The end of a 25-year relationship is of course painful, but if it wasn’t for my divorce I might never have embarked on the life-affirming adventure that I did.
When I was married, holidays largely consisted of relaxing family trips to Cornwall. Every year, I would take my son and two daughters there for at least a month and my husband would join us when he could. I have such fond memories of those holidays, but my travel experiences now have been something else entirely. While I still enjoy the odd quiet day, I have certainly broadened my horizons.
When I divorced in 2018, I was 54 and the children were grown up. I was determined to do something new. I consider myself independent, but I’d never actually travelled alone before, so I decided to take a solo trip. I packed my bags, left my home in Newbury, and headed for Vietnam.
The idea was that I would visit my niece, who was working at the Christina Noble orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City, then I would explore the island of Phu Quoc before travelling across the country. However, when I arrived on the island, I just didn’t want to leave. For six weeks I stayed in a beautiful plantation cottage on the beach with no TV or telephone. I was barefoot and lived in a bikini the entire time. I drank mango juice every day. It was the most incredible experience.
I admit, at the beginning of the trip I did feel self-conscious about being alone, and I did miss some aspects of travelling with my ex-husband, for example drinks at the end of the day were often a highlight, and going out for supper together was fun. But after a day or two, it really didn’t bother me. Travelling solo you have no restrictions and can set your own agenda.
It was more difficult coming back home. When travelling, everything out there was so simple and the people were so lovely. There was no judgment and no criticism.
After divorce, you know who your friends are
The trip made a huge difference to my confidence. When you get divorced you really discover who your true friends are, and that came as quite a shock to me. So, the trip helped me to get away and spend time reflecting. I liked the freedom – and didn’t look back.
Emboldened by my trip to Vietnam, the following year I set off for Italy, staying in Monterosso Al Mare in Cinque Terre for two weeks. When I arrived, I felt low – possibly because the children were on holiday with my ex-husband and I was on my own – but this soon passed and from then on I remember waking up every day with genuine excitement knowing I was going to do something amazing.
If one can just be a bit brave, there is so much out there that you can do. I didn’t plan anything until I arrived. I decided that every other day I would go somewhere incredible and have a wonderful day out. In the days between, I would relax by the pool or beach.
The Italian train system is wonderful and I managed to visit some amazing places. I went to Florence, Lucca, Pisa, and Portofino and I met new people. Once I made friends with some ladies I met in the market and had lunch with them. I talked to new people every day, as well as FaceTiming my children, or calling a friend from a café. I adapted rather easily.
Florence was my favourite part of the trip. I had been before with my ex-husband and our friends but there is something purely magical about doing Florence on your own – you have no pressure from anyone else. If I so wished, I could sit and drink coffee for hours and watch the world go by.
I also didn’t feel like I was missing out on telling someone about my adventures, because I kept a journal and wrote daily updates on my Instagram, @bridieandbert. My following grew and I was overwhelmed by all the encouragement, support and positive comments I received.
Alone by choice, and braver for it
Of course, sometimes it could be challenging. Even the simple things, like going to the beach, where you can’t just go and get a drink or have a swim because who looks after your things? Beach days could be lonely too, as all around there were families and couples. But whenever I felt low, I reminded myself that I was alone by choice, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Having my own music and speaker also helped. I love dancing and would often do exactly that in my room. I found it to be such a mood lifter.
Travelling alone has made me braver, too. I discovered that, once you have done something outside your comfort zone the first time, it’s easier the next. You just have to tell yourself – as I tell my children – “what’s the worst that can happen?” Of course, I’d never do anything to embarrass them, but other than that I’ve learned not to care what other people think. There is still a stigma around women travelling alone – particularly older women – but that shouldn’t stop us from doing it. It gives you such an amazing feeling of empowerment, and of being able to achieve anything.
A different side to eating out
Of course, there can be downsides. It’s important to make sure that the places you book are safe and aim for destinations where the people are welcoming. I had an incident in Cinque Terre where I was asked to leave a restaurant simply because the waiter assumed I was a prostitute because I was dining alone. I left quietly and went elsewhere.
As a lone traveller, I also noticed that restaurant service was different – usually slower – and I was rarely offered one of the better places to sit. More often I was placed on a tucked away table. That bothered me at first, but before long I felt fine about asking for a table of my choice.
I have another solo trip coming up later this year. It was meant to be a road trip along the east coast of America with my boyfriend, but as we split up recently and I am not one to be defeated, I shall go on my own. I plan to visit Nantucket, Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, and to end up in Maine in time to catch the autumn leaves.
I’m also planning on finding some little Airbnbs on beaches, then I will hire a bicycle and have a few days just peddling around, sitting on the beach and writing my blog. It’s going to be a wonderful trip.
As told to Alexandria Gouveia