.
Sometimes that can be enriching and make it more, but sometimes I think maybe not because it’s distracting and you cannot feel the whole thing that’s going on. I often have this in moments of awe when you have like a moment of awe. In the beginning, if you share it too quickly, it disappears because you try to put it into words and you try to communicate it to somebody else. It diminishes it. Look at me being in awe in my office in the background of the Grand Canyon.
That’s a great first question. Thank you for that. If you had unlimited funds for a week, where would you go? What would you do?
I’m getting the jet with the pilot. I’m going to Europe. I’m being met off the plane. I’m going to have a trainer every day. I’m going to have a meditation coach. I’m going to have a chef. I’m going to have loads of staff.
You’re going to live the billionaire lifestyle for a week.
Don’t shake an unlimited fun shtick at me because I can do it.
What would you do alone if you had unlimited funds? Hire people.
They’re going to come, to provide their service and then they’re going to leave. I’m going to be alone. I’m not going to do anything for myself. I’m going to have all the people. People are going to be thinking about me and what I want.
There’s this TV show, Succession, that’s all the rage. This is a billionaire family. One of the things that I noticed that I cannot unsee anymore in that show, obviously, they fly private all the time. Any time they get out of a helicopter or an airplane, they’re never carrying anything. They never carry luggage. All they have is their phone and wallet or maybe a purse. There are people who deal with all that stuff. You go and walk into your hotel room and your stuff is in the room. That would be you for a week, Mary.
I will steal the private jet. Apparently, I should watch stuff like Succession because of the private jet.
It didn’t even cross your mind.
If you’re flying commercial in your imagination, I’m sad.
I am sad. I was going to fly an imaginary commercial, maybe premium economy, to the Dominican Republic. I would go to the Dominican Republic because I read there’s a natural reserve and they have the biggest population of humpback whales and you can take a boat there. It takes eight hours or something ridiculous and then you can go there. You stay a week on the boat and you can swim with the humpback whale.
I bet it doesn’t take eight hours if you hire your own yacht.
You have the whole week.
I could do a yacht. I forgot about that. The live aboard is a week because you get to do nine encounters. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about what is offered. I take a private jet and a yacht, and I go to this place with one other guy and a cook, and then we swim with the whales there.
You’re going to have a guy who knows the whales, takes you swimming and introduces them to you like, “Have you met Iris? This is my whale.” Let’s dream big.
Is it one of these men, lovers, Iris?
Paid lover, maybe, given the unlimited funds.
I don’t think you have to pay directly when you have unlimited funds. You become infinitely more attractive.
You’re not paying for your gigolo. You’re inviting a man along. You’re going to have your own berth.
I think I’d rather pay somebody directly so we can have some service-level agreement.
My rules are no harm and consent. Go for it.
My rule is if you’re single, your next sex could be your best sex, which is not true for married people. They know what’s coming, whereas for people who are single, maybe there are some new ways to do it. You’re going to find out about it. You never know.
On the other hand, you know what it is like with headphones. There’s only one instance in which they’re not untangled and the rest of the time, it’s basically all tangled. It’s not good.
We have wireless headphones now. You have to pay a premium.
Come on my boat. I will give you wireless headphones.
Why do you need headphones on your own boat? You don’t. It’s your boat. Play whatever you want.
You got to have a DJ.
You are by yourself. You don’t have to wear clothes. You’d be like, “The humpback whales aren’t wearing clothes. I’m not wearing clothes.” You’re by yourself with the staff.
I appreciate the fact that Mary’s here getting you to think bigger, Iris.
Whales are pretty big, but I didn’t think in terms of yachts, jets and everything. I would like a private physician because the truth is that I’m seasick, like motion sick. I can’t be on a boat.
Not if the yacht is big enough. Just get a big enough yacht.
That’s a solution.
I didn’t think big enough. Part of the reason is I’m not sure I want to do Mary’s trip in part because there’s a downside to this, which is any subsequent travel that you ever do after that is going to be awful.
You won’t risk the lifestyle creep. You’re like, “One private jet, I’ll never go to premium economy again.”
I’m flying scheduled and I’m like, “Ugh.”
You’ll be ruined.
I’ve been thinking about deathbed regrets. I’m incredibly fortunate that I don’t think I’ll have many. I’ve been able to do many of the things I’ve wanted to do and the things I dreamed of as a boy. I don’t feel like there are many deathbed regrets, at least not major ones, but there’s like, “Where are the places that I still want to go? The things that I want to still experience that I might look back and go, ‘That would have been fun. That would have been nice. I missed that opportunity.’”
