The Vegas Unicorn

“No but seriously, Hilary, are you really from Vegas? I mean, I’ve heard of people going there to visit but who would’ve thought people actually live there?” Laughter exploded throughout the group.

I chuckled and took a sip of Merlot before replying, “Yes, my dear John, I am in fact from Sin City. As hard as that may be to believe.” He shook his head in disbelief and poured himself more wine.

Dahlia leaned over the platter of cheese and touched my arm. “But do you actually live in houses? I mean, like, are there schools and things?” The others nodded and murmured in wonder, waiting expectantly for an answer.

I looked around at my new group of friends dismayed. How had I gone from She-Who-Cries-in-Dorm-Room to being the center of poolside discussion? It was a little unbelievable. I had been convinced I would spend the remainder of my time in Cairns lying in that bunk bed willing the seconds to pass sooner. And now here I was, enjoying one of my last remaining nights in this coastal town with friends from every corner of the globe.

I thought back to a few days prior and how overwhelming my desire for friendship connection had been. At that point, meals were one of the few reasons I left the dorm room. With the condition of my foot still being dire I didn’t have energy to do much else.

To waste time, I counted the steps around the kitchen. Twelve to the refrigerator. Nine to the stove. Seven to the pots and pans, seven back. Finally twenty-two to the nearest table and chairs. I would prop my foot up on an empty chair and admire the meal in front of me. At least I was eating right.

People watching had almost become an art form. I guessed where each individual was from and why they had chosen to come to Cairns. The stories that I envisioned in my head were elaborate and probably all too unrealistic to ever be true, but they helped pass the time. Plus part of the fun was then meeting these strangers and finding out how wrong I could be. I was never bored with the people I met.

And as I would come to find out, the backpackers would find me equally as interesting. I hadn’t really thought about it previously; I mean, who would want to know about a silly lone American traveler? As it turned out, pretty much everyone at the hostel.

Here’s what I could surmise from my sudden popularity:

The Enlightenment of an American Backpacker

1. Most travelers kept to themselves. Because of my injury I wasn’t traipsing around the harbor and therefore had extra energy and time to devote getting to know people. For as friendly and welcoming as all my new mates were, they were shocked to have another traveler initiate conversation. I would learn most people moved around so often they didn’t spend a lot of time developing friendships. And though I made waves by starting this trend, others were happy for the change of pace.

I suddenly had more people wanting to join me for meals than I knew what to do with. Many would inquire about my gimp leg and we’d go from there. At first I tried to put on a face of confidence and composure, but it never held up long. I would tell my tale and find myself uncontrollably discussing my insecurities, fears, and loneliness. I felt extremely vulnerable talking about such things but unable to control what came out of my mouth. What shocked me more than my inability to shut up about my situation was the response I received from my new friends.

Even though none of them were injured, they all felt very similar. My initial conversation with John, the handsome lad from Edinburgh, had gone that way. After telling him my story, I looked up to find him regarding me with a shocked expression. “Oh God,” I stammered, “I’m so sorry. I seem to have diarrhea of the mouth these days… Please forgive me for just dumping that on you.”

He smiled and reached over to hug me. I awkwardly embraced him back, not sure where this was going. “Hilary, you are the first person I’ve met here that has been brave enough to say what they’re really feeling.” He clasped his hands around my shoulders and gave them a squeeze, looking me in the eyes. “You want to know the funny thing? I feel exactly the same way. I think we all do.” He leaned back in his chair and smiled out of the corner of his mouth. “You’re just the only one with balls enough to say it.”

This would be the first of many conversations of this nature. Turns out the world of backpackers is full of people with no idea what they’re doing, how they’re going to do it, or with any real grasp on their emotions. Isn’t that ironic? But what I found so cool was that we were all still doing it. And now, suddenly, there was a collective of support forming. A united front of backpackers… Alone we traveled but together we stood.

2. Apparently backpacking Americans weren’t common in Australia. Because of the working-holiday visas available to Europeans and Canadians in Oz, you were more likely to see travelers from those parts. I would also meet many Australians from the west coast on holiday. So even though I was a minority, I peaked the interests of others because of my rare pedigree.

I remembered back to when I first met Dahlia, the gorgeous brown-eyed Israeli woman with a rรฉsumรฉ longer than her raven hair. “You don’t strike me as an American,” she mused. “Most Americans I’ve met are loud and obnoxious with no care or regard for others. Clearly, you do not fit the stereotype.” These preconceived notions made me feel extreme pressure to represent America. It felt like everyone was watching my behavior.

3.ย Even though everyone had heard of Las Vegas, there was this firm belief that there was no such thing as Las Vegas locals. “I mean, I suppose it makes sense that there would be people living there to run the casinos and all that jazz.” The German girls in my dorm discussed my background amongst themselves, “But it’s not something one thinks about. Everyone just wants to go there to party. To think about someone living a normal life there… Well that’s not going to cross your mind, is it?”

And even though I understood my background was unusual, I wasn’t expecting to grow such a friend base because of it. Now here I sat, with my homesick emotions nothing but a memory, surrounded by twenty fellow travelers. If I only I had known a few weeks ago what awaited me! But I guess life never works that way, does it?

Isak, our resident Swede, brought me out of my thoughts and back to the present. Were they seriously still talking about me? “How lucky we are to have such a rare American traveler with us… Especially one on such an epic adventure!”

