health, life in general

I’ll take mine black—health & trivia

“I love coffee, I love tea. I love the boys, and the boys love me.”

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I chanted that silly jump-rope jingle hundreds of times on the Oak Knoll Playground, certain I’d never acquire a taste for either coffee or tea. Little did I know. Today I live for that first morning cup.

My earliest coffee memory was watching Dad pour his steaming coffee into a saucer, slurping it carefully before racing off to work. Mom often sat at our yellow formica table, chatting over steaming cups of coffee with a friend. I remember, too, being told that coffee would stunt my growth. I was big for my age, so I snuck a sip in hopes it would retard my vertical development—YUCK! I swore off coffee forever. My resolve was strengthened by Mr. Ryshavy’s rancid coffee breath in 6th grade. I worshipped the man, but his breath could send me reeling to my seat.

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A NEED FOR THE CAFFEINE PERK

Circumstances forced me to change my mind. As a university freshman, my procrastination got the best of me; at 10:00 one night a research paper and a final exam necessitated a quick dose of caffeine. I hated Coke and refused to take No-Doz (drugs!), so what was left? Coffee. Ralph & Jerry’s Grocery was open ‘til midnight, so I headed out for some instant Jo. I choked it down with a half cup of sugar, and it did the trick. I was up all night.

download-1I decided it might behoove me to acquire a taste for the stuff. For the next few years I searched out all the coffee-flavored sweets I could find to acclimate myself to coffee’s bitter taste. Thanks to coffee ice cream and Coffee Nips, by the time I graduated, I actually liked it. 

My taste buds have been further transformed by egg coffee, trips to Starbucks, treks through Europe, and finally, my own French press. Love the stuff—the stronger the better.

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COFFEE OFFERS HEALTH BENEFITS

Over the years, coffee has gotten a bad rap, but more recent tests have indicated that it offers health benefits. According to Donald Hensrud, M.D. of the Mayo Clinic, coffee has been shown to “protect against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression.

Not only that, but consuming four to five cups of coffee a day has been shown to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research by Dr. Chuanhai Cao at the University of South Florida.

Of course, drinking too much coffee can have health risks as well. As with most foods, moderation is the key.

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COFFEE TRIVIA

Brazil produces 40% of the world’s coffee, twice as much as 2nd and third place Colombia and Vietnam.

Coffee was discovered in Turkey around 800 A.D. and is currently the most widely consumed beverage in the world.

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In Turkey, the bride-to-be is expected to brew perfect Turkish coffee for her intended groom and his parents before they will approve the match, and then the husband promises to always keep the wife supplied with coffee beans. If he doesn’t, it’s grounds for divorce (pardon the pun).

Beethoven was a coffee fanatic and counted out exactly 60 beans to brew each cup of coffee.

images-1The Americans, French, and Germans consume 65% of the world’s supply of coffee.

Honoré de Balsac, a famous 19th century French writer, drank up to 40 cups of coffee a day.

Coffee represents 75% of all the caffeine consumed in the United States (Coke comes second).

Coffee beans are actually berries, not beans.

images-3The human body can absorb up to about 300 milligrams of caffeine at a given time; additional amounts are sluffed off, providing no further stimulation. The body dissipates 20% of the caffeine in the system each hour.

Dark roasted coffees actually have less caffeine than medium roasts, because the longer beans are roasted, the more caffeine burns off in the process.

So enjoy! And remember the Turkish proverb, “Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.”

This article first appeared on Sixty and Me:

sixty&melink

health, Uncategorized

Oh, my aching feet!

At a recent gathering with women friends, our discussion ran to the unglamorous topic of feet. You know, this little piggie and all that. I had to chuckle as we raved about the comfort of our less-than-fashionable footwear. 

Sherwood Forest Friends

Three of us were wearing clunky shoes  recommended by our doctors for various foot ailments. If anyone would have told me twenty years ago that I’d be decked out in orthopedic shoes like Grandma, I’d have laughed.

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Well, here I am. And I’m not laughing.

What happened? Well, age has plenty to do with it, along with overtaxing my hoofers. Their demise began after a few glorious months of pounding away for hours at dance class—modern dance and tap. I loved it, but my feet didn’t.

