Solo Woman, Group Travel

More thoughts of my travel to Eastern Canada

Karen Thompkins
5 min readJul 16, 2017
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I don’t know that I have anything revealing and profound to say about traveling as a solo woman in a group. But then again, profundity usually isn’t intentional. However, I do have a few thoughts on my experience.

My group was comprised of 35 people from all over the country. There was only one other person in the group that was traveling solo. Most of the people in the group were older and of retirement age. I appreciated their energy and how they moved about in the world. They lacked the angst and aggression of their younger contemporaries who are still trying to define themselves while conquering the world. They were easy to be around. No one asked me any questions about traveling by myself. If they had thoughts or questions, they were polite enough not to ask.

Besides, I had already answered plenty of questions about traveling alone from family, friends and a few co-workers. Once they knew I was traveling, the first question was, Who are you going with? The assumption was that I was going with someone or a group of people that I already knew. I guess this is normal, but surely in 2017 one could also assume that I may be going by myself. In my discomfort, I would explain why I’m not going with a good friend, relative or a special someone. Later, I would be annoyed with myself for offering up information that I shouldn’t feel compelled to give.

I would not describe my recent trip to Canada as traveling alone. It was escorted group travel. My movement during the 9 days of travel was within a group. We had blocks of time on our own. Sometimes I spent that time with other people and other times I explored on my own.

As part of my orientation, I was relieved when the tour director told me that I would have an empty seat beside me on the coach bus as we traveled between cities. At the end of each day, I could look forward to having a hotel room to myself. I was not sure how I was going to deal with being seated by a fellow traveler that I may not want to sit beside. However, I had my headphones with me and I know how to pretend to be asleep.

I had insightful conversations which were facilitated by traveling solo. I spoke with a Cuban woman about her interest in visiting Cuba. The discussion began when I asked her whether or not she would like to return to Cuba to visit — as I know of Cuban Americans who have no interest in returning and in light of many non-Cuban Americans who are absolutely thrilled about their recent visit or have plans to visit. She is a grandmother and was accompanied by her teenage grandson on the trip. She said that she desperately would like to visit but that her husband and other family members were too afraid to visit. I learned a lot from one woman simply sharing her life story.

In Ottawa, we stayed at a Courtyard Marriott in the downtown area. Ottawa, at least the area that we were staying in, was a bit grungy. I appreciated it as we had just left the financial district area of Toronto which was too clean for my liking. I had a conversation with one woman in my group who said that the hotel wasn’t in the best area. I said I noticed a homeless shelter nearby as I walked to the grocery store. I also told her that I didn’t feel particularly threatened by homeless people mostly because they often seem to be in such poor physical and/or mental shape. She began to tell me about her mentally ill son who would be out on the street if he were not allowed to live at home. It was a reminder that one’s outward appearance won’t always reveal the burdens that they may be carrying.

I believe that these revealing conversations would have been less likely to occur if I had been traveling with someone else. I would have been preoccupied with the other person. Traveling solo made me more accessible.

In the future, I plan to travel this way again. While I on the trip, I picked my fellow traveler’s brains about places to go next. Almost everyone I talked to was well-traveled and generous in sharing their experiences. I also received a lot of travel tips. I formed a short list of places that I would like to go next.

The act of forming the list made me think about how I planned to finance my future trips. It made me reconsider how I spend my money. I said to myself, Enough with the shoes and the clothes! You’ve got traveling to do! I also committed to bringing my lunch to work. I enjoy cooking and eating my own food. I just needed to take the time to prepare my lunch the night before or in the morning. In the 3 weeks since my return, I’ve brought my lunch to work almost every day. It wasn’t a struggle as I kept in mind where I would like to travel to next. I successfully entered and exited Marshall’s as planned with coffee and a candle — both critical to my mental health. Yes, I stopped by the shoe section and even picked up a shoe. But when I looked at it closely, I reminded myself that this shoe didn’t look anything like Peru, South Africa or Ireland.

If possible, everyone should travel. It doesn’t have to be to a place far away to another country or continent. It could be over to the next city or state by car, bus or train. We just need to get away from what we already know and experience something new.

Travel is also a concept. It’s about moving beyond ideological boundaries, the limitations of our mind. But by moving across geographic boundaries and experiencing new environments, and the people in them — we have the opportunity to expand our mind.

In the end, it all brought me back to where it all started — Just go!



Karen Thompkins

Life is a mystery and the world a beautiful and complex place. So I write to make my way through it.