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When you are never too old to travel

Helene Jermolajew

Helene Jermolajew was 62 years old when she embarked on a solo trip around the world to heal from loss and grief. She came back a new woman.

“She’s gone,” and with those words my life was torn asunder. The last year of Mum’s life was a horror stretch as she became weaker and sicker, eventually having a massive stroke and passing away three weeks later. I was 59.

Then more drama, the last member of my family of origin took legal action. A patch of my hair went grey overnight. A year later, this brother also died. That really threw me. Now there was no-one left from my family of origin who knew me as a child, no-one from my family of origin to love or even be angry at! What was I to do?

Yes, I have two sons, but they each had their own lives. One had businesses and a partner, they were busy creating their lives which is exactly as it should be, the other had kicked off his shoes and was travelling somewhere in the wilds of Central America and that was as it should be too.

I took a long, hard look at my life. No life partner, no family of origin, a house that wasn’t earning any money and to all intents and purposes no future with much fun. I had amazing friends whom I loved dearly, I had my writing and connections with fellow poets and writers, but they all had lives, responsibilities and families of their own. It seemed that I was the only one with no good reason to stay in one place.

Helene in Venice

Helene in Venice

How many people get to this point, a vague future with little or no purpose, or are overcome with grief and not knowing what to do about it?

I was 61 by the time the legal dramas were over. I re-assessed. Daily routine thing? No thanks. There were too many memories and too much sorrow, too much grief and way too much thinking time. I had realised just how short and unpredictable life is, and yet life should still be fun.

I knew I had to get out of the country, I would never be fully healed if I stayed on our shores.

I began planning a 12-month trip around the world. Yes, some people thought I was mad, while others thought it was an amazing thing to do but they could “never do it”. I wondered what would stop anyone from travelling.

Planning is the answer. No matter what age you are. As the saying goes “if you fail to plan you plan to fail”. That doesn’t mean over-planning and having every minute accounted for I did that once, it was awful. What it means is thinking through what you want your experience to be and having at least a skeleton itinerary which leaves many spaces for surprises and random opportunities.

Wroclaw, Poland.

Wroclaw, Poland.

The outline was drawn up and the around-the-world ticket was bought. The first month was taken up travelling with my sons, taking Mum’s ashes to her country of birth and finding all her school buildings in Serbia and Slovenia. Then I was on my own.

My itinerary was sparse, visiting friends in Sweden and Poland, a Bocelli concert in Tuscany, a week in Dresden, visiting a friend in New York, a week in New Orleans, three months in Guatemala and a trip to Costa Rica to meet a sloth.

As a solo “older” traveller I loved staying in hostels. You meet wonderful people there and they have the best local information. I met amazing travellers of all ages – many of whom became great friends. Some invited me to their countries and showed me around, others shared stories. I met a 70-year-old lady solo traveller in Vienna who had incredible stories to tell. I met a 90- year-old lady solo traveller in Guatemala – what an inspiration these two ladies were.

Taksim Square, Istanbul a few weeks after the 2013 protests.

Taksim Square, Istanbul a few weeks after the 2013 protests.

The spare time filled quickly. I learned how to find and book the best deals online and to read between the lines of advertising. I explored places I hadn’t even thought of visiting. I celebrated turning 63 in Antigua Guatemala amongst many new-found friends. I came home rejuvenated and in total awe of the stunning world we live in and the incredible people I had met. And yes, I met a real sloth in Costa Rica.

Helene Jermolajew’s book “Laughter, Tears and Coffee” will be launched at Smith’s Alternative on Monday 23rd October at 7.30 pm at their regular “That Poetry Thing” evening.


Helene Jermolajew

Helene Jermolajew is a poet, author, mother and grandmother. She was 61 when she embarked on an adventurous around-the-world trip and it has fueled her passion to experience and write about travel. Helen blogs at More about the Author

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