From what I’ve heard, one of them is Antarctica. It has that thing of giving me a chance to check every continent. That kind of listy, “I’ve been to every continent,” thing that people put on there. “I have been to five continents.” People put it on their dating apps to show that they are global citizens, etc., but the more important thing is it seems like a fascinating place unlike any other place in the world and it’s difficult to do and get to.
Money solves many of those problems. I haven’t done a deep dive into it, but in general, it’s like, you usually take a boat there and it’s like very rough seas. I also get seasick. Anything I can do to make a trip to Antarctica more comfortable, and then I can enjoy the majesty of this continent, I think, would be a worthwhile use of my unlimited funds and my week of them.
I would like to come.
You have to go by yourself. I regularly play the game of when I’m a billionaire, I’m going to hire different people in my life for different jobs. Somebody has to interview the lifeguards for my pool. Iris, you could do that job. It’ll be a job you like. I will employ every one of my friends when I’m a bazillionaire.
I could interview lifeguards for your pool.
We need one every day. They need to be attractive. We need a rigorous interview process.
We’re moving on because you are spiraling. Next question. You get a chance to see your dream concert. What band or musician? What time of year? What venue?
I picked one because I couldn’t be there because I was zero at the time. I would like to travel back in time and go to the concert that Bob Dylan gave in Japan at Budokan in 1978 because I would love to see that live. I would love to go to Japan in spring.
The cherry blossoms.
Around May, I would go. I’ve heard that album many times in my life that I would love to go back in time and be there at the moment it was recorded and hear it live by Bob Dylan, who then still sang in a somewhat comprehensible way.
I appreciate the time travel one. I have a time travel one, too. Do you, Mary?
I did not. I thought real world. I want to be in the right bar after the concert where Pink sings in the little bar in Nashville or where Taylor Swift goes to the hotel bar and bangs out a quick set. I want to do something like that.
Growing up in New Jersey, there was always like these Bruce Springsteen stories. He lived in Red Bank or somewhere around there, close to where he grew up in Asbury Park. There would be stories of him wandering into a dive bar of sorts where there’s music playing and him getting on stage and performing. The whole place is electric. I can’t stop talking about it, which I think is solid. Yours is at the end of that.
I want the backstage.
Do you want Taylor Swift and Pink?
I want a female rocker of some kind.
Mine is weird. I have gotten into Pink Floyd. I was aware of Pink Floyd when I was a kid. We had The Wall as an album when I was probably too young to be listening to The Wall, frankly, but I have watched some documentaries about Pink Floyd. I certainly feel like the music holds up well. It’s probably also a little stereotypical with me and my psychedelic journeys and so on.
I’m a bit of a cliché at the moment. This is something I didn’t realize. I’m not sure I have the facts exactly straight so someone can correct me in the Solo Community if I’m wrong about this. While Woodstock was happening, Pink Floyd went to Pompeii and did a concert in front of no one at the arena there. I would love to be able to travel back in time and be the one person watching that performance.
Would you want them to know that you were there or would you want to be there and they don’t know you’re there?
I wouldn’t want to ruin the story about that there was no audience. Obviously, there was a crew. This was filmed. You can find it on YouTube. You can find a documentary. It’s Pink Floyd – Live At Pompeii. I think it would be best if they didn’t know. I get to enjoy it like a fly on the wall.
You are just around the corner.
You did well on this one. I have no imagination. I was like, “I’ll see somebody at Wrigley Field, which I used to live up the street from.” I like to talk about it because I like people to remind themselves that you can go to a concert by yourself. You do not need anybody with you. You should get an aisle seat so you can beat it if you want to. You should wait until very close to the concert to see if you want to go. You can’t have it lingering on the calendar like, “We’re going to have fun. I’m going to be by myself.” You got to wait and say, “Is this really happening? Do I feel the vibe?”
I did this when the Red Hot Chili Peppers played at Mile High in Denver, the big football stadium, and I bought the tickets two hours before the show and went alone. It was incredible. When you’re solo, you can walk around and sometimes slip into a seat that’s good that, for some reason, is unoccupied. It was very fun. You have $500 to spend on one dinner alone. Go.
I did this. I didn’t spend the $500 myself, but I was the guest of the property and I was in an incredibly swanky dining room and they almost treated me like a secret shopper. There was caviar and courses. I am a foodie and I had no problem going through $500. I had no problem being there by myself. I like the tall and small food as theater and I would also like an additional $500 because I don’t want to have to go home after my meal. I want to be able to stay at a nearby hotel and continue my experience.
I also would stay in a hotel. I would make the hotel the central thing. I’d get a hotel high in the mountains and I wouldn’t do dinner. I would get room service brunch out on the terrace because I love brunch. I love hours and hours of brunch. I would go on the terrace, look at the mountain, sun’s coming up and sit there in my fluffy bathrobe, in my slippers and just eat brunch food for a couple of hours. This is what I would do.
