In every group of friends that travel together, there’s always one that takes the lead, taking control of the navigation app, or figuring out the bus and train routes, and as much as I’d like to be that person, navigational skills have never been my strong suit. So far in Sydney, my friends and I have spent almost all our time exploring together, but last Monday I was the only one without class, and I had a completely free day ahead of me. I decided it was finally time to break out on a solo adventure and see if I could navigate around Sydney on my own. After waking up and making breakfast, I set out for the Central bus station. It was a beautiful day, with the early morning sunlight shining through the trees, making patterns on the sidewalk, and my favorite song playing through my earphones.
As I walked into the station, I found my way to the right platform pretty easily, got off at the right stop, and transferred buses. Thirty minutes later, as I looked out the window, the blue waters of Bondi beach stretched out in front of me. Even though it was such a simple thing, taking public transport on my own for the first time, made me feel such a sense of pride. I hopped off the bus and took my time walking to the beach, exploring all the little shops and cafes on the way. Setting my towel down in the sand, I took out my book and earphones, and spent a couple hours in a happy haze.
At around 4, I woke up from a nap and realized my phone was now at 13% battery, which is never a good thing, when you have a long trip home ahead of you, and you’re very much alone. My heart fluttered nervously as I packed up my things and started the walk uphill to the station. When I got there, I looked at the map and realized I was at the wrong station, and set off to find bus #380 that would take me back home. After a couple minutes of waiting, it pulled up, and I got into line. I was almost to the door, when the driver started gesturing his hands wildly. “No one else allowed on, we’re at capacity!” The doors suddenly slammed shut and the bus pulled away. I looked down at my phone, now at 6% and dying fast. Who knew when the next bus back to Haymarket would come?
Over in the corner by the bus sign, I saw a friendly looking man, around my dad’s age and I walked over to him. “Do you happen to know when the next 380 bus is coming?” I asked. Immediately, a younger guy, around my age, popped out from behind him. “Are you American?” he asked me in a slight Canadian accent. “My dad’s here moving me in for my semester abroad, and we’re trying to figure out when the 380 bus is coming too.” As the three of us started to introduce ourselves, my anxiety around getting home began to disappear. We sat down on a bench together, and before I knew it, we were all laughing, talking about our lives at home, and where we wanted to travel in the next few months. Around fifteen minutes later, the bus pulled up, and we made sure we were the first people in line. I was filled with confidence, sure that this time I was home free, but as I swiped my Opal card, an alert started flashing and I heard a persistent “Ding! Ding! Ding!” go off. I was short a single dollar. Before I had time to panic, the dad reached over and swiped his card so I could get on. The three of us found seats together, and they made sure I got off at the right stop.
When I finally got off at the station, I realized I had exited in the wrong area and was now at least a thirty minute walk back to the dorms. My phone, now at 1%, was definitely not going to be of help to me, but up ahead I saw a Mobike (Sydney’s version of CitiBike) laying on the ground. I ran over, and with my last 1%, I unlocked it, jumped on, and biked all the way back to the dorms. By the time I got back, I was ready to collapse, but at the same time, I was filled with a sense of newfound independence. As Kevin Lynch writes in The Image of the City, “ But let the mishap of disorientation once occur, and the sense of anxiety and even terror that accompanies it reveals to us how closely it is linked to our sense of balance and well-being.” Although things definitely didn’t go as planned, there is a beauty to getting lost, becoming friends with strangers, and putting away your phone. There’s no doubt that feeling lost and alone in a new city can be hard, but every time it happens, you learn to trust and rely on yourself a little bit more, and you come out of it with new skills and a story to tell.