Adventures in Oz: Learning to Fly Solo

Australia, Leaving & Coming Home, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Solo Travel — By on August 17, 2007 at 12:22 pm

On the very last night of The Lost Girls RTW girlfriend’s-getaway-of-a-lifetime, I announced to my traveling companions that I didn’t really feel all that sad.

“We’re gonna be seeing each other in a couple months, right? It’s not like we’re saying goodbye forever…”

The girls looked up from packing their stuff one final time, and just looked at me blankly, most likely trying to process if I was kidding.

“What?” I said, responding to their stares. “We’re still friends. We’ll take other trips…I know it. This is just the beginning!”

“Amanda, it is sad,” Jen insisted. ‘We may travel again, but ending this trip is kind of like ending an era. Don’t you think?”

Holly didn’t say anything as she continued to cram her bag full of random last-minute souvenirs and the few traveling clothes she could stand to look at and wear again. Earlier, she’d told us that she wasn’t a big fan of goodbyes, and I knew these final moments were tough on her.

“Just wait,” Jen said in the understanding tone of a big sister who’s been there. “It’ll hit you when you least expect it.”

****

Our actual goodbye wasn’t a dramatic one-Jen and I took a shuttle to the airport while Holly stayed behind in Sydney to catch a flight the following day-and we separated with a trio of long hugs and no tears.

Both girls were anxious to get back to the States to see their families, start jobs (particularly Holly, who’d gone so far in the red she’d practically turned magenta) and rediscover what life was like as individuals rather than Lost Girls. In a fit of last-minute wanderlust, I’d decided that a year around the planet wasn’t quite enough and I’d arranged to spend the month of June (that’s winter in the land down under) exploring Australia’s East Coast.

My first stop: Melbourne to visit my friend Phil and his buddy Ross. I’d met both guys in Thailand at Christmas (during the crazy backpacker bacchanalia), and had kept up with Phil via email during the last six months of the trip.

Keen to prove to me that Melbourne (pronounced: Mell-Bin!) was a far city cooler than Sydney, Phil invited me to spend a few days in his neck of the woods, promising that if I created a dream itinerary, he’d do everything in his power to make it happen.

With an offer like that, how could I refuse?

With nearly three hours to spare before my flight (something that had never, ever happened during the course of the Lost Girls trip!), I practically pin-balled my way around Sydney’s Virgin Blue terminal, checking out clothing stores, souvenirs shops, newsstands and food courts. Finally, I could go to anywhere I wanted, eat anything I wanted, buy anything I wanted and even log onto the internet as much as I wanted—and I didn’t have to check in with anybody. Fabulous!

Perhaps I should have taken it as a bad sign that almost the second I arrived in Melbourne, the skies opened up and dumped rain in biblical proportions over me and the city at large.

“Carrie Bradshaw? Are you here?” Phil shouted through the other end of the cheap cell phone I’d purchased specifically for my solo run in Oz.

Like 95 percent of Brits and Aussies we’d met on the road, Phil associated my wild blond curls, journalism job and New Yorker status with that Sex and the City gal, and had all but forgotten my real first name.

As I waited on the steps of the Westin (the arbitrarily chosen hotel where the airport shuttle had dropped me off), I realized that I’d almost forgotten what Phil looked like. The first time I met him in Thailand, he’d reminded me of Evan Marriott, the dude who posed as Joe Millionaire on reality TV show. Over the phone, Phil had assured me that was actually an upstanding dude: when not slugging back Red Bull and Sang Som rum buckets in Thailand, was he was a taxpaying, suit-wearing, home-owing corporate accountant.

This had all sounded great to me back in Sydney, but as I stood there alone, trying to spot his car and his face in the pouring rain, I couldn’t help wonder (a la Carrie Bradshaw!): what the hell was I doing?? Was I really going to be spending five days in an unknown place with a relative stranger?

I knew that other solo travelers did this all the time—linking up with cool people they’d met on their journey. But somehow, it just felt a little strange to start arranging entire days of sightseeing with someone I’d known a hundred hostels ago, particularly someone who’d ditched my real name in favor of a fictional TV character.

