Today’s contribution to my Picture perfect series is one of my favourite shots of Paris, taken over 6 years ago when I was there with my daughter and a friend of ours.
Sue over at A Word in your ear delves into her dictionary each week to come up with a new challenge. This week she landed on ‘high’ which is perfect for me.
Sorry people but I win this week – you can’t get any higher than Mt Everest, the highest point on earth. These photos were taken earlier this year when I trekked to Everest Base Camp to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first successful ascent of this mountain by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on 29th May 1953.
If you’re anything like me, when you go on holiday you take squillions of photos. This was particularly true of my recent trip when I trekked to Everest Base Camp, but my European trips are not far behind when it comes to the unbelievable number of memories I captured.
So …. what I’ve decided is that every so often (I’m not committing to a particular time frame as that never seems to work for me) I’ll be posting a photo or two (or maybe three) from my travels that particularly appeal to me.
To start the ball rolling let’s go to Oxford, with such architecture how can you not want to study there? The atmosphere simply inspires greatness.
I’ve travelled a lot in the last forty years but most of the time it’s been with family or friends, so the last few years has been a bit of a learning curve as I gradually get the hang of travelling solo.
I’d never travelled alone when I was young, I hadn’t done the backpacking thing and I don’t even remember having a weekend away by myself, so when I found myself in the position of wanting to head off again but none of my travelling partners was available to go with me I had to think about the whole solo travel scenario and what it would mean to me.
It took a few deep breaths before I was in the right place mentally to set out on my own but now travelling by myself holds no fears for me and there are definitely some benefits to be had.
There’s a lot to consider though when you’re planning to travel alone, particularly as a mature traveller. If you’re anything like me you like to have everything planned, you like to know where you’re going, what you’re likely to encounter along the way and have everything booked in advance.
So here’s five things you should consider before you set off into the great unknown by yourself.
THINGS TO CONSIDER AS A NOVICE SOLO TRAVELLER.
1. Destination – If you’re new to solo travel you’re probably best off heading into this exciting but possibly scary experience in a familiar environment. My first solo flight took me to the UK, I flew into Heathrow, an airport I’m very familiar with and then dealt with a familiar public transport system, hired a car and drove on the correct side of the road and stayed in bed and breakfast accommodation that I’d booked beforehand.
I’m not saying that’s the way to go for everyone, you may want to leap into solo travel rather than testing the waters first, but be aware that by going to an unfamiliar place on your first solo trip, particularly if you don’t speak their language, it may be a struggle. You’ll be dealing with the new concept of being in a strange place alone with no one to rely on or bounce ideas off. It took me a couple of trips before I got to the point of stepping into totally unfamiliar territory on my own but once you do it it does have a certain liberating feel to it.
2. Budget – As a solo traveller I think this is a crucial consideration. Again this is a personal perspective but I like to know that my money is going to last me the time that I’m away, I’m not good at winging it when it comes to money. I’m good at stretching the dollar and I tend to allocate a certain amount of money per day and can generally stick to it, what I save one day can be added to the next.
Be realistic and be sensible, know what you can achieve on your budget and plan accordingly.
3. Money Dramas – When you’re travelling solo you won’t have anyone on the spot to bail you out of financial difficulties if the ATM chews up your credit card in Kathmandu or if you have your cash stolen in Rome (sorry, but these things happen, don’t let it put you off though), so make sure you do have a back up plan. Maybe a contact back home you can make a frantic phone call to who can transfer money to you or at the very least the international phone numbers of your credit card company.
4. Accommodation – there are so many different options here for the solo traveller but you need to know what you’ll be comfortable with if you’re there alone. Also take into consideration what you want out of solo travel. Do you want to meet up with other travellers and hang out with them or are you in it for some solitary time? Your answer to this question will determine your accommodation options.
Try backpacking hostels, youth hostels and couchsurfing for meeting people, these are also cheap options if that’s what you’re after.
If you want a bit of space to yourself try self catering, you can shop locally and immerse yourself in the culture of the place. You could rent a studio apartment in Paris or a caravan in the Lake District – the options are endless and if you travel in the off season the savings can be quite significant.
