Half the fun of travelling for me lies in the planning, but travelling solo means we cannot share the anticipation of adventure with anyone. The trip’s in our own head, from beginning to end. On the other hand, we can choose the destination and activities with no regard for another’s wishes.
In retirement we may revert to pleasures from our younger years that we suspended for lack of time or circumstances. In my twenties I travelled alone for business and pleasure. (The travel industry coined a word to describe business and leisure travel, bleisure, similar to glamping and staycation.) For instance, I remember touring Ireland by train and, while dining at a hotel in Galway, being told to evacuate because of a bomb threat. Sitting poolside at a resort in Antigua, I wrote an essay on “Dief” for a course at U of T. I discovered the gently sloping South Saskatchewan River valley in Medicine Hat, driving about Alberta on my tribute to autumn. It’s not strange then, as Glen first thought, that I booked a solo sojourn this spring.
In fact I joined a trend: an online survey revealed 65% of American women polled vacationed without their partners, with the majority of them choosing to travel solo so they’re free to make decisions and be themselves.
My recent venture extended a theme of nostalgia, which began in 2016 when I and two brothers visited our parents’ past in Winnipeg and Bienfait. In 2017 I checked out our house in Calgary where I was born. The focus of this recent trip was Edmonton, my home from age six, but first I flew to Saskatoon to tour a spectacular new art gallery in a Prairie city I visited for bleisure in the ’70s.
To maximize sightseeing opportunities on my four-day trip, I formulated a full itinerary at home, identifying the attractions to see and the restaurants to dine at. I even charted the routes to walk, thanks to Mapquest. Weather affects my satisfaction in travelling now. Because I was walking through my past, I hoped rain would not dampen my fun. The Prairie cities obliged.
- On a friend’s advice, I pack a lengthy, mystery novel to keep me engrossed during flights and nights.
- Travel well. Booking my two-day train trip to Winnipeg, I splurged on a cabin and then relished privately the mesmerizing effect of motion and passing scenery. This time using Aeroplan points, I booked a connecting flight to Edmonton from Saskatoon. Instead of flying to YEG in 1hr 23m, I spent 3hr 35m with a stop in YYC. I should have flown direct!
- Stretch the budget to stay in decent hotels. The grand railway hotels, that figured prominently in the development of the West, provide central locations, comfort and safety, along with a bit of history. Moreover, as it may well be a first and last solo trip to that particular destination, do it right.
- Wear practical shoes. On my feet for eight hours in Saskatoon, I walked over 20,000 steps but also stood to view displays at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada, the Diefenbaker Canada Centre (where I met a contrasting perspective to mine of decades earlier), and the Remai Modern Art Gallery. I broke one of Glen’s travel rules — “a museum a day” — that admittedly led to my weary brain and feet at day’s end.
- I initially reserved a car in Edmonton, then realized the combination of an airport shuttle and public transit would offer stress-free, inexpensive and environmentally friendly transport.
- While it may seem indecorous for couples or families to use their devices at restaurants, it’s okay for solo diners. My iPad and a newspaper accompany me to meals, or I work on a crossword puzzle.
Travelling alone at this stage represents another example of becoming my Mother’s daughter — with difference. Mom liked her many solo experiences, particularly the cruises, but she was highly sociable. She’d often close the ship’s bar after dancing the night away. She made plenty of acquaintances, whereas I prefer not to meet people — being solitary, not antisocial. On my own I am observant and serene.
These years I am for the most part invisible, moving about freely with a carefree mind, encountering no unwelcome advances. No untoward looks. Except when I spoke to a man in the elevator of the Chateau Lacombe. Our superficial exchange resulted in a dinner invitation to the revolving restaurant on the 24th floor. In the ’80s Glen and I went on dates to La Ronde, ordering Baked Alaska and Spanish coffees, so I intended to go there. But when the gentleman proposed a social encounter, I decided to dine elsewhere.
Like most travellers, I take lots of photos, some as content for my diversion of Instagram. I also record interesting facts, such as the first major immigration to Canada from Ukraine occurred between 1891 and 1914. Most of the 170,000 rural poor settled in the Prairie provinces. Today Canada has the third-largest Ukrainian population in the world (behind Ukraine and Russia).
Travelling solo — to experience a change of scene and stimulate our senses — reminds us how much we value our rituals (and our spouse) at home. •
P.S. To fulfil my ambition to visit Canada’s ten provinces, I will travel to St. John’s NL. I may not make it to our three territories.