Okay, I won’t lie…I actually loved the comparison to Sarah Jessica Parker. But the feelings of apprehension remained, probably having more to do with the reality of flying solo finally sinking in than any real worries about Joe Millionaire’s (um, I mean Phil’s) intentions.

Just as I was digging out my cell phone again to track down my host, a car pulled up and Phil jumped out of the driver’s side.

“Carrie!”

Bounding up the steps, he swept me up into a huge bear hug, a sign of affection I hadn’t experienced in what felt like ages. Call it traveler’s instinct or just woman’s intuition, but in that moment, I knew everything would probably be okay with Thailand Phil.

“You ready to go?” he asked, grabbing the handle of my pack and making a move towards the car.

“Yup,” I called back. Glancing at the sweet, earnest face of my Melbourne host and stand-in Lost Girl, I decided that I really was.

****

Despite my last minute hesitation, the next five days rocked.

True to his word, Phil not only arranged for us to do all of the local sightseeing and events that I’d requested (an AFL game, a day trip to Mornington Peninsula Hot Springs and shopping at the St. Kilda market), he took me out almost every night for dinners and drinks with his group of friends. He even brought me by his parents’ placer so I could meet them to meet them. Sitting in their living room, chatting out how I met Phil, I actually remembered what it felt like to be someone’s girlfriend. Sigh.

I also felt completely in my element in Melbourne, a place that many international travelers say reminds them of New York City. I didn’t necessarily agree with that assessment (the overcast skies, clanging streetcars and indie music scene actually recalled a west coast city like San Fran or Seattle), but I found that I loved it all the same.

My favorite hangout spot was Chapel Street in St Kilda, where I watched band guys with cool jackets and weird hair salivating over $3000 guitars, pierced and tattooed couples pulling together looks from boutique sale racks and caffeine addicts slugging back mud at cafes lining the main drag. It didn’t take long to learn that in Melbourne, “Starbucks” is considered the most offensive kind of swear word.

Although it rained off and on almost the entire week, Phil and I were lucky enough to score perfect, crispy autumn weather on the day of the AFL game (or as it’s most commonly known to Australians, “The footy!”). True player that he his, Phil managed to score us spectacular seats pretty close to the field/oval, and didn’t complain once when I asked him 1,001 stupid questions (but why do they have to bounce the ball on the ground if this is a football game?) for the next three hours.

Of course, he may have been offering to buy me beer and meat pies (the seemingly random but much beloved local delicacy) just to shut me up!

I’d been worried about spending so much time with Phil and his friends in Melbourne (I’d actually planned an escape route, just in case), but the five days were fantastic and they rushed by at warp speed. On the last afternoon, we said goodbye and he made promises to look me up once finally booked a trip over to the States. It was a sweet thing to say, but I’d gotten to know Phil pretty well by then, and knew it would probably never happen. He was an Australian boy at heart, and Thailand might be as far away from home as he’d ever go.

As I sat in the airplane that final afternoon, yet another rain shower obscuring my view through the glass, I realized that when the flight touched down in Cairns, I’d truly be on my own again: no Lost Girls, no Thailand friends, no familiar faces to look forward to.

As it turned out, Jen, in all of her sisterly wisdom, had been right.

The ending of the Lost Girl trip was a really, really sad thing-and it had hit me when I least expected it.

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    2 Comments

  • K. says:

    Amanda – I’ve been looking forward to your solo adventure posts, so I’m glad they’re finally happening! Flying solo is tough, but once you do it, it’s almost hard to go back to traveling in a group. My first experience with that was when I was 19 and decided to backpack three months around Europe ALONE. The first night was spent crying in my hostel in London, then day two, the tears were long gone. I’m glad you got to do it, as well – it’s definitely a character-building experience!

    Kristin

    P.S. Thailand Evan is HOT!
    P.P.S. I’ve never noticed it before, but you DO resemble SJP!

  • Dellie says:

    This was a lovely well-written post, Amanda. I felt a sense of melancholy when you mentioned that Jen had been right. Your LG trip was a well-planned major event in your lives. It can never be repeated quite the same way. Your youth, enthusiasm, innocence and intelligence made this trip what it was. Now a memory. Thank you for sharing your personal feelings. BTW, Carrie and Phil were a really sweet couple.