I wanted to deliver in courses. I don’t want those waffles getting cold.
Maybe it can be made on location. A guy comes and he makes waffles.
First of all, Mary, you did yours. That’s incredible. That’s not even a dream. That’s now a memory. Congratulations.
In the hospitality business, it’s a perk.
I like the creativity of Iris’s which is like, “I’m not going to use the money for the food. I’m going to use the money for the location.” That’s clever. I’m totally okay with breaking the question about dinner because that’s not essential. Kudos to both of you. I’m boring because I eat to live. I don’t live to eat. I’m not a foodie. I once ate at a Michelin star restaurant in France. It was interesting and it had that tall and small performative element to it with wild bowls and everything. I was with interesting people, but when the check came and I paid it, I remember thinking, “That wasn’t worth it.”
It was worth it to be able to have had the experience to know that I don’t need to do that anymore. However, there’s one Michelin experience that is the exception for me. I would want to do this immediately as soon as possible. There is a wonderful documentary. It’s one of my favorite documentaries ever made. It’s a beautiful film about food and flow. It’s a documentary about creativity and engagement. It is called Jiro Dreams Of Sushi.
It’s about the world’s best sushi chef, who’s now in his late ‘80s. Jiro is his name. The title comes from part of an interview where he says he dreams about making new types of sushi. Sushi has been around for a couple of thousand years at least and there’s this belief that everything that’s been done has been done. Jiro thinks that’s a ridiculous idea and he has turned himself into the world’s best sushi chef.
At the time of the taping of this documentary, a meal at his restaurant, which is in a subway in Roppongi in Tokyo, has twenty seats. It’s like a twenty-course meal where you just get sushi. You don’t get appetizers or drinks. He serves you the world’s best sushi. That was $300 at the time. I have to imagine that it is more money now. I think I can hit that sweet spot of $500 and I’ll tip them extra, whatever the difference is.
Twenty courses by yourself. Do you feel good?
There’ll be other people there. They have a very thoughtful process about where to sit and to place everyone. Everything is thought through in this place. I think it’s twenty courses. You can’t check me on all the details about this. It’s like twenty pieces of sushi, more or less. It’s all bought fresh that day at the fish market in Tokyo. It’s all bespoke, depending on what the catches are. I would get to meet this fascinating man. I’ve watched that documentary multiple times. You have to spend Thanksgiving somewhere outside the United States alone. Where do you go? What do you do?
I don’t see any problems because I live outside the US. I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.
For Iris, it would be outside of Europe.
We don’t do Thanksgiving, so it would be Christmas, I guess.
I’m going to go to Ireland for Thanksgiving. To be in Europe, I live near the beach now so I would want something a little more interesting than a beach. You can leave that Thanksgiving tradition behind. There’s no necessity to adhere to any holiday, no matter what. You can go somewhere in the world where they’re not that interested in that holiday. It doesn’t matter where it is. Start a new tradition with yourself, which I think is super powerful. I would go to Ireland. I think that’s a nice time to be there.
I have done that in exactly what you described. I got on a plane and flew to Dublin. I spent time in Dublin and then I went out to Galway. I didn’t do the full countryside experience.
It’s always fun.
It was lovely. It was the only sunny day. I warn you that in late November in Ireland, be ready for some overcast weather.
Brisk, is it?
Bring your bring your wool sweaters and so on.
That’s what they specialize in over there, wool sweaters and drinks that warm me up. It’s great when it’s cold. I was a tour guide for a long time and I said there were two kinds of weather, clearing up and perfect. That’s it, “This is going to clear up. Don’t worry.”
I’m lucky because I have had a December holiday. I would go to Norway and stay a little hut there on one of these little cabins with an open fireplace and then probably I would try and travel there with a dog sled. My friends did that. They went on dog sleds there. I would love to do that and to be in a cabin with a fireplace for Christmas by myself. I spent Christmas by myself a couple of times a few years ago here in Cologne. I like it.
I don’t celebrate Christmas with anyone else.
I typically spend the day alone.
You only have one day.
That time period, but usually, I spend Christmas Day alone reflecting, relaxing, reading and journaling. I do my reflection on the year of what went well and what didn’t go well. I start to think about whether I wanted to theme for the next year and what that theme might be.
I like doing that then as well.
I try to stay away from airports around the holidays. I like the zig when everyone else zags.
That’s one of the tricks when you’re one person. You can have that option and say, “The airports are crowded. I’m not doing it. I can do it on my own time.” I have also done dog sledding. It’s the closest, as an adult, you can get to a stroller experience. You’re reclining, being pulled and pushed. It’s delightful. I’m not that much of a dog person, but those little doggies are hard to resist and you don’t have to do anything. Skiing. No effort. It’s delightful.
