Sept 27, 2023, was the start of an adventure I’ve dreamed of for what feels like a lifetime. Sitting in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, I could hardly believe it was finally happening. I was on my way to wander through the Cotswolds Countryside in England, and the very thought of it sent a shiver of anticipation down my spine.
My life has seen some significant shifts in recent times. After dedicating 20 years of my life as an Emergency Planner for the City of Vancouver, it was time for a change. Retirement, a phase I had both longed for and feared, was suddenly upon me. But that was just the beginning of the transformative journey I was about to undertake. In a whirlwind of decisions, I decided to sell my apartment, all in the name of love, to be closer to my partner in the United States.
Now, as the saying goes, challenges come in threes. Yes, you guessed it. Just when it seemed like I had navigated one life-altering change after another, my partner decided that our love story wasn’t the one he wanted to continue. So, there I sat, in the Air Canada Lounge, bound for the Cotswolds, all on my own.
But I refuse to let these twists of fate deter me. Instead, I choose to see this journey as an opportunity for a new adventure in the most unlikely of places – The Cotswolds.
Join me as I share insights from my solo exploration of the Cotswolds, where each step I took promised breathtaking scenery and a deeper understanding of life’s twists and turns.
Solo travel might sound intimidating at first, with questions like, “Who will I share my adventure with? “What if I get lost – what will I do?” “Can I really maneuver the London Tube on my own?” But, I soon discovered that solo travel held many unexpected surprises. Turns out, being a solo traveller had its perks in London. At the London Theatre – when you go solo, you’re in for better seats and better prices. Last-minute bookings treated me to “Tina Turner – the Musical” in Row H and “Mrs. Doubtfire” with excellent seats. Dining was a breeze; I could eat when and where I pleased, without the endless “What do you want for dinner?” discussions.
Shopping was another thrill – with no one rushing me, I indulged in my favourite stores at my own pace. The downside was that I only had carry-on luggage and was limited to what I could carry through the Cotswolds and the luggage moving company’s strict guidelines on what I could take. This did hamper my purchasing power.
I loved London, encounters with new people as I search for directions and unforgettable moments around every corner.
And, yes, I had my daily check-ins with friends and family back home; after all, old habits die hard, even for an emergency planner, always staying safe and having a plan.
Solo travel transformed my London experience, showing me that sometimes, the best company you can have is your adventurous spirit.
In the world of travel, I’m accustomed to travelling to places like Las Vegas or San Diego for a brief three or 4-day getaway, where I typically opt for checked luggage. Yet, the prospect of a 13-day adventure in England presented a unique challenge – I committed to a trip with no checked luggage because the luggage transfer company that moved my suitcase daily to the next stay had strict regulations. So that’s right, no checked luggage at all. Curious how I pulled it off? The answer is simple: I packed the absolute essentials.
However, it had its consequences, especially in London. All I could do was window shop there due to my limited space. My trusty backpack, already laden with hiking gear, couldn’t accommodate any extra baggage.
This experience taught me a valuable lesson: next time, I’ll pack with a different strategy, perhaps bringing older clothes that I can replace with new finds along the way. Travelling light is not just about packing efficiently; it’s about making room for new experiences and, of course, a bit of shopping!
PS – notice the same shirt in most of the photos!
Maps & Directions (oh no!)
Let’s face it, I’m no expert navigator; unfolding a massive paper map of the Cotswolds reminded me of this fact. Thankfully, Google Maps came to the rescue, providing turn-by-turn guidance on my phone. In a new city like London, my usual navigation tricks fell short – using Grouse Mountain to determine North did not work in London. However, getting lost sometimes leads to extraordinary discoveries, like finding the best latte and scone ever. (sorry, Starbucks)
The Cotswold trails had challenges: hidden markers, overhanging branches, and friendly fellow travellers who occasionally led me astray. A chance encounter with a tech-savvy traveller introduced me to digital maps. I swiftly adopted the Mac Adventure Maps, even though they lacked the convenience of audible directions, but they worked with a few hiccups along the way. These maps became my gateway to exploring the Cotswolds’ picturesque landscapes.
