I took a 10-day solo trip to Sydney, New South Wales in Australia for my birthday this past October. Sydney ranks as one of my favorite vacations. I don’t know if it’s the actual place, or the place at which I am in my life that made the difference. During my trip, I just went with the flow without feeling guilty. Sydney was the first vacation during which I interacted with local residents, and learned about life beyond my Fodor’s guidebooks. This was quite an accomplishment for me, because I’m an introvert. I usually travel alone, and don’t talk to folks while traveling unless it’s to ask for directions or complete a business transaction. My trip was both fun and a learning experience. I can definitely say that I came back home more enriched and knowledgeable than when I left.
I learned a few lessons along the way:
- Do what makes you happy – You’re on vacation. Do whatever makes you happy in that moment. Although I had a basic idea of some places I wanted to go, I remained open to the idea of doing things not on my list, or doing nothing at all. I’ve taken vacations where I returned home feeling very exhausted and in need of a follow-up vacation, having raced through tourist attractions. This time around, I told myself that I didn’t have to do everything. I can always come back – even if it takes me a while to save enough money for a return trip. And since I was traveling solo, there was no one to make happy, but myself. Some days, I got up early, ate breakfast and headed out with my navigation App open or my list of directions in hand. Other days, I woke up late, ate breakfast, got back under the covers, and watched old episodes of Nashville or Entourage (notwithstanding the fact that I never watched these shows at home). Some days, I had a planned itinerary, like going to the Art Gallery of New South Wales (which has the best gift shop!). Other days, I woke up and asked myself, “What do I feel like doing today?” On one of those slow days, I sauntered through the Rocks, Sydney’s oldest neighborhood.
I ended up happily bumping into the famed Rocks Flea Market, where I picked up some cool things.
I love reading and writing. Whenever I visit a new city, I make sure to buy at least one book and one journal to commemorate my time there. So when I passed the pretty stationary store Kikki.K., I just had to go in. As I was looking at a goal setting journal, a saleswoman mentioned to me that a life coach would be conducting a goal setting workshop the next night for the same price as the journal, and that the journal would be free. A journal AND a workshop? Heck, who can resist a bargain? The next night, me and four other women sipped wine and ate cheese as we got schooled on setting and keeping goals. The usually introverted me was forced to talk to strangers, and it was fun. I asked them about their lives, how long they had lived in Sydney, what made them want to attend this workshop, and where I should go for fun. It was also refreshing that these women, in the same age range as me, were also on similar quests for fulfillment and clarity. And I even set a few short-term goals for myself that night, which I actually met! Conversation and inspiration while on vacation? Holla!
I knew I wanted to attend a show at the Sydney Opera House, so I perused the performance schedule. Why couldn’t John Legend or India.Irie be in Sydney at that time? I picked the next best thing that seemed fun – the Australian National Poetry Slam! How awesome, a poetry slam on the other side of the world. Organized by Word Travels and hosted by Miles Merrill, the night began with the Rumble Poetry Slam, a competition for high school students. Before the National Poetry Slam began, random members of the audience were picked to be judges. I was struck most by the diversity of the audience, like the retired elderly White woman sitting next to me who chatted me up about the history of the competition and her life in Sydney. She attends the competition every year. It wasn’t just a young, fringe, hipster, alternative crowd like I’d seen at poetry slams in NYC. I laughed with the familiarity of home whenever I heard the customary finger snaps the audience did when a poet said something profound, or heard old school hip hop songs from Biggie, Jay Z or Arrested Development playing as each poet walked onto the stage. What I most appreciated were the poets’ stories. Through their stories, I gained a glimpse into Australia. It’s politics, its history, its scars.
Poets slammed every topic, from being Cambodian refugees; mental illness and addiction among men; and the insufficiency of marriage equality for the trans community (“Her murder wasn’t ruled a hate crime, but sh%t, at least she could get married.”); to working in an immigration detention center; grief; and homophobia “(“That is so gay.”). A guy dedicated a poem to his mother, who sat in the audience and had been a political prisoner. Poets recited poems about rape; a woman adeptly slammed about salt and pepper and other food items as metaphors for colonization and racism. In her poem about people’s treatment of Muslims after 9/11, another woman warned, “when you wish for someone else’s death, you are writing your own eulogy.” A Somali poet talked about her dual identities as an immigrant (“I am a child of Africa, but I am a woman of Australia.”). After the competition, members of the audience were picked to read the handwritten poems of refugees currently in detention. The poets’ words and stories were powerful – stories I would never discovered had I not followed my nose to whatever seemed interesting in the moment.
Stay tuned for more adventures and lessons in To Sydney, With Love – Part 2!
Have you ever been to Sydney? If so, what did you think?