You get a little party in there.
It is the closest I believe you can get to a stroller experience.
Unless you have limited funds.
On one hand, it feels decadent. On the other hand, you’re going to Norway and going to be in a cabin in December. It’s not that decadent. It’s chilly. You can work remotely or take a sabbatical for three months. Which part of the year and where are you going?
I’m going to Alaska for the tourism season. I’m going to be a tour guide for something super simple. I’m going to be like, “There are some trees. Here’s the ocean.” I’m going to know everybody in the small town. Cruise ships are going to come in every day. I’m going to hike every morning. I’m going to get one of those dogs with the blue eyes. It’s going to be my friend. I’m going to meet some bears. It’s going to be great.
Isn’t that the premise of Men In Trees?
Hallmark has covered this territory. My stepmother’s bakery has gone to fund. I need to go save that. As a person who’s single, I’m going to have gentlemen callers. They’re going to have some pipeline money. They’re going to be able to keep me in the hiking gear I’m accustomed to.
What you’re describing is you’re going to stay in one place, enjoy nature, and then have new people coming through all the time for three months with whom you get to have new adventures.
I’m a natural-born tour guide. I want to tell everyone, “This weather is clearing up.” That would be a dream of mine, tour guide the season. The season starts on one date and ends on another date. They definitely truck people up to Alaska. If anyone would like to hire me to work the Alaska summer.
I’d like to visit you.
I would give a personal recommendation.
Maybe I’m going to be the tour guide at the fishing camp where they go and fish all day. I only have a cocktail hour’s worth of material that I need to present. I would like something like that. The rest of time, it’s me in the trees.
Let’s not overwork you on your fantasy.
I was surprised there was a drop in the sabbatical. It’s like, “Why are you working? It’s a sabbatical.”
I’m too much of a striver. I couldn’t not work. I got to strive.
You like what you do. It’s like it to call back to Jiro, Jiro works every day unless he’s sick. Even if he has a funeral to go to, he comes back into the restaurant. He doesn’t take days off because he’s compelled to do this work. You are compelled to make the world a better place for vacationers and travelers. It’s great.
I would go to Bali. I tried to do this a couple of years ago when I was in Bali. I was like, “This is a nice place. I don’t have any teaching. I could stay here for a couple of months,” but then I got ill and then I had to go to hospital and everything. It put things on hold, but I would go back and stay there for three months, maybe travel around Bali. There’s a lot to do there, but mostly, I would finally try and get some real skill in surfing, which I’ve been trying to do in patches here and there, but mostly only when I’m on a holiday because there are not many waves in Cologne, admittedly. I would do that and then hone my surfing skills to the degree that I can go somewhere, take a board and go out on my own, surf and don’t need instruction anymore.
You get to right this wrong. You get a second chance at Bali. Mine is simple and straightforward. I have come to the decision that I need to live in another country at some point here. I will move to another country in order to continue to grow and challenge myself. I want to try to learn a new language. I got the English thing down pat, but I’m not a natural learner of languages. It would be very growth-oriented to learn a new language and learn to play with words in a new culture. I’m not sure where that place will be. I think it might be Argentina, Buenos Aires, from my research and conversations with people.
It has promise, but I’ve not been there yet. I would use these three months to test out Buenos Aires. This is a little bit counterintuitive. I would go in our summer in Argentinian winter. Buenos Aires is pretty moderate in terms of its weather, but I like cool weather. It’s blazing hot in Denver in July and August. The sun is beating on you. As a fair-skinned individual, I would enjoy the zig when everyone else is zagging. That would be my answer.
I think it’d be very fun. I want to learn how to Argentinian tango. Spanish is the language I want to learn. I’ve been picking up little bits. I like its formality and informality. I like how it’s such a friendly language and a lot of Latin cultures are very friendly cultures. They’re very highly interactive. It will work with my extroverted personality.
I can totally see you dancing tango somehow with your long body and legs. His leg is going all over the place.
I’ve read a book about a woman who left her life behind. I can’t remember the name of it. She learned to tango and it’s very serious. You have to go twice a day and you go to these tango party classes and it’s rigorous. I think you should do it.
When are you going to do it is my question.
I don’t know if I’ll go for the full three months, but I made a decision that I’m going to go to Buenos Aires next summer. I don’t know for how long, but I’ll probably do what I’ve been doing lately is I’ll go on a one-way ticket.
If someone invited me to Taylor Swift and Buena Aires, which would have been a concert I would choose.
The Argentinians are amazing concertgoers.
It’s because I know how to have fun.
They’re into it. We can do some more rapid-fire. Two of them are a little different. You have one week to volunteer wherever and however you wish. What is your vision?
