This has been my less stressful overseas trip ever. I’m not especially well-travelled – I’ve done the US and Canada, the UK, France and Germany a couple of times, but in my somewhat limited experience this trip has been by far the best. Partly because I already know my way around Sydney having lived here, but also because, for the first time, I’m travelling with a local.
Travel companions make all the difference. Australia is relatively easy for South Africans, of course: they speak English, drive on the left hand side of the road, and being in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are more or less the same. But it does make a huge difference when you’re travelling with someone who knows how to use public transport, where to find good restaurants, and can drive you from place to place so you’re not always reliant on buses. (Chris did all the driving from Melbourne to Adelaide.)
I first met Chris back in 2009 after he read one of my Thought Leader blogs about my loneliness in Sydney. We remained friends once I returned to South Africa, and this trip was our first meeting in four years. He’s between jobs, so the timing was great: he didn’t need to take leave to show me around. We’ve certainly made up for all those years of Youtube links and distracted Facebook messages.
Chris grew up in Cape Town and, for various reasons, emigrated to Australia at around the same time I did. He’s incredibly bright, a walking encyclopedia and, in a complete overturning of so-called gender norms, talks more than I do. We have similar interests – cute animals, lolcats, design, architecture, military aircraft, cars (we talk a lot about cars) – and he knows an enormous amount about movies and music. But for a gaping hole in our knowledge of sport, we’d make a pretty good quiz team.
It can be intense being with somebody almost constantly, especially when for budget reasons you’re sharing a room (yes, it is possible for a straight man and woman to just be friends). But we’re both affable, and even when I get terse and moody from time to time (Monday’s kangaroo petting exercise was not a great success for me), we make it work. We know each other well, but not so well that we aren’t polite to each other – and maintaining a level of politeness is essential if you’re going to live on top of one another for two weeks.
Chris challenges me in ways that are good, always showing me something interesting and new. The quality of his thinking is always good, and he has rejected many aspects of our sanitized, credit-funded, overmarketed culture in ways that I find interesting. He’s always worth a good conversation. If I’ve come to enjoy a trip that I’d been dreading, much of that credit goes to him.