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Before long it was agony to stand barefoot on my kitchen floor. I struggled with heel pain for quite a while before I went to see Dr. Mike, my sports medicine guru. The culprit? Plantar fasciitis.

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Ah, relief!

Mike fitted me with orthotics to support my arches and told me to give up dancing until my feet were healed. Sigh…

Other foot ailments plague us: heel spurs, bunions, and Achilles tendonitis. Morton’s neuroma and hammertoes are two more issues common in the middle years. I’d always been aware of athlete’s foot and blisters, but who knew we’d face these tortures?

The tortures, defined:

ACHILLES TENDONITIS is  soreness on the back of the ankle, sometimes with a sharp pain in the calf, caused by stressing and inflaming the Achilles tendon.

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Bunion, Mayo Clinic

BUNION is a large bulge on the outside of your big toe joint, resulting from fallen arches and a tendency to overpronate or from wearing tight shoes.

HEEL SPURS are abnormal bony growth on the bottom of the heel caused by plantar fasciitis or an over-stressed arch (from overuse or running).

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Hammertoe, Mayo Clinic

HAMMERTOE is having a middle toe that curls under and develops a corn on top, often the result of an overly long middle toe.

MORTON’S NEUROMA is a pain or burning on the underside of your foot, behind the toe, caused by a thickening of tissue around the nerves between the toes. It’s more common in women from wearing heels or tight shoes.

PLANTAR FASCIITIS is pain caused by the straining of tissue connecting the heel to the toes, which can be caused by fallen arches, tight calf muscles, weight gain, worn shoes, or excessive walking.

So how can we prevent foot maladies?

First, wear comfortable, roomy shoes—and give up those heels! Find shoes that give your feet support without cramping your toes. Treat your feet especially kindly if you are going to overtax them with a dance class or a marathon: make sure you wear quality shoes, and if you suspect you may have injured your feet, use ice as you would on any injury to keep inflammation from destroying tissue. Replace running shoes at least every 500  miles (or every six months, whichever comes first).

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Love your feet!

Another factor that affects your feet is, of course, the load they carry. If the load is equal to the length times the width…figure it out. You may not be able to do much about your height, but girth is within your control–enough said.

It’s been shown that differences in gait can contribute to foot problems, too. Most people step first on the outside of the heel and then the rest of the foot rolls in toward the big toe. download-4Pronating is walking more on the insides of your feet, while supinating is walking more on the outside. You can tell how you walk by looking at the bottom of a worn pair of shoes. The wear should be fairly consistent down the middle of the sole. If there is more wear to the inside or the outside, your stride may be “off.” You can go to an athletic shoe store for help in finding the best shoes to correct your problem.

I’ve tried to alter my supinating stride deliberately, but it’s hard after 60+ years of walking like a duck. I have found a shoe, though, that adjusts for my problem. My high-arched, supinating feet like New Balance athletic shoes.

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Custom orthotics

Another option is to get orthotics, which are basically custom-designed inserts to correct your foot issues. If you don’t want to spend the money on custom orthotics, drug store inserts can provide arch support or cushion.

If you’d like more information on foot ailments and their treatments, check out WebMD on foot problems. It’s not surprising that almost every ailment can be eased by wearing sensible, well-fitted shoes (like my grandma—and me). It’s worth putting money on your feet; they’re your ticket to the exercise that helps you lead a long, healthy life.

Until your feet heal, consider joining the gang at the pool for exercise. Swimming and water aerobics are easy on your feet.

Now that my feet are healed, I’m back to walking every morning. I still love to dance, too, but I do it in my Danskos—clunky but comfortable, with good arch support. Grandma would approve.

A version of this article first appeared on Sixty and Me:sixty&melink

http://sixtyandme.com/oh-my-aching-feet-why-i-finally-decided-to-toss-my-heels/

exercise, health, life in general

Which sounds better, a half hour of exercise or a half-hour massage?

What a quandary, eh?

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No need to decide, because you can get both at once with qigong (CHEE-gong), the gentlest form of martial arts. For a few years I watched a small group of men and women leave our local YMCA’s Qigong session with serene smiles on their faces. A friend in the group explained that it was an Eastern practice like yoga or tai chi. Sadly, I didn’t have time to squeeze another class into my busy life.

