A solo traveller

I’ve been lucky in my life. Couple of marriages, five great kids, 4 grandkids (so far), blessed (still) with pretty good health, and mostly well rewarded financially for my work. Mind you, I spent too much of that, which has left me less well off in retirement than I had expected or needed to be. Still, you can’t have everything, can you? No regrets.

I’ve also been lucky enough to travel a bit (well, a lot actually). For the last twenty years of my working life I was employed by a major banking software company, that had customers and offices worldwide. My job was to go to client sites and help them get the system working how they wanted it. It was not a technical job (as I’ve noted in a couple of other posts here), and focused on end-user functionality, but I learned and taught a hell of a lot in those years. I can honestly say it was the best job I ever had.

I probably averaged two flights week, so my carbon footprint doesn’t bear thinking about. One time I was working on a site in Zurich and doubling up with the client’s Frankfurt office, and for perhaps three months, shortly before the system go-live, I was shuttling between the two. I would fly from Warsaw to Zurich Monday morning, do a day’s work, then fly up to Frankfurt Tuesday morning, back down to Zurich typically Thursday lunchtime for weekly management and progress meetings, then back home to Warsaw Friday night. It was insane, but worthwhile when the go-live was successful and we all got drunk to celebrate. It was also the exception: most of the time it was only a couple of flights a week, sometimes long-haul. Warsaw to Santiago in Chile via London and Sao Paulo Brazil was the worst – a three flights each way journey: including transfer times it took over a day each way. I stayed there a month. Hotels and apartments were provided, some lousy, others superb, and an often over-generous per diem provided top spending power, all client funded. They were very happy days (mostly).

Those days taught me a lot about myself, too. Coming out of a once good but finally unhappy marriage, soon after I started the job, I was faced with an uncertain future, and the prospect of living alone and fending for myself for the first time in my life and for the rest of it. I could cook a bit, badly, and push a hoover around to keep the place clean. Ironing was ok, and sometimes relaxing, but things like dusting and scrubbing baths and showers and toilets, was new territory and not something I had much enthusiasm for. So being placed in an apartment on my own, on my first project (expected to take over a year) came at a good time – a chance to become a housekeeper and get comfortable with solitude while the legals went through and before I bought a little place of my own, as I planned to do eventually.

Apart from the housework, after a short while I found I had adjusted, and worked out a routine that suited my life. I spent increasing numbers of weekends in my new city, tried out the bars and nightclubs, enjoyed the touristy sites and museums, art galleries and cinemas. Sometimes it was with work colleagues (we had a big multi-national team on site) but often on my own, and I found myself, quite unexpectedly, being happier on those times. I had always been quite shy – I still am – and found it difficult to mix with strangers and make new friendships. It took me a while to realise I was a bit of an introvert (but with extrovert tendencies in the right – alcohol fuelled circumstances. That flash of recognition made me feel a lot happier about my lot. It was also more pronounced now, trying to mix freely in a new country with the attendant cultural and linguistic issues. It all changed suddenly and unexpectedly, but that’s a tale for another day.

After that project, I had found my feet in the role and my company started sending me all over the place, so I became adept at fending for myself, and mostly travelling alone.. For I was the only employee living permanently in Poland – after that initial gig I was placed on two other projects, another in Warsaw and the second in Gdynia on the Baltic coast, so I found an apartment of my own rather than the bigger, client funded one – which meant wherever I was being placed I had to make my own way and not travel with other team members.

I loved it. Warsaw’s airport is small and easy to navigate, but then serving a limited list of destinations, so a lot of the time I needed to transfer in Heathrow or Paris or Frankfurt, through the much bigger hubs. I had my loyalty cards that got me into Business Lounges even when travelling Economy, so was able to enjoy free food and drink, and time to relax before or after a busy week. If there was no lounge, I was equally happy just roaming around Departures, perhaps sitting at a bar enjoying a beer and people watching, my music soothing me. I had bought a selection of smart phones, when they became available, and quickly filled SD cards with a wide selection of my favourite albums (that also resided in files on my laptop hard-drive), ripped from my CD collection or downloaded, so that I always had something I liked to listen to, rather than what a local dj preferred. It still travels with me now and gets good use, though the headphones have been replaced multiple times.

I also make sure I always have at least one book and maybe a magazine in my hand baggage – depending on flight time – and at least one more book in my suitcase: that and my music takes care of my entertainment wherever I go. Instead of local tv, usually unwatchable for a variety of reasons, I have links to YouTube and a selection of British internet radio stations on my laptop. I want for nothing more, ever. Everywhere I can easily find food and drink a-plenty, both local and British(ish) so want for nothing there either.

The intention on retirement was to carry on this love affair with the road, but a couple of years of Covid and related health issues, to mention nothing of some property development problems, have taken care of that. Apart from a super couple of weeks in Switzerland last summer (2021), to help me get through a bout of depression, I’ve been nowhere really. The long weekend in England last October was good, but not the kind of selfish solitary amble somewhere new that I really want – it was too short, for a start.

But I’m off on Monday, again to visit family back in Blighty, for a pre-Christmas break, and I’m really looking forward to it. For the first time ever, I’m not hiring a car. Instead, I’ve invested in a Senior Railcard and booked a catalogue of trains to get me me where I need to be. Add in a hotel by the sea for a few days, and some bus rides through a wintery Norfolk, and it’s still costing me about half the hire-car would have set me back. It will also mean I can simply relax and look out of the train window as the world passes by, read my book (this time a rather fine history of the African independence movements from 1952 or thereabouts to the Millennium) and listen to some Mahler or Manic Street Preachers on my phone. I can travel at my own pace, go where I want, and simply….chill.

And enjoy being a solo traveller again…….

Join the Conversation

  1. An interesting read. Hope you will be having a wonderful Christmas with your family. In the meantime enjoy your pre-Christmas sojourn 🙂 Good luck and hope to read more soon.

  2. You are a good writing, I have enjoyed reading your story telling. I think what you say may help people connect the dots, if you will, with experiences from their own lives. Keep writing!

    1. Thank you for your response, I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. I will be doing a follow up sometime this week, as my trip is over and I’m back home. And I will indeed keep writing – it’s like an itch that I have to keep scratching!


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