Posts Tagged With: Solo Traveler

Clear and Present Danger

“If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an excuse.”


I couldn’t find any excuses to not attend the Meet, Plan, Go event at the Hard Rock Cafe in Toronto Tuesday night.  It was clear and present danger for me to go and listen to a panel of travelers telling the audience exactly how to take a “career break” and pop on a plane to Thailand.

Two weeks vacation is hardly a reprieve from 50 weeks of work. I’m not great at math, but, I know that equation sucks. My sister, who might be a bit better at math already has her Banff home posted for a four month sublet because 2 +50 doesn’t equal contentment in her world either. In mid-January she and her partner, Mark, are going to make their way through the colour and commotion of Central America.

And instantly there is a divide. There are those who cheerlead such a radical pie-in-the-sky idea, and those who reject such a notion as an impossibility. Who can realistically take four months off work without repercussions? We have mortgages, cats, taxes, grass to cut, monthly magazine subscriptions and jobs that might not be there when we return. Sure, Ms. Eat, Pray, Love had it all cushy with a $60,000 book advance. Who wouldn’t fling themselves to Italy to eat themselves into another pant size, find love and go to India and find some other things like enlightenment?

I’ve told the story before, in an earlier blog, of why I am so pro traveling now versus in retirement. It was a socked-in, wind-whipped day as I approached the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland. Tour buses hogged the parking lot and I saw large clusters of seniors in woolly sweaters and sensible shoes simply waiting by the buses. They were waiting because they couldn’t walk the distance of the paved path to see the actual Cliffs. It made me ache inside for all of them. I imagined each of their lives, the careful budgeting of their days and no frills working years, saving for this very dream trip. The dream trip where their bodies were no longer able to take them where their minds had longed to go.

And this is why you need to live your dreams, out loud, right now.  There is a tattoo of a compass on my forearm that is a reminder of that Ireland trip. It’s why I made sure I went to the Galapagos Islands the year I turned 30. It’s what fuelled my desire to get to Africa already. And then go back again!

But what if you have kids? What if you have stuff? There’s school and life obligations and North American expectations.

If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.

I went to the Meet, Plan, Go event to feel the electrical charge that is contagious amongst travellers. The conversation is easy and excited, like a perfect first date where it’s all kismet and kindred spirits.  The Hard Rock Cafe was a big burble of expressive talk.  There was talk of Mongolia, biking mishaps in Singapore, the horns of Cairo…there’s great comfort in a room of strangers who are coincidentally “your people.”

Janice Waugh, who blogs under the handle “Solo Traveler” (and created the free ebook “Glad You’re Not Here: a solo traveler’s manifesto), hosted the evening with zest and confirmed why the travel-besotted do what we do. Her 10 month “career break” with her husband and (then) 10-year-old son proved to shape the rest of her life in a way she would never have fathomed then. Four years after their epic trip her husband died of a rare illness.

For  Evelyn Hannon, of “Journeywoman” fame, a split from her husband of 23 years found her spontaneously buying a $200 ticket to Belgium because she would have “died of frustration staying home and baking chocolate cakes. “ And crying. However,  she cried all the way across Belgium (for five weeks) as it was the first time she had been alone since age 14 (she was now 42). Evelyn and her husband were King and Queen of the Prom, true high school sweethearts, so ‘solo’ was brand new to her identity. Inspired, her five week crying trip led her to renting her house and living off the income to spend four idyllic months in France (crying now dramatically reduced).

Journeywoman is now 71 with more signs of going than ever stopping. She has been featured on Goodmorning America and was named one of TIME magazine’s Top 100 Innovative Thinkers. She’s not just former Queen of the Prom anymore. In fact, she has a pack of 75,000 women from over 200 countries that snap up her newsletter each month. She has circumnavigated the globe in 108 days aboard the MV Explorer, a “university ship” with 750 students attending a semester at sea (14 cities in 4 continents). She has interviewed the chief of Ghana, Ireland’s first female president, Mary Robinson, and chatted casually with Gloria Steinem.

The night was full of big hitters.

