Living an “I CAN” Life in my 60’s!
My late husband and I met in the early 70’s and married in our early twenties. By then, we had already traveled significantly including the almost-mandatory 5-month hitchhike around Europe with our well-thumbed copy of Michener’s “The Drifters” as our guide. Even when we increased our family to include our two sons, traveling was always our thing. In Hawaii, when our first-born was only 6 months old, we met our Australian mirror images. They both worked for the airlines so visiting us in Vancouver was not difficult. There had been a standing invitation from them to return the favour should we find ourselves Down Under and we had always intended to take them up on it. Life, however, just seemed to keep getting in the way and then time ran out.
When my husband passed away at the far-too-early age of 59, I found myself alone holding our bucket of “one-day plans”. What’s next? Retirement was my obvious answer. I immediately made myself a promise that no matter what kind of opportunities came my way in the first year, if my schedule and my bank account allowed, I would say “Yes!” It is my belief that widows get a kind of pass for a time. By that, I mean that people will tend to be more patient with you and not give up so easily, but without a yes, eventually, they will move on. I was determined that would not happen to me. Consequently, in that first year, I went to Palm Springs, Cancun, Phoenix and Hawaii (twice) with a combination of friends and family. Although the trips were thoroughly enjoyable for various reasons, none of these trips required anything more of me than the initial planning effort and then just showing up.
I had always wanted “more” in my work life, taking on new and challenging roles frequently, never staying any longer once the job became routine. Stretch and grow were my touchstones. Enter Rod, my Aussie friend with the challenge that it was time to make my trip Down Under “in honour” of my late husband. As none of my friends had the required 3 pillars of travel (money, time, interest) I decided that I was going to travel alone. Which is how, at the age of 60, I came to be stepping onto a plane to Melbourne with a plan to cover about half of Australia in the coming 5 weeks. My sons called it “Mum’s Big Adventure”. I remember having a mix of emotions including excitement, nervousness, expectations, maybe a little bit of apprehension. My only concern was how I would handle being away from my 2 very young grandchildren for that length of time!
Rod and his wife met me at the airport and provided a great soft-landing; a familiar set of faces for a few days before I headed out on my own. While still in Canada, I had booked a series of flights using a Virgin Blue Air pass and had purchased a book of coupons for APT tours. While APT was a full-service tour provider they also offered a flex-package which allowed me to book specific day trips with just 24 hours notice. Each trip was paid for with 2 or 3 coupons. Due to time constraints, the size of the territory and the prohibitive cost of rental cars, I decided to travel by a combination of means; air for the long distances, transit passes for city travel, and APT bus trips for those “must see” places that were in between major centres.
While my flights had all been pre-booked as a requirement for use of the discounted air pass, I planned to be more flexible as far as booking accommodation was concerned. I had checked the online booking sites and there seemed to be plenty available so I decided that I would book only one city ahead each time. The only exception was in Uluru (Ayer’s rock) as there was a distinct lack of availability in accommodation. In fact, I paid more for a bed in a 20-bed hostel than for any other lodging in Australia. The law of supply and demand in action!
My first flight took me to Sydney and to an amazing find; the Neutral Bay Lodge, a newly renovated 105-year-old Arts and Crafts home which had previously been a Single Room Occupancy facility for many years. It was the first stop on the ferry from Circular Quay, a mere 10 minutes from the Opera House. Outside my bedroom window was an enormous Jacaranda tree in full fragrant bloom. Everything exceeded my expectations. But then again, my expectations had been pretty low as I had booked the lodge in absolute desperation. My original plan was to go to Bangkok on the way to Oz, but that leg of the trip had to be canceled last minute due to severe flooding. Instead, I flew directly (through San Francisco and Sydney) to Melbourne, arriving a few days earlier than planned. This meant that I was in Sydney a few days early and at the height of the conference season. As I scoured every online booking site known to me; coming up empty-handed each time, I started to be concerned that my dream of staying in downtown Melbourne was a goner! Then for some unknown reason, I decided to check Expedia.ca. Why? I don’t know, as it was a site I had not used before. The only option available was the Neutral Bay Lodge. It was a great location, the room looked nice, there was a communal kitchen, shared laundry facilities and shared co-ed bathrooms. So, I decided to take a chance. It was so worth it!
I spent some wonderful days in Sydney including a day where I took the ferry over to Circular Quay with the intention of ferry-riding all day. I would get on whichever ferry was about to leave and ride to the end of that line. Mainly to get off and explore, return to the quay and repeat to another destination. But the highlight was yet to come. Knowing that I was going to be in Sydney on 11/11/11, I had decided that I wanted to do something memorable in order to always know where I was at that one moment in time. What could be more memorable than the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb? Besides being iconic, the climb provided the added bonus of allowing me to conquer my almost paralyzing fear of heights. I did it and the picture of me at the top says it all. I have never been afraid of heights since!
From Sydney, I flew to Uluru for an incredibly spiritual experience. I took a bus across the Outback to Alice Springs stopping along the way at Jim’s Place to see Dinky the Singing Dingo (check it out on YouTube). I flew to Cairns, bussed to Airlie Beach along with a jam-packed load of “schoolies” (I think it was spring break), flew to Brisbane and then back to Melbourne. I had so many amazing experiences and saw so many wonderful sights. I experienced the sunset and sunrise over Uluru and the Kata Tjutas, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef and got up close and personal with the wildlife of the Daintree Rainforest. I watched the world-famous night time beach landing of the little penguins of Phillip Island, experienced the vastness of both 25 Mile Beach and 40 Mile Beach on Fraser Island and walked more miles than I could have imagined. I also flew over the Great Ocean Road in my first-ever helicopter ride.
In some ways, it was a long 5 weeks, and yet at the end, it seemed the time had just flown by. I definitely had time for reflection, and luckily for me, I am content with my own company. There was also lots of opportunity for social interaction; it seems that a smiling woman traveling alone intimidates no one and everyone around seems to want to look out for them. On the day trips, there was always a group that included me for lunch or a drink. When checking out maps in the cities, locals always approached with directions and tips for what to see, where to eat, etc. I am sure that I got more than my fair share of service from restaurant staff who wanted me to feel welcome in their country.
I am not sure what I learned about myself other than, yes, I can still do it! I did reaffirm that while it’s comforting for me to have a plan, I do better when I’m not a slave to it. Also, while there are people who operate from a “trust no one until they earn it” perspective, I find that my “you have my trust until you do something to lose it” perspective works well for me when operating on my own.
Lastly, I know some people who live by the “I can’t/I couldn’t do _____” and indeed, they can’t. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. More than ever, I am committed to living an “I CAN” life.