5. Luggage – remember that there’s only you to carry everything and sort out documentation at airports, train stations etc. If you’re pulling a suitcase with one hand and a hand luggage sized case with the other and maybe you’ve got a large handbag or backpack over your shoulder and a camera slung around your neck, it’s going to be difficult to juggle everything. I get flustered in situations like this, I come over all sweaty, forget where passports, tickets etc have been put for safe keeping and then I’m sure I’m looking guilty of all sorts of international misdemeanours.
In other words, pack lightly, really think about what you’re going to need and ditch everything else. I find it difficult to follow my own advice on this one but remember that you can always buy anything you may need while you’re away, particularly toiletries which take up a lot of space and can weigh a tonne.
Not everything goes according to plan.
Above all else remember that not everything goes according to plan, planes are delayed, traffic jams hold up the taxis, things get lost or misplaced, you can get sick and there will be times when you feel down and miss everyone. But these times are hopefully few and far between and the positives of solo travel with the right attitude can be amazing.
Solo travel can help you to grow as a person, realise your capabilities and enrich your life regardless of your age.
Have you travelled solo as a mature traveller? What tips would you have for a first timer?
Comfort Zones – where do they come from, why do we feel compelled to stay within them and what occasionally makes us break out of them?
I discussed stepping way outside my comfort zone when I made the decision to trek to Everest Base Camp this year to celebrate my 60th birthday but, although I understood that I was breaking through my boundaries to do this, I didn’t really stop to think about those boundaries and how and why they were in place.
STEPPING OUTSIDE MY COMFORT ZONE
The boundaries of my comfort zone have taken a bit of a battering over the last few years. For a long time I was content to sit within the walls that society had dictated should be there, those walls that created a barrier beyond which I wasn’t expected to go.
Being one of the Baby Boomer generation I grew up in the fifties and sixties believing that a girl would finish school, work for a few years, marry and have children. So ingrained was the concept that at the age of sixteen I clearly remember being in floods of tears one day because I didn’t have a boyfriend and I believed that no one would want to marry me and I’d become an old maid. At sixteen for goodness sake!
I did exactly what I believed society expected of me, I married, I had children and a lovely home and I was perfectly happy. I have absolutely no regrets about the choices I’ve made in life, at the time I was happy with what I had, the question is, was I actually being me or was I being what society expected me to be?
STEP ONE OUTSIDE MY COMFORT ZONE.
My decision to return to study at the age of forty was the catalyst that set off a chain reaction, the spark that lit the fire within me. I was doing something unexpected, I was doing something that required determination and strength, I was doing something that society wasn’t sure I should be doing. Step one outside my comfort zone.
From there my future was determined like the snowball that picks up speed as it hurtles down the hill. Making that one move gave me an understanding of the possibilities that life afforded and the strength to be me.
It was a struggle, the next few years saw births, marriages, divorces and deaths in the family, but after fifteen years I emerged from university with a PhD in my hand and a bewildered look on my face, what the hell just happened?
A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES
That one step, that one foray out of my comfort zone opened up a world of possibilities.
I made a huge decision to disband my marriage of thirty years, I took Tai Chi lessons and met someone who has become a friend for life, I bought my own home and renovated it and for the first time I bought a car in my name, not that of a husband.
Travel took me places I hadn’t been before and I travelled solo. Bali was somewhere that I‘d never had the urge to visit, I’d never liked the idea of a culture far removed from my own. Only a couple of years ago though, as I sat by myself at a table, very close to what passes for a footpath in that part of the world, drinking a beer that I’d just bought from the bar and watching the chaos in the street, I realised that the me sitting there was not the me who had travelled to Europe thirty years previously with a husband and young children.
It was not the me that had to search out ham sandwiches in Venice rather than eat the local food and it was not the me that spent evenings in the campervan alone on that trip because I was too uncertain of myself to socialise with other travellers.
And then of course there was the step that actually shattered the remaining barriers of that comfort zone, my decision to trek to Everest Base Camp only two months before my 60th birthday.
Ultimately my choices in life have made me who I am today and I like who I am today but I’m struggling with society’s expectations again, with what I’m expected to be doing right now versus what I want to be doing.
So what is it that gives us the strength to refute society’s expectations? From childhood all our thoughts, all our feelings and all our actions are dictated and defined by that small section of the world in which we live, by social convention and the barriers of our own making.
We get so tied up in the minutiae of our own lives and our own social groups that we don’t even begin to think of our place in the world as a whole. We know where we stand in our own society, as husbands, wives, mothers and fathers, employees and employers, and we know how we’re expected to behave in that role. What does it take though to create a new role for ourselves?