I would want to help in a crisis because my profession is logistics. I would be equipped to do that. One of the things that I think is a solo done well superpower is you are comfortable all the time. You should have the ability to be uncomfortable. If I had to go and sleep wherever, fend for myself or be uncomfortable, I stay very committed as a person who lives alone and can do whatever I want to be comfortable all the time. That’s in my wheelhouse. I encourage other people to be that way.
It’s a humanitarian crisis or something like that.
The hurricane and there’s nowhere to sleep. You got to come in fresh and say, “I’m here to help you.” It’s my profession, but it’s also something I’m very committed to as a person who can have everything all the time because I live alone. I like to keep that muscle of being uncomfortable or letting the other person go first very strong.
Before we get to Iris’s, I want to pause on this one because I think it’s profound. I know we’re having a lot of fun here. This is designed to be a bit inspirational, but it’s also designed to get people to think differently. Do either of you ever have this thought on a Friday afternoon? You’re like, “I could do anything I want. I could go to the airport right now and buy a ticket within reason. I could go tonight to a show last minute.” You could have a great deal.
I go to show it in Vegas at the last minute. You can do whatever.
On Friday, I could have called a friend and said, “What are you doing this weekend? I’m thinking of coming into town. Can I visit? Can I stay with you?” They would probably say, “We’re not around, but you can stay at the house.” We have so many more degrees of freedom within reasonable amounts of money and so on. Not everybody can do anything they want, but we can do way more than what we ever do right. We don’t think outside the bounds of a rather limited number of behaviors. What I’d like about your answer to this question is it’s a superpower. There’s a humanitarian crisis. Is your husband or your wife going to be like, “Go ahead. See you in a week. Go to Ukraine and help out. I’m completely 100% on board with that.”
You’re talking about making yourself happy because you can do whatever you want. You can also extend yourself more. You can say, “I know you have a family. It’s easier for me to get you.” I’ll sleep in the crappy accommodations at the Holiday. It’s just me. I know people get uptight about that, but I get to have it the way I want it all the time. I should be the first one to be generous and say, “Let me be flexible.”
There are two more elements. If anybody is stuck with us to this point, I think is an incredibly important idea. One is we have the ability to live incredibly comfortable lives. All things equal, I’d rather be comfortable than not comfortable, but you rarely grow in moments of comfort. Oftentimes, moments of discomfort are also associated with other profound things, challenges and importance.
If you want to challenge yourself to run a marathon, you’re going to be uncomfortable. If you’re going to try to build a business, you’re going to be uncomfortable. If you’re going to try to make the world a better place, you’re likely to be uncomfortable. Recognizing the ability to step out of our comfort and into discomfort is often going to be very useful.
My third thing is one of the challenging elements as we start to think about retirement, and I’ve been thinking a lot about, “Is there a resource that I could create that’s going to help solos in retirement?” I’m trying to think of like, “What is the right hook? What’s the right perspective?” How to think about talking about aging, retiring and dying single in a way that’s new and useful.
One of those is you need to have a plan for what life is going to be on the other side of mandatory. That may be more work and that’s fine, but it also might be looking to stretch yourself and giving in a way for other people might be difficult to do. I want to say thank you for that answer because I think it’s layers upon layers of brilliance and encouragement for people. We’ve been talking about comfort, masseuses, people serving you food and flying private and so on. What you’re suggesting is that there is great benefit from going in a complete opposite direction to great discomfort.
It’s very easy as someone who lives alone, and you don’t have that other person saying, “Let me go first,” or you make this sacrifice. We don’t have to do that as people who are single. You have to keep that built into your life and be sure that you’re a person who remains flexible and able to be uncomfortable.
You have to build it and you have to make a choice about it. When you talk about aging and being solo, you could have a long marriage and a lot of children and it’s likely you’re going to end up in the old folks’ home alone. The skillsets that we’re talking about building a solo and making yourself happy, you’re going to use them when you’re old. How are you envisioning it? Even if you have a partner, you will be alone. We’re living longer. I am enthusiastic to spread the message of, “Please treat yourself right and and don’t think of it as a negative.” I did not mean to preach, but I care about it.
No. Part of the goal of the show is to educate and inspire.
Iris, you are volunteering.
When Peter said, “We have the freedom on Friday afternoon,” I was like, “He’s right.” I’m a person who likes regularity. I easily settle into rhythm, comfort and rigidity at some point. I’m still mind-blown about, “He’s right. We can do whatever we want.” For volunteering, I’ve thought about this as well in the past over the holidays, especially Christmas. It’s cold here in Cologne. There are a lot of homeless people and I think I would experience a lot of me helping people have some type of Christmas, meal and comfort on those days when everybody is sitting together, eating and drinking in excess in delight and indulging. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think I would enjoy trying to provide a bare minimum of that to people who do not have ready access to these kinds of situations.
