The Blue Mountains

Katoomba, Australia

“Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness.” Maybe it sounds like something from a self-help book but it was enough to start a conversation with strangers at a hostel in the blue mountains of New South Wales. All it takes is the courage to talk to strangers and you can really learn not just great stories, but also more about yourself. Let’s rewind first.

On Monday, I arrived in Sydney, Australia, for the first time and went to a show at the famous Sydney Opera House. I met a French traveler named Samuel who also arrived that day and we agreed that the blue mountains would be worth a visit. Fast forward and he and I are on a train together heading to the mountains. After a gorgeous hike with pictures that you can see throughout this post, we decided to buy a rack of beer and invite people from the hostel to drink and talk.

We met a Swiss, a Chilean, an Australian, and two British travelers last night. Each of us were solo travelers. This was a new experience even for me, as most times people travel in groups, and this melting pot represented the mass of travelers who broke the barrier of needing to travel in groups. In one point of view, traveling with others is a mental block, and in another traveling with others is just more fun and you share memories for a lifetime.

The topic came up from a book the Chilean was reading that your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. And because a great part of drinking with people that you’ll never see again is that you can be entirely honest about deep topics, I asked what peoples’ greatest strengths/weaknesses were. Getting to myself, I decided to go with independence. Now understand that in this company (unlike most), there was a great deal of independence as each of us was a solo traveler. But there were parts of my independence that even amazed them.

When I am in social situations, I don’t like having my phone nearby. Big pet peeve. To take it a step further, I often don’t keep my phone with me at all for hours at a time. This has been a big problem and one of the most inconsiderate things I do for the people around me, too. Recently, at an alumni weekend that I wrote about two weeks ago, I carried no phone on me to the real annoyance of my friends who wanted to be around me. To take it a step further still, in other countries, I don’t buy a SIM card at all. Take, for instance, the story of my arrival in Ankara. 

Last summer, I was flying from Paris to Ankara (by way of Athens and Istanbul, importantly) to meet a friend who was working there at the time. I would arrive at night to meet her outside a Starbucks at a certain time. Unexpectedly, I couldn’t connect to the wifi at either of the Turkish airports. My friend hadn’t heard from me since Athens, and when I took a taxi to that area, I couldn’t leave without paying in Turkish Lira. At an ATM, I learned that I had forgotten to tell my bank that I was in another country. No money, no cell phone, no view of my friend, I decided to tell the taxi driver that the ATM wouldn’t work and we had to drive around to find another. Luckily, we found my friend on that drive and she was able to pay for it. But I hate to think about how long I made her wait outside in Ankara alone.

It’s easy to see how this independence is a strength and a weakness. On one hand, I get to go around the world and experience amazing places and people without needing to plan any of it. On the other hand, I rely on the generosity of the people around me. It won’t always be true that people will understand and accept my unwillingness to carry a phone on me. As people love to point out to me, I am a lucky person but the luck will eventually run out. 

We’ll see!

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