Dispatch is a series of first-person stories from the road. Readers can share their experiences, from the sublime to the strange.
This week I travelled by myself for the first time. It only took seven years following my divorce, but I finally did it. It feels good and right, and everyone should do it at least once. Still in awe of the endless number of surprises that came my way, I am writing this in the parking lot of Deer Lake Airport in western Newfoundland, waiting to board my flight back to Toronto.
This vacation surprised me in many good ways. I have just lived an entire week of my life without experiencing one single moment of stress. I did not have to worry about anyone, and no one agitated or frustrated me. Not having to worry about someone else as a solo traveller seems like a no-brainer, but I did not really know what that meant until I experienced it. This week, on my way to supper, I chased a sunset, returned to a closed restaurant and ended up having a convenience store dinner instead. Perfect for me, but had I not been alone I am sure this spontaneity would have been stifled by discussions about changing plans, feeling bad about a closed restaurant, or regret over missed a sunset.
I chose to explore the northern tip of Newfoundland because it offered oceans, rocky cliffs and sea air to fill me up. The province has a reputation for being friendly, and with B&Bs scattered everywhere, it seemed to make sense for a solo traveller. I was not disappointed. Every single interaction over a store counter, berry stand, breakfast table, gas station pump, carving shop or standing at a fishing wharf brought an introduction to a local who became an instant source of hospitality, rich cultural knowledge and pure joy and entertainment through their stories. On my last evening I laughed and shared stories over a campfire on the shores of Ha Ha Bay with strangers who felt like good friends.
Not only is northern Newfoundland glorious and stunning, but I have not seen a crowd all week. The empty highways gave me a false sense that I owned the road. I could drive at whatever speed suited me – sometimes very slowly to take in the scenery, and other times whirring through forests that filled my senses with the sights and aromas of the surrounding flora and evergreens. Purple lupin flowers blanket the roadsides, and mountains, cliffs, oceans, brooks and ponds are everywhere.
The wonder of travelling solo really hit home when I found myself sitting at a stop sign for more than a minute, not sure if I should turn left or right. Not because I was lost, but because I had still not decided in which direction to go. These are things I would not do with a fellow traveller. When I travel with someone I feel compelled to have things planned. Then altering the plan or changing the plan needs to be discussed, negotiated and agreed upon. Travelling by myself, I can just be.
I could hike across a three-kilometre bog with breathtaking views of the Appalachian Mountains. I could stand atop the Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve surrounded by the most gorgeous rocky cliffs I have ever seen. Sometimes, when the glory and beauty could not be described by mere words, these became "god-moments" – like passing a 55-metre tall iceberg in a Zodiac on my way to Quirpon Island.
Alone on this trip, the notion of planning any more than the next activity repulsed me and made my stomach hurt. Travelling by myself I could just get in the car and go, and it felt perfectly natural to have no idea where I was going.
Travelling with others can make a similar situation feel as if one is lost, or out of control, or simply incompetent. The unplanned-ness of each day brought a pure sense of wonder to my travels, and I have promised myself a dozen times to remember this important, more carefree experience for when I am once again travelling with other people.
As I begin to make plans for a return visit, I can't figure out why it's taken me more than 50 years to learn about this stunning part of Canada.
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