WHAT ALLOWS US TO TAKE A LEAP OUTSIDE OUR COMFORT ZONE?
What is it that allows us to explore the boundaries of our mind and break through to a world that stimulates and excites us? What evokes that passion in us that no amount of negativity from others will quench? What impels us to broaden our horizons and take that leap outside our comfort zone?
If I could answer those questions I guess I wouldn’t be struggling with the concept right now. I’ve made that leap beyond my comfort zone before and I know I can do it again but it’s going to take some serious conversations with myself.
Have you crawled, jumped or barged your way through the boundaries of your comfort zone? Let me know, it may help me here.
When we travel to new places we do so with preconceived ideas of what we’re going to see and experience.
When we think of Paris we think EiffelTower, The Louvre and Notre Dame. When we think of Rome it’s the Colosseum and with Venice it’s St Marks Square, the Bridge of Sighs and the Grand Canal. That’s what we think before we go and undoubtedly we do remember those iconic places but what do we as individuals bring away from visits to world renowned places?
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Paris on three separate occasions and what do I think of when I think of that city? I remember camping in the Bois de Bologne campsite with two young children, I remember witnessing a marriage proposal during a meal half way up the Eiffel Tower and I remember
being scared experiencing the thrill of driving around the Arc de Triomphe in a campervan.
When I think of Switzerland, it’s the walk through the forest that we took the day we free camped in a car park, it’s throwing snowballs in the shade of the Jungrau and it’s the free apricots we were given as part of a festival of apricots in some rural area of the country.
Rome brings to mind our 2 year old chasing pigeons at the Vatican on Palm Sunday and grumpy teenage daughters some years later when we visited for the second time on a very hot August day. We headed straight for the Adriatic coast after that visit.
In Venice in 1979 I remember my two daughters aged two and five sitting on the ground, with their backs against the wall, outside the Venetian equivalent of a lunchbar munching on ham sandwiches, it wasn’t easy to find something so simple for their lunch. And I remember the green glass horses we bought from a glass factory in Murano. We would have loved to come away with something more fancy but we couldn’t afford anything more than the practice pieces they made. We had them for years and they moved house with us several times, I wonder what happened to them.
The monuments, the museums, the ancient ruins and the natural wonders lure us to far flung places but it’s the personal memories that take us back there.
What memories do you have that would take you back?
I was made redundant recently and, after a lifetime of having my days structured and determined by work and family, I suddenly found myself with the prospect of long days ahead where I would have nothing to do but theoretically lounge around and watch daytime television.
Not an exciting prospect and after a few days of wallowing and feeling sorry for myself I decided it was time to give myself a good talking to and make some plans for the future – which is what I did and I’m all the better for it.
While I was having this in depth conversation with myself though I realised that there is no reason why anyone should get out of bed in the morning and think ‘oh god, I’ve got nothing to do today.’
There is so much out there waiting for you, it’s just a matter of getting motivated.
If you’re not going out to work every day it’s so easy to fall into the habit of vegetating and getting into a rut. Even if you do go out to work your routine can become the norm and you don’t look outside the boundaries of that routine for something different.
So, how can you change your habits and experience more of life? Here’s 5 ways I can think of immediately, I’m sure you can come up with more.
1. Go for a walk (or a run, if you’re that way inclined).
- Start with your local park, many of them are quite large and have lakes or walking paths around them.
- Look further afield at walking trails or bush walks.
- Team up with a friend if you don’t like walking by yourself.
2. Learn something – as we age we need to exercise our exercise our minds as well as our bodies.
- Enrol in a course, maybe you could return to study as a mature age student – check out the courses on offer at your local college or university.
- Learn a new hobby – cake decorating, scrapbooking, photography.
- Learn a language – maybe you’ve always wanted to learn French for that trip to Paris you’re planning or maybe you’ve always been fascinated with ancient languages, try Latin or ancient Greek.
3. Join a club – clubs are not for everyone but maybe there’s one out there that does interest you. A few you could look at are:
- Book clubs.
- Model train enthusiasts.
- Writing groups.
4. Enrol in Tai Chi, Yoga or Meditation – all are good for both the body and the mind, particularly as we grow older.
5. Plan an adventure – this is my personal favourite. You’ve got a spare day? What to do? Explore!
- Take a bus or train to an area you haven’t visited before.
