For all the wrong reasons, Joanna Sarnecka’s last holiday with her husband was truly memorable.
Visiting Barcelona in 2005, Joanna was desperate to pack as much sightseeing as she could into their four-day trip. Frustratingly, her beloved other half Andrew didn’t share her sense of urgency.
“I can remember sitting in our rented apartment on the last day waiting ages for him to finish his shower so we could go out, and thinking: ‘That’s it! This is the last holiday we’re going on together’.”
Although they hadn’t quarrelled, it had become obvious to Joanna (56), a medical researcher from Farnham, Surrey, that, as holiday companions, they were incompatible.
“I am the sort of person who likes going to new places. As a child growing up in Poland, I went somewhere different every holiday with my parents and it just developed from there. But my husband didn’t really like holidays. He was always uncertain of new places and felt a little bit uneasy. He always seemed to have an excuse not to go out and it seemed to take him half a day to get ready when we did.”
“At 81, he’s older than me and as he ages, he just prefers staying at home with his own desk, chair and mug. He has lots of hobbies – stamp and map collecting for example. He’s not lazy, but he’s not an outdoor person,” says Joanna.
Although she didn’t mention her decision to Andrew straightaway, she broached the subject of separate holidays when it was time for their annual debate over where to go the following year.
“By then I was definite that as he didn’t like holidays there was no point dragging him along to suffer,” she recalls.
Happily, Andrew, a retired mathematician, agreed wholeheartedly and chose to stay at home with their two cats. “It was the perfect solution for us both,” says Joanna, who apart from two trips to the USA, had only ever travelled in Europe and wanted to venture further afield.
But, cautious about not being too adventurous on her first time away alone, she booked a ‘test’ trip to Gran Canaria in 2006.
“I loved it!” she says. “There was no waiting around for anybody, or lying by the pool feeling guilty because I knew Andrew would rather be at home.”
Although she’d taken books to read in restaurants, in case it felt strange eating out alone, she needn’t have worried. “Staff didn’t bat an eyelid,” she adds.
Nor as a single woman travelling alone did she get unwanted attention from men.
Laughing, Joanna recalls how the only stares came from women who were scared she may be interested in their husbands. “If looks could have killed on one or two occasions I wouldn’t be alive!” she says.
That first trip gave her the confidence to book an African safari the following year where she was travelling with a mixed bunch of people of all ages who proved good company. “There were no honeymooners and we all got on so well together, I wasn’t lonely at all,” she adds.
Inspired further, Joanna decided she wanted to try climbing. After reading a newspaper travel piece on Kilimanjaro she contacted the wildlife and adventure tour operator Gane and Marshall (www.ganeandmarshall.com) who were mentioned in the article.
In 2008 she went for it: “It was hard, but such a lovely thing to do. The sights were absolutely fantastic and I felt such achievement when I reached the top, especially as there were people younger than me who couldn’t make it.”
Bitten by the active travel bug, Joanna went on to climb Mount Kenya, Mount Meru and Mount Baker. She’s enjoyed safari holidays in Kenya, walked on the wild side with gorillas in Uganda and hiked in Oman and Ethiopia, seeing incredible sights and making friends whom she’s stayed in touch with.
She says: “I’ve been lucky and never really felt in danger, but you have to be streetwise and listen to local people on where to go. In Africa I’d never go into a strange bar alone at night or out anywhere after dark.
‘My husband didn’t really like holidays, so we found the perfect solution!’
“It’s true that travel really does broaden your mind and makes you realise what you have. You see people with nothing but they still have smiles on their faces and are happy to share what little they do have.”
Though Andrew has no regrets about not going with Joanna, he is happy to listen to all her stories and look at her many photographs.
When friends visit, he is proud to show off his wife’s mementoes and climbing certificates. Though Joanna has no idea yet where she will go this year it will undoubtedly be somewhere exotic.
She says: “I’d love to go to South America or India. I save up all year to go on holiday. There are only the two of us now and we don’t go out very much.
“I could do with a new kitchen and maybe a new carpet, but I prefer to travel and I’d recommend it to anyone. There’s always time to spend money on those things when I am too old to travel.”
Be part of the solo travel trend…
Latest research shows the biggest surge in demand for single holidays is among the over-50s. If you’re inspired read on for some of Joanna’s tips for travelling alone:
- Watch what you eat and drink to avoid food poisoning. Be wary of anything sold on the street.
- Chat to fellow travellers and listen to recommendations. If they say a particular area is not safe to go alone: don’t go.
- Take a book or a journal to write in so you have something to do when waiting to be served in a restaurant.
- Ignore remarks such as ‘how sad to have to travel alone’. Make the most of it! Remember that not having travelled enough is one of the biggest regrets as we get older.
- Don’t take expensive jewellery and equipment. A watch or camera could feed a poor family for a week in Africa.
- Be alert and careful at all times. Carry a personal alarm for safety.
For more real life stories and travel inspiration, pick up a copy of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday