I arrived to Sydney on a cloud of optimism. I chatted with my taxi driver, telling him excitedly that this was my first experience driving on the left side of the road. He listened with as much excitement as a photographer being asked to do some free work “for your portfolio.” I arrived to my Airbnb and chose to ignore the fact that the room was not the one depicted in the glossy photos. In any case, it still had a lovely view overlooking the private, flower-filled courtyard. I texted photos of said lovely courtyard to everyone in my contact list with the caption ‘The view from my room!’ I might have more accurately captioned, “I am fabulous!”
After a quick shower, I set off to explore the neighborhood. I marveled at all the tanned, blonde and absurdly good looking Australians I walked among. They were so…smooth. I was for some reason surprised by how well-dressed these Sydneysiders are. Like J. Crew, but better. The fabrics are light and the hems are of short enough length to show off tanned limbs, yet remain tasteful and chic. The first glimmer of discomfiture flashed in my chest. My fabrics weren’t right, I was mid-winter pale, and the weeks of goodbye toasts and dinners in Austin had caught up to my thighs. I tried to wave off the feeling.
I wrapped up my first day in paradise with a yin yoga class mostly to keep myself awake until my self-imposed anti-jetlag bedtime of 9pm. More lithe Australians poured into the yoga studio around me, men and women alike. My head was buzzing with exhaustion at this point, having only been asleep for a few jaunty hours in an Economy Plus seat 30,000 feet up. I’m certain I dozed off during the class at one point. I woke up a crumple of American body who was probably moments ago lightly snoring among the Aussie yoga gods stretching and flexing. I stumbled home afterward and fell immediately asleep.
Around 5am, I became conscious to a high-pitched buzzing in both of my ears. I swatted and dozed off. Minutes later, more buzzing, and then more…I alternately dozed and swatted until the sun came up. Good morning! I remembered, I’m in Australia! I stretched out lazily and began to notice red marks all over my legs. A rash? Chicken pox? I remembered the constant buzzing the previous night: mosquito bites. At least thirty just on my legs. In the mirror I marveled in horror: I was covered in bites. My arms, legs, back...even my ass. As if I hadn’t felt enough like a leper already.
At work, I worked on both US and Brazil time zones, which meant 6am meetings with California and 11pm meetings with Brazil. In between, I played hour-plus long games of Lord of the Rings and Batman pinball at the office, and found cubbies to nap in (thank you, Google). The women at the office were more of the well-tanned, well-tailored and toned Aussies I was now annoyed to see. I realized I’ve enjoyed being a blonde who stands out. Here in Australia, I’m a slightly fatter, much paler blonde with clothes that don’t fit in and what probably looks like a highly concerning contagious skin disease. I felt like I did when I started sixth grade in a new school in Iowa: grossly out of place, and wanting desperately to fit in. I was mad I didn’t fit in and madder I even cared about it.
Two weeks in, I realized that the first leg of my Soul Vacation world tour so far was a bit…sucky. Work is work, even when you lunch overlooking Sydney Harbor. I hadn’t seen much of the city due to long days at work. I spent more than a couple sad evenings trapped in my hot, AC-less bedroom eating packaged snack food and hoping my hosts didn’t think think I was as much of a loser as I felt. My only Australian friend so far was a stray cat who, in true cat form, ran away from me when I tried to greet him the day after he’d laid out with me on my bed. I was lonely.
When friends and family inquired about my (nonexistent) social life here, I lied and told them I was using this time to recharge after a crazy busy last few weeks in Austin saying goodbye and moving. I wasn’t alone for a lack of friends, gosh, I was choosing to be alone.
The weird thing is, I started to believe that white lie, and that attitude shift changed everything. Maybe being alone was exactly what I needed. After those two weeks of feeling foul, I actually did begin to recharge. I took advantage of my Classpass subscription and tried everything from HIIT training to aerial yoga. I owned my solo dinners and ate alone right on the front patio of restaurants like a badass. I set up a few coffees with Googlers.
A few days later, I met my first friend. Then I went on my first Tinder date ever with a nice guy I spent an hour researching before our date. He took me on his motorcycle and as the wind whipped my hair and I held on, I finally felt like I thought I’d feel as a woman traveling the world. Free. And awesome.
A few weeks ago I read something online that said, “Be patient with yourself. Nothing in nature blooms all year.” Dude, I gotta give myself a break. Beating myself up for, essentially, not being Australian? And for not having a social calendar immediately upon arrival in a country I knew literally no one? I think I just learned my Travel Lesson #1: Be patient. And cat friends are more than okay.