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Countdown to Solo Travel

by Cheryl Smyth
(Ontario, Canada)

Nothing like getting my dog tangled up in leash and camera straps to show the lightheartedness I was finally starting to feel. Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

Nothing like getting my dog tangled up in leash and camera straps to show the lightheartedness I was finally starting to feel. Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

Nothing like getting my dog tangled up in leash and camera straps to show the lightheartedness I was finally starting to feel. Kakabeka Falls, Ontario Rolling Hills in Swift Current, Saskatchewan Enjoying the mountains of Alberta

As the day drew near my fears intensified, pushing me into worsening meltdowns. I was afraid of going, yet I was terrified of not being able to go.

I desperately wanted to drive west across Canada with my dog, Tessi. I enjoy writing about our adventures together and badly needed new inspiration. I’ve read various books about women travelling solo throughout the world and figured if they can successfully explore menacing countries then I, with a doggy companion, could traverse my own relatively safe one.

I’d hoped to make the trip last year, but the needed funds hadn’t surfaced. That was the excuse I used, anyway. Deep down, fear taunted me. I wasn’t emotionally ready to tackle a considerable distance on my own. Western Canada is a long way from my southern Ontario home. It takes days to wend your way out of Ontario itself before taking that many days again to reach Alberta. I felt especially vulnerable knowing I’d have to camp to keep within a budget.

In my little world, nobody I know would undertake such a feat. When I started telling people of my plans, I received varying reactions. Sadly, the frequent pessimistic ones stood out and fed on my insecurities. I eventually stopped mentioning it.

I vowed to make the trip this year. Watching cancer steal my sister-in-law’s life specifically motivated me; I didn’t want to be bearing regrets when someday arriving at death’s door. I’d also been feeling trepidation at seeing Tessi’s fur turn whiter and whiter. Though there’s no guarantee she would leave this world before me, I know a dog’s life is short. I wanted this journey with my best buddy before it became too late.

Eventually, I saved enough. Then the fretting started. With no funds for a new vehicle, I had to fix up my elderly car. Taking care of several issues almost strangled my budget, but we were still good to go. I’m thankful for my retired mechanic neighbour, who helped out, especially when last minute troubles cropped up.

During those few weeks before our departure date, my thoughts swirled around in panic — of being alone, of my car failing us, with speculation of accidents and running out of money sprinkled in. Each fear took its turn at the forefront of my mind. Fortunately, I have a couple of encouraging friends, who would briefly restore my sanity. And I’d remind myself of many solo hikes, travels throughout parts of Ontario and my cautious personality. The fears, however, always returned.

When the day finally arrived, we pulled out of the driveway with the future wide open ahead of us. The sense of dread kept me company the first couple of days as I drove through parts of Ontario I’d already seen. Feeling very much alone and vulnerable, I wondered what the hell I was doing. I hoped once I started seeing new sights, my sense of adventure would take over. It did. Casting my eyes on the stunningly powerful Kakabeka Falls north of Thunder Bay crowded out any misgivings I’d been feeling.

Concerns gradually dissipated without me realizing it, though I kept the importance of my safety utmost in my mind. One of the warnings thrown at me — of unsavoury men lurking around remote gas stations, didn’t exist, at least where I drove. There are enough travellers buying gas for their gluttonous RV’s and SUV’s to keep multi-service stations busy. I was always careful who I talked to; yet, we still managed to meet others — Janet, Suzanne and dog, Max, heading to Calgary; and Linda, who was on her own from Alabama — amongst them.

Nagging worries of the car persisted, along with the potential of accidents, especially after a moose crossed the highway in front of us. Yet, when I returned to my vehicle after a day’s break in Calgary and discovered a cracked windshield, I sat there and laughed — of all the things that could go wrong. Though I now have a few repairs to attend to, my wonderful car safely took us to several destinations in Alberta and brought us home again. All angst was replaced with a strong sense of accomplishment and lots of precious memories.

Comments for Countdown to Solo Travel

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Jul 25, 2013
Wait a go, Cheryl!
by: Leyla

Well done! You were fearful of traveling solo, but you did it anyway - on your own terms! I'm so happy it turned out well for you, and maybe you'll soon be planning your next one.

Aug 12, 2013
Believe in yourself
by: Nicky

You did it Cheryl! I am so proud and envious of you! That trip will forever remind you that you are capable of doing anything when you believe in yourself! Keep up the travel blogs as well, I enjoy reading them! All the best to you on your next adventure!

Aug 20, 2013
Still on my own....
by: Linda

Yes, I am still out here on my own. I have put 13,000+ miles on the Jeep and have been out 70days now. One of the best was meeting you along the way!! From Huntsville, AL to the Arctic Ocean and now in Mt St Helens, WA.....not ready to go home!! Say hi Tessi for me!!

Sep 13, 2013
Thanks to Leyla, too
by: Cheryl

I should have included your name in the story, too, Leyla. And to thank you for taking the time to respond to my distraught email. You encouraged me when I needed it.

Ed note: Always my pleasure! :-)

Sep 16, 2013
by: Patty

Cheryl............what a sense of freedom, peace and most of all accomplishment! If I saw that bear I would be packing it in. I have seen a few up North and I am very nervous about bears.

Sep 19, 2013
...and then there's the bear thing.
by: Cheryl

I never did include our bear sighting in my story. On our first night camping, a bear walked through our site. (We were in the car trying to avoid all the mosquitos, as I think most the campers were - it was pretty quiet around the campground.) After the initial shock, I reminded myself that we have camped in bear country many times and if I was going to let seeing one bother me, then I might as well go home right then and there. If that didn't make me turn around and go home, nothing would.

Nov 19, 2013
I can relate.....
by: Lynda B

I can relate to your feelings as I am about 6 weeks from my solo trip to India for the first time. Lot's of excitement and anxiety!

Nov 21, 2013
Have fun Lynda
by: Cheryl

That's awesome Lynda. I know how you feel, but you'll love that you're doing it and you'll have such a sense of accomplishment after :) I wish you the best! (And thanks for adding a comment to my story - it's nice to know I'm not the only one to get worked up.)

Jul 15, 2016
PEI, here we come!
by: Cheryl Smyth

This year I'm planning a solo trip to Prince Edward Island for Tessi and me. And I don't feel a stitch of fear. I'm so looking forward to it.

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