This solo, van-travelling journey began as an exercise in consciously-chosen solitude.
I’m a classic introvert to begin with – I love people intensely, greatly enjoy social occasions sometimes and need time to rest after those occasions most times.
Solo travel seemed a good pursuit for someone a bit over-peopled and under-natured. Some peace, quiet and time to reflect and experience life in the nurturing arms of Mother Nature.
I’m here to tell you that solo van-travel is a lot of things, but it’s no way to find solitude!
I’m a full eight weeks into this “solitude” and have scarcely had a day to myself! I’d have better luck finding “me-time” on a sold-out bus tour for extraverts.
The connections began on-line, where I met folks generous with ideas, thoughts and stories about van conversions. I became active in FB groups, and began sharing my own experiences. No doubt I will eventually meet many of the people I have become friends with “virtually”.
Reconnecting with long-time friends became easier with a camper van, and I did a lot of it before I set off for the east coast. I made little trips to see all my important people; camping out in their driveways with the nice feeling that perhaps I was an easy (er) guest with my own bed – not that they would ever suggest that! But it felt good to me. I felt the same with family, and enjoyed some impromptu visits over the summer.
For the first time in what felt like a long time, I had something besides regaining my health to talk about. My mood improved. I did a trial camping trip to Algonquin with a dear friend who finished the electrical and water- work in the van and helped me initially by turning my vision into 3 D drawings. No matter how far away the van takes me from where he is, it will always bring me back to our friendship. Emotionally, It’s a bit like having a shared pet; a special connection.
Before I embarked on the big adventure, I parked myself at Algonquin Provincial Park and enjoyed a long weekend with the kids, who both work there in the summer. It was so much more affordable than staying at a hotel and the memories we made are now framed by tall pines, a crackling fire and a sparkling lake.
“Chance” had me connecting with all my important people!
What I was not prepared for was the random and extremely pleasant social connections that take place with complete strangers when I open the back hatch of the van in a public place.
Chance the Camper is responsible for my meeting people from all over Europe, the US and Canada. Women, in particular, want to talk with me about travelling solo. Many spent ungodly hours taxing children in a minvan; and Chance seems to represent reclaiming a vehicle that once defined them as primarily “in-service” to others. They seem able to imagine the minivan as a vehicle of emancipation instead – A “get-away” vehicle or sorts!
Some people sheepishly ask if they can take their picture in front of the van, which makes me smile. It seems to stir people’s dream-centres. I’ve been invited to see others’ creative ways of dealing with bugs, sleeping and cooking in their vans, SUVs and trailers. This community is extremely generous in their time, energy and knowledge!
In Cape Breton, perched on a cliff over a beautiful beach, I discovered that my rock-climbing-cliff-diving-solo-travelling-camp-neighbour, Mario, was also from Ottawa and we were both facing the blank-slate of our empty nest years with as much dignity as we could muster. It’s like meeting at summer camp; meeting on the road. I feel we should have matching T-Shirts commemorating the time and place we became friends. Because it feels like the sort of friendship that you just hold on to. However, the special place has the unfortunate name of Meat Cove so instead of T- shirts, we cheer each other on as we venture further into our respective journeys.
I had the delight of meeting a woman who visited our campsite at Balsam Lake because she recognized Chance from a youtube video I posted. As it turns out, she also attended school in my home town, and is now a part of my online network of new friends. Now, there’s a Chance Meeting!
In a short month from now, I’ll meet my daughter in Calgary and we will travel together for 6 weeks through the mountains to BC and down the Pacific Coast to take in some hiking. She requested this trip as a graduation present and I can’t help but think it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for both of us. We may never have this chance again, so we are taking it. I will be delivering her to the Mexican Border and she will cross alone, anticipating a year of growth and service in Central America. Another Chance- of-a -Lifetime.
All this reconnection and new connection brought on because I chose to go “solo” travelling in a minivan.
And how is this quiet introvert handling this increase and onslaught of social time?
After a very people-busy beginning to this second chapter of this adventure, I thought it wise to enjoy a couple days reflecting and writing at my waterfront campsite at Lake Superior National Park. I couldn’t see another soul on the beach. Perfect introvert conditions!
I was happily immersed in my solitude until exactly the moment came across The BananaVan, which, once unpeeled ( now I was the curious one!) revealed the lovely Kim and Dave from Alberta. They bought this awesome van for a dollar from a man 7 years ago and left everything just as he had created it. A testament to a live well lived, I’d say, judging by the concert and festival stickers still affixed. They only added the banana and have been enjoying a “Canada 150” journey, coast to coast, just as I am. Clearly one of my tribe 😉
Today, here in Winnipeg, I spent a lovely couple of hours with the delightful Debbie and her dog, Bennie. We met in the parking lot of Assinaboine Park and after approximately 30 seconds of small-talk, she invited Pip and I to walk with them. This turned into very meaningful conversation, a personal tour of the park and an open invitation to stay at her home anytime. The kindness of strangers!
Despite having this exciting new social life, I’m still an introvert by nature so did develop a bit of a strategy to balance out social vs. personal time while on the road. If I’m feeling social, I park at my campsite with the hatch to the road and if I’m feeling quiet, I open up into the woods. It’s equivalent, I suppose, to leaving the porch light on if I are expecting visitors or closing the blinds if I am in for the night.
I have to say, however, my porch light is on more often that it’s off these days.
Because, what I’ve learned is that strangers are simply friends I haven’t made yet, and the world is full of awesome strangers.