Overcoming the Fear of Travelling Solo as a Senior

To escape the harsh Canadian winters of Nova Scotia, the place I call home, I do what more and more people are doing which is… to seek out some place that is warm. Florida is not the answer for me as has been the custom for many Nova Scotians in the past. For the last nine years, winters have taken me to the Far East, to such countries as Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, India, and, finally, last year to South America for the first time.

When I explain to friends, old and new, why I choose to travel to far off places by myself without my husband (Hubby), I get various reactions, such as: am I worried about getting sick, do I feel safe, how do I endure the long flights, or where do I get my energy? They might then end up by saying, “I could never do it.” Before addressing these concerns from the dubious, let me digress to the events leading up to my discovery of travelling solo as a senior female.

I never planned to do this kind of travel when Hubby and I moved to Nova Scotia from the big city of Toronto in 2006. It happened gradually. We kept meeting people in Annapolis Royal…the little town nearest to where we live in Victoria Beach… who had been to South East Asia. They helped perk my interest in the possibility of going there instead of to the south where we had gone previously. To my surprise I was able to talk Hubby into testing the Asian waters. We both realised it was so much cheaper to head east rather than south. For the same amount of money as we would spend to go to Cuba and stay at a resort for a week, we could stretch out our time away in Thailand, for example, to a month or more. Heck, after our second visit we realised we could stay for three or four months and live on a much smaller budget than we ever would if we stayed home. Home meant having to heat a century old house with oil and driving two cars.

Our home in Victoria Beach.

Annapolis Royal in December

After our fourth visit to SE Asia, Hubby announced that he was tiring of this part of the world and wanted to spend his next winter in Florence, Italy, where he had lived for a while as a young man. He also had friends in England he wanted to visit. The thought of spending my winter in either of these places left me cold (no pun intended). I was going back to Thailand again, not just for its warmth, but also because I wanted to shop. If you refer to one of my previous posts you will know why shopping in Thailand is my lure. Click on this link to read: Shopping the Markets in Chiang Mai.

Hill Tribe village in northern Thailand.

Night market in Chiang Mai

So now back to the concerns I have encountered from those who are interested in travelling solo as an older person. I say “interested” as I accept that not everyone wants to do this. We all have different ways of deriving satisfaction on our life’s journey. However, for those who would like to do it, but think it’s impossible to travel as a solo senior who is married, I want you to know it is… if you want it badly enough. You can convince your spouse or partner, if you have one, that it’s better for your relationship if you take time off from it and just trust. You can be safe if you use your common sense…this is where seniors have something that the younger set may not. You most likely won’t do anything crazy like walk around deserted streets late at night. You won’t get sick if you are careful of what and where you eat, and should you get sick there are tons of pharmacies with qualified staff and good hospitals in all the countries I have travelled to. Finally, you will survive the long trip overseas if you prepare yourself for the flight and take it easy for the first week by not eating too much spicy food and keeping a normal sleeping schedule. I have many tips for keeping in shape and staying healthy while travelling which I can address in a separate post if you want me to. For anyone who does decide to give solo travel a try, two things can happen:

  1. You will gain a thirst for more.
  2. Or if not, you will be glad you overcame any fear and just did it…once!

Either way you won’t regret it!

Fear of what disasters could happen are a huge concern for anyone starting off on a solo trip. When Hubby and I went on our separate trips in 2013, I was scared, but at the same time I was excited to be out there on my own. I could almost taste the freedom facing me. To deal with the fear factor, I started off with the familiar by travelling to Thailand first. I had friends there and was so familiar with this country that was becoming like a second home for me as Florence was for Hubby.

Viet Nam, however, was another story. My first night in Hanoi scared me to death when I was finally faced with the hoards of motorbikes and cars which seemed to be everywhere buzzing around like flies. With few traffic lights and police to direct the chaos, the Viet Namese drivers cope with a seemingly effortless charge ahead into the flow aiming for any spot that looks like a possibility. As a pedestrian, we must wait for a small gap or lull before heading out into the traffic. Then we pray the drivers see you and go around you rather than into you. I will be forever indebted to Mike and his wife, Diane, for helping me master the art of crossing the busy streets of Hanoi. Their presence was a gift because having been there many times, they were happy to not only be a guide for me, but to be my dinner companions. Aware that this was my first venture to a new place on my own, they kindly took me under their wing… or tried to. I can be awfully independent at times.

