Denise O'Leary book cover

Why are there dresses and unpractical shoes on Denise O’Leary’s travel book cover? From the first few pages of Footloose & Fearless @ Fifty + it is clear that the author is not a wealthy fashionista. What is also clear is that she is woefully unprepared when, on a whim, she books her flights to Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, and New York City: no clue what to pack (stove top coffee pot anyone?), no Spanish, and to make matters worse, several food allergies.

I couldn’t bear the idea that I had nothing to look forward to and I would just drift into middle age and endless solitude,” she laments. “I was too young to grow old and dying to live and I’d simply cracked and packed.”

But as we all know, impulsive and fearless people seem to have the best adventures, and so it is with Denise’s journey. In her book, part travel memoir and part trip diary, she never shies away from revealing her true feelings and inner thoughts as she negotiates three Latin American countries on her own. Alternatively frustrated by her inability to communicate, and ecstatic when she meets other travellers with whom she can indulge her love of good conversation, she gamely deals with everything the trip throws her way.

Although the book does not contain photos (you can find those on her website), the author’s evocative, and at times humorous, descriptions make you feel like you’re right there by her side. As a poet and playwright by trade, Denise has a way with words that makes reading her prose effortless. I found myself turning the pages compulsively, curious to see what new adventure she would stumble into next. And she didn’t disappoint.

Denise O'Leary in Costa Rica

Denise O’Leary in Costa Rica

Denise proves her fearlessness by swimming in huge crashing waves (complete with undertow), hiking up a cliff in the midday heat without water, and venturing into the wrong part of town (more than once)! Her story made me alternatively shake my head, cringe, and smile.

As an obvious extrovert, her tale centres on the people she meets, locals and travellers alike, even when conversations are limited to hand signs and Google Translate. Finally arriving in Costa Rica, where many people speak English, her relief is palpable. By the time she hits New York City, she’s talking to everybody!

This need for conversation and human connection is a recurring theme in the book: “paradise was only really paradise if you had conversation and stimulation. Otherwise, it was just beauty,” she muses as her trip draws to an end.

And looking back on her voyage, she concludes “It’s easy to be blasé about travelling, but when you realise just where you’ve been, what you had to do to get there, how you dealt with problems and worries and the very fact that you did it all on your own and by yourself – that’s when you realise just what an adventure you’ve had.” This is something that will certainly resonate with solo travellers everywhere.

Cartagena Old Town

The Old Town of Cartagena (photo courtesy of Denise O’Leary)

Whether you’re a solo woman traveller looking for an escape, or an armchair traveller dreaming of adventure, Footloose & Fearless @ Fifty + will inspire you to pack your bags and seize the day.

(Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you buy the book on Amazon through these links, I will make a few cents. The price will be the same for you.)


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