Jun 3, 2017
By Leslie Geffen
I CAN DO THIS! -my first solo travel in ITALY
I had worked at the same place for 23 years. I had been married for 40 years. Both of those chapters were about to come to an end. My children were grown and living their own lives. I was lucky enough to have some financial resources. At age 65, it was time to reinvent myself – but what did I want to do? I had never been much of an adventurer or a risk taker. I had to think long and hard about my next chapter.
I had done some traveling in the past but not much in recent years. I yearned to do more, so that was my first line of investigation. While casually perusing Internet sites, I came across one for walking tours in countries all across the globe. I became transfixed, enthralled, inspired. I explored more sites, requested catalogs, and sorted out options.
I found a company that allows you to choose your itinerary by how many miles you think you can reasonably walk in a day: 3-5, 7-10, 10-15…and the itineraries take you through the countryside, not the cities, which appealed to me. I figure that “when I’m old,” I’ll do cities and museums but for now I want to see villages and local industries, craft markets and how people live. I was walking a 3 mile circuit around a local park near home once or twice a week and I thought, OK, I can do this! I can pump that up a little and aim for 3-5 miles. I enrolled in a recreational walking class at my local junior college; the mileage was about the same but it took me up and down the students’ cross-country circuit, which helped me build stamina and leg strength.
None of my friends were free to travel with me so I took a deep breath and resolved that I CAN DO THIS. I started to plan a trip on my own. I found a trip in northern Italy that sounded just my speed – walking 3-5 miles a day through beautiful countryside and staying at unique lodgings, with good food and good wine. I decided that, being my first time as a solo traveler, I would pony up the single supplement for my own room.
The trip began in the city of Turin, which looked on paper to be a charming small European city. My trip mates (there would be 3 couples, a mother and daughter-in-law and me) and guide would meet there but head off almost immediately to the countryside, so I decided to arrive a couple of days earlier to overcome jet lag and take a little time on my own to explore. My sister-in-law showed me how to use Google Earth and between that and TripAdvisor, I found what looked like a sweet bed and breakfast just off one of the main streets. I corresponded with the owner by email, got my flight and prepared to take off on my adventure. A friend suggested that I might want to buy a pair of walking sticks – one of the best pieces of advice I ever got. These sticks, good walking shoes from REI, and a light backpack and I was good to go!
If I had to choose a single word to describe my travel experience it would be EMPOWERING.
I learned I could deal with crises – no Internet so no way to let my family know I had arrived; sinking up to my shins in mud during the wettest spring Europe had seen in 3 years and having to be extricated by the guide and another walker – and challenges – learning the grid structure of Turin streets to find the Internet Cafe, discovering and forging connections with new friends, learning to relieve myself behind a tree. I experienced the unexpected wonders and delights of travel – when we stopped in a small church atop a hill in a tiny town and our guide took out a violin from his pack and played a mini-concert for us; when we tasted 8 kinds of honey with a local beekeeper, saw how grain had been milled for the past 200 years, went wine tasting and learned how to make pasta; when we went truffle hunting and were able to shave the truffles over our own pasta at dinner.
That was 4 years ago. I’ve since completed walking tours in Ecuador, the Galapagos and Slovenia, as well as gorilla and chimpanzee treks in Uganda. I’ve been on safari in Botswana and looking for jaguars, macaws and other critters in Brazil. My travel adventures have been exhilarating, and have inspired me with a growing sense of confidence, competence and joy of living that continues to shape and guide my life!
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About the Author
I retired 5 years ago from a long and happy career in educational administration. I have been enjoying reinventing myself through my travels, classes in drawing and in exercise, a deepening interest in photography - and the delights of being a grandma to an enchanting 15 month old!