It’s because you can. The point is having a solitary holiday is great as long as you choose solitude. omething that a lot of people don’t understand about the homeless population is that one of the reasons that many of these folks are homeless is because they have no one else. They’re isolated. When I was younger, when I’d walk the city, I would be like, “If I needed to sleep here, this is a good spot. I should remember this spot in case I ended up homeless.” One day, I realized, even if I lost everything, I’d never be homeless because I have twenty-plus people who I could crash on their couch, guest room or basement until I can get on my feet again. This isolation that these people have is especially profound during these days.
To piggyback on what you said, I feel that I have more backup plans as someone who’s single because I am able to be a part of more people’s families. You can fit in when it’s you a little better. I have a list of guest rooms and basements that I could go to when something goes wrong. Couples don’t necessarily work that way.
I have couches and so on for people too. That’s the way this works. I know that I have people I can rely on in case of emergency and people know they can rely on me. Knowing that is enough for you not to feel isolated. Now you get to choose your time alone. Mine is a bit of a throwback. When I was 26 years old, I was living in Southern California. I drove up the Coast of California to Happy Camp California, which is right on the border of California and Oregon Klamath National Forest, which no one knows about. It’s not the place that you fly to from Germany or Korea to see. People go to Yosemite or Rocky Mountain National Park, but it is a lovely, beautiful forest.
I did a Sierra Club service trip for nine days. You get a backpack and you hike into this forest. You spend your days building and fixing trails. It is hard work. You’re moving boulders. You’re digging and so on. That’s about half the time. The other half the time, you’re free to do more hiking, swim in lakes and so on. It’s not comfortable. You’re sleeping in a tent. You’re pooping in a hole. I’m a guy who has a bidet. That’s not an exciting endeavor, but it is healthy living. The people who decide to do these trips are nice people. They are kind and generous people.
A lot has changed in those almost 30 years, which is like back then, you didn’t need a digital detox. You weren’t walking around with cell phones. We had email and there was the internet, but it wasn’t like it is now. It would serve this additional purpose of not just breathing clean air and eating wholesome foods and moving your body in new ways, but it would also be an incredible break from anything digital.
We basically had a guy with a guitar. That was our entertainment. Conversations around the fire and the excitement of exploration of, “We’re going to go out for the day. We’re going this way. We’re going to find and swim in these lakes.” You leave and you have made the world a better place because now people can walk on your trails safely and enjoy this beautiful place. I would do that again. Last two. You live alone. You’ve been given $10,000 or euros to upgrade your living space as you wish. How are you spending the money? We’re getting a little off the topic, but I like this one a lot. What do you do?
It’s not enough, but let’s pretend it’s enough. I’ll tell you what I would do. My apartment has this weird nook. It’s about 10 centimeters deep, about 4 inches. It’s the size of a door. Why is that nook there? I learned later that they were trying to build a roof terrace and that was the door to the roof terrace. It’s the outside wall. I’m on the fifth floor. They’re planning to build a roof terrace on the building next to me, which goes to the fourth floor, but they didn’t get the permits. I still want that roof terrace.
You can have somebody for $10,000 that can do it.
I’m also going to need your $10,000, Peter. That’s expensive.
As long as we can come and visit the roof terrace.
You can. Please come to visit the roof terrace. I would also have a bathtub.
I’m going to do the closet.
It’s a big walk-in closet.
I’m going to organize everything. I’m lucky I love where I live. I’m going to send myself flowers regularly. It’s one of the things about you. Gifts are one of my love languages and as a person who’s single, it doesn’t always get scratched a little bit. I do like to find ways to say, “I am going to give this gift to myself.” I would like flowers.
Both are solid. As someone who has the tub for the first time and a tub that fits me, it’s fun to sit in the tub sometimes, especially on a Friday night. Buy some candles and drop a THC bath bomb in there and chill. Mary, I always have fresh flowers in my apartment. I get them at the supermarket down the street, but it’s a worthwhile investment. I love it. I like the idea that you’re getting your flowers sent to you.
I want them delivered. It’s something different. I want that surprise element.
Maybe you want a bouquet. I usually have flowers, but I rarely have bouquets.
I want some serious artistry. I want purple calla lilies and orange roses only. Maybe I’m going to put the whole bunch towards flowers.
