The Countdown

Australia, Leaving & Coming Home, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Planning, Solo Travel — By on July 15, 2007 at 5:53 pm

A white elephant has decided to crash The Lost Girls adventure and of course, none of us want to admit that its there. He’s rearing his big head all over Australia, distracting us as we try to plan road trips, acting like a downer at happy hours and forcing us to toss and turn at 3:00am instead of sleeping soundly in our respective hostel bunk beds.

What I’m referring to, unfortunately, is the huge, impossible-to-ignore reality that our round-the-world trip is rapidly coming to a close. Whereas I once had my doubts that Jen, Holly and I would actually be able to pull of such an ambitious global marathon (without losing or killing each other along the way!), I’m now having a tough time accepting the fact that very soon, I won’t be spending every waking moment-and every new experience-with the two women who’ve effectively become my sisters (not to be all cheese-monkey, but its true). After nearly 365 days spent together, we’ve truly hit a new level of closeness: there’s no secret left unexposed, no boring childhood story or personal insight left untold, no fake girlie politeness used to spare each other’s egos, no diplomacy when one of us needs to use the bathroom, no line of decency heeded when sharing what’s happening-or not happening-with one’s bodily functions.

Back in the beginning, one particular Lost Girl had been mortified to walk in on another as she was peeing. Now it’s hardly out of the ordinary for all three of us to discuss gas and constipation issues over breakfast and share how the addition of preservatives in first-world food is affecting our digestive tract. It’s gross, yet cool at the same time.

Forget our former Manhattan girl fabulousness: at this point, we’ve become about as chic and hip (and tied at the hip) as an old married couple, in it for the long haul, for better or for worse.

Interestingly enough, it’s the “for worse” that people seem most eager hear about. When we meet new groups of backpackers, one of the first things they tend to ask (using the same intense, gossipy tone people use when discussing Lindsay’s latest drug binge or Paris’ post-prison shocker) is whether or not the three of us get into screaming matches, pull each other’s hair out behind closed doors or at the very least, secretly despise one another. How, they want to know, could we possibly have traveled together for this long without wanted to plot one another’s untimely travel-related demise?

Well, I’ll admit that not every single day has been the sun-shining-birds-chirping-life-affirming journey that we envisioned well over 2 years ago on that original “emergency vacation” to Buenos Aires. In fact, we now re-read the original 20 Reasons Why We Left blog entry that we wrote at the start of the trip and laugh–how idealistic we were back then!

Planning this monumental adventure, Holly, Jen and I all knew that we’d have to make compromises, work hard to keep an open mind about new situations and become super-communicators in order to avoid stony silences, petty arguments and perhaps even all out brawls. We figured we’d successfully traveled together in the past, had been great friends back home in New York and we all had the faith and determination to work our way through any problem. Whatever stresses, disappointments or tough situations came our way, we could handle it together….right?

The answer to the question, ultimately, is yes. We definitely had our not-so-proud moments-Jen and I ended up in our first-ever knock-down-drag-out screaming match after getting separated at a half-moon party in Thailand and freaking out that the other might be in some kind of serious trouble-but I can count on one hand the number of times a disagreement ever escalated past rolled eyes and tense conversation. (By the way our fight ended in a draw at about 5:00am when we found ourselves laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation).

Quite simply, we made it work for the past 11 months because the alternative was just unacceptable. No single issue or decision was so important that the three of us would be willing to throw away our friendship-or the success of our incredible trip. Within the first few day of our departure, we encountered our first “deal-breaker” issue-whether or not to stay in less expensive hostel dorms or more private, pricier triple rooms-and we all worked hard, and spent several hours in conversation, before finally coming to an agreement that would work for all of us (triples it is!).

And so began the mental tally…the stuff we’d sacrificed as individual travelers in order to keep the peace as a group. For the longest time, none of us mentioned it-the “credits” you’d get for giving up the bottom bunk or riding in the front with an obnoxious cab driver-but we all kept a list in our heads. It was Jen, who’s an only child, who finally laid it on the table.

