There will be many women reading this who, like me, have spent many years bringing up family, supporting a husband, caring for others. Then the empty nest phase arrives. But with the sense of loss comes a huge opportunity for a new beginning - the chance to finally do something just for ourselves.
For me, it was a tour of Australia. I had wanted to go since a close friend emigrated there 10 years ago and my daughter Gabi was keen to visit her friend who lived there, too.
But the old foes of time and cash did not allow. When you’re self-employed it’s even harder; you don’t get paid holidays! However I promised I would take my two children when they finished school.
But three years ago this month my daughter died, aged 12. Keeping my promise in Gabi’s memory, last summer I sold our home, my son Zach and I moved into rented and started making plans.
Zach chose university over Australia so I was to go solo. And last month I made that journey.
It was most definitely the drive of my life. Particularly as, despite passing my test 30 years ago, I had a phobia about driving abroad.
I had clear visions of mayhem erupting after turning the wrong way on to freeways, roundabouts and more.
But as Australians drive on the same side and now there’s SatNav, I thought it was time to woman-up.
I met up with my friend Allison at her home north of Sydney. Then after a week walking the famous Great Ocean Road Trail solo, we headed to the most Southern point of Australia, the island of Tasmania, to start our drive in a hired Toyota saloon automatic.
Distances in Australia are so vast, automatics are common but I’d never driven one before. There were some hairy moments as I got used to reversing and remembering which foot to use. I kept trying to change gear at junctions, so Alison took to rapping my knuckles with a rolled up Avis map.
Our first stop on the ‘Thelma and Louise without Brad Pitt’ adventure was an eco lodge AirBnB on the edge of the Cradle Mountain national park, the first of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites on my tour.
As I drove to the park visitor centre, we passed a sign to Sheffield, of all places, and then the grizzled park warden who greeted us turned out to be the son of a Hillsborough lad and Owls supporter!
We spotted all of Tasmania’s most famous creatures while driving through the park - wombat, wallaby, kangaroo, echidna, and the massively endangered Tasmanian Devil. Never in my life have I seen so much roadkill.
I did screech to a halt on the roadside to watch a foraging echidna though, much to the amusement of a Japanese family behind me.
The next day I drove us to another World Heritage Site, the Freycinet national park, where we did a 90-minute trek to idyllic Wineglass Bay to swim off one of the world’s top 10 beaches.
After Tasmania we flew to Sydney, bade each other farewell and, flying on to the ‘Gold Coast’, I took to the road solo. A major white-knuckle journey was the drive up an endlessly winding uphill single track, trying to ignore the precipitous drops, to another World Heritage Site, the Lamington National Park ancient Gondwanan rainforests of Eastern Australia.
After five days exploring from my eco resort base atop an ancient volcano range in the heart of the rainforest, I drove north to surfer-chic Noosa to start my next adventure on UNESCO Fraser Island - the world’s largest sand island.
And now, after travelling thousands of kilometres through four states via 11 flights, boats, ferries, trams, taxis, a helicopter and four different hire cars, I am back and feeling the healthiest and happiest in decades.
I can honestly say it was worth selling my house to fund my sabbatical. Every day was a delight.