“WHY WOULD YOU want to travel all by yourself?” asked the guy at reception. That ‘‘all by yourself” hit me as his blonde wife looked up from the desk with a grimace. I’d just seen the spot where I would put up my tent, then was told there was no wi-fi connection. So I was wondering the same thing. Why would I drive for hours just to sleep here?
In a tent?
Good questions. But then, that’s the sort of brave thing my friend, Marcia Mitchell, would do—go gallivanting around France “all by herself” and sleep in a tent.
It wasn’t the first time she had done something like that. A few years before, between husbands, she surprised me when she revealed plans to go camping that Fourth of July weekend near the spa in Berkeley Springs (West Virginia).
For several nights.
Again with the tent.
“But isn’t that dangerous? Won’t it be weird to be by yourself? Aren’t you afraid?” I sputtered.
“Oh, Kathy,” she said by way of exasperated reassurance. “I’ll never be more than 50 yards from a manicure.” Not only is Marcia brave, she knows how to prioritize.
Among her priorities was the desire to live in France. And so she did. In her 50s she discarded life in the U.S. and resettled in Provence. She embraced all things French and la belle France reciprocated. Even in a campground without wi-fi.
What she had learned from previous trips was that France took care of a woman on her own. Women “of a certain age” aren’t ignored or made to feel invisible. So what better place for a woman to travel solo?
Now Marcia’s ready to teach what she’s learned as a woman traveling solo. She and fellow instructor, Minnesota ex-pat Delana Nelsen, are set to whip into shape all of us smart, independent, competent women, who, in spite of our accomplishments, are still too timid to take off on our own. It’s time to man up ladies, pack the suitcase, grab the passport and enlist in Travel Solo Boot Camp. Thankfully no tents are involved.
Boot camp in Provence: an idea that suggests 4-inch heels and form-fitting fatigues accessorized with an Hermes scarf. But the camp’s base in Aix en Provence really does serve a practical purpose. Things move a bit more slowly in Aix than, say, Paris, and for a woman on her own for the first time that can be a comfort.
As Marcia and Delana discovered for themselves, “No other country loves women more than France. Femininity rules here. It’s in the cuisine, the wine, fashion and, of course, romance. France will lead you to her best baguettes, her friendliest cafes, her most captivating museums, and she will show you how to take your time, how to sit for hours in a cafe with an espresso watching beautiful people speaking luscious words.”
Okay. Great. How exactly does one become comfortable doing that? All on one’s own? Marcia and Delana aim to arm recruits with advice and attitude gained through a series of exercises. Such as these described on their website:
Begin each day with “C-rations (coffee, croissants and conversation)” to talk about solo traveling and the day’s assignment.
Gather in the afternoon to cover things as basic as how to eat lunch alone. And enjoy it! Or to introduce insights and tactics in areas such as shopping—how sizes differ, local shopping etiquette, with whom you can and can’t bargain. Then a shopping assignment; perhaps you’ll be ordered to buy some French lingerie, a slightly shorter or slimmer skirt than you’re accustomed to, or perhaps a new scarf (no Frenchwoman is without one).
On another day recruits might concentrate on the ins and outs of using public transportation, finishing with a homework assignment involving taking public transport to an outlying village to explore.
Recruits will meet evenings throughout the week for a “working apero,” which might involve sipping wine and sampling local olives while receiving a French lesson from a local. Or a soirée with a French woman who can deconstruct that special something French women seem to have. There will be dinner with a local guest who will explain French manners and what is expected at a dinner party or perhaps even on a date. Date? Not a required maneuver, though if so inclined—you’ll be prepared.
Recruits will bunk in separate apartments. Marcia and Delana have lined up a group of chic and comfortable apartments in the center of Aix, close to cafes and shops. But no bunking with roommates allowed. They stress this is your time to have your own experience.
There is one fall session scheduled, October 18-25, 2014, and two spring/summer sessions, May 9-16 and June 6-13, 2015. Sessions are limited to eight people.
Tuition per boot camp $2,000.
• Pre-boot camp preparation
• Marseille airport to Aix transportation
• Local cell phone
• Group breakfast and training class each day
• Daily training maneuvers
• 1 daylong class with a local artisan (painting, cooking, mosaic, etc)
• 2 group evening meals
DOES NOT INCLUDE:
• Airfare to Marseille
• Apartment rental
• Solo lunches
• Solo dinners
• Local transportation
The belief of these two well-traveled veterans is that a well-prepared woman traveling alone is really never alone. And their motto, “We won’t hold your hand, but we’ve got your back.”
I wonder if Dior has ever designed a tent.
Contact Delana at email@example.com to enlist and start your pre-boot camp preparation.