I study dynamics and continuum mechanics. Over the years I've gotten used to the coordinate-free, or geometric, way of thinking. A velocity vector, for example, is a tensor. It is the same object when you describe it from any coordinate system/frame/set of basis vectors, despite the fact that you have many non-unique triplets, or 3 by 1 matrices, of numbers to describe it. You must know the basis in addition to the 3 numbers to make sense of it.
A particle traveling on a sphere occupies points of a manifold, $S^2$. This manifold does not have coordinates on it until you need to introduce them through an atlas of charts to describe where real points are. But the manifold itself exists and comprises all the possible points that the particle might occupy.
I am trying to use the same coordinate-free perspective to understand the space-time manifold, but it seems that I can't get away from it, and descriptions of relativity always seem to necessarily introduce coordinates to describe "two observers." A spatial manifold is a collection of places. A time manifold is a collection of instances. The endpoints of a path in a space manifold yields a distance. The endpoints of a path in a time manifold yields an interval. In the classical point of view, distances and intervals are scalar invariants, no matter your frame, no matter your time zone.
I am starting simple for the space-time manifold. I see that in the simple example of 1-D space, the space-time manifold is a flat two-dimensional cone. An element of the space-time manifold is called an event. A path in the space-time manifold is called a world-line. My problem is that it seems that you cannot think of an event without introducing coordinates. It is a time and a place, but those things are now necessarily relative to an observer, which necessarily introduces a coordinate system. In contrast, I can think of a place in a spatial manifold without introducing a coordinate system. A tree or a house occupies a certain place on the manifold.
My question is: Is it even possible to think of the space-time manifold in a coordinate-free way, much like we can for tensors as operators or packages of physical information, and spatial manifolds as collections of places?