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Stepping into a busy New York sidewalk with nothing but a malfunctioning Google Maps to guide us was probably one of the worst experiences of my life.

For most kids, a weeklong family vacation to New York City would be a dream that is a million miles away from the realm of possibility. For others, it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that they would never forget.Kaleigh Henderson

Until recently, I would have hoped that I would have fallen into the latter category. However, when the possibility became a reality for me this past summer, my immediate thoughts on the matter went something along the lines of "this is my worst nightmare."

See, my perception of New York City was that of a lawless land. It was a city full of mean people, pickpockets, thieves, politicians, rapists, rats, cockroaches … the list goes on.

If I so much as spent a consecutive three minutes on the mean streets of New York, I would be catcalled, robbed, kidnapped, sexually assaulted, or at the very least, I would get separated from my family in a city of 8 million people.

I probably watch the news too much.

Another fact that did not improve my perceptions was that I would be the only female on this trip. My mom had to stay home and work, so for the entire weeklong trip, it was just going to be my dad, my brother and me. My taskmaster father, who needs to do every single touristy thing that there is to do in every city we've ever gone to, and my brother, who somehow constantly has more energy than a hummingbird on six bottles of Red Bull. Then there's me, who likes to sleep in until noon in the summer and who has to sprint to keep up with my ridiculously long-legged male relatives' regular walking speed, nonetheless their we-have-to-go-see-six-different- tourist-attractions-before-noon speed walk.

Yep, this vacation was going to be just great.

After a very long and tiring plane trip, we touched down at JFK. After getting our bags, we were able to catch a taxi almost immediately to go to our hotel (a little fun fact about New York City: about two-thirds of the vehicles on any chosen street will be obnoxiously loud, honking taxis). When we finally did arrive at the hotel, after a 50-minute long taxi ride, it was long past dinnertime and everyone was hangry.

This soon led us to discover another not very fun fact about New York City: Literally everything there costs about twice as much as it would in a non-New York city. Especially food. Doubly especially, any food that isn't from a chain restaurant. We tried to find a nice, sit-down restaurant within walking distance that serves food that everyone in the family likes and that costs less than $20 a plate. It turns out that "cheap, close, sit-down restaurants with good food" are mythical creatures in NYC. We settled on a "not-really-all-that-cheap, close-ish buffet with somewhat-decent food."

The buffet was in walking distance, so obviously, we had to walk. And this experience of stepping into a busy New York sidewalk with nothing but a malfunctioning Google Maps to guide us was probably one of the worst experiences of my life.

I was increasingly suspicious of every passerby on the street. Stories of mean people, pickpockets, thieves, politicians, rapists, rats, and cockroaches floated in my head. I felt hot eyes all over my body. I clutched my tiny handheld purse so hard my fingers turned white. I walked like I was on a warpath and stared straight ahead with murder in my eyes because I had read somewhere that this was an effective way to prevent catcalls. I was terrified, and so I put up this wall to protect myself from the lawless city of New York.

But what I hadn't read was that isolating yourself from the world out of fear puts a serious damper on your mood. I looked like I hated everyone, and I started to feel like I hated everyone. This wasn't who I was. Or at least, it wasn't who I wanted to be.

So the next morning, slowly, cautiously, gradually, I decided that the wall I had put up had to go. I was still scared of what I would find, but deep inside I trusted that I would be okay. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I wanted to enjoy it. So I let my guard down a little bit, and I put back on my rose-colored glasses.

And that's when I realized for the first time that New York wasn't a lawless place. It was diverse and bustling and beautiful.

Coming from a very white privileged suburb, the diversity was what truly blew me away. There were people of every shade of skin color, practicing and wearing symbols of every religion, speaking more languages than I knew existed. I saw punk rockers with mohawks, Muslims in burqas, women in suits, men in dresses. Every type of person living every type of life, and they were all living and coexisting peacefully together in one of the biggest cities in the world.

And once I finally let go of my wall for good, I had so much more fun. I saw countless amazing things and made countless unforgettable memories. I biked in Central Park, climbed the Statue of Liberty, posed with dinosaur skeletons, and in one art museum, I saw more paintings and sculptures of naked humans than I could have thought ever existed. I ate tons of pasta and pizza, saw two Broadway shows, and admired the view from the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. (I also used and subsequently broke the highest toilet in the Western Hemisphere, but that's a different story.)

I learned that although yes, there are mean people, pickpockets, thieves, politicians, rapists, rats, and cockroaches in New York City and in every city in the world, they are far outnumbered by good people. You can trust in the good people. Trust in the places you visit, the people you go with, the people you meet along the way. And with a little bit of trust, even a week in a strange new city can turn into the best week of your life.


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