When I dreamed of traveling youngster, I conjured exotic scents and foreign colors. I heard in my mind the lovely lilt of unknown dialects. I tasted in my dreams the cuisine of far off places. Never did I think about the practicalities of traveling through cultures, countries, and places foreign. Foreign by definition means strange and unfamiliar, and it’s that lack of familiarity that nearly got me run over.
As I’ve explored Sydney these past few days, I walked on autopilot at times. My attention fluttered between window dressings, into cute cafes, and up to the tops of towering skyscrapers. Throughout all of that, I was pretty cocky about how I was doing as a solo traveler these first days on my own, out there in the big world. And I also consider myself a bright girl — I only need to make a mistake once to learn from it.
And yet, I have the very real, very daily problem of blinding stepping off curbs in Sydney’s downtown. How many times do I do this? Oh, let me count the ways. I cannot seem to fight the ingrained habit of looking right first when I cross the street. They drive on the left in Australia, and this really shouldn’t be that hard for me. I safely navigated the UK when I was a cautious 21-year-old. But now?
Several strangers have reached out to physically stop me from walking into oncoming traffic. Not one, not even two. It’s every time I leave the hostel.
It’s a bit funny. I know that. But it’s also serious! This is a pressing safety concern, and it’s not one I had ever considered when family warned me of the dangers of solo travel. I am thanking the powers-that-be because the touristy parts of Sydney painted reminders directly on the roads. They did this for the Sydney Olympic Games, and it remains useful for idiots such as myself.
As I heighten my awareness — I have no desire to be side-swiped by a car barreling past — I am correcting my instinctual response. At this point, I am training myself to physically pause at every street corner. Then I take a deep breath and consciously look “right, left, right.”
One of the funnier moments happened this morning. I bodily smacked into a gorgeous business-clad Aussie hustling down the sidewalk. I face-planted myself into his chest. The blame for this delightful little encounter falls squarely on this predicament I am having. I I dodged right to get out of his path, and he dodged to my right too (it was his left, so it was the natural move for an Aussie). Wham! Instant collision. He was genuinely baffled about the situation since there was plenty of space on the sidewalk. But being a gentleman he apologized profusely. My response was a stammering mess. I giggled a bit, blushed a little, and then ducked around him and continued walking. Looking back though, maybe there is an upside to all this left-right confusion. ;-)