I have so enjoyed reading recent reviews of my debut novel, A Grand Old Time, and there seems to be a couple of recurring themes from these early readers that make my heart rejoice. One is that my feisty, mischievous heroine, Evie Gallagher, is celebrated for going off on a crazy jaunt across France in a campervan at the age of 75. My readers agree that age is just a number, as long as we have our health and a positive attitude to life. The other frequent comment is that people love that Evie sets off by herself, a spontaneous journey of self-discovery. It’s her reaction to feeling stuck in a rut, and I’m delighted how many people have contacted me to say that their elderly aunt or grandmother took off to Amsterdam or jetted to Thailand by herself in seek of adventure and in order to have a new experience.
This started me thinking about how difficult it can be to make that big decision, to say ‘I’m going on a journey, just for myself,’ and then do it. A friend of mine, mindful of Evie’s liberty, said ‘Do I want to do what Evie did and have an adventure now. ’ It’s clear that age should be no barrier but a leap of faith and a huge chunk of self-confidence are needed, not to mention a modicum of recklessness and some pluck.
Evie meets some fantastic people on her travels abroad: the world is full of wonderful people and strangers become an important part of her adventures. She has a few mishaps on the way, due to naiveté or circumstance. Her son Brendan, who believes he is the voice of common sense and caution, follows her, his unhappy wife in tow, and tries to bring Evie home. He thinks she isn’t capable of independent action, although what he really means is that his own life is unfulfilling and his marriage is in trouble. But perhaps there are too many Brendans out there, suggesting all the potential negatives that might happen when we should be looking for fun and personal growth, stepping out into the great unknown and going boldly forth.
So, having considered the benefits of embarking on an escapade whatever your age, here are my tips for having a great adventure, as Evie does.
1. Follow your heart. Listen to your head, of course – wisdom is important – but so are instinct and passion. On balance, if something calls to you, at least listen.
2. If you’re going alone, make sure someone knows where you are and that they can help you if necessary. If you run out of money, you need to have a plan B. Make sure you also have contact details in your phone for insurance and banks, just in case. Don’t do anything too crazy. A friend of mine once left his suitcase in the temporary care of an overly helpful stranger at an airport and wondered why tracker dogs were howling at his heels. Being prepared and secure means you can forget about potential problems and enjoy yourself.
3. Take a language book, a guide book and research cultural expectations, prices and rules before you leave. When you arrive, you can maximise the potential for fun factor. Evie didn’t know any French but she did have a map and a quick campervan driving lesson. She falls foul of the law and has a mishap eating and drinking too much local food and wine, but she finds friends in an Irish bar where people provide a sort of safety net for her. Back-up is always important.
4. Have adventures that suit your budget. Dancing on a beach or on the top of a table is relatively inexpensive, (but highly recommended.)
5. Developing self-confidence is part of the experience. Ignore the voice in your head that says you should be at home doing the laundry or potting plants. Take a deep breath and then make the bungee jump into adventure. If it’s all too terrifying, go with a seasoned traveller or see (8) below. If initial confidence is an issue, start with something achievable. Go for a day in Brighton and ride on the funfair. Eat breakfast and watch the sun rise from the top of the Shard. (Both are highly recommended). Go to a musical, a museum, by yourself. Even having a coffee and cake on your own in a café can be an adventure and can make you feel really empowered.
6. Talk to people you meet, avoiding dark alleys and seemingly-dodgy deals or anything which sounds too good to be true, as it usually is. (Someone once offered me a hundred pounds for a pair of Levis. I was wearing them at the time…) Smile. Most people will smile back. Make friends but avoid situations where you feel outnumbered, unsafe or isolated.
7. If money isn’t an issue but company is what you seek, there are some great things you can do by yourself, where there will be a ready-made friendship group, such as fitness or yoga retreats, glamping, food or music festivals, even cruises.
8. Remember that life is unfolding as we breathe. As Evie says, now is not called ‘the present’ for nothing: it’s a gift. So enjoy every moment by making memories you can cherish.
9. Go with your friends, your significant other, your mother, your brother. Go alone. Plan it a year ahead. Or wake up one morning when the sun is shining and decide you’ll go today. It doesn’t matter.
10. While you have breath, life and a smile on your face, whatever your age, you can always have A Grand Old Time. Whether you set off on the road to unfamiliar countries or whether your big adventure takes you in a different direction altogether, I wish you joy.