Expat and Inspiring Tales,  FIRE and Small Business,  Travel

A Conversation with a Solo World Traveler

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Last Updated on July 14, 2023 by Carolyn

Mary- Solo World Traveler at Yungang Grottoes in China
Mary-Solo World Traveler at Yungang Grottoes in China

Today I have the pleasure of sharing with you an interview with Mary Derouard, a solo world traveler who at the age of 55 when many of us would be settling for a trip to someplace warm and spending time with family, started exploring the world. She’s now been to 70 countries and visited 7 continents, and is still exploring new destinations.

A Bit About Mary

“I’m Canadian, born in Kenora, Ontario where I lived until I was 18 years old when I moved to Toronto to Study at the University of Toronto”.

I asked Mary when she made her first international trip and if that was her inspiration to become a solo world traveler.

My first international trip was to the Bahamas when I was 21.  I went solo and felt very brave.  I’m astounded to this day that I was capable of traveling to a foreign destination at such a young age when there weren’t the ‘aides’ we have now for arranging travel ( i.e. the internet, cell phones, GPS, etc).  Yes, the experience opened me up to travel and it was a life-changing event.

After graduating from the University of Toronto Mary was an instructor at various colleges as well as the University of Guelph for many years. Mary also gave entrepreneurial life a go, as an avid reader it was only fitting that she started a bookselling business.

Start of a New Life at 55

At the age of 55, she retired and sold the bookselling business.

Mary invested in a multi-residential apartment building to generate passive income and then, hit the road. Mary joined up with Cross-Cultural Solutions, a not-for-profit organization that provided volunteer programs around the world in partnership with sustainable community initiatives.

“Cross-Cultural Solutions was a great organization that took care of every imaginable detail of volunteering abroad. They provided safe and comfortable accommodations, program staff, drivers, translators, and wonderful enriching volunteer experiences. Sadly they are now closed.”

“ My first placement through Cross-Cultural Solutions was an orphanage in Russia, which was a life-changing experience in many ways.”

I had to ask: ” Mary, in what way was this life-changing?”

“I’ve always said that I could write a book about my experiences in Russia. I had just sold my business, got divorced, and sold our home, all were finalized within a two-week period.  I’d always wanted to do international volunteering and now was my chance to get started.  I wanted my first experience to be in the most foreign place I could imagine. That was Russia. The country and its people were not welcoming and very harsh. Westerners were treated with disdain and open hostility.  We had translators who were educated young women who believed the propaganda that Westerners were evil and untrustworthy.  For example, they believed that Westerners only adopted Russian orphans for body parts. Despite the hardships, I did get to travel throughout Russia and had incredible experiences with fellow volunteers.  There, I met another volunteer who operated a volunteer program in Thailand and she invited me to come and work with her after we finished in Russia.  I did and that too opened other doors and wonderful experiences. 

Grand Peterhop Palace, Russia
Mary at Grand Peterhop Palace, Russia

“After Russia, I went to Thailand and lived and worked there for a year, teaching English to junior kindergarten children. In China, I worked in an orphanage, a children’s hospital in Morocco, a daycare in Peru, and migratory mothers in Delhi “

“ My placements would last from 8 months to a year, and I have lived and worked in 8 different countries over the last 15 years”.

International Volunteer Life

Volunteering In Peru
Volunteering In Peru

I was curious about where Mary lived during her volunteer placements and asked “Were you put into private homes, or in your own accommodation? I can’t imagine you had much time to explore while volunteering, when your placements concluded would you then explore neighboring countries?”

“The organization I was working with for the volunteering provided accommodations, program staff, cooks, drivers, translators, etc. It was so incredibly safe and comfortable even in the most unstable countries. We did have quite a lot of opportunities to travel within the countries as the work week was 4 days, leaving 3 for travel.  The program staff would assist with planning and often join us if they were interested and available. Most of the travel was within the country I was volunteering in with the exception of Thailand because it was so convenient to travel to neighboring countries (Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, and even Vietnam.)

I was also wondering about communication, as earlier Mary had shared with me that she speaks English and a little French. It couldn’t be easy traveling to all these countries where the languages were all so foreign. She explained that the organization she was volunteering for provided language lessons and translators so she was able to manage without problems.

Travel Take-A-Ways

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Halong Bay, Vietnam

When I asked Mary which country she would consider moving to, she was quick to reply Thailand!

“The only thing that stops me from moving there is that it’s so far from family and friends. “

Thai food just happens to be one of Mary‘s favorite cuisines. But she also shared some more reasons that she would choose Thailand:

The people are so incredibly warm, happy, and loving.  Most I got to know had very little in terms of material belongings but were so incredibly generous and kind.  It truly is the Land of Smiles. The country itself is beautiful with lush vegetation, beautiful flowers, white sand, unspoiled beaches, and tiny islands with only locals. I feel peaceful and content when I’m there

Yes, that does sound beautiful, doesn’t it? Is Thailand now on YOUR bucket list?

