Lorraine Wilson: Facing Forwards



Sitting in a Stockholm café on July 8, 2015, Lorraine Wilson realised she was homeless. It was six weeks into a three-month solo journey around Europe and, while musing over an open sandwich and lingonberry juice in the Old Town, it struck her that the decision to move to Abu Dhabi in the September of that year was the worst she’d ever made. Someone else was living in Lorraine’s beautiful cottage in Dundee and all but three suitcases of possessions had been sold or given away.

I had left the UK on May 31 with a small backpack, an Interrail pass, and the intention to cover as much of Europe as possible in the following three months. Then I would head home for a few weeks before moving to the UAE to work on a newspaper features desk.

The previous five years had been… shall we say challenging? There had been heartbreak and bereavement. Poor mental and physical health had resulted in major surgeries. All this had been topped off by financial meltdown. The offer of a job in Abu Dhabi had been the answer to all financial woes. With a significantly higher salary than I could command here and no tax to pay, this would be an opportunity to get back on my financial feet. I had kidded myself that there was more to it – a sense of adventure etc… At the time though I couldn’t admit to anyone (or myself) that cash was the only driver in this decision.

With my cottage sold, I had a few months to kill before moving to the desert. Friends had already been more than generous with spare rooms and I couldn’t impose any longer. The time could be put to good use, however. Something was pushing me towards travelling – taking a break from the norm and giving myself some time to think. Even though Abu Dhabi was still on the cards at that point, I knew that the tough years had led to some muddled thinking and decisions I regretted deeply. Getting away would perhaps clear my head. I had some cash to spare from the house sale and the job would pay well, so spending rather than earning for a few months wouldn’t be too much of a problem.

So one day I walked into the beautiful Pollokshields kitchen of my friend Steve and told him I was going travelling in Europe for a few months, alone. No real planning – just a start and an end point and a rough idea of direction. The route would be decided from day to day. He laughed and said something approximating “Aye right…”.

The more I told friends about it, the more I heard the phrase “That’s really brave.” It didn’t feel brave to me, but it was clear that they regarded a 48-year-old woman backpacking through Europe for three months with no definite itinerary to be something more than adventurous. This 48-year-old woman felt it was necessary.
The leap to writing a book about the journey was born out of that, and the decision to self-publish was one of speed. Having had a book on the shelves a few years before, I knew it would take too much time to reach an agreement with a publisher. And anyway, there was something appealing about extending the solo journey to publishing the book myself.

With experience in magazine and book production this wasn’t a stretch, but funding the first run was. I decided on Crowdfunder – also a useful way of gauging interest in the book. The target was £2000, just enough to print the first 1000 copies, with pledging simply equating to pre-ordering. Thank goodness enough people had faith in the project and in me as a writer. It exceeded the target leaving a little breathing space for unexpected extras. Now the pressure was on to deliver a good read, however. Until the journey was over I couldn’t really say what it would be but if I had to pitch it to a film producer I could perhaps say “think Bill Bryson with boobs and a good stock of HRT patches”. I would also tell them there was much eating, but no praying or lovin…

There were some hysterically funny parts of the journey, episodes where I was thoroughly miserable, occasions when I was terrified, and times when nothing much happened. Three months in anyone’s life then (hopefully without the terror part). It has to be said that the night trains had more potential for extremes though.

It did clear my head, but achieved much more. My confidence levels have soared following the journey. I can tackle problems more efficiently and without the same levels of procrastination. And while I have always been an independent type, I don’t question my capabilities in the self-defeating way that I did before.

It allowed me to reconnect with the woman who had been lost under the crushing weight of the everyday. Although three months of solo travel counting the pennies and experiencing some pretty manky trains won’t be everyone’s ideal time to think, spending some time alone can be liberating – and a great teacher.