As I gazed out the 19thfloor windows of my fancy downtown (Coal Harbor) Vancouver hotel room, I felt like a character in The Matrix movie. Super high-rise buildings, a setting sun, and the haze from far-off forest fires burning in British Columbia had my adrenalin pumping.
Downtown Vancouver’s futuristic, apocalyptic vibe didn’t factor into the Matrix but it inspired other film-makers to use the city as the backdrop for such sci-fi themed movies as Tomorrowland, Deadpool, and Godzilla.
Is it any wonder I had a brief panic attack on the first night of my second solo trip adventure?
It’s been awhile, dear readers, and this is a long post, so chow down slowly on pasta with tomatoes and goat cheese while I share the details of my second solo trip.
When we last explored the solo travel world, I had returned from my first journey – a low-key beach vacation on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I knew it was time to take a bigger leap out of my comfort zone. If you can’t challenge yourself at age 60+, when, if ever, can you?
Relying once again on the baby steps philosophy, I wanted to visit a foreign English-speaking city I had not been to previously. Vancouver with its mix of nature and culture seemed like a good choice. I had always wanted to travel there and had even been planning an anniversary trip there before my marriage ended (no sympathy needed– just a fact).
August seemed like the ideal time to visit this city by the water and mountains. It’s the month with the lowest chance of rain and the temperature is ideal for touring around. I booked a hotel and my flights and embarked on travel research.
I no longer feel strongly about adhering to a schedule when traveling. Impromptu off-the-beaten-track explorations can often be the highlights of a trip. But as a solo traveler I wanted to have a rough outline of my days with some planned tours or activities to ensure built-in socializing.
Back to arrival night: After that first moment’s existential panic (I’m all alone although Neo may be nearby), I texted my brother and started to relax. Connecting with him every evening helped to keep me centered.
The next morning I walked along the glorious Seawall, the 10 km pathway that extends into Stanley Park, and felt my anxiety leave. I had five days and six nights to explore this part of the world on my own terms and at my own pace.
Despite bringing three journals of various sizes, I didn’t keep a travelogue. I checked off things on my itinerary, a great help in trying to recount this for you.
What I did:
The Lookout at Harbor Center: Tall building with 360°view of the city. Haze from the forest fires interfered with visibility or I would have enjoyed this more.
Vancouver Foodie Gastronomic Gastown Tour: I love food tours. You get to try a local foodie’s curated favorite restaurants along with sides of history and companionship. As the birthplace of Vancouver, Gastown has loads of history and an eclectic vibe. This tour, recognized by Forbes as one of the nine best food tours in the world, was a lot of fun and I enjoyed meeting the other travelers. Highlights of the tour: pesto pizza at Nicli Antica and key lime/coconut mousse pie at Mosquito (sadly this restaurant just closed – promise, not my fault).
A non-food tour highlight: the 6 pm musical “eruption” of the Steam Clock.
Side note: I signed up for another food tour of Chinatown on a different day but it was cancelled.
Granville Island: Going to Granville Island is a must do for visitors to Vancouver. The immense Public Market is one of the highlights of the island but there are also shops, artist studios, and free entertainment by the waterfront. I enjoyed my afternoon there. The market, which was reminiscent of markets I visited in Barcelona and Madrid, had gorgeous displays of fresh fruit (many unusual varieties), vegetables, pasta, salads, seafood, pastries, herbs…and more.
After wandering and ogling the bounty, I bought a couple of salads and sat outside on a bench to enjoy the sunny day and a musician playing nearby. An age-similar woman sat down next to me and we struck up a conversation. A New Zealander and widow, my seat buddy left her native country to live in Austin,Tx to be near her grandchildren. She was visiting Vancouver with friends and had stopped at Granville as part of a bike tour. Like everyone I encountered, she was interested in my trip as a solo traveler but couldn’t imagine doing it herself. I enjoyed our chat and wished she was also traveling solo so I could pal around with her.
After lunch and just for the fun of it, I took a water taxi around False Creek before jumping off at Yaletown, a neighborhood known for its boutiques and restaurants.
Musical nooner outdoor concert: When I was researching this trip and following various Vancouver-based groups on Twitter and Facebook, I learned about a summer outdoor lunchtime concert series in the downtown area. With impeccable holiday timing, I was able to attend the season’s last concert and walked 20 minutes from my hotel to Hamilton Street to see Coco Jafro. This Vancouver-based Funk, World Fusion, R&B, Soul, Jazz and Afro-Beats Band had the crowd dancing and smiling. As I sat there with office workers and locals, I felt like a Vancouverite – not a tourist.
Stanley Park and the Vancouver Aquarium: One of the reasons I chose my hotel was its location within walking distance of Stanley Park. I walked there several times, admiring the water and woodsy views and checking out the enormous Totem Poles.
The partially outdoors Aquarium was my favorite Park attraction. In addition to a dolphin show, you can also watch the feedings of the sea lions and sea otters. The playful sea otters charmed me; I couldn’t stop smiling at their crazy antics.
Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Park: A peaceful garden at the entrance to Chinatown. I missed the tour but enjoyed ambling around, looking at the bonsai trees, the pond filled with lily pads and orange koi fish, and the carefully landscaped space.
VanDusen Botanical Garden: An incredible 54-acre garden. I’m not sure I saw all 250,000 plants and the various animals that live here, but I tried. I spent my last Vancouver afternoon in this garden. At this point in the trip, I had developed some pretty angry blisters (despite wearing “good” tennis shoes). So I walked, rested, walked, rested – and took a taxi to and from the garden.
What I didn’t do:
Date: I chatted briefly with a guy on Bumble but deleted his profile when, instead of answering my questions, he wanted to get off the site and chat via whatsapp.
Go on a whale cruise: I was tempted but worried the motion might reignite a recent flare-up of vertigo.
The Solo Experience:
Despite my initial bout of arrival loneliness, I was comfortable and had fun for most of the trip. By the fifth day, however, I longed for a travel companion. Yes, I could eat by myself and enjoy talking to the wait staff and I could ask a stranger to take a photo of me but I needed more quality people time. If my other food tour hadn’t been cancelled — or if I had been able to find a fun and nearby meet up to attend — I might give this solo adventure a higher score.
Would I return to Vancouver? Yes, but I would like to explore this great city with a travel buddy next time.
For my next solo trip, I plan to schedule more tours or people-centered activities such as a cooking or art class. As for accommodations, I will investigate youth hostels since they provide a built-in social environment and single en suite rooms are sometimes available. Oh, and I’ll bring a blister prevention kit. Insert laughing/crying emoji.
Until next time, happy traveling or staycationing!