I finally I decided to give it a try. Chatting with participants before class, I learned that they never missed a session. Hmmm…

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I brought my yoga mat, but there was no need; we remained standing for the entire class as Mona led us through a series of slow, gentle stretches and movements combined with deep breathing. At first I found it a bit odd. The repetitive movements were simple, and it didn’t feel like exercise. “Jerry would never put up with this,” I thought to myself, but then my husband’s a sceptic who thinks even chiropractic is voodoo.

After a half hour of stretches, movements, and sounds, I was transformed. My body was relaxed and my mind soothed. I felt like I’d been on a massage table for an hour. It was absolutely miraculous, and I didn’t understand why.

I was hooked.

 

What is qigong?

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According to Chinese philosophy, the practice of qigong allows access to higher realms of awareness by balancing the qi (chi, or energy) within the body. Qigong’s range of smooth, gentle movements help strengthen balance as well as foster a sense of peace and well-being. The National Qigong Association in Minnesota summarizes it as “a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent.” Mona explains the effect of each movement on our health as we practice it. For a more thorough description of qigong, visit the NQA website.

What are the exercises like?

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Qigong exercises range from very simple movements and sounds to more complicated sequences called the five animals. (My favorite is The Crane.) It also includes static meditative practices. “It’s a gentler form of tai chi,” Mona explains.

Let me describe a few of the movements. We always start in a quiet standing position with feet together. We slowly lift the left foot and place it about hip-width from the right. We slightly bend our knees and start with arm swings, swinging our hands up as high as our head, then down and back behind us, bending a bit on the downward swing. We repeat this movement for about a half minute.

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We go through a series of other simple movements, and because I hold a lot of stress in my neck, I particularly like one where we bend our heads forward on an exhale, then breathe in (always through the nose) as we lift our head, drop it back on an exhale, then lift it back up on an inhale. We repeat this about five or six times. Then we switch direction, this time tilting the head to the right shoulder, inhaling as we bring bring it straight up, then tilt it to the left. I love what this exercise does for my tight neck. Try it.

How does Qigong affect you?

After my first few classes I thanked Mona for introducing me to qigong. I shared that after class I feel like I’ve had a two-hour massage. Mona looked at me with her gentle smile and replied, “I know. I get it, too. That’s why I teach the class.”

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If you’re interested in trying qigong, I’d recommend looking for a class in your community. If that’s not possible, I’ve found two YouTube videos that are great for beginners.

Qigong for Beginners (30 minutes)

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Marissa does a beautiful job of guiding the viewer through a number of movements with clear explanations. If you’re interested in trying Qigong, this is a great way to start.

 

 

8 Simple Movements of Qigong for Beginners by Jake Mace  (10 minutes)

If you’re tight for time but curious, this video will introduce you to some basic Qigong movements.

I must admit, I’m thankful to have discovered this beautiful practice and intend to continue with it.

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A version of this article first appeared on Sixty and Me, a website I write for monthly.

~Ann Marie

sixty&melink

health, life in general, Memory

Try to remember…

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Art from Soundcloud.com-posted by Wullie Blake

“It’s the nouns that go first,” a good friend quipped when she couldn’t remember a favorite author’s name. How true. Every year it seems to take me longer to learn names and phone numbers, and lately I need an extra hour to pull some words out of my memory—if they ever come. More often, too, the wrong word pops out of my mouth. When I say “January” but really mean “July,” my women friends understand and put together the meaning from context. The men in my life just get confused and frustrated with me. Don’t they know I can’t help it?

Billy Collins said it best in his poem, “Forgetfulness.” Click here to see an animated version of the poem on YouTube. It’s one of my faves.

What can I do to protect my memory?

More and more of us are living longer, and the majority of us will live well into our 80’s. So am I facing an unavoidable mental decline in the coming decades? NO!

SLEEP MORE

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We can take some simple steps to boost our memory, and the first is as basic as breathing: get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation has a huge impact on mental functioning, and too many of us ignore this important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Most people need at least eight hours of sleep a night (every night, not just on weekends) in order to give our brains time to regenerate cells and reorganize information as we sleep. A body deprived of sleep loses ground with memory.