I have a nice apartment. I rent an apartment. I’m not interested in doing any structural work on it. I don’t know how long I’ll be in it, but I would use the money for art. I’ll tell you why. I have art and most of it’s cheap art that I bought off of eBay. I picked one piece that I bought off the wall of a cafe. It cost me $75, but I have one expensive piece of art. I bought it as an experiment. I’m a member of the Denver Art Museum. I drop in regularly for an hour or an hour and a half and bring my journal. I always feel like this charge of creativity after visiting a good museum. I’m always inspired. This is many years ago. There was an exhibit of six Latin artists. It was a big exhibit and it was excellent. I enjoyed it so much.
I went back a couple of times and there was this one particular artist who had this big wall of these big prints that had this mix of Chicano motifs with a lot of pop culture references. There was one piece of art that popped off the wall for me. It’s Peter O’Toole from Lawrence of Arabia wearing a Lone Ranger mask and holding these pistols. There’s a whole bunch of stuff. Heart Of Darkness is the name of the piece. I was like, “I love that piece.” It spoke to me and there were other good ones. I got thinking and I was like, “I wonder if it’s for sale.”
Some of the pieces were donated, but some of them came from a gallery in Arizona. I was like, “I’ve never bought an expensive piece of art. I wonder what that would be like. Would it be worth it or would I regret it?” It’s hard for me to spend money. I’ve been undoing years of that. I’ve been learning to be better about spending money, especially money that makes my life better.
I hatched this plan. I was like, “I’m going to call the gallery. I’m going to ask them if it’s for sale. If it’s for sale, I’m going to ask them for the price. I’m going to come up with the price in my head. If it’s at that price or less, I’m going to buy it, and then, no matter what, I’m going to hold the piece for three years. At the end of the three years, if I’m still happy with it, I’ll keep it. If at the end of three years, if I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I wasted much this money on this piece of art,’ then I will sell it again even if it’s at a loss.”
I called the gallery. I said, “I’m interested in this piece, Heart of Darkness. Is it for sale?” The curator said, “Of course, it’s for sale.” I said, “How much is it?”I picked a number that would be painful to pay but not hurt me like it would not be easy to write that check. I said, “How much?” The price was $100 less than the price that I had.
I said, “I’d like to buy it.” She said, “No problem. Send us a check for half, and then when the exhibit is over, give us the other check and we’ll ship it to you.” She sends me an email a few days later and she goes, “I’m terribly sorry, but there’s an additional charge to ship it to you. It’s going to be $300.” I said, “The museum is one hour away from my house. Could I just pick it up?”She said, “That’s a great idea. Let me check.” She got back to me and say, “Yes.” On the day that the exhibit came down, I drove to the Denver Art Museum. I parked in the loading dock and I got to go backstage.
That was worth the price.
It was great. I was like, “I’m here to pick up.” They are like, “You are Peter McGraw. Great.” They gave it to me. I wrapped it in a blanket and put it in the back of my car. I drove it home. I still have the piece. I brought it with me to California when I did my sabbatical and leave of absence. It’s the only piece of art that people are in my apartment and they go, “I like that.” It doesn’t always get comments, but when it does, it’s noticeable and people often like it versus all the cheap art and all that stuff. I have found the experiment to be totally worthwhile. I would continue looking for opportunities because $10,000 is an exciting reason to look for something that pops for me.
What a great story. I like this.
It goes right against all the people who say, “I’m not going to put anything on the walls. It’s just me. I’m going to wait until I have a partner.” There’s a lot of that out there. That is a great antithesis to that.
I dress myself for myself first, and then for other people second. I make my apartment comfortable for me first and then other people second. I think this is an extension of that.
I have to buy some art.
Can we see this artist? I also want this kind of story. I want to be invited to the museum as well.
I understand it’s a luxury purchase and that’s why I was willing to take a loss on it. Now I’m on the lookout. There’s a flip side to this story. There was a piece of art that I saw in a coffee shop that I liked. I reached out to the artist. That piece was not for sale, but I asked about making something similar for me. I balked at the price. It felt like too much. I have to tell you, I regret that. I wish I had pulled the trigger and had that piece. This lesson is not about art per se. It’s about adventure and experimenting. It’s about trying to figure out that not every dollar that we spend is equally valuable and to figure that out.
I like that you had that discussion with yourself, which is similar to the discussion you would have with a partner. “Do we want to invest in art? Do we want to use our resources this way?” You did all that within yourself, “I’m going to set up a budget and I’m going to have this experience.” That’s masters-level singling that you can have almost a partner-level conversation with yourself, “I want to look at this. I want to do this. I’m going to think about it.”
That’s where you should get to. If you’re able to do that with yourself, you’re going to do that with everybody in your life. It’s great. I want to say one more thing. When you talk about the amount of money, there should be a name for that amount of money, like you can afford it, but it hurts. I gave that amount of money to a friend for a month to finish my book. I said, “If I don’t finish, it goes to charity.”
As like a self-control device.
As a motivator.
