I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, and when I do it has to be on a topic that I’m particularly interested in. One of those topics is travel, and so I was delighted to be offered the chance to review Alone Time by New York Times journalist Stephanie Rosenbloom.
Alone Time documents Rosenbloom’s experiences of travelling alone in four cities through four seasons – Paris in Spring, Istanbul in Summer, Florence in Autumn, and her own city of New York in Winter. Throughout she explores not only the practicalities of travelling alone, but also the psychology behind it, and the book is filled with wonderful statistics, quotes, and anecdotes highlighting the benefits of taking some time for ourselves, whether that be in our own home and city or whilst venturing further afield. One of the key messages in Alone Time is the benefit of being able to really enjoy the moment; to take a step back and savour an experience – be it a meal, a piece of art etc. – something that we don’t always have the opportunity to do with others, given our sense of not wanting to keep others waiting, and the very distraction of having company.
Alone Time is written in a wonderfully engaging manner, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Rosenbloom’s experiences of travelling through these four cities. I thought that it was structured wonderfully – with a section dedicated to each city / season, but also focussing on a different element of travel. Whilst Rosenbloom talks about food in Paris, or art of Florence, many of these experiences are applicable to anywhere one chooses to travel, and I thought that this very neatly avoided any possibility of repetition throughout (there are only so many times that you can read about a person’s experience of dining alone, for example).
Throughout Alone Time, Rosenbloom highlights the benefits of having a little time for ourselves, but whilst this concept is not a new one, it is still something that can make people feel a little uncomfortable, and may be seen as something to be endured rather than enjoyed:
For years, the conventional wisdom was that if you spent a good deal of time alone, something was likely wrong with you.
As with many things, a person’s expectations of how they might be perceived when, for example, dining alone are much worse than the reality, and the court of public opinion is unlikely to care all that much whether a person is on their own or not. And Rosenbloom is keen to point out that the desire to be on one’s own does not make us reclusive, or anti-social. Alone time is important for everyone – even the most sociable of individuals. It is our time alone that allows us to unwind, and to think:
Alone we can power down. We’re “off stage” as the sociologist Erving Goffman put it, where we can doff the mask we wear in public and be ourselves.
Alone Time isn’t a travel guide a la Lonely Planet, it does have a small section with useful advice for those travelling alone (including safety) – but this is as much a homage to taking some time away from everyone and everything as it is about travel, as highlighted in the fourth section in which Rosenbloom explores her own city of New York, but taking the time to reconnect with the city, not just rushing from A to B as we may do when we’re familiar with a place.
I highly recommend Alone Time and I think that it will have a wide appeal for those interested in travel but also those interested in the psychology of spending time alone, as well as anyone who just wants to be able to savour the precious few moments that we have to ourselves more thoroughly.
Alone Time is published by Bantam Press and is available now in hard back and digital formats. Many thanks to Hayley Barnes for sending a copy for me to read and review.