I've always had a certain stereotype in my mind about Australians, specifically the men. I assumed that like attractive American men, they too would have a certain cockiness about them. An "I do what I want" attitude, if you will. So imagine my surprise when everyone I met turned out to be incredibly nice, polite and even chivalrous. Did I mention they were attractive?!
And I certainly won't leave out the women in my country-wide praise. The women were just as nice and accommodating as the men. I've been on the road now for close to 10 months and I've never so successfully relied on the kindness of strangers. In the name of brevity, I'll only highlight some of the amazing generosity I experienced during my month down under.
1) I was offered a place to stay as well as a paddle board to use in Manly Beach by someone I met only one time, 10 months ago.
2) After chatting with someone at a bar for about 30 minutes, he said I could hitch a ride with him up to the Gold Coast. (That's 12 hours in a car with a complete stranger.) It could have been horrible, like he might have murdered me, or worse, played house music, but all went well.
3) A truck driver gave me a lift from Cairns to Townsville (4 hour drive) and let me stay at the truck stop overnight when we arrived too late for me to make other arrangements. During our drive I mentioned wanting to hug a koala bear and the next day this incredibly generous stranger took me to an animal sanctuary before driving me an extra hour south when my plans changed.
4) A couple that spent some time with my grandmother in the states opened their home to me and after a quick chat with their kids and grandkids, it was decided that I needed to be farther south to head out to the reef and without any hesitation, an offer was made to drive me the two hours it took to get there.
5) An email exchange about sleeping on someone's couch for a few days in Airlie Beach turned into a spot on an unforgettable sailing trip in the Whitsundays, complete with snorkeling, paddle boarding, and swimming with sea turtles.
I'll never forget the kindness of these strangers I now call friends. After 10 months of traveling alone, even the most positive person can get a little jaded, so as I was experiencing these travel miracles I was running the scenarios by friends, asking if they also thought it was too good to be true. After all the murdery hitchhiking jokes, we eventually got down to the simple fact that maybe the universe was finally paying me back. Maybe I just deserved some kindness with no strings attached.
When I got the lift down to Airlie Beach from the daughter in law of the couple my grandmother knew 50 years ago, she said, "I'm sure you would do the same for me." As in, drive four hours round trip to help someone out. She's right. I would. Although, just like Sandy, I don't do nice things for people because I expect them in return. But I'm not going to bullshit you and say it isn't nice when it happens. I was reminded recently that when I hosted couch surfers in LA before my trip, I would often pick them up, drop them off and sometimes even let them borrow my car. At the time, my friends and family thought I was nuts. These were strangers. FOREIGN strangers. I shook their hands, handed them blankets, towels and keys to my apartment. I picked them up from bus stops in LA traffic and rushed them to the airport in the middle of the night when they misread the shuttle schedule so they wouldn't miss their flights.
People would ask me why I would take those risks. My answers then are the same as they are now. "What if they murder you in your sleep?" They didn't. "What if they steal all of your stuff?" (Shrug) It never happened. "What if they crash your car?" I had good insurance. I had a good job and a comfortable couch. I had resources and they didn't. Now that I'm on the receiving end of these kindnesses I still get the same questions but in reverse. Now it's not the traveler on my couch who wants to rob and murder me, it's the person offering me their couch. Surely they're just luring me in with a free place to stay so they can get all rapey and murdery. Of course the truck driver who offers me a ride plans to wear my skin as a hat. And yet, here I stand. Alive. Skin intact.
I truly believe in the risk verses reward mindset. It's kind of my barometer for the choices I make and the chances I take. Without taking any risks you're limiting the rewards. But there is something to be said for calculating the risk ahead of time. I won't pretend that the last 10 months have been all smooth sailing. There have been times where kindness was just a front for ulterior motives. It got dicey, shit got real, and I got the fuck out. It's not always easy to separate the good intentioned from the bad, but the rewards have always been worth the risk.