Hanoi traffic

My next leg of this solo journey took me to India and Nepal. This was the most daunting part of my whole trip. Any traveller will tell you that India isn’t easy…Thailand is a breeze in comparison. I was definitely put to the test by having to endure scams, pushy males, and sickness. You will come away from India either loving or hating it. By the end, I was somewhere in between. Should the opportunity arise to return, I would. If you want to learn more about my adventures in India you can click on my post Incredible India. 

This is Kerela in South India

Nepal came much easier to me, but it still had its challenging moments, such as my encounter with a bull who didn’t like what I was wearing. You can find out more about this adventure by reading my post Adventures in Nepal.

The Annapurna Massif – part of the Himalaya range.

What I learned from this trip was that any fear you might have about travelling on your own can be overcome by simply doing it. If you don’t have friends you can meet up with, you can always find fellow travellers willing to help you out at the places you stay or eat. Moreover, don’t discount the incredible helpfulness of the locals who in almost all cases will bend over backwards to help. Not everyone is out to scam you. Even in India which probably has one of the worst reputations for devising outlandish schemes to get your money, you will find incredibly helpful people.

So what I have learned about overcoming the fear that comes with travelling on your own is to gain all the information you can about whatever it is you need to know. And, of course, what better way to gain this information than by actually doing it. You can read all the guidebooks and talk to others who have done it, but the best teacher is your own experience. You will make mistakes, things will go wrong, you will get scammed, you will get discouraged, and sometimes feel very alone. However, look at these as the ingredients that make up the experience. Keep at it and you will get better at it. Fear will be replaced with love. Through your own growing, you will learn to not only love yourself more because you have done something you wanted to do and be proud because of it, but you will also become more accepting of all those you meet up with on your travels. You will become that better person where you will have gained a more open mind and be more compassionate towards those who have less than you. You will cease taking our wonderful country we call Canada for granted. This is what travelling solo has done for me, and I am so grateful that in my senior years I can still do it.

For more thoughts on my solo travels, you can refer to Travelling Solo or Not?

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

 

 

 

 

A Tiny Perfect Town

A Tiny Perfect Town

Annapolis Royal is often called by both residents and visitors ” a tiny perfect town” and for good reason:

  • First there is its natural setting at the tip of the Annapolis Basin with two rivers, the Alain to the east of the town and the Annapolis River to the west, all of which is framed by the gentle rolling North and South mountains.
  • Then there is the careful preservation of its varied past reflected today in Fort Anne, Canada’s oldest National Historic Site, the beautiful Historic Gardens, and the stately old  homes many of which have been converted into upscale B&B’s.
  • It has evolved into a thriving centre for culture and the arts luring painters, writers, crafts people, dancers, actors, and musicians from all parts of the globe who now make this tiny town their home.
  • It also it can boast of many other notable attractions such as, the weekly Farmer’s Trade Market featuring local organic foods and crafts, the Upper Clements Park just outside the town, Atlantic Canada’s largest amusement park, and North America’s only tidal power plant where the high tides of the Bay of Fundy are harnessed providing enough electricity for up to 4,500 homes.
  • And finally, it has at least three other museums: the O Dell, a remnant of the Victorian era displayed as an inn and tavern, Sinclair Inn, another National Historic Site dating back to 1710 making it one of Canada’s oldest wooden buildings from the Acadian era, and North Hills Museum one of Nova Scotia’s oldest salt-box houses from mid 1700’s.

Of course, the town has all the amenities of a small town which its residents need for everyday life. It has gourmet restaurants, cafes, galleries, and stores of all kinds selling widgets to vintage furniture and then some. You can get all of your essentials here. However, the biggest surprise for most people is the very efficient Health Centre with 24 hour emergency care and staffed with at least five very qualified doctors. It even has a palliative care unit. It has its own schools covering all grades, an outdoor swimming pool, a playground, walking trails, a golf course, and a library.