“Here, here!” Dahlia agreed, raising her glass, “To Hilary, the unicorn among horses! The strange American, heralding from a city where no-one thought one left. Thank you for bringing us together tonight!” My eyes grew wide as I watched my new friends raise their glasses to toast me.

John raised his glass and clasped my shoulder with his free hand, “May we all be as brave to embark on the mission you have: to live a nomadic and adventurous life. And to find a way to realize our dreams. Even at such a young age, you are so wise.”

“To The Nomad Grad!” The German girls cheered, clinking their glasses. The other backpackers followed suit.

My cheeks flushed as red as my wine. I clinked glasses with my new friends. I certainly didn’t feel I deserved the praise I’d received, but I was ever so grateful to have met such wonderful people.

The conversation turned to rugby and the discussion of my background ended almost as quickly as it had begun. But I still lingered in the moment. I thanked the universe for stepping in to allow me to connect with this group in such a special way.

I sipped on my wine and looked at my foot. Smiling and laughing to myself, I thanked it too.

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31 thoughts on “The Vegas Unicorn

  1. Yep, we shall definitely cross paths one of these days. I, too, suffer from “diarrhea of the mouth,” and I’m constantly worrying that I say too much, too intimately. But I find honesty refreshing considering how fake so many people are.

    It takes a lot of courage to share your personal reflections (especially your adventure at the Great Barrier Reef) during such a trying experience, but for that, my hat’s off to you. Keep writing.

    • =) Thank you so much, Ed! I have been very reserved as to whether I should be posting about any of this at all. 1) Because God forbid someone see me as less than perfect, haha. 2) Who really cares? and 3) What difference will it make? But I guess I keep coming back to the hope that someone who needs to read these posts will do so. And hopefully, they’ll keep them from feeling less lonely, or afraid, or judged, or whatever.

      Hope all is well with you!

  2. What a magical evening! I’ve found that while the ice is hard to break when backpacking, once you do, it’s an avalanche. I did 7 weeks in Europe with my sister and 2 friends, so we already had our own group to satisfy social cravings. But when we were feeling social, making friends happened very quickly, and we even met up with various backpacker friends in different cities weeks after we’d first met them. To the Las Vegas Unicorn!!!

  3. Hilary, I love how open you are about everything, including the downsides and scary aspects of travel. But you are actually very lucky for your “inability to shut up” because it gives you an opportunity to connect with people on a more personal level–and isn’t that what it’s all about? Hope your foot is better, but cheers to turning that frown upside down! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Hi Kaleena!

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I try REALLY hard to be as honest as possible. Because who wants to read a blog about unrealistic travel? Haha. Thank you so much for your support and encouragement. Really, I am so blessed to have readers like you!

  4. What did I tell ya? Didn’t take you long did it? Glad you are all better. There’s a documentary called A Map for Saturday in case you haven’t seen it yet. It talks about long term backpacking including all the issues that come with it.

  5. yeah… we never say so, but it’s actually true… once you take your backpack to go on an adventure, you know you shouldn’t expect anything ’cause anything can happen; but that’s also a pretty scary thought, right?! and that’s the only thing everybody else, at home, think about “oh my god, anything can happen to her!” but they think only about the bad stuff, when you have to focus on the good stuff… and good stuff happens; and everything happens for a reason…
    Like being stuck in a hotel with a sore painful foot… so you can meet people who make you feel better and see the bright side of it all! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Be well, take care and go back hopping on happy trails soon!
    Jul’

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and provide your insight, Julie! I always love to read your comments and soak in your wisdom. I feel so grateful to have you on my side during this journey. Life’s crazy, but I’m learning to love it. It’s much easier when you have friends around. =)

      Lots of love to you!

      • Do try and be helpful! ha! Just hope the best for you, I mean, we’re travelers, we do it for fun, right! So, just keep seeing the bright side of it all and enjoy!!!
        Have you been able to go diving the Great Barrier Reef? I’m eager to read about your tales there if you do! ๐Ÿ˜‰ … sorry… WHEN you do!
        by the way, I’ve nominated you for the Illuminating Blogger Award! See my post of June 28! ๐Ÿ˜›
        Be well & Enjoy!
        Jul’

        • Hey girly! Yes, being helpful and positive is an absolute must in the backpacking world!

          And thank you so much! First post about the GBR went up today. Hope you like it! More to come. =)

  6. As bad as the reputation of Aussies and not tipping, the American asshole is expected with every passport.

    Hence why both nations are pleasantly surprised when they find the opposite… Enjoy the rest of the trip and friendships made.

    Did you stop in at Airlie Beach before you busted ya leg?

    • Haha, I’m learning so many things! And I’m more than happy to fight the stereotype. I love surprising people.

      And I am very much enjoying the friendships, thank you! Didn’t get the chance to go to Airlie Beach… that will have to go on the list though!

  7. What an amazing experience! Though I can’t say that I’m surprised that you’ve managed to turn a once sucky experience into a great one ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Some times on the road, I’m tempted to tell people that I’m from a different country, depending on the political relations of that country with the States and how well I know the person inquiring, but more recently, I’m more likely to tell them the truth and to show people that not all Americans fit the common stereotype.

    • Awww, thanks so much, Erica! You are the best!

      And that’s so funny, because I’ve thought of doing the same thing. But I keep thinking I would end up meeting someone from wherever I claimed to be from and be totally busted! Plus, I’m a fan of the truth as well. =)

      Go Team! Together we can rid the world of the awful American stereotype. We’ll be like Captain Planet and the Planeteers.

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