EAT WISELY

The next item on the list is nutrition. According to the Harvard Medical School, a healthy, balanced diet is one of the proven ways to protect your memory. They also recommend regular exercise, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar in check.

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Of all the nutrients, B vitamins are the most essential for helping your mind stay sharp. Your body uses B vitamins to turn food into mental energy and to repair brain tissue. Thiamin, niacin, and vitamins B6 and B12 are probably the most important for mental functioning. Many breads, cereals, and pastas are enriched with thiamin and niacin, so usually we get enough of these nutrients. B vitamins also occur naturally in meat, poultry, shellfish, baked potatoes, bananas, and chickpeas. Nutritional yeast is also a great source for B-vitamins.

Another factor in avoiding “brain drain” is getting a good supply of blood to the brain. Back to low fat and high fiber, which keep your veins and arteries clear. Health tips keep coming back to a low fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. O.K. I can do that.

DRINK COFFEE

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Those of us who rely on coffee for a jump-start each morning may be pleased to learn that a recent study at Johns Hopkins University found that “caffeine has a positive effect on long-term memory.” Of course, moderation is the key here: too much coffee can make you jittery and reduce your concentration, and coffee has other negative effects, too.

POP A MINT

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Another short-term boost to mental functioning might be peppermint. After hearing about a study linking mint chewing with higher test scores,  I gave my students  peppermint candy during their state writing test. A few students swore that it made a difference, and at least they all had sweet breath (and thought I was wonderful).

Last but not least, go light on alcohol. Alcohol destroys brain cells every time you use it. Many doctors recommend abstaining completely to keep your mind at its sharpest, but at the very least, it’s wise to limit yourself to one or two drinks a day.

WEB SITES?

It’s true that you can improve your memory by challenging yourself. You can do it with the online sites, but it might be cheaper and more effective for you to challenge your brain by learning something new: master a language, learn to play a musical instrument, or volunteer at something that’s new to you. The important thing is to engage your brain with new and challenging situations.

HISTORICALLY…

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I consulted one of my more obscure resources to get a historical perspective on memory: Vivilore: The Pathway to Mental and Physical Perfection., © 1904. This guidebook, written over 100 years ago by Mary Ries Melendy, warns not to think about or handle the sexual organs because “it draws the blood away from the spine and the brain. It lays the foundation for consumption, paralysis and heart disease. It weakens the memory, and makes [one] careless, stupid, and too lazy to study or even play with any keen enjoyment.”

WOW! We’ve come a long way,  baby.

So—choose your own path, but remember…

remember…

Oh, well.

 

angst, health, life in general

Sleep Tight: 10 Tips to Improve Your Health through Solid Sleep

I’m nearly 70, and I figure I’ve spent over 203,000 hours of my life snoozing. That’s 8,500 24-hour days, 1200 weeks, 300 months, or 25 solid years of sleep. Call me Rip Van Winkle. I’ve loved every minute of it.

But has it been enough?

HOW MUCH SLEEP DO WE NEED?

When I was teaching I seldom got the “required” eight hours, and I paid the price. When I didn’t sleep well the wrong words would pop out of my mouth, I’d mess up writing on the blackboard, and I’d be short-tempered.

When I retired I decided to toss my alarm and rely on my biological clock. Within a week I fell into a routine of sleeping eight hours, from 11 pm to 7 am. It was heaven to wake up on my own, refreshed and eager for the day.

White Ring-bill Alarm Clock

The National Sleep Foundation has recently revised its recommendations for healthy sleep, and for people over 65 they recommend 7-8 hours, with a range of 5-9 hours considered appropriate, depending on individual health and needs.

I’m fortunate to be a good sleeper; the nights I toss and turn are rare, but I have a few close friends who struggle to get even five hours of sleep, and I worry about them. I know good sleep promotes health and long life.

Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences. The Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine has done extensive research and discovered these consequences:

“In the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.”

Person Lying on Bed Covering White Blanket

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?