Would you consider my roof terrace charity?
I am giving you my fictional $10,000 and buying Trader Joe’s flowers. I’m doing my best to support your dreams.
I recognize that this has been a little bit masturbatory.
Another good activity for singles.
It’s important to be able to love yourself. As you reflect on this conversation, is there something that you feel like you’ve taken away from it beyond the decadence and the pleasures that you might put into practice moving forward?
Would you say, “It’s Friday, you could do anything?”
I do that.
I’ll go to the last minute. I pack a lot in. I take advantage of the fact that I don’t have to turn to anyone and say, “Do you mind if I take a nap? Do you mind if I spend whatever on this vacation for myself?” I feel that I take advantage of that.
It’s reinforcing of something that you do.
What I take away is that maybe I need to find some more discomfort, not to the extreme going to a crisis area and help out. Peter’s story of trying out art or going somewhere for the weekend, it’s going to sound weird, but I think I’ll have fun if I act a bit more on my impulses. Sometimes I have an idea and I’m like, “That could be great,” and then I’m like, “No, but,” and then I don’t do it. I think acting on your impulses within some reason and parameters, even if it’s crappy, it’s going to be fun that it was crap.
Part of what you might be missing is the other person being like, “Let’s do that.” You have to do that for yourself. “Should I get this last-minute concert ticket?” You have to do that for yourself and be like, “Let’s go fly Chicago. It’s going to be fun,” but if you don’t have a partner in crime, it’s definitely a learned skill to be able to build yourself up and be like, “I’m going to go.” One of the most powerful frameworks to that is you can always fail. You’re by yourself and you can always say, “I don’t feel like doing it. I’m going home. This wasn’t worth it. I’m out of here.” You can always do that.
I had a guest on, Richard Meadows, who has a wonderful book called Optionality. I make the argument that singles have more optionality than partner people because there’s no one who has veto power. This is not a new idea but Richard, in his book, writes about this idea of can you approach situations that have very little downside risk and have huge upside potential. One of the ones that he uses, which I think is counterintuitive, is going out.
You get invited to a party, there’s a gallery opening or there’s something happening. The downside of going is very low. You go and it’s not that great, and then you leave early. You’re like, “That’s not good,” and you leave early. You’ve wasted an hour or something like that. The upside of it is unlimited because you might find that piece of art that you fall in love with or you might meet the curator and end up making a new friend.
You might be inspired by the ideas that you see or you have a long-lasting memory of this concert that’s incredible. I was on a research scholar visit to the University of Melbourne, and I didn’t know anyone besides my host. It was like the first few days I was in Melbourne. I went on Meetup and I found this event that was happening. I walked into this space and there was this tall, elegant man with this big bushy beard and I was like, “That’s someone I want to know.” He was well-dressed and charming. We started talking. His name is Ross.
We hit it off. I’m still friends with Ross to this day. He’s like a fascinating creature. He’s such an interesting guy. I ended up having him on my show, I’m Not Joking. I think about that tremendous upside. If I had gone to that event and it sucked, I would have been like, “I’m out of here,” and go for the North for the rest of the night or whatnot.
I went to a water skiing thing by myself once. Through my gym, you could sign up to go water skiing. I’d never done water skiing. I went. I didn’t know anybody there, but after half an hour you got to talking, I went water skiing and then we had a barbecue, which was super nice.
What people don’t appreciate is when you have a partner, it’s more energy to go out, “Come on. Let’s go. When are we going?”
“Are you comfortable? Do you like that person? Are you bored?” When it’s just you, the stakes are much lower. Take advantage.
When I first was launching Solo, Kevin was on this show and he said, “I think of solos like I think about motorcycles on the freeway. You have these like big SUVs, these families, any of these cars with these couples and they’re sitting in traffic. The motorcycles are zipping past and around, going through the gaps in the traffic.” That’s relevant to what you were saying.
I can remember being at a party with couples. There’s like, “You’re single.” I remember being like, “I’m going to hear some jazz after I leave this shindig. I have a little bit more going on than you people.”
“I am going to use shindig from now on.”
“You’re by yourself.” I’m like, “If I’m packing more into a weekend, then it’s not all downside.”
People pity me now to the degree that they don’t even say that anymore. They never say that to me.
No one pities you. That is a fallacy. They are secretly thinking about your freedom, but you have to start taking advantage of it more. I can hear the whales calling to you, Iris. I can hear them saying, “She’ll come and see us.” Get on the plane.
Thank you so much for your generosity, inspiration and fun. Mary, thank you for creating these questions. They are outstanding.
Thank you so much. This was great.
Anybody who wants to answer these questions to the community can sign up at PeterMcgraw.org/Solo. Thank you, Mary and Iris.
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