Mariellen Ward, the Breathe Dream Go bloggernaut, was quick to point out the differences between Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) and her personal six month emotional voyage. Although a product of a dissolved relationship like Elizabeth, Mariellen was quick to point out that she only went to India, so, her story was more Pray, Pray, Pray. And she did not have a $60,000 book advance to fritter away like Gilbert. She manifested her dream by selling most of her belongings and opted out of her apartment lease to rent a single room.

She acknowledged that of course there are many “seekers” that are magnetically attracted to India, certainly she is not the first to do such a trip. Steve Jobs, Mark Twain and even Jesus made pilgrimages.

Janice, moderating the guest panel with three integral questions and an index finger on her watch asked exactly what we all wondered.

1. How did you finance such a trip?

2. Were you lonely?

3. What safety tips would you offer solo female travelers?

Mariellen found great hilarity in the “were you lonely?” questioning.  “There are 1.2 billion people in India. No, I did not feel lonely.” (And it’s true, if you are looking for kinship and conversation, go to any billion or million populated area—like India, Cairo or Kampala. You will have friends everywhere.  More than you will want at times, in fact.) And, coincidentally, Mariellen discovered that all the principles of yoga can be learned on a train platform in India. Primarily patience and deep breathing.

Dave and Deb of PlanetD have been blogging their way around the world via and on a weekly travel segment on CTV on Friday mornings. In 2008 they quit their jobs to travel full time. A documentary on hyper runner Ray Zahab (who ran 7,500km across the Sahara Desert to the Red Sea) on New Year’s Eve tripped the wiring for the couple who were wanting more than the all-inclusive beach & bake winter getaway. Two weeks later, the freelance filmmakers signed up to bike across Africa and also participated in the Mongol Rally. They sold their car, house (which Deb initially cried over when they bought it. “Oh no, we’ve settled!), drank less, ate at home and sought out all the free entertainment Toronto boasts.

There was infectious excitement from Deb and Dan’s banter that was also reflected in Rick Storey’s tale. Storey and his wife and three kids traveled to 36 countries in 11 months. GM cutbacks led to the loss of his job as a Pontiac sales manager and sparked Storey to create his Bucket List. (So inspired by the movie, he even had a copy of the DVD for show and tell). His number one goal was to travel the world with his family. And, some 41 planes later, there are 28,000 photos and 300 hours of video that capture that Bucket year.

His wife took a career break from her chiropractic clinic, they liquidated assets, homeschooled the kids and returned as a more cohesive and world savvy unit.

All the panellists agreed, after living out of backpacks and suitcases for months and sometimes even a year at a time, you can only return to a more frugal life. When all you needed existed in a 40-pound pack, anything else seems like excess.

Janice, Evelyn, Mariellen, Deb, Dave and Rick Storey’s family pull in directions far from home all had a distinct common denominator.  Far from dreamers, they all had the unswerving conviction that they could design their life and path as they chose. We can live the  life we want.

The Meet, Plan, Go event provided an instant hive for the niche who want more than work to shape their being.  There is no format or confines to career breaks either. Leaving all that is familiar and comfortable is the greatest and quickest way to stretch yourself.

For some, there is a deep pulse that communicates a destination long before it’s ever realized. The blue footed boobies and tortoises of the Galapagos might not percolate your blood, but what place does?

Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) said it best:  “My own relation to the world of ancient Africa was indeed a kind of love affair, love at first sight and everlasting.”

What place do you have a love affair with? Have you been? Are you going? What’s stopping you? The presenters at Meet, Plan, Go were solid proof that whether it’s a break-up, disillusionment, wanderlust, a Bucket List revelation or fear of baking chocolate cakes in a Formica kitchen, we should go. Being heartbroken or having your job downsized doesn’t have to be the prerequisite. You can be madly in love and love your job to boot. Regardless of circumstance, we can all benefit from spiritual and emotional restoration.

In your dying days I doubt will you be thinking back to anything that happened in the office. It will be the pyramids, the sunset felucca down the Nile, the steamy jungles of Costa Rica with toucans skimming the tree canopy, the hot air balloons, the spray of thundering Victoria Falls on your face, dusty safaris, watching the gorillas quietly chew bamboo in the Virungas and sun-splashed Spanish vineyards where you’ll find your comfort in a life well-lived.


Inspired? Check out the Meet, Plan, Go site:

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