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While in Dublin recently, I had my third wakeup call—another reminder that we take certain risks when we travel alone. Ireland was a typical trip for me. I hopscotched across the U.S., visiting a cousin in New Orleans, stopping for a few days in Dallas, attending a program at Colonial Williamsburg and spending time with a cousin who lives nearby before I flew to Shannon.

Working with the travel agency that handled arrangements for the group tour scheduled to begin three days later, I booked a hotel and driver in southwest Ireland so I could explore the wildly scenic Ring of Kerry for a couple of days before heading to Dublin to meet the group. In Dublin I checked into the 5-star Merrion Hotel to join fellow travelers from Colonial Williamsburg, led by the guide and the owner of a major London travel company, NoteWorthy.

Sick in Dublin

And I got sick. Very sick. A gastro bug attacked in the early hours of the morning we were scheduled to depart for Lismore Castle. Around 7 a.m. I text-messaged the guide to tell her I would not be making the trip. Within an hour the hotel doctor was in my room, and within another hour prescription medicines were delivered to me. The hotel was full, but NoteWorthy persuaded staff to allow me to keep my room an additional night. The owner of the company sent the group ahead with the guide and stayed in Dublin to take care of me. After 24 hours of sleep, I felt safe to travel. The owner rented a car and drove me to Lismore. She even offered to pack my bag.

My daughter was relieved that I received such good care. She probably feared that she would need to fly to Ireland to take care of me; and indeed, I was hardly able to take care of myself for 48 hours. I confessed that my illness was a reminder of the risks I take when I travel alone.

A responsible tour company and a top-flight hotel made the difference. While I pride myself on my independence, sometimes I must depend on others. What if there had been no one else? What if the bug had struck when I was alone in a remote part of the country? What if I were in a country where little English was spoken or even a third-world country…Sri Lanka, possibly, where I spent several days on my own in 2013?

Wakeup Calls in the MidEast and Albania

This was not my first wakeup call. My first came less than two years after Lev’s death, when I was scheduled to take my first big trip alone—a cruise from Dubai through the Suez Canal to Malta. Arab Spring broke out about six weeks before my scheduled departure in January 2011. The ship was not cancelling the cruise, and I was past the deadline of getting a refund if I cancelled. Ultimately, I decided I couldn’t bear the stress of being on the ship, checking the internet daily to see what was going on in Egypt, worrying my children. It would be different if Lev were with me. I cancelled.

Albanian monastery

The second wakeup came on another Colonial Williamsburg trip—a Sea Cloud II cruise from Sicily to Venice in 2013. One misty morning we climbed a mountain in Albania to visit a 1,000-year-old monastery. On my descent, my foot slipped out from under me and I bounced down ancient granite steps on my back, feet first. At some point I flipped over, landing face down in the mud on the side of the mountain. I did not think I could walk. My kids will kill me. One of them will have to fly to Albania to get me home. Miraculously, I was uninjured, but the experience rattled my self-confidence.

Eight years into widowhood—and eight years older—I am less cocky than I once was. I am more conscious than ever of risks, perhaps because of this crazy, awful summer—destructive hurricanes in prime tourist locations, carnage in Las Vegas, violence in Charlottesville. I see no way to completely avoid all risk, and I refuse to live my life in fear. I buy trip insurance; I’m enrolled in MedJet Assist; I keep a long list of emergency contacts in my billfold.

bell curveA black swan theory emerged during the Great Recession. On a bell curve of risks, the two tails are very slim, the odds of catastrophic risk very small. But what are those catastrophic possibilities? Are the rewards of the trip worth taking the risk? Each wakeup call reminds me that I incur real risk when I travel. Group travel, luxury travel, insurance, health and fitness all mitigate the risks. Right now, only Texas and Nantucket are on my travel calendar, but I am sure I will be packing my bags for more great adventures in 2018.

What risk factors do you consider when you travel alone?
Any experience that you’d like to share?