I took my last paycheck and bought a ticket to Bangkok
After the property crash in the US, in 2009, Elaine Lalonde sold her house, and bought a ticket for Bangkok. After emailing stories about her trips to friends back home, she decided to set up TURN LEFT TRIPS for women.
Thanks for chatting to me Elaine. Can you tell me about your first solo trip?
I was 19 and had just finished my first year of University in Canada. I had really looked forward to the challenge of University but actually found it a continuation of High School. I was a bit disenchanted! Luckily, I had an opportunity to work in the Yukon, in the far north of Canada, where my married sister lived. This gave me enough money to contemplate, and then, plan a trip to Europe, and forego my second year of University.
I flew to London, a safe choice since I could speak the language, found a place to stay and even some work. After 3 months I moved to Paris for 6 months. Paris is still my favorite city in the world! I became an au pair for a Canadian-American family and explored that fabulous city. And that, I believe, was the start of it all.
What has been your most challenging journey so far?
I am trying to answer this truthfully. I'm coming up short! I want to say "being married", but that was a different journey. All of my travels, all of the time, have moments that are challenging. But I go through life expecting the best, and expecting to solve any problem along the way, and mostly that is how it turns out.
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Trekking Annapurna was my first serious hiking adventure, and I had been living on an island in the Caribbean so had no altitude experience. To compensate for that, I planned a 2-week adventure in the north of India first. The bus trip from New Delhi to Manali was a bit scary! We took a local night bus thinking we'd be able to sleep. It was a rickety old thing, with horrible seats, filled to capacity and then some! Somewhere in the middle of the night we departed the main, paved road, and drove for a long time over a bumpy dirt road and then stopped and off-loaded some large packages that to this day, my sister and I believe were guns. Then we turned around and went back the way we had come. At one point the bus was stopped by military police and searched. I am quite sure we had unloaded the very items they were searching for. Had I been completely solo, and not had my sister's reassuring voice to calm me, I might have died of fright.
How has travel changed you?
Travel has made me bolder. I was a shy child, and a very conservative young adult. I played by the rules. Travel made me see that so many rules we live by are cultural. And therefore, not absolute.
It has also given me confidence in my ability to think on my feet, to solve problems, to meet and connect with strangers and to trust them, when appropriate.
Travel taught me that if you have joy in your heart people all over the world will respond with joy. I began to realize that Moms and Dads everywhere want the same thing for their children. That we are not so different!
Travel showed me what it feels like to be a minority - to not speak the language or know the culture and to have different skin, makes one stand out whether you want to or not.
Travel encouraged me to examine how I spent my money, and to decide what I needed versus what I wanted.
Travel did away with age barriers. I travel as easily with the 20-somethings as I do with retirees. In fact, I prefer the younger set.
Travel made me more curious about other cultures, other countries. I continue to read and learn long after I have returned.
What inspired you to start TURN LEFT TRIPS?
The year 2009 dealt me some adversity. The housing market crashed in the US, where I have been living for about 30 years. I owned my own home, bought with one of those interest only loans that eventually influenced the housing crash and subsequent depression.
I had been very successfully working in an industry that paid only commission on sales, but because it was considered a luxury item, the bottom fell out of those sales. I came to the realization that at age 64, I was getting dressed up and going to a job where I made no money! I decided to quit. I short-sold my house the year before which means I got out from the debt but lost the home. I was renting a room from a friend. I had no other debt. I had been reading about folks who were retiring in Thailand on less than $1000/month. I decided to sign up for my Social Security which came to $800/month. Being a thrifty person, I thought I could probably live in Thailand on that. I took my last paycheck of $2000 and bought a return ticket to Bangkok. I went for 5 1/2 months!
While I was there I wrote an email letter to a select group of friends. It included all my daily adventures. The response was incredible. People kept saying how courageous I was, how much they would like to travel like that but had no one to go with, or were too afraid to go alone. They added people to my email list. They were so instrumental in my starting TURN LEFT TRIPS for women.
Who joins TURN LEFT TRIPS?
My trips are offered exclusively for women. Surprisingly, many of them are married women whose husbands have no interest in the kind of travel I offer, or the places I go. The women are generally 50 plus, but I have had younger women express interest. Unfortunately, here in the US, two weeks vacation is standard so for most younger people my trips would use up their entire allotment of vacation time for the year. Many Moms who are working actually use their vacation days to tend to sick children or school events. Sad, I know.
My fee of $2000 covers nearly all expenses once they arrive in the starting city. They are responsible for their own food and for souvenirs. Individual food tastes vary so much, and food is not expensive in Southeast Asia where i have centered my trips. All in-country travel is covered and all hotels.
What advice would you offer to somebody thinking about taking their first trip?
If someone is really going solo, as in all alone, then I suggest some serious reading before hand. Know some of the customs, how to dress appropriately, what the weather will be, what food to expect and currency conversion. There are a number of good guidebooks available, and if the book covers multiple countries in a given part of the world but you are only going to two countries, tear out only the pertinent pages and staple them together. Never carry excess weight!
Bring your own meds, but everything else is available: toothpaste, moisturizers, sunscreen, etc. So don't bother carrying them. Buy when you arrive. Bring crisp new bills to exchange. $100 bills work well for me.
Be prepared to be an observer and a student. Do not travel to a new country with the idea of changing anything, or imposing your ideas. Go with the flow!
Which destination is next on your list?
I love Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam so much that I am always prepared to go back there. Last year I visited Malaysia again, and the year before I went to Myanmar and Laos as well.
Personally, I've been thinking of going to Sri Lanka and the Kerala region of India. I've been to Northern India 3 times but never the south. And a year from now, I will be taking the last of my grandchildren on a promised trip to Scotland and Ireland to see some castles. He will be 8.
I am up for most countries, but I won't lead a trip there without going at least once on my own to determine the highlights and to understand the best of the country to share.