The Harvard Medical School offers the following tips for better sleep:

  1. Go to bed and wake at the same time every day. A consistent pattern of sleeping and waking will become habit, and your body will acclimate to the schedule, allowing you to fall asleep and wake more easily.
  1. Use the bed only for sleep and sex. If you’re still sexually active, what better way to tire yourself out? The experts don’t even recommend reading in bed, but books are my sleeping potion; I seldom manage more than a few pages before dozing off. I guess a page-turner might not be a good idea, though.
  2. Limit your caffeine. We all know that caffeine is a stimulant, and for some of us any amount of caffeine can keep us awake at night. My father was able to enjoy a strong cup of coffee before bed, while I have to cut myself off after three in the afternoon. Find your personal tolerance for caffeine and act accordingly.

Six White Ceramic Mugs

  1. Be physically active. Aerobic exercise helps us sleep. If I don’t exercise at all during the day, I usually have trouble sleeping. Whether you do an exercise class, a daily walk, or 10-minute spurts of exercise around the house, exercise will help you sleep.
  1. Limit naps to 30 minutes. Though you can use short naps to catch up on sleep, it’s best to do your sleeping at night. Long naps mess up your sleep schedule, and who likes to wake up groggy?
  1. If you use tobacco in any form, quit. There’s nothing healthy about smoking, and if cancer isn’t enough of a deterrent, the nicotine is a stimulant that makes it harder to fall asleep. Give it up.

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  1. Use alcohol cautiously. Alcohol depresses the nervous system, so a nightcap may help some people fall asleep. However, this effect disappears after a few hours and may even lead to waking up throughout the night. I’ve found that a second glass of red wine with dinner guarantees me a 3AM wake-up.
  1. Improve your sleep surroundings. You should have a quiet, dark place to sleep. You should also avoid any blue-screen activities for 30-60 minutes before going to bed.  Recent research has shown that the blue light of televisions, computers, tablets and phones suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep.

Turned-on Laptop on Bed

  1. If you haven’t fallen asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something to relax. You might read, take a warm bath, or drink a cup of warm milk—anything that settles you down. Once you feel tired, head back to bed.
  1. Avoid taking sleeping pills. If you are having ongoing sleep issues, consult with your physician before relying on sleeping pills.

AVOID THE SPECTER OF BLUE LIGHT

I was surprised to learn that blue light, even ambient blue light, is the most intense of all forms of light, the reasons you see blue lights on ambulances. Our bodies produce more melatonin as the day grows dark, and all lights impede its production, though the intense rays of blue light affect it the most. If you struggle with sleep, get rid of all the electronics in your bedroom.

I look forward to sleeping well in the coming years. Let’s see…eight hours a night for 25 years will be 73,000 hours, which is 3,042 days…

sixty&melink

You can also check out my writing website: annmershon.com

health

Think Thin: Not Diet but Behavior

“Thin behavior” has fascinated me for years. I just don’t get it. I don’t mean the kind of behavior where skinny kids squeezed through fence slats in the alley, or where my teen-aged friends stretched thin, nubile bodies on the beach at Shady Oak Lake as I huddled on my towel.

Nope.

I mean the eating kind of thin behaviors:

  • Behaviors like choosing a bowl of vegetable soup over clam chowder.
  • Behaviors like preferring a chef’s salad over a burger and fries, or grilled fish rather than steak.
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A fabulous yet low-calorie meal: eggs, tomatoes and smoked salmon over a slice of whole-grain toast with lettuce. YUM!
  • Behaviors like leaving food on your plate (not just the onions you’ve picked out of your salad).
  • Behaviors like nibbling one Rice Krispy bar for a half hour (I actually witnessed this).
  • Behaviors like choosing small portions of only three things at a potluck. (I take small portions, but I end up with twenty heaped on my plate.)
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A slice of toast with Vegemite should curb your hunger. And how about a banana?

 

I’m thin-behavior challenged. Why me?

It all began in my youth. I grew up in the fifties when one of my favorite TV programs was the “Ding-Dong School” which featured the “Do-Bee” song: “Do be a plate cleaner. Don’t be a food shirker.” I took it to heart.

Another influence that pushed me to eat was Mom’s admonition when I left food on my plate. “Think of the hungry children in China.” Like any self-respecting child, I knew better than to say they were welcome to it, although I would have happily wrapped my Swedish meatballs and shipped them to those unfortunates.