My map instructed me to turn left and follow the path, but fate had a different plan on this rainy day. The weather had been mostly cooperative during my trip, with just one early shower, but it had left a lasting mark. The field lay before me, a daunting expanse of mud, and I found myself at a crossroads.
As I stared at the map, contemplated the sea of mud, and exchanged glances with the cows inhabiting the field, I couldn’t help but feel like a spectacle. It was as if two hundred curious bovine eyes were fixated on me, silently questioning my next move. The muddy terrain seemed insurmountable, but I decided to press on. Climbing yet another fence, I gingerly ventured into the muck. Suddenly, disaster struck as my foot unexpectedly popped out of my shoe. Panic surged through me as I grappled with my footwear, all while those watchful cow eyes remained fixed upon me. It felt like the perfect moment for them to launch an attack – or whatever it is that cows might do. Desperately, I urged them to stop staring, even pledging to give up beef for good (which only lasted 24 hours). I made it through the muck, and my first stop was at a conveniently placed Hiking Store where I paid a fortune for a pair of hiking boots, but wow, compared to decent running shoes, they made a huge difference. Yes, I had to tie my old runners on my backpack. I was becoming a Cotswolds fashion showpiece.
Then came the rainy day. A field lay before me, a muddy expanse, and I found myself at a crossroads. With my map in hand, I stared at the mud and exchanged meaningful glances with the cows. It felt like they were watching my every move, silently judging. Pressing on, I crossed yet another fence, only to have my foot pop out of my shoe just as the cows’ curious eyes remained locked on me. I scrambled to get my footwear back in order, all while desperately urging the cows to look away, even making promises to give up beef (which, to be honest, only lasted 24 hours). These were not the actual cows. I was scared I would drop my camera in the mud.
I eventually trudged through the muck, and my first stop was at a conveniently placed Hiking Store, where I emptied my pockets for a pair of hiking boots. It might have set me back a pretty penny, but they were a game-changer compared to my old running shoes. Yes, I had to tie those runners to my backpack – turning me into a Cotswolds fashion icon!
Each morning, fueled by a hearty English Breakfast, complete with eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, and beans, I’d lace up my hiking boots and set off. The day’s path remained a tantalizing mystery, and with every passing minute, a new adventure beckoned. I loved the unpredictability of my nightly accommodations. Would I find myself in a snug room within someone’s home, in a quaint hotel dating back to the 1700s or above a pub on “Football” night, all complete with a comfy bed?
Yet, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The most memorable challenge I faced was dealing with rooms that had ceilings of varying heights. You’d think I’d learn my lesson after the first accidental head bump, but that was hardly the case. It’s a miracle I didn’t end up with a concussion!
Food Glorious Food
When it comes to English cuisine, I can genuinely say I didn’t have a single bad meal during my stay. Let me tell you, the pictures I took on this culinary adventure speak volumes.
From savouring a traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner, classic fish and chips or a hearty curry, I had a taste of it all. And, of course, the quintessential afternoon cream tea, complete with a fabulous scone, I enjoyed in the tranquillity of a countryside courtyard. These were the moments when I felt like I was truly experiencing England through its dishes.
But the fabulous foods didn’t stop there. The breakfasts served at the various places I stayed were nothing short of amazing. As a bonus, some hotels even packed a wonderful lunch for me. One of my absolute favourites had to be the simple yet incredibly satisfying bacon sandwich – a savoury reward after a morning of walking 18,763 steps. It was nothing short of delicious! As I travelled the Cotswolds trails, I always looked forward to the next meal, and with some days over 50,000 steps, I was working up an appetite.
Google is my friend – actually, my BEST Friend in London!
