I’m often asked, ‘when did you take your first solo trip and why? My simple answer is, ‘ Sometimes life unfolds in a way you would never have imagined. And sometimes you are forced to react to those life events in ways you would never have imagined. But, you do and looking back you understand that that was the absolute right thing to do.
The first time I tried to explain where life and long term travel had taken me was for a magazine article I wrote in 1985. As I reread it now it sounds so stilted and formal but it was me … 27 years ago. Since then Journeywoman.com was born and it has become my life’s work. My travel story goes something like this…
I fell in love with my future husband when I was fourteen; my marriage fell apart when I was forty-two. That for a bride of the Fifties, translated into twenty-eight years of one partner, one romance and many, many years of togetherness. For as long as I could remember, I moved to the demanding rhythm of my family. I knew no other music and no other dance steps. Then suddenly there was silence. I was alone. That first year is now a blur of tears, loneliness and mental adjustment.
I carried one small bag…
I have not offered the above information to elicit sympathetic murmurs and empathetic gestures. If you can appreciate the devastation I experienced, then you will also understand the dynamic feeling that began with the purchase of my airline ticket. I was forty-three and I was going to Europe alone, all by myself, solo. Certainly, I had travelled before. But then I was the wife of a successful businessman who accepted the best addresses. Now I carried one small bag, one very small packet of traveller’s cheques and absolutely no itinerary.
The next thirty-five days were laden with intense emotion and storybook adventure. I soared in the heavens and wallowed in the depths. My love was no longer there to hold my hand. Now it was I, the single woman, who enjoyed the pleasures and coped with the pain. Land travel was by train and buses. A rented car would only spell unnecessary expense and solitude. Accommodation was at pensions and small hotels for the bigger the hotel, the more insular the experience.
I saw parts of Belgium, England, Greece and Turkey. There was no time to be frightened and no need. I met people on the train; I chatted in restaurants; I stopped in cafés. I was on the road for five weeks and only five evenings were spent alone.
I lived with an Australian midwife for a fortnight in Stratford, England. During that time we shared precious secrets as only two females can.
The music had not stopped…
I shared the last available hotel room on the island of Hydra with a young flight attendant from Panama. For three days he was a companion who discretely left the room when it was time for me to dress. It hurt to say good-bye.
I haggled in the bazaars of Istanbul. I ate mussels in Antwerp with a flight crew of Jordan’s airlines. An English engineer taught me to drink bitters, and a marriage counsellor from New York writes to me still. In major cities, I stood out in long lines of young people collecting their mail at American Express offices.
There were good days. There were bad days. I experienced highs and I cried alone. I was single again after so many years. The music had not stopped. The melody was simply changing. This, I began to understand, was only the beginning.
Thirty years later…
It was during that first journey three decades ago that I began to understand how good solo travel can be for the heart and soul. Extending my time on the road from five weeks that first time, I have spent up to four months at a stretch away from home.
I have learned to value my anonymity at foreign destinations. Free to wander at will, I seek out that which gives me pleasure. There is no need for the sort of compromise that exists in one’s regular day-to-day living.
Lonely? Sometimes. But loneliness is nothing to fear. It has not broken my heart yet. Rather it affords me the time to unpack the emotional baggage I carry with me and to use the time to journey into myself. Issues become a lot clearer when there are no other distractions. Eventually, one feels renewed and then there is a real need to reach out and make contact with others — another traveller, a shopkeeper, an official, perhaps a mother walking her baby in the park.
The result? I’ve heard countless wonderful stories and have had a myriad of lovely adventures to match. All because I am a woman who refuses to be timid and who has learned, by trial and error, the benefits of solo travel. And when I am ninety and sitting in my rocking chair, I know that I will be grinning, remembering my past exploits. And that, dear readers, makes me very, very happy!