When I inquired about which was the most inexpensive and expensive country she has visited, Mary listed Iceland as the most expensive, and Thailand as the least expensive.

When asked what her favorite countries to visit have been Mary replied:

“I have a passion for traveling to polar regions, be it the north or the south.”

Arctic Adventurer

Mary’s 7th Continent visited, Antarctica

Mary confirmed her love of the polar regions having just recently booked her 5th polar adventure, a trip to Newfoundland with plans to see some icebergs ( according to those in the know, this year should be a good year for the bergs).

Last year, Mary completed an epic adventure to Canada’s great white north: She bought a used but updated RV from a friend and drove from Toronto to Tuktoyaktuk in the North West Territories by the Arctic ocean

Mary shares her remarkable experience:

“It was a long time coming, but definitely worth the wait. A new road, the Dempster Highway, was being built in the far north of Canada that leads to the Arctic Ocean. Prior to the construction of the highway, the village was only accessible by ice roads in the winter. Soon after it opened I hit the road.

“Travelling in an RV from Toronto to Tuktoyaktuk, a small village in the Northwest Territories on the Arctic Ocean, Three weeks and 6,800km later I arrived on the shore of the Arctic Ocean and camped there for 5 days. Returning home, I took the Dempster Highway back to Inuvik and then followed a different route through the other provinces. In total, the trip was 7 weeks and 16,000km. Each and every minute was a treasure.

The drive was absolutely breathtaking and unbelievable. The route went along the shore of Lake Superior, across the prairies, through the Rocky Mountains, and then into the far north.
So much wildlife and mind-blowing scenery along the way, it’s hard to put into words. I’ll attach a few photos just to give you an ide

Mary did a super job capturing the beauty along her way:

Most Memorable Experience

After so many incredible trips I asked the seasoned solo world traveler what her most memorable experience was, and she said it was meeting up with a long-lost cousin in Iceland. I asked how that came to pass:

My cousin found me when she was doing some ancestry work and connected through Facebook. I had always known my Mother was Icelandic and both her parents grew up in Iceland, immigrating to Canada in the 30s. Meeting my cousin was memorable because we connected in a deep way, met many other cousins and now have this fabulous extended family that I didn’t know existed.


Being a FIRE blogger, I also wanted to know about the details that happen behind the scenes:

How do you finance your travels?

” I don’t have a budget for travel.  I just go where I want and when I want.  I’m very fortunate to have rental income from a residential property I own and pensions that afford me the luxury of travel.

Do you carry health insurance that insures you when you travel? Have you ever been sick while traveling and needed care?

 “I always travel with medical and travel insurance.  My Visa card has great coverage for travel. I contracted a stomach virus in India and received wonderful care at a hospital in Delhi.  I broke my ankle in a fall in Lisbon and was treated in an emergency at a hospital and again the care was comprehensive and positive.

Who takes care of your house when you’re traveling? (When Mary is not traveling the world she still calls Toronto home, where she lives with her cat, Crunch.)

” My son lives nearby and he comes to stay with Crunch. 

Over the years, you must have gained some packing expertise. Do you have any tips for my readers?

 I’ve become quite the pro-packer and can get away with a carry-on most times. In the past, I’d take lots of camera gear but I have cut back on that as it’s too heavy if there’s any hiking involved. I now use an iPhone for most photography on trips. I unpack when I return from a trip and restock my carry-on with the staples so I’m always ready to take off at a moment’s notice.

What tips do you have for someone who is interested in leading a similar lifestyle and becoming a solo world traveler?

 “Invest in real estate if at all possible.  In many of my travels over the past 16 years, I meet younger people traveling, and more often than not, when we get talking about how we can afford (time and money) to travel, almost always the answer is that they invested in real estate. It’s certainly worked and continues to work for me.

Why the Love for Travel?

Many of us enjoy a trip now and then but we don’t get bit by the travel bug that Mary has. When I inquired why she has such a passion for travel this is what she had to say:

“I spent my childhood in a remote part of northwestern Ontario and my world was very small.  I was a constant reader and was drawn to books about faraway places. Having an adventurous and curious personality, as soon as I was able to explore the world I did so at every opportunity that I had.  One adventure led to another as I realized the possibilities were endless. My longing to see everything and do everything only got stronger. Now that I’m 70, the desire is even stronger as I feel my travel days will be limited and there will be places I won’t be able to explore the way I once was able to. “

A sampling of faraway places that Mary has been to, as you can tell Mary is also a great photographer.

How’s That For An Inspiring Story?

I don’t know about you but I’m in awe of Mary! Doesn’t her story make you want to book a flight to some faraway place? Where will you be flying to-will you become a solo world traveler? Liked this story? You might also like: Retirement Dreams and other inspiring stories posted on Expat Life and Inspiring Stories.

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