But the reality is that although I used, often, to travel on my own--or as the only shepherding adult with my small clan as they grew, I fell out of the habit during years of post-grad study. By the time we took our first trip to Paris (back in 2005, a celebration of my PhD), I found myself deferring to Pater's confidence at airports and train stations--he'd been travelling so much for work that he'd earned Elite Traveller status-- and I tended to plan the trip, buy the tickets, and chose the daily destinations (elements of his work travel he could leave to administrative assistants, so was not nearly as good at as I).
At first, I was simply grateful for this division of labour, but over the ensuing years I found myself both defaulting more, assigning him responsibility for what I found the more stressful aspects of travel, and becoming more impatient when I intuited or suspected a better way but didn't say so in case I was wrong. I know, not fair. . . Also, during those ensuing years, I was ageing. Duh. I know, but this made a difference in my confidence in subtle ways. And, honestly, I was so busy at work, facing enough challenges there, that I didn't need to take on more during vacation travel.
I've written before about the process of gradually losing, then deliberately recovering, some travel independence in the context of our long (41 years when I wrote that post, 44 this August) marriage (there are three posts in that series, which began with my reluctance to cycle alone in the city. I think nothing of doing this now, you'll be glad to know, but it was a surprisingly big hurdle at the time).
Three years later, I've made two solo trips to Rome, flown from there to Bordeaux where I settled in for a week on my own, taken the train, solo, from Bordeaux to Paris. And most recently, I flew to Paris separately from my husband at the beginning of December, meeting him at the hotel later the same day. Five weeks later, he flew back from Rome, and two days after that, I took the train from Roma Termini to Paris Gare de Lyon with an overnight stop at Chambéry, and enjoyed three days in Paris on my own before flying home.
Again, I'm aware of the eye-rolling out there. I'm not claiming my solo travel is particularly adventurous nor noteworthy -- Google "solo travel" or "solo travel female" and my travels look ridiculously tame. But acquiring my current comfort level with "solo female travel at a certain age" took some work, and some of you have asked me to write about the experience, so here we go. . .
Transcribed from my Journal, the Page Photographed above:
le 9 décembre, 2017
Et ça commence!
Flew out on my own, Air France (Paul's a bit later, through Heathrow). Decided to try checking bag & definitely easier at airport although could easily have found overhead space on plane.
90 minute delay for baggage loading to do with connecting flights, but only 45 minutes late. Seatmate an Indian man about my age or older -- very little chat, just enough. He's travelling on to India, from Paris.
Retrieved bag easily after long-ish wait at Border Patrol, then long walk to RER, bought ticket easily, train was an express to Gare du Nord. Only problem was trying to get out of St. Michel station -- turnstiles that take tickets are rare.
Walked to hotel with a few unintended detours--room not ready so lunch at Le Nemrod-Omelette Mixte. Then nap, long walk, and now I'm having early dinner at the other place. Just ordered Foie de Veau, something I only ever have here -- with a nice Brouilly. And a tisane-- Verveine Menthe-- to finish.
You might wonder why Pater and I took separate flights -- the problem was that he needed to get home earlier for meetings. I'd booked my flight to Paris first, assuming we'd both go Air France, but when we looked at the flights out of Rome, AF would have meant him waking at an ungodly hour for a crack-of-dawn flight. British Airways timing was better, and BA roundtrip the budget option (combining the one-ways of two different airlines ridiculously expensive). Luckily, I've flexed my solo-travel muscles enough the last few years that this wasn't an issue.
In fact, the best advice I could offer to anyone wanting to overcome reluctance or fear around solo travel is to do so incrementally. Flying into Paris, navigating my way through Charles de Gaulle, then taking the RER (regional train) into Paris, walking to the hotel -- this was relatively easy for me because I've flown into Paris so many times, taken all those steps, with Paul. I remember the way to the RER office where I know exactly what to say to buy my ticket; walking through Paris feels like coming home rather than confronting the streets of a strange city; I check into a hotel where they remember me from previous visits, welcome me warmly. It also helps that before I tried flying without Paul, I had a wonderful week with my sister -- so I got to test out my ability to navigate airport, RER, route-finding to hotel, with a companion who needed me to take the lead because I had more Paris experience.
Here in Vancouver this morning, it's raining -- as it has been for almost every morning of the past two weeks. The weather forecast shows nothing but the same right through 'til next Thursday. But I'm craving some outdoors today, some big trees or an expanse of water, notwithstanding the grey meeting grey at the horizon. . . So I'm off now to sort out some serious raingear for walking muddy trails. I have more to tell you about solo travel -- the train part, for example; and arriving in the dark at a train station in a city you've never visited before and in which you're going to find your way to a hotel; and some tactics around eating solo in restaurants (hint: take advice from Nike and Just Do It!).
Perhaps in the meantime, while I'm getting muddy and wet, you can comment below. Ask me any questions you might have about the experiences I've related here. Tell me why you do or don't travel on your own, and whether you'd like to change that. Do you have a reliable travel companion or not, and do you sometimes feel too dependent on him or her? What most intimidates you about managing the logistics at an airport, whether departing or arriving? And has this changed, with age?