Another obstacle to thin behavior was “No dessert until you eat up.” The logic in that escapes me. Eat a lot, then you can eat more. I learned it well, though. I eat a lot, then I have more.

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Healthy eating behaviors start young, as my sweet great-niece and nephew demonstrate. They love fruit and yogurt.

The main reason I’m thin-behavior challenged, though, is that I love food. Lots of it. I love snickerdoodle cookies—hard to stop before twelve. I have a good friend who is aghast if she indulges in a third cookie. I’m sure she’s never eaten a whole bag. That’s why I don’t bake.

One slice of pizza is just a teaser, and I’m nearly certain that heaven is lined with camembert and brie.

So what can you do?

I used to go on crash diets and fast for days, neither of which was wise or healthy. Finally, in desperation, I joined Weight Watchers, which educated me about changing my attitudes and behaviors rather than starving myself. It changed my life. I went from a binge eater to a sensible one. I revere thin behaviors. I must admit they don’t come naturally, but I’m doing better all the time. These are some of the behaviors that help me:

  • I guzzle a glass of water every time I migrate to the kitchen. (It fills me up and deters me from mindless snacking.) That water glass is the first thing I see, waiting by the sink. I try to down least six glasses of water in each day.
  • I avoid red-light foods (foods I can’t resist), which for me are cheese and crackers, especially in the late afternoon. I know some people can’t resist sweets.

 

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Sometimes you have to indulge in a sweet–like this scrumptious Christmas pavlova.
  • I plant myself far from the appetizer table at gatherings once I’ve tasted a few items.
  • I avoid shopping on an empty stomach. Morning works best for me.
  • I use rewards. I don’t allow myself a cup of morning coffee until I’ve done 20 minutes of stretches and exercises.
  • I exercise with friends daily, and when that’s not possible, I listen to audio books while I walk, bike, or hike.
  • Sometimes I treat myself to a long bath when I’m feeling out of control (late afternoon for me). Food doesn’t go in the bathroom, at least not at my house.
  • When I’m hankering for a treat it helps to go brush my teeth. It quells my appetite. Dill pickles and candied ginger work, too.
  • I’m trying to eat five servings of fruit and veggies every day, which continues to be a challenge.
abundance agriculture bananas batch

 

I still love food, and I still lose control sometimes, but these basic behavior changes have made it much easier for me to control my eating, and that helps me feel more in control of every other aspect of my life. 

Think BEHAVIOR!

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Our pal Jake demonstrates the lowest fat kind of diet, and he’s clearly embarrassed about it. Lots of fiber, though.

 

This article first appeared on Sixty and Me:

http://sixtyandme.com/9-behavior-patterns-of-healthy-senior-weight-loss-forget-diets-think-behavior/

health, life in general, travel

SEVEN TIPS FOR SOLO TRAVEL

by Ann Marie Mershon

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I took this selfie on a mountaintop overlooking Bodø after a gorgeous solo hike.

Many of us over 60 are single or have husbands uninterested in touring the planet. Is that any reason to avoid the trips we yearn for?

I lived overseas (alone) for seven years, and though I preferred traveling with friends, I spent a week in Malta by myself and another one alone in Thailand. I managed, but I learned some things along the way. At first I sat with a book at dinner and ate other meals in my room, but once I reached out just a bit, I found people were friendly and welcoming. I need connections.

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Street performers in Bangkok, Thailand

1. Tell restauranteurs that you’re alone and would appreciate being seated with another party. 

If that’s not an option, seat yourself near someone who is alone or people who look friendly. Why not?

Last month my husband suffered a back injury and had to wave me off for two weeks in Norway without him. I would have cancelled the trip if it hadn’t been for a huge family reunion in the fishing village where my grandfather grew up. Determined to make the most of things, on my first night in Bodø I wheedled my way into a busy seafood restaurant and was seated beside a couple from Lilljehammer. It took me a minute to engage them, and they turned out to be charming as well as informative, giving me ideas for activities in the coming weeks.

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I indulged in this delicious solo lunch at the Underhuset Restaurant in Sakrisoy, Norway. 

2. If breakfast is provided at your hotel, strike up a conversation as you stand in line and ask if they’d mind if you join them at their table. Few people would refuse.

