Sometimes traveling alone is everything you’d image it to be: it’s being the odd person on a tour of older couples; it’s showing up to restaurants for a table of one; and it’s going to a club on your own because you’re tired of spending the evenings in quiet. Other times it’s sitting on the floor of a crappy hostel, surrounding the one extension cord that works and passing around a bottle of crappy wine with best friends you didn’t know hours before. Travel, especially solo travel, means you make friends fast.
saturday night in katoomba
I met Thibault the night before. Like me, he was adopted by a loud threesome from Sydney who swept into out hostel dorm room in long, white-blonde wigs carrying bottles of wine. The volume of life seemed to crank up with their entrance, and in no time at all we were sitting on the floor, sharing our impression of the Blue Mountains, our life goals and our thoughts of Donald Trump. We then descended on the quiet town of Katoomba in search of a Saturday night that fit Ricky’s standards.
Ricky was the loudest personality I’d met in awhile; he was the entertainment for the evening. Ester was my newest best friend; we discussed marketing, traveling and men over the noise. Roger kept his thin hand between my lower back and hip, making his interest in me physically known. Thibault lurked in the background, the introvert who was visibly just as pleased and entertained as I was to be part of this evening.
steps towards friendship
The next morning started off awkwardly as Thibault and I embarked on the day’s adventure. I originally planned to bush-walk the National Pass by myself. The National Pass if a 100-year-old trail through the Blue Mountains. It traces a path along a cliff’s edge and passes several waterfalls. Ricky discovered that we would be the only ones in the group staying an extra day, and decided that we would bush-walk together.
Thibault’s personality is quiet while my default state is chatty. I led us through Katoomba to get sandwiches for our lunch, coffee for our breakfast and then to the platform for the next inbound train towards the National Pass.
The stagnant air of awkward acquaintance hung between us until we made it to the Darwin trail that led to the National Pass. From there, like a true breath of fresh air, Thibault and I confidently stepped into the rhythm of an easy friendship.
We discussed politics, a topic no one could discuss the night before without Ricky’s rage. Thibault, from France, had a more evenly expressed opinion and I valued his thoughts on both Trump and Brexit. He told me about his time in Australia; living and working with a family north of Sydney for the summer to earn college credit in English. I was surprised to discover that he was only 20 years old.
Talking to Thibault was easy, and being quiet with Thibault was easy, too.
what i want and all that
As the day progressed, Thibault’s comfort with me made him bold. He asked: “What do you think of having children and finding a husband, and all that? It can’t be easy to do when you travel so much.” He noted that I seemed to enjoy those things, reminding me of the funny faces I had made at a small child at the coffee shop earlier. He wants to be married and have kids by the time he’s 28–my age at the time. He wondered why I didn’t have them already.
I wanted to be offended. Shouldn’t I explain how I am not living my life to anyone else timetable unless there was a train involved? But, I wasn’t offended. It would have been very unfair to be offended when I, at 20-years-old, still thought I’d be married with kids by 30; and when I, at 28-years-old, lamented the fact that I hadn’t taken off to travel when I was younger and the fact that I was now traveling alone without even a shitty boyfriend in tow.
I’m rather proud of the answer I gave young Thibault. I said that I guess I got pretty close to “all that” a few years before, but I was with someone to whom I didn’t match well; we wanted different things. The end of the relationship was the beginning of my solo world travels. When we ended things, I realized I could have gotten caught in a messy domestic life that didn’t fit what I wanted for my life.
And then, with big, glassy eyes, I told Thibault my belief that if I were to meet someone, maybe the one, I’d do so while I lived a life I loved.
go it alone
We had these conversations with the backdrop of the National Pass. The trails we took–Darwin’s Walk to the National Pass and then back along the Overcliff Track–were breathtaking. Had I done the walk alone, I’m sure I’d have more to say about the waterfalls, the misty view of Mount Solitary, and all the freakin’ stairs.
But I didn’t trek alone. My memories of the National Pass and the Blue Mountains will be forever marked by the people I met there, one of those being the person these new friends brought out of me.
I met Ester and Roger for drink in Sydney one time, but I otherwise didn’t see them again, not even Thibault.
Two months later, Thibault sent me a darling message. He reminded me who he was, as if I could forget, and then thanked me for being the perfect example of traveling along and enjoying life. He said that he wanted to go to the Great Barrier Reef but feared he wouldn’t find anyone to go with him. He assumed that he simply wouldn’t go at all. But he did go. He ended up going by himself. He went on many more solo adventures during his Australian trip, and he accredited that to me.
That’s not 100% fair or completely true, but it is lovely to know that someone takes my encouragements to heart.