As I sat in a massive park just west of Christchurch City Centre in New Zealand, I could feel the December summer sun take effect on my already reddened, freckled face. I looked around and spotted a guy laying on a bench nearby. I called out to him and asked if he had any sunscreen. He nodded.
I doused my face and body in the stuff. I found out the owner of the sunscreen's name is Sven and he's from Germany. And for the next three hours, we talked about everything and anything that came to mind. Major focus points included Germany's view on America, lessons learned from traveling, and what we both miss about home.
I've always coined myself as an "independent" person and take pride in being able to do things on my own. However, this trip abroad has opened my eyes and changed my perspective toward my independence as well as my interaction with others.
Since being in Australia, I've been lucky to stay with friends or friends of friends in a majority of the cities I've visited. Between my friend Eileen in Brisbane, Kelly and Rom in Melbourne, Natalie and Patrick in Sydney, and traveling with Diana since Melbourne, I've been surrounded by the comfort of a friendly face or two. There's only been two points in my travels I've been solo, including a couple days in Byron Bay and now a couple days in Christchurch before Diana and Ashley arrive from Sydney. Sven has traveled on his own for the past three months and he mentioned something that resonated with me: as he gets older, he realizes he craves deeper conversations and connections with people on a more consistent basis. He said since the start of his trip, he hasn't found many people in which to have good conversations. He also said at one point while he was on a 4-day hike, he didn't talk to ANYONE. I know there are some people that crave solitude, but neither Sven nor I are one of those people.
Because of my love of interacting, all the friends I've spent time with on this trip has engaged in at least one of my infamous heart-to-hearts. While in Byron though, there was a full day when I didn't have more than a small talk conversation with someone. And you know what? It made me feel extremely lonely. Actually, there were a handful of times in Brisbane I felt the same way. Then, I would meet someone that would intellectually intrigue me, thus making me feel alive again.
After talking to Sven for as long as I did my first afternoon in Christchurch, I now realize that constant human interaction is important to me. I love bouncing ideas off people and learning new things from them as well. Yes, I still love my Christina time, but I feel calmer knowing there's an infinite number of people around me I can talk to when I feel the need. Plus, how else do I learn about random things like underwater rugby?! (Yes, it's real!)
Something else Sven and I agreed on is the fact that living out of a suitcase gets old after a month of two. I'm looking forward to settling in one place after the new year and creating a fulfilling life. I give a lot of credit to true "backpackers" that carry all their belongings on their back for a year (Funny story: at the hostel I stayed at in Christchurch, a girl slept with her 50 pound backpack ON HER BACK the night she was here...yikes! Wonder what she's been experiencing while on the road...). I've never been, nor will I ever be, a backpacker. I would much rather visit a place and settle there for awhile than move from place to place every couple days. I want to connect with the places I visit and become a local.
Overall, Sven brought out two realizations within me:
1. To be independent shouldn't necessarily equate to being lonely. In the past year, I haven't dated anyone seriously because I thought it would hinder my independence. In reality, the right guy for me will love that quality about me and encourage it versus smother me. Again, it's about balance.
2. I will no longer just go through the motions of life without purpose. There are too many people to impact positively to waste my time wearing headphones and shutting myself off to the world. I'm sure there are many Christinas and Svens in the world just waiting for someone to approach them, so why not initiate the interaction more often?