Once your day begins, you have other options for making connections, or perhaps you’d prefer to tour on your own, which is great, too. I like going through museums by myself, but I prefer company at meals.

3. Stay in hostels or bed-and-breakfasts that offer time for socializing.

On my last night in Lofoten, Norway, I moved from my studio apartment to a hostel-type room, where I was pleased to chat with a young Australian woman. She happily joined me on a trip to a glassblower’s shop the next day. The drive was spectacular, and I enjoyed her company immensely, especially after five days by myself.

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This was my “cabin” in Chang Mai, Thailand, where I shared meals with other residents.

4. Plan at least one interesting activity each day.

Jerry and I had planned a kayak trip in the Lofotens for our second week in Norway. At the beginning of my solo week, I perused the tourist information books and chose one or two activities each day. I booked a studio apartment in Å (pronounced “Oh”), a town of about 50-60 residents. The Lofotens are spectacularly beautiful, with mountains jutting from the sea between adjacent fjords. Å featured two fishing museums,and I visited them on separate days, making sure I was included in guided English tours of the museums. It was fascinating to learn about the life my grandfather must have lived as a fisherman.

One day I arranged a kayak trip of the Reine Fjord, and my young guide Kaspar was an absolute delight. The two of us spent a fascinating four hours chatting and paddling some of the most breathtaking water on the planet.

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Nothing beats kayaking the Reinefjord with a charming young guide. Really.

5. Join group tours at museums and tourist sites, then engage others in conversation throughout each tour.

It might cost a little more for a spot with a tour guide, but you’ll learn a lot more and have the opportunity to connect with other English speakers. Of course, most Norwegians speak English, but they don’t tent to reach out to strangers. That was my job.

Another option is traveling on a tour, which offers you automatic companionship. I’ve sponsored a few tours of Turkey, and I was amazed at how close members of the group became after spending a few weeks touring and eating together.

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I met this friendly fellow on a tour of the Elephant Sanctuary near Chiang Mai, Thailand.

6. Engage shop owners in conversation.

Whenever I felt lonesome in Turkey, I’d find a carpet shop to wander into. Carpet dealers always offer a cup of tea or bottle of cold water as well as friendly conversation. Of course, I always looked at carpets, but I only bought one occasionally. I still treasure my relationships with Hussein Palyoğlu and Musa Başaran, who always seemed pleased to see me. Western cultures might not be quite as welcoming, yet most shopowners are eager to engage customers, and they can offer a wealth of information about the area. Who knows? You might even find the perfect souvenier or gift to bring home.

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One of the many delightful carpet dealers I’ve met over the years, this one in Cozumel.

7. Choose a safe bar or pub and enjoy a chat over a glass of wine or a beer.

Should you dare, you might also consider a stop into the hotel bar or a nearby pub, making sure you use good judgement and hang on to your purse. Though I’ve always found it difficult to step into a bar alone, it can be a good way to meet other solo travelers. It’s important to keep your wits about you and avoid being pulled into an uncomfortable situation, but it’s also great fun to chat with other travelers or locals about activities they’ve enjoyed or recommend.

Efes in Kalkan coffee shop

I grew fond of Efes beer while in Turkey, especially since their wine is, well, not as good.

8. Take a group tour that matches your age, interest, and activity level.

There’s a wide variety of tour organizations geared for people of different interests and activity levels. Some arrange cruises, others bus tours, and some offer high-energy active options. The first time I took a group to Turkey, I arranged it through Go Ahead Tours, an adult affiliate of EF Tours (an international student tour organization). We were a group of 24, and everyone fell in love with our intelligent, fun, and informative guide, Mehmet. There wasn’t enough physical activity on that tour for some of us, though that was the only complaint. This year I’ve organized an independent tour through Sojourn Turkey Tours, and we’re doing a similar tour with fewer people and more activity—lucky us!

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The fellow waving at me was our wonderful tour guide Mehmet, here at Ephesus in Turkey.

However you choose to connect with others while you travel, I wish you a fulfilling and interesting experience.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

~ Mark Twain

 

This article (with different photos) originally appeared on Sixty and Me, a web site for women over sixty: http://sixtyandme.com/8-tips-for-staying-social-when-traveling-solo/