A week ago Friday morning, I took my train to my hostel and set my bags down, tired from the trip and still feeling a bit anxious about being here by myself. How could I feel lonely and homesick when it’s only been 24 hours and I’m in a place that I’ve always wanted to go to? I was frustrated for even entertaining the thought of wanting to go home. The hostel seemed nice enough, but suddenly I was transported to being 12 years old, walking into a cabin of unrecognizable faces the first time I went to summer camp. I have vivid memories of entering the rustic wooden cabin filled with bunk beds back in 1993, setting my stuff down and giving my mother and sister a hug goodbye, thinking “now what? I’m all alone- what do I do and who do I talk to?” Now I was experiencing the adult version, 17,000 miles from home.
I wasn’t quite sure what to do first. Being that I couldn’t check in until 2 pm and it was just 9 am, I figured I’d wander around until I could claim my bunk. Immediately an Irish angel named Lynne befriended me at the check in counter and it felt like making a new friend on the first day of school in Kindergarten. Once she found out that I was just arriving, she asked if I wanted to go to coffee. I felt so grateful to already have a new friend, and instantly, I felt ok.
I was no longer alone and I knew I would be just fine. I have never had a problem talking to people and making friends, but having that assurance that it would come so easily lifted any anxiety that I had. By the end of the first night, I was at dinner with a group of people from England, France, Peru, Ireland, Scotland and Brazil. Backpackers make friends easily and are all looking to learn from each other and have a good time. It’s going to be a great couple of months.
I managed to fight the jet lag and stay up as late as I could that first night, as I had been told to do. I stayed out until midnight and woke up Saturday morning feeling refreshed and full of energy, so I went on an 8 or so mile run through Sydney, to the Opera House and over the Harbor bridge. It was a glorious morning, and so excited to be in a new place, I felt like I was floating on my run. When I got to the top of the hill and saw Sydney Harbor for the first time, it took my breath away. It’s a surreal feeling to see with your own eyes something that you’ve always dreamed of seeing. I felt the same with Stonehenge. With the beaches of Hawaii. With the Eiffel Tower. With floating on the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. I have always tried to stop and breathe in a moment when it comes and inspires me, many times fearing that as much as I take in something beautiful, that I won’t be able to recapture that feeling again. But I always do. Those moments are defining memories and stay with me for my lifetime. In those recollections, I can remember how I felt, what the mist of the ocean felt like on my skin, how the sun warmed my hair, the sound of a waterfall. This was another one of those moments. I stopped my run and just stared and absorbed the magic of being there. I know I’ll always be able to close my eyes and transport myself to that place and time.
I love to wander and explore a city with no agenda. I spent 2 full days wandering, and in Surry Hills I came across the most wonderful little restaurant café called Kawa. If I ever own a business, I would want it to be this. Full of character and charm, a relaxed atmosphere, travel-inspired art on the walls, and fresh, organic food. I had a beet, carrot, apple, ginger and kale juice with a pumpkin, eggplant and goat cheese vegetable sandwich. I savored each bite, sitting at a table on the sidewalk and watching the people stroll by on a Sunday afternoon, with Bob Marley playing in the background.
I love how Australia’s culture values and emphasizes a strong quality of life. I also embody this mindset- that life is about living and not just getting ahead or collecting a lot of things. People here practice wellness- they eat well, they exercise, they value taking ‘holidays’and it’s not unusual to take 6-8 weeks of vacation. Sydney is a metropolitan city and moves quickly, but the attitude still felt slower and more relaxed, and I really enjoy that.
I feel young and free. Now, having spent a week in Byron Bay, which sits on the most Easterly point of Australia, I’ve met other travelers who have been backpacking for a year now and have been all over the globe. I’m getting new ideas and inspiration and am enjoying swapping stories and learning from one another. After all, that’s why we’re here: to learn and to love.