All of this has not gone unobserved by the outside world. Recognition began when it received from a United Nations competition an award for being “The World’s Most livable Small Community”. Last year The Historic Gardens was rated the number one attraction to see in Annapolis Royal by Trip Advisor and won a Certificate of Excellence award. And, this year the town was cited as one of the 10 Best Places to Visit in Canada by MacLean’s magazine. Not bad for such a small town!

Today Annapolis Royal has approximately 480 year- round residents which tends to double in the tourist season. It’s definitely the smallest town in Nova Scotia and most probably in all of Canada. Despite its size it has much to offer visitors when they come. Perhaps it’s the publicity it has garnered or simply ‘word of mouth’, but for whatever the reason, the number of visitors each year seems to be on the increase. The restitution of the ferry between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine has helped increase the American tourist trade. My husband, who works at the Visitor Information Centre, reports that he sees people from all parts of Canada and now many from Europe.

Our visitors are often mesmerized by the beauty and heritage of the town when they see it for the first time and express a wish to be able to live here. I have to admit that it wouldn’t be for everyone especially for those who would need to work. Other than a fairly active trade in tourism in the summer months, there isn’t much for those seeking paid work for the rest of the year. However, there is much potential for those with an entrepreneurial spirit. Land in the outlying areas of the town is inexpensive compared to other parts of the province and Canada and is slowly being bought up by enterprising young folk who want to try their hand at farming. For those who have portable skills in technology, this is the ideal place to escape from the big city and live a quieter life. With an elementary school and a new middle and high school, lots of recreational facilities, a Health Centre, and the natural environment, it is a great place to raise a family. Over the years it’s been attracting some very talented people in the Arts field resulting in many activities for people who have always dreamed of acting, singing, painting,crafting, gardening, writing, and just about every thing else to tempt a person’s creativity. There are at least three art galleries, three choirs, a drama group, and a community band.

Yes, the tiny perfect town of Annapolis Royal is not only a thriving cultural centre drawing artists and the like from all over the world, it is also steeped in a history that can lay claim to many of the firsts in our Canadian historical background. It represents a way of life that is rapidly disappearing in our part of the world causing the people who live here to passionately work at preserving it for future generations. Ask those who weren’t born here how they ended up making it their home, and you will hear a familiar refrain. They simply fell in love with it for all of the above reasons and were eager to take the plunge and try it out. Most of them have not regretted their decision to stay.

To enjoy a slideshow of Annapolis Royal simply click on the first image below.

 

 

Finding Victoria Beach

The itch to write another post has been niggling at me for awhile now so it’s high time I got down to the task. The past month has just flown by, taken up with entertaining friends, visits from family, gardening, selling my Thai imports at the Saturday market, cleaning up after hurricane Arthur, and the occasional side trip to places near home which, as most of you know, is Victoria Beach in Annapolis County, Nova Scotia. Now I must lay aside all these activities (or are they excuses to avoid taking up the task?) and simply start to write again about this picturesque part of my province.

For my friends and family who faithfully read my blog and for which I am extremely grateful, you might wish to skip this one as I attempt to relate how we managed to end up in this tiny little “piece of heaven” as some people are so aptly describing it. Not wanting to bore those who know our story, I tried summing it up in a few sentences which quickly morphed into paragraphs. Realizing that the goal I had set out to accomplish was totally unrealistic as several paragraphs sat in front of me with the distinct possibility of more to come, I have decided to write a series of mini travel logs promoting this area.

However, before exposing you to the beauty and wonders of my part of the world,  I think I should give you some background to how we found “this little piece of heaven”.  It goes back to the summer of 2002 while visiting an old high school chum in Bridgewater. On my suggestion, we ventured over to the town of Annapolis Royal (AR) to check it out as a possible place for my husband (Hubby) and I to find an affordable home once we wound down our careers in Toronto. I had only passed through AR once before in 1986 on my way around Nova Scotia via Yarmouth so my memory of it was sketchy at best. However, my interest in this area was renewed by my brother who thought that this quaint little town would make a good retirement home for us. Time was running out for me as the constant grind of city living was beginning to wear me down. After looking at houses in numerous small towns in Ontario only to find them well over our house budget, my interest in NS, which is my home province, began to take its hold on me. However, Hubby who is from Montreal wasn’t so enamored of the idea of living in NS let alone a small town.

