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Charlotte Simpson is many things — traveler, widow, mother, and blogger to name just a few.
The self-proclaimed ‘solo Boomer traveler’ lost her husband nearly a decade ago after 31 years of marriage. While creating her new normal, she turned to travel, something she and her husband enjoyed doing together.
“Through the years, we both traveled together,” Simpson says. “But it just really took off after he died when I was here alone and just sort of creating my new normal for myself.”
After she returned from her travels, Simpson would show her daughter photos, then proceed to upload dozens of them to social media. Later on, her daughter explained the ins and outs of social media, highlighting posting etiquette. With her accounts set up, she hit the ground running and launched her blog in 2014—The Traveling Black Widow—where she documents her travels. Today, Simpson maintains it herself, thanks to some help from YouTube tutorials from time to time. She’s been to all 50 states and seven continents. This year she checked off country number 86: Germany.
We caught up with Simpson and got the scoop on the art of traveling alone, what it was like seeing the Big 5 on an African safari, and the unique travel hack that saves her time when she’s on the go.
Maven superpower: It’s a statement from my lengthy mantra. “I can do this. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I can do this! I got this!”
How did you decide to start documenting your travels on social media?
I didn’t know what Instagram was at all, even when my husband was alive. After he died, my cousin convinced me to start Facebook. After I traveled, I would want my daughter to look at my pictures. Sometimes it would take two evenings to get through all of them because I’d be telling stories with the pictures. So at one point, she says, “You need to be on Instagram, and I’m going to create an account for you and show you how to use it.” However, I was very reluctant. But she thought of the name, opened up the account, put a profile picture, and then told me how to use it.
What were your travel habits like before you launched your blog?
Before Instagram, I was taking a couple of international trips every year. That first Christmas after he died, my daughter and I did a tour to Spain, Portugal, and Morocco for two weeks. We specifically went to Morocco thinking there wouldn’t be a lot of real Christmasy stuff there. So, that turned out to just work beautifully. That first Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, all of those, we were in Morocco. We didn’t have to feel real sad about our first holiday without him.
Tell us about your earliest memory of traveling the globe.
My first trip out of the country was with my husband and daughter. We went to England because we thought that would be an easy way to get started traveling internationally. We based ourselves in London and did a lot of day trips out to Bath and Oxford, all those other places that you could go on day trips. I personally just loved getting on that long flight to London. The difference in the language and the difference in customs, I was so excited about it.
Where did this desire to travel the globe come from? Did you travel a lot when you were younger?
No, we didn’t really travel too much. When I was a kid, my family couldn’t afford to travel. I can count on one hand the people I knew who had actually taken a vacation. There was this one couple that went to our church and they took a vacation to Las Vegas. Most of the people that I knew, especially the Black people that I knew, your vacation was when you went down south and visited family down there in the summer.
How did you navigate travel during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Well, during COVID, I went to Nashville, Tennessee. My daughter went with me and we stayed at a hotel with lots of regulations. You had to have your mask on all the time in the hotel. At the time only one of the restaurants was open. There was social distancing and things were still really, really strict. Then Halloween weekend, she and I went to Atlanta, and again the hotels had all kinds of limitations that really made you feel like maybe you were staying in a hostel or something. There was no room service and the restaurant was only open at breakfast and the table seating was socially distant. Eating in restaurants was a big hassle. Restaurants were at reduced capacity, so if you hadn’t made a reservation, you couldn’t get in.
Describe the most memorable trip you’ve taken.
Here lately I’ve been thinking about my trip to South Africa. We went to Kruger National Park and hoped to see the Big 5. That’s always the dream when you go on a game drive or a safari. And our tour guy was so phenomenal. At one point, he just stopped our Jeep and we sat there for the longest time. Unbeknownst to us, back in a wooded area, there at the base of the hill is this lion and when the buffalo you know comes on over slightly down the hill, the lion pounces. Two other lions come out of nowhere, they pounce on him and they ended up killing him. So, to see a kill, I haven’t met anybody who has seen the kill.
What’s your best travel hack?
I think this is gonna sound really weird. One of my favorite travel hacks is when I pack my clothes on the hangers. When I pack, I put my shoes and toiletries and various things in the suitcase, and I just sort of grab the clothes, fold them over and then close the suitcase. I’m ready to roll. I get to the destination and it takes me five minutes max to unpack.
What’s one of your favorite snacks to bring on flights?
Blue Diamond salted almonds. I always take them on the plane because they’re filling and I like to have food on the plane.
Name something you can’t travel without.
My little travel coffee pot. I will never ever set foot in a hotel again without my coffee pot. That is how desperate I am!
What do you think your husband would say about your blog?
I don’t think he’d be really super surprised because he has seen me go through other things that I enjoy doing. Like, once a friend talked me into becoming a Mary Kay consultant. Well, when I became a consultant, I bought the full line of products. I started convincing all my friends to have parties. Well, he ended up buying me some bookshelves to keep all my supplies on and he just really got into it. He took my catalogs to his job and got a lot of customers for me. So, I think he would just be right along with me taking photos and helping me create content.
So, you really took your grief and turned it into travel and a blog. What’s your advice to others who are processing grief or the loss of a loved one?
I would say to just think of the best picture you can see for your life. You know, just the most beautiful vision you could have for your life. What would you be doing? And I guess for me, that was always seeing the world. Then think how you can start doing that. I always had a dream of just traveling the world. I knew I wanted to see a lot of it. Once he died, I tried to recreate myself. I realized travel gives me so much joy, I couldn’t really think of anything else that I could have control over. So, that’s when I thought, “How can I have more of it?”
Samantha Kupiainen is a regular Indy Maven contributor.