Budapest, Hungary, one of Wayne Meikle's first stops as a solo traveller (photo: Jan Wlodarczyk/Alamy)

Getting Out of the Woods Through Solo Travel

By Carly Peters

Wayne Meikle is well versed in nature’s cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth. For more than three decades, the AMA member worked as an Alberta park ranger, overseeing varied landscapes from Fort McMurray to south of Calgary. But that same cycle has also informed his own story: life, loss and growing anew through travel.

When Meikle was a newbie ranger in High Prairie, he met Sheena, a lovely young nurse teaching first aid. “We bonded over our passion for nature,” he says. The outdoorsy couple soon wed and travelled around the province, settling in areas needing park rangers.

They eventually landed in Calgary, where Meikle became instrumental in designing Fish Creek Provincial Park. The 1,012-hectare swath is the world’s largest continuous public park system. Here, he also founded the Friends of Fish Creek, a non-profit organization bridging nature and the community through guided nature walks, birding courses and lectures. “The organization also builds awareness to conserve this important natural resource within the city,” he adds.

One of the park’s most enduring features is the memorial forests, a reforestation program some 20 years in the making. Meikle spearheaded the initiative, which has planted thousands of trees to commemorate loved ones, while expanding Fish Creek’s impressive canopy. There’s a tree now for Sheena, who sadly passed away of breast cancer in 2016.

Losing his wife of 40 years was a huge blow to Meikle. The pair had planned to retire and see the world together—they’d already set aside funds for their travels. But without her, the idea of navigating the globe alone felt more daunting than planting a forest. That all changed when he popped into an AMA centre to transfer Sheena’s car registration. On his way to the registries desk, he passed the AMA Travel department. He paused. “Something inside of me said, ‘Do it while you can; don’t wait.’” Even with his lingering reservations about solo travel, he met AMA Travel counsellor Erika Norberg.

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“At first, he was really concerned about going it alone—not knowing where to go in the airport for a flight connection or being lonely during the trip,” Norberg says. To put him at ease, she introduced Meikle to other passengers going on his trip to Budapest, and even found a couple making the same flight connection as him in Amsterdam.

She arranged for everyone to pick up their travel documents at the same time so they could meet and chat a bit. “He felt much more at ease knowing there’d be someone he kind of knew who would be travelling on the same flights.”

solo travel wayne meikle ama member
Wayne Meikle (photo: Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park)

Meikle, a self-proclaimed planner, did his own homework to ease into the experience: “YouTube walkthroughs of airports, online articles about going through customs, and mapping out the streets of the cities—I did it all,” he says. “And I always knew I had that return ticket!”

Since that first trip to Europe, Norberg has helped Meikle check off 15 destinations from his bucket list. Not surprisingly, he prefers to explore natural wonders, rather than castles and cathedrals. He’s wandered the wetlands of Norway and explored New Zealand’s untouched forests. And even when he’s halfway across the globe, he manages to find people that share his affinity for the beauty of our planet. ”No matter where you are in the world, nature connects us all.” 

Around the world with AMA member Wayne Meikle

Tell us about your favourite trip so far.
Switzerland. I went there for my 65th birthday. The landscapes were just so incredible. I also met some fellow travellers who were from Australia. After hearing about their country, I ended up taking a two-month trip Down Under!

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Got any tips for other solo travellers?
Plan ahead and do a lot of online research. I watch YouTube videos of people doing walkthroughs of airports I’ll be visiting. Then I know where to go and how to deal with customs, so it’s not as stressful. Also, don’t be scared to do things on your own. Even though I go on group trips, I branch out and do things like spending three days exploring the parks of London on my own.

What’s your dream destination?
I have always wanted to go to Antarctica, even when I was younger. I just can’t wait to see what the landscape is like there!