Fortunately, my friend is a curious soul who loves to poke around small communities so was more than willing to accompany me on my quest of psyching out AR and its environs. We decided to spend the day and night there in one of the many B&B’s which gave us ample time to explore. After getting a feel for AR, we headed out for Digby in search of Point Prim. I had never heard of this place but trusting her to come up with something out of the ordinary, I willingly accompanied her on her search. After finding it with just a little difficulty, we sat there looking across the Digby Gut wondering who on earth lived in those numerous houses clinging to the side of the North Mountain which really seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Little did I know that I was looking at VB and would end up buying one of those houses in the near future.

I returned to Toronto after that trip very excited about all that I had seen, especially the town of AR with its picturesque location on the Annapolis Basin, the beautiful historic homes, the King’s Theatre, and the friendly people. I remember thinking it looked like what Niagara-on-the-Lake must have looked like about 50 years ago. It was a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered! All I had to do now was to convince Hubby that this was the place for us. The housing prices were certainly within our budget as I found out from a local real estate agent.

Funny how life takes such twists and turns. We never did find a suitable house in AR. The following summer of 2003 I returned with Hubby in tow so he could see for himself what I was raving about. We ended up renting a cottage from Joe Casey and his wife, Vera, out in Victoria Beach after running an ad in the local paper for something rustic and cheap with no pool or any of the other add-ons offered by the other cottages. It turned out that Joe was the hook who lured Hubby into the possibility of making VB our future home. I was just as enamored with this larger than life man whom I’ll tell you more about in a future posting, but what really did it for me was waking up on our first morning in the cottage and seeing the sun on the sparking waters of the Bay of Fundy. While eating  our first breakfast, a deer leaped gracefully across the lawn in front of our cottage.  Bingo! We were both smitten each for our own reasons and so immediately began to look at houses that were up for sale.

Unfortunately, nothing met our expectations at that point so back to Toronto we went. However Hubby, a somewhat impatient man who doesn’t understand the word ‘procrastination’ and God forbid that sometimes a little of it is a good thing, kept urging me to visit my dear Aunt in Halifax and make a detour to AR to keep searching for a house. This was in the middle of January! I looked at houses in practically every little community around AR but the one we settled on was the one I found in VB. We made an offer only to have it rejected by the owner. After a week in NS, I had to get back to work so any future house hunting was left to the following summer and another stay at one of Joe and Vera’s cottages.

That summer of 2004, we had just settled in to our new digs when the owner of the house we had put an offer on came knocking at our door to tell us that we could have his house if we still wanted it. Without hesitation we signed the deal and the house became ours.

The summer of 2005 found us back in VB for two weeks now vacationing in our new home. Since we still had unfinished business in Toronto after closing the deal, we ended up renting out our house that winter to the previous owners as they began their search for a new home. By June of the following summer they had moved out, freeing up our house for us to visit and make ready for some summer renters which gave us some much needed added income to get some to the necessary improvements done to the house and property.

Finally in January of 2006, we made our big move to our new, year round home. It certainly wasn’t the best time of the year to make such a move, however, it did give us a taste of what winters can be like in our area. As I recall, it was a relatively mild winter with just a few snow storms, but we soon realized that the wind would be our biggest challenge as we hunkered down beside our new wood stove and listened to it whirling around us. At times I was wondering if the old house could withstand them. However, we managed to keep ourselves busy with minor inside renovations and major outside water problems due to run off from the mountain behind us. Although they seemed like monstrous problems at first, in retrospect, they seem to be fairly ‘ par for the course’ for living in VB. We were undoubtedly very green ‘city slickers’ back then, but over time have learned the ways of the locals. We discovered that here in VB the spirit of community is always present and for that we are forever thankful.

Our house in the winter.

Our house in the winter.

Looking out to the Bay of Fundy from Victoria Beach.

Looking out to the Bay of Fundy from Victoria Beach.

One of our newly renovated rooms.

One of our newly renovated rooms.

Looking at Victoria Beach from Point Prim.

Looking at Victoria Beach from Point Prim.