A Journey Not-So-Unaccompanied: Canadian Rockies

Nicole Hambrick here, solo world traveler…ok, perhaps that’s a bit ambitious. More accurately: small town Texan with a passion for new experiences who found herself with some vacation time and a passport.

As a trip of firsts–first time travelling alone, first time leaving the country, first time fully paying for my vacation (woof!), I can’t say I wasn’t a bit intimidated as I drove to the airport. Sure, Canada is a safe place to travel…but alone? As a petite, blond hair, blue eyed single woman? But I believe in a life well-lived and there was an opportunity…So off I went!

It was the most spectacular trip I’ve ever taken.

Navigating the airport? Check. Getting my rental car? Check. Learning the Imperial/Metric conversion?…ehh…I never caught on much to that one.

My first stop was my hostel for the night.

Mesh Know: Arrive early to your hostels. Not in order to get a good bed or to not have to wait for a shower, but to socialize.

The bigger hostels I stayed at (you know, the ones with the bars downstairs…not much my scene) and the ones I arrived late to were my least favorite. But I made memories at the smaller hostels where I was able to spend some time. In fact, this is where I met two groups of new friends who I essentially spent the rest of my vacation with.

Picture 1

Picture 2

Hiking alone is my cup of tea (as is travelling alone, so I’ve learned). I set my own pace, take pictures of whatever I want, hike as far as my feet will carry me, and am more prone to talk to people I wouldn’t usually talk to when hiking or travelling with another person. I did, however, pick the busy season to go visit Banff and Jasper National Parks, so hiking “alone” wasn’t really an option, I guess. But I learned quickly that if I got an early start on the trail, I would encounter fewer people (and more parking spaces).

Mesh Know: If you’re like me and you enjoy solitude and the sounds of nature over bear bells and selfie sticks, try to pick a less popular hike. I found that I enjoyed the “less impressive” waterfalls with fewer people at them more than falls like the Lower and Upper Falls of Johnston Canyon with lines of people waiting their turn to get a good picture.

Picture 3

While we’re on the subject of pictures…I love taking pictures. I love capturing (or at least, attempting to capture) the beauty before my eyes. But I find that I have to remind myself to put the camera down and let my eyes see the beauty, too. I think there are a lot of us who need that reminder. Of course there’s nothing wrong with taking pictures to share with everyone back home, but don’t forget to take a few minutes and enjoy what no camera could ever capture.

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The greatest journeys are a compilation of smaller, daily journeys.

Hiking alone is not my cup of tea (as travelling alone is not either, so I’ve learned). Wait, what? Did you scroll back up two paragraphs to make sure you read that sentence correctly? You did. Had I not met these new friends from Germany or Minnesota, I certainly would not have enjoyed my trip as much. All alone for a whole week with no one to share these great experiences with? No, thank you. Yes, I set out on a solo adventure, but I certainly wasn’t travelling alone. I think that’s how it is for most people who journey unaccompanied: they go alone but come home with some great new friendships.

From hiking to glacier viewpoints and waterfalls to driving the most magnificent scenic drive (Icefields Parkway) and canoeing on the bluest water, the Canadian Rockies have it all.

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Moraine Lake. Don’t miss this when travelling to Alberta.

Mesh Know: Pick something to splurge on. Yes, an affordable vacation is a stress-free vacation (hopefully…) but don’t be afraid to pick something you love and do it in a place you’ve never been before. Is food your groove? Go to that really good and probably slightly overpriced restaurant. Is shopping your hobby? Buy a souvenir you actually like and you’ll use. Love hiking? Hire a guide to take you on a 5-hour glacier walk.

There’s a bus that drives you down a steep road onto the ever-shifting ice of the Athabasca Glacier, allows you to walk around on said ice for about 15 minutes and then proceeds to drive back up this hill painstakingly slow while onlookers question if the bus can, in fact, make the climb back up the hill (“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”) OR you can strap on some ice spikes and traverse 8 kilometers across the entire length of the lower glacier into the first of three icefalls with a guide who could tell you anything you wanted to know about the glacier. Yes. Please. If you’re travelling to Alberta any time soon, I highly recommend you make time for this: http://www.icewalks.com

The Ice Walks Deluxe Tour on the Athabasca Glacier.
The Ice Walks Deluxe Tour on the Athabasca Glacier.

Other various conclusions I’ve come to post-solo Canadian adventure:

  • You look much less ridiculous talking into a camera if you’re travelling with someone.
  • Unfortunately, you simply cannot see everything you want to see in 6,800 square miles in just one week.
  • Canadian sweet tea is better than southern sweet tea (oh my, don’t tell my Texas hometown I said that one)!
  • The elk burger with mango from the Elk & Oarsman in Banff is quite possibly the best burger I’ve ever eaten.
  • Travelling alone isn’t as scary as it sounds. Even for a young, single woman.

Before I took flight on my excursion, I read a lot of blog posts similar to this one to reassure me that it was possible to travel solo. If you find yourself in my shoes, here’s my ultimate advice and encouragement for you: Do it! You won’t regret it.

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