- Head into the city and visit the museum or art gallery.
- Pack a picnic and a book and head for a local beauty spot, a park or the beach.
- Be a tourist in your own city for a day– visit the tourist bureau, you’ll be surprised at the day tours that you could join or the many free attractions that your city has to offer.
These are just a few of the things you could be doing, many of them free or inexpensive. Try coming up with your own list and then start ticking them off.
What motivates you to get moving?
The cyclone that hit India a few days ago is now causing havoc in the Himalayas. Tim on Peak Freaks blog tells us that this bridge that we passed over only a few months ago between Thyangboche and Pengboche gave way and is now hanging from the side of the mountain. They are now using the old wooden bridge that you can see lower down on the photo that has been ‘patched up’. Hmmm….
The cyclone has also meant a lot of snow for this time of the year resulting in some trekking groups not making it to Base Camp and having to turn round and return.
Sadly there was is also news this morning of climbers dying in an avalanche on Everest overnight.
Just goes to show that timing is everything – we hit the beginning of the monsoon season at the end of May but nothing compared to this.
When my children were young we dragged them all over Europe, more than once, and the memories were brought back recently when I read Y Travel Blog and found that Caz and Craig have just taken off on a year long trip around Australia with their two young daughters.
Many moons ago (back in 1979 for those of you that remember those pre technology days) my then husband and I spent 3 months travelling around Europe in a campervan and took our daughters aged 2 and 5 along with us.
There were those who couldn’t understand why we would want to spend all of this time cooped up in a campervan with children who would be prone to boredom, tantrums and illness. In fact there was one person (who shall remain nameless) who said to us ‘you must be mad to take the kids along on this trip of a lifetime.’
We would have been mad to leave them behind.
If we hadn’t taken them we would have lost the opportunity now to embarrass the youngest with tales of how she tipped over her stroller on the road leading up to the Colosseum in Rome and grazed her face and how friends we had met on our travels knocked on the door of a camper parked by the side of the road to ask if they had ice to put on her lip.
The eldest wouldn’t still talk about her 5th birthday, the one she spent in Switzerland, or the birthday cake that she didn’t like because it had liqueur in it.
Neither of them would have met cousins tho lived in England and who have never travelled to Australia.
Without the distractions that home life brings we got to spend quality time with our daughters, the five year old was taught to read on that trip, we had the time and the patience. Is the same likely to apply now though when social media and technology can follow us everywhere?
I look back very fondly on that first overseas trip with the girls and realise how quickly time has passed.
For those of you with children and considering travelling with them, make the most of those early days, broaden their minds with travel and teach them that to go out and see the world will change the way they look at it.
Have you travelled with young children? How did you find it?
My recent trek to Everest Base Camp gave me a lot of time to think.
It’s not often we get to go for days with no decisions to make and no responsibilities. For almost 3 weeks during the trek everything we did was out of our hands. Others dictated what time we would get up, when we would eat, what we would eat and how far we would walk. Our bodies dictated when we would sleep. We didn’t even have to decide what we would wear, apart from a change of undies and a clean t shirt every few days we donned the same thing every day.
It’s a rare luxury these days to have time to do nothing but think and I must admit it took a few days to adjust, to just let my mind wander. When it did relax though my mind was able to go wherever it pleased, it didn’t have to consider other people, it didn’t have to comply with any expectations and it didn’t have to stress. Consequently when it closed down for the night, it closed down.
The Himalayas for me was the ultimate in freedom to think.
With all this time to think and to contemplate what did my mind and I discover?
- That we need to do things at our own pace. There were 13 of us in the group, some were very fit and had trekked before, others weren’t and hadn’t. It’s no good, in trekking or in life, trying to keep up with the front runners. If you’re more comfortable in the middle of the pack or bringing up the rear that’s fine.
- Allow others to take control sometimes, it can be very liberating.
- Stepping outside your comfort zone is scary but doable – when you succeed in whatever challenge you’ve set yourself it’s the best feeling ever!!
- Walking in this huge landscape where the earth pushed up these mountains eons ago creating valleys and peaks, green on the lower slopes and a moonscape once above the tree line, we’re just tiny dots. So too in the grand scheme of things called life we are tiny and insignificant. Realise this and move on.
- Life is not about just one mountain, enjoy the experience of getting there.
When have you been able to let your mind wander?