A life without Google is impossible to imagine, and Google is something we can’t live without when we need answers to questions. I am a little embarrassed to say, but here were my top 4 Google searches while in England walking the Cotswolds.
- What are London’s best live theatre performances?
- Are cows vicious? When you must climb over a fence and into a field of cows, this is a legitimate concern. I am a city girl with no previous experience with farm animals.
- The laundry dilemma – How do I dry the clothes I need to wash in my room without using an iron or hairdryer (neither were in the room the night I had to wash some clothes)
- Would the conspicuous red strip on my backpack attract the attention of a bull in a field, and what do I do if a bull attacks me?
Thankfully, Google provided me with the guidance I needed, ensuring I could confidently navigate fields of animals in clean, dry clothes. It’s safe to say Google truly is a friend we can’t live without.
Gates, Gates and Even More Gates!!!
Now, you might be scratching your head, wondering how on earth Gates made it onto this list. Well, if you’re an aspiring Cotswold hiker or have experienced the trails, this one’s for you.
Here’s the scoop: gates, my friends, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and they can be quite the adventure. I wish I had kept a gate count from the beginning of my journey, but I didn’t. It felt like there were hundreds, and each one was as unique as a snowflake.
Some gates required an awkward climb of two steps up, over the fence, and a careful two steps down to continue on your merry way. Others demanded a gate-opening strategy – some inward, some outward – and then some simply defied logic, and you had to resort to some impromptu backpack acrobatics. I even encountered one gate with an electric wire, adding an extra layer of complexity, making it feel like a bizarre game of limbo, with a backpack and all. Luckily, I faced this challenge in solitude and when I wasn’t carefully following my map. So, there you have it, an adventure that added a touch of unpredictability to my Cotswold hike.
And now Emergency Preparedness
We have all heard it, but how many of us truly take it to heart? Knowing the escape routes in case of a fire can make all the difference in keeping you safe. During my stay at the Redesdale Inn in Moreton-On-Marsh, I was pleasantly surprised to find a placard in my room that I could hang on my door to signal if I needed assistance in a fire. This level of preparedness and attention to guest safety was terrific and highly impressive.
Phone Booths – England is renowned for its iconic red phone booths, but with nearly everyone carrying a cell phone these days, the need for these booths has dwindled, especially if you have the correct adapter plug for your device, which I didn’t. Through Amazon, I got the Europe model and not the UK model. I digress; back to Phone Booths – I stumbled upon something remarkable during a leisurely stroll to the pub for lunch – a phone booth converted into a defibrillator station. It’s a brilliant reimagining of these classic booths, and it got me thinking; perhaps we all could have considered repurposing our old phone booths in a similar way.
So many lessons learned, meeting new people, and venturing into the world alone was a huge accomplishment for me. I loved every minute of my adventure. Yes, it would have been nice to have someone to share it with, but I have a list of friends who want to come with me on my next trip. Hopefully, they will have some room in their suitcase so this time I can shop in London!
Stay Safe and Happy Travels!
Meet Jackie Kloosterboer
Jackie Kloosterboer is a renowned Emergency and Disaster Preparedness leader, boasting an impressive 30 years of frontline experience that has allowed her to witness firsthand the life-saving impact of preparedness. Her unwavering commitment is evident through her dedication to presenting Disaster Preparedness Workshops, responding to disasters across BC, supporting evacuees, and skillfully leading Emergency Support Services teams during activations, most notably in her recent role with the City of Vancouver.
As an instructor at the Justice Institute of BC, Jackie travels across Canada, empowering volunteers with essential workshops and training.
Her profound expertise in disaster preparedness has made her a sought-after resource by the media, who frequently seek her insights, underlining the crucial significance of preparedness. Moreover, her book, “My Earthquake Preparedness Guide,” is the quintessential resource, offering practical tips to equip individuals for any disaster. Jackie’s expert advice is the compass pointing toward safety and readiness for those seeking to face whatever challenges come their way.