Why do I always forget how lonely and vulnerable I feel when I travel alone?
I’ve long endorsed that solo budget travel is a good thing, even for older single women like myself. That it can be affordable. That travel isn’t just for the rich and the coupled. And it can be a way of continuing our education, not just about the country and cultures that we travel to, but it’s an opportunity to learn lessons about ourselves.
So I set my sights on Australia this time. I love koala bears and kangaroos, but more than anything, I love the Australian accents and the easygoing nature of the Aussie’s I’ve met on previous trips.
By the time I left Alaska a few weeks ago, I was already exhausted. I’d had to re-book the trip twice due to flights being cancelled, and I had developed what felt like a plague of some sort. I arrived to Melbourne, sweaty, swollen, and snotty, and took my place in a dirty youth hostel where I took my place in the top bunk of a mixed -gender room. The young man on the bottom bunk appeared to have some mental health challenges.My brand new iPhone that I bought specifically for this trip stopped working. I get lost everywhere I go. So far, so bad.
Fast-forward a week. I’m a passenger with a family I met in Los Angeles who invited me to stay with them and travel along the Great Ocean Road. I’m getting my first-ever scuba lesson. I have antibiotics thankfully (because she’s a doctor!) and am loving their kids. Together we go to a wildlife conservation center, and I tick several fun events off my bucket list.
Next, I stay with Basia, a woman I met picking berries in Seward, Alaska. She makes me smoothies and calamari and kangaroo, and together we bike ride and see the botanical gardens and the local holocaust memorial.
I enjoy Terezia for three days, a young woman I met at the eco-resort lodge in Laos in 2012. Then I get to see Lachlan and later Isabella, two young people I met in 2012, hiking the mountains of Sapa in Vietnam and catch up on how their lives are unfolding.
I enjoy the company of some sunny young women I met in a gorgeous youth hostel (Bounce) in Sydney from South Korea, the U.K, and Australia, and their wits and intelligence gave me great hope for the next generation, and their stories give me ideas about future travel.
I overcome the language barrier. Did you know that the hood of a car is called a bonnet in Australia, and the trunk is called the boot? That a pacifier is called a dummy, and a liquor store is called a bottle shop? A work break is called a smoke-o, whether or not you smoke?
I learn the wonderful transportation system of trams and trains. And I meet an Aboriginal sculptor at a train station. We have coffee days later and find shared interests in art and life.
Nearly three weeks later, I return home a little changed. I’ve been the recipient of uncommon grace, and reconnected with my sense of adventure and ability to persevere. The travel lows have been easily forgotten or woven in to funny stories, but the highs have remained.
Thank you, Australia, for having such wonderful wildlife, people, and places to see. I’m happy to have re-connected with my better self there, and am happier yet to return home to my sweet little life in Alaska.
And what more can you ask of a trip, anyhow?