“C’mon, guys, you know we all keep track. And that’s fine. I never used to understand how siblings could fight over stupid little stuff, like which one got more juice in their glass or who got to ride shotgun, but now I totally get it.”

In some ways, we had reverted back to being little kids forced to share absolutely everything with one another-beds, bathrooms, train cars, battery chargers, breathing space.

While we rarely wanted to separate (perhaps we were afraid we’d miss something really exciting if the other two went off for a day?), sometimes all of the togetherness could be stifling. Imagine if you were tied at the ankle to your two closest pals for a year and you’ll get a sense of how intense things could be at times. It was the Big Brother House multiplied by 1,000.

Personally, I battled both with the unconscious desire to compare my own behavior to Jen and Holly’s and the slightly paranoid feeling that the other two girls might be assessing me. The flaws that I’d become such an expert at hiding back in New York–the fact that I can be impatient, forgetful, neurotic (and that I do some really weird stuff in my sleep)-were 100 percent un-hidable in such close proximity with the girls.

But, I soon realized, so were all of their loveable character traits (I say this as I know they’ll be reading it later). My whole life I’ve beaten myself up for-and tried to change-all of the little things that I didn’t like about myself. Maybe if I didn’t have such or a short temper or if I weren’t so overly ambitious, I’d be a happier person, and (cringe) people would be happier with me.

It took a good chunk of time spent traveling with Holly and Jen, but I finally realized that this was a completely ridiculous way of thinking. By being so very involved in their everyday, uncensored lives, seeing the woman that they are in their amazing moments, average moments and super low, sleep-deprived moments, helped me to truly understand the meaning of “nobody’s perfect.” That may sound awful but I mean it in the best possible way. It’s those little idiosyncrasies, personality quirks, unusual tastes, specific preferences and weird habits that make Hol and Jen the incredible people that they are. Not only has my respect deepened for both girls since I started traveling with them, but through their example, I’ve learned to have a lot more respect for myself.

Now, as I think about wrapping things up with the Lost Girls and returning home to the States, it seems strange to imagine daily life without the girls in it. They’ve become very much a part of me, like two extensions of my brain that I listen to constantly and trust implicitly. I’ve made very few decisions without them this year, from what kind of clothes to put on for the day, to what to have for dinner, to which country to visit next week.

Now I’ll have to re-learn that essential adult skill of listening to, and really trusting, myself.

In order to dive headfirst into that growth process–and visit a part of Australia that I’ve been dreaming about for years–I’ve decided to organize a little solo adventure.

Starting May 31st, I’ll be spending a nearly month traveling up and down Oz’s East Coast, flying first to Melbourne, then Cairns and making my back down to Sydney. I know its going to feel incredibly strange to be a Lost Girl flying solo (Who am I going to talk to all day? How will I find the hostel? Who’s gonna watch my bags if I need to pee?), but another thing I’ve learned this year is that you’ve gotta try new things, even if the prospect is a little scary-and even if your best friends aren’t there to face the challenge with you.

I still can’t believe Hol and Jen will be flying home at the end of the month (damn you, white elephant!), but I’m kind of getting excited for the final leg of my round-the-world marathon.

Plus, its only 29 days on the road in one of the safest countries in the world. Dare I ask…what could go wrong?

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    4 Comments

  • Gary says:

    Amanda,

    good luck with your solo travels. I think you’ll do fine. Might take some getting used to at first. I was in total shock the first time I landed in Japan alone, but now it doesn’t even faze me.

    Gary
    Everything-Everywhere.com

  • Andrew says:

    Wow, it’s great to hear what you’ve learned over the past year and sad to learn that your almost through.

    Best of luck in Australia!

  • Steven says:

    For me, the greatest challenge was just to travel on my own. I remember landing in Bangkok and wishing I didn’t have to get off the plane; I was so scared. The best thing I’ve learned from traveling the way you three have, is that the journey never ends. Cheers!

  • Dellie says:

    What an amazing adventure this has been for all of US-your followers,your viewers,your fans. Your thoughtful insights concerning your dear friends are touching and inspiring and funny. We are all looking forward to reading about your solo travel, Amanda,and what it really felt like to be alone on this final leg of the LG journey…