BE­FRIEND A BUDDY

... for a whole new per­spec­tive on life

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS -

TRAVEL BUD­DIES

When Hazel Bell’s (right of pic­ture) daugh­ter Kate an­nounced that she was get­ting mar­ried in Las Ve­gas, Hazel, 56, who is a widow, looked on­line for a trav­el­ling com­pan­ion. A re­ply came from Linda Tomp­kins, a 63-year-old di­vor­cée.

HAZEL I pan­icked when Kate told me her wed­ding plans. The venue was the Chapel of the Flow­ers in Las Ve­gas and the only other guests were the groom’s par­ents — who I didn’t know very well. My hus­band died 20 years ago and I didn’t want to go alone. I placed an ad on the web­site thel­maand­louise.com, where women can ad­ver­tise for a travel buddy, ask­ing if any­one would like to come with me.

I got one re­ply and that was Linda’s. We met in March 2010 — five months be­fore the wed­ding — and I liked her in­stantly. Af­ter that one meet­ing, we went ahead and planned our trip. We both wanted an ad­ven­ture and hav­ing each other gave us the con­fi­dence to pack more in. The itin­er­ary took in Las Ve­gas, the Grand Canyon, San Fran­cisco and Al­ca­traz. It cost a lot of money and we’d only met once, so there was a huge amount of trust in­volved, but ev­ery as­pect of the trip turned out to be fan­tas­tic, and the wed­ding was so sweet.

Sit­ting eat­ing break­fast on a Sun­day morn­ing in San Fran­cisco’s Pa­cific Heights, it was un­be­liev­able to think we’d only re­cently met. We’re still in touch by phone and have man­aged to squeeze in an­other hol­i­day, to Rhodes.

LINDA When you get older, es­pe­cially if you’re sin­gle and re­tired like me, your world shrinks. Peo­ple don’t want to do so much any more, but I’m still an ad­ven­turer. I yearn to see the world but would never dream of go­ing by my­self. I loved the idea of the thel­maand­louise web­site and I liked Hazel straight away. She was smi­ley and up for ad­ven­tures. Hazel’s fa­ther was se­ri­ously ill, so I did worry that she would have to pull out or cut the trip short. But she gave me her word that she’d see the hol­i­day through to the end what­ever hap­pened, and I trusted her.

The trip turned out to be more than I could have hoped for. The Grand Canyon was the most amaz­ing part for me. Hazel had a lot go­ing on at that time. Her only daugh­ter was get­ting mar­ried and her fa­ther was very ill. I tried to sup­port her, to be a friend, and the next year she treated me to a week’s hol­i­day in Rhodes. She has a part­ner now and has be­come a grand­mother, so she’s busy. We still phone and email each other — and if she ever needs a travel buddy again, I’m here!

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