The Clock is Ticking

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 6. Book #1, Sydney by Nicolas1 Comment

Given that when flying into Australia you essentially experience a “twenty-four hour loss of existence,” can it be said that “there is a certain sense of achievement just in arriving in Australia” (Bryson)? According to Bill Bryson, a man smitten with Australia in more ways than are imaginable, and the author of In a Sunburned Country, this sense of achievement in arrival is derived not only from the unusual temporal circumstances at play, but also in the fact that arriving in Australia is simply a positive bonus all in its self.

In my mind, the nearly 24 hour flight was anything but a spectacular series of events or in his words an “achievement:” instead, not having slept for more than a half an hour cumulatively on the entire trip, I was nearly bent over with exhaustion.  However, I must admit that Bryson’s next description of preexisting expectations for Australian cultural exploration is undeniably close to what I had experienced.   It is without question that “every cultural instinct and previous experience tells you that when you travel this far you should find, at the very least, people on camels” (Bryson).  Expecting exoticism due to the distance and importance (There is a high likelihood I may not find myself back in Australia for decades or ever again at all) of one’s travels is certainly a feeling I can sympathize with when I arrived. But, just as Bryson continues, Australia “is comfortable and clean and familiar” and that is “why I love to come to Australia” (Bryson).  Even when you are expecting and hoping to arrive in an exotic destination, there is still a certain level of comfort knowing that familiarities and or pleasantries are right at your doorstep; the cuisine is diverse and so far fantastic, the sun shines with few clouds for 6 days a week, and the cities and surrounding suburbs are clean, prosperous and communal.

Yet, in the reverse, at times Bryson’s travels were not always highlighted by finding satisfaction in the familiar.  For Bryson, certain aspects of his travels to some of Australia’s most famous cities were just flat out boring.  In Tanuda, Bryson has a “pleasant evening there, but there was absolutely nothing exceptional or eventful in the experience” (Bryson).  The problem he found with Adelaide is that he “suspect[s] it has just stopped being interesting” (Bryson).  In Canberra, the capital city famous for it impressive government buildings, to him “it was like walking around the site of a very large world’s fair that had never quite gotten off the ground” (Bryson).   All in all, as I have experienced myself (although I have yet to leave the state of New South Wales) there have be instances where certain locations simply do not live up to the hype.  At times, I have been frustrated by weekend travels and excursions where the location was definitely interesting or unique, but the time and cost spent getting there did not always justify the effort.

However, its apparent from Bryson’s descriptions and writing style, that the sites that truly do resonate with him are worth the dozens of other experiences that may have just been ‘alright.’  Just as Bryson finds joy in some of the most impressive natural sites in Australia, like Ayer’s Rock (Uluru),  for me, the beaches, wildlife, island travels and hikes I have completed all in the past month have been the most memorable.

Personally, I am affected by arguably Bryson’s most famous quote in the entire book; “Perhaps it’s my natural pessimism, but it seems that an awfully large part of travel these days is to see things while you still can” (Bryson).  Although I’m only 19 years old, as I creep closer and closer to the workplace, I know that I likely won’t have months of a time to travel, explore and take in unfamiliar places across the world.  That is why having the mindset of making the most of foreign destinations, whether they be unforgettable or seemingly uninteresting upon first glance, is all the more important.

Bryson, Bill. In a Sunburned Country. Broadway Books, 2001.


  1. Hi Nicolas,

    Thanks for sharing about your book! The aspect of your post that struck me the most was Bryson’s quote about catching locations while you can. While our lives are becoming more restricted as our time in college comes to an end, it is also important to consider the change in the physical existence of places, be it through war, climate change or gentrification. As an environmental studies student, I was immediately jealous of your time in Australia, as you could catch the Great Barrier Reef in its final days. And I have to say, I wish I could have stayed in a pre-Starbucks Berlin. I think this continual presence of change puts a good bit of pressure on the curiosity of humanity to find these mind-blowing exotic experiences as quickly as possible. But the most beautiful parts of travel are often the quietest, and usually come without an itinerary or a landmark. It takes patience and a certain degree of acceptance for what is, rather than a wish for what may no longer be.

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