solo backpacking as a middle-aged woman – the why…

The Baths of Lady Maria de Padilla – the Alcazar, Seville, Spain – 2016.

I am not an adrenalin junky. You won’t catch me jumping from airplanes or rafting down whitewater. The thrills I seek are found in history, hiking and introspection. (Let me make something else clear – I don’t always travel alone. I often journey with family and friends and enjoy those trips as well). My first solo backpacking trip was a week in Switzerland where I hiked alpine trails, rode gondolas to mountain peaks, and anxiously watched as young base jumpers leapt into seeming oblivion. Next came three weeks meandering across southern Spain and the discovery of a dormant love for long periods of reflection, of setting my own agenda, of drinking coffee and reading books in beautiful locales. I discovered something else too – the hostels where I stayed were packed with young people who sometimes missed their own mothers and appreciated a listening ear or a word of advice as much as I loved hearing their stories. Travelling alone is like that – you talk more to strangers – and learn that the world is filled with people who are your friends, your sons and daughters, your aunties, sisters and grandmothers. In short, you are not alone at all, but often surrounded with inquisitive people who are on their own journeys of discovery.

Now as I embark on a 14 week journey across the world, I feel joy in the anticipation of both solitude and discovery. But why does a woman travel alone and what are the inspirations for such solo wanderings? For me, the roots branch in several directions. Travelling and living abroad as a child enabled me to closely observe new cultures and, from a young age, begin to discern similarities and disparities. These observations have fostered a life-long yearning to experience and learn from the people that inhabit our world. I have been humbled to tears by women dwelling in smokey African huts and inspired by the fierce protectiveness of the Greek woman who rescued me in Athens decades ago. I have watched these same roots nurture my daughters and listened as they described their own insights gleaned from living and travelling abroad. These insights have also fostered a deep love of and gratitude for my home country. I love Canada and am eternally grateful for the rights and freedoms and access to natural beauty that we have here. Thus, for me, the introspection of solo travel affords the opportunity to grow as an individual and as a citizen.

One lesson I continue to learn in my work as an RN is the lesson of time – as in “we do not know how much time that we have,” and as in “I have this moment to hold in my hand.” Along the way, I have held many, many moments in my hands and savoured them. Now that my children are grown and independent, solo travel is my ongoing response to this lesson. It is acknowledging a deep gratitude for my career and pension, while pursuing life beyond their limitations. It is living along the road to retirement. Some time ago, I cared for a man, not much older than myself, who suffered from incurable ill-health. This man stared into my eyes and implored me to “not wait to do the things you love.” These journeys are my answer.

Ultimately, though, I travel because of faith – faith in God who created such diversity and beauty, and who is, I believe, the source of my curiosity. I have a burning desire to wander along mountain trails and through temples, to chat with women in markets, to hear stories translated from other languages, to become lost in the gardens and slums of the world and to learn and contribute along the way. Lucy Maud Montgomery, herself a Canadian and a woman of faith, perhaps expressed it best when she wrote, “Dear old world, you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

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