Off Duty: Off the Beaten Track

Off Duty: Off the Beaten Track

HITTING THE ROAD Fraser Valley nurse Sonja Comerford (centre) recently hiked the Atlas Mountains in Morocco with guide Sara Chakir (right) and friends, including Jan Demsey (left).

Sonja Comerford’s retired life involves working casual and exploring the world

When she retired from nursing in 2017, Sonja Comerford never planned to sit still.

“Just because you retire doesn’t mean you have to wind down,” she says. “I’m fitting work into my life now, not the other way around.”

After working in fast-paced environments since becoming a nurse in 1982, Comerford wasn’t ready to slow down. She now works on a casual basis at Chilliwack General Hospital for part of the year. She also obtained her travel nurse certification in 2021, allowing her to work in Las Vegas during the cold Canadian winters. But the main interest Comerford wants to make a priority during her retirement is her love of travelling the world.

Comerford first started getting into adventure travel in her forties when she travelled to Peru to hike the Inca Trail. The experience left her with a thirst for exploring unfamiliar parts of the world, so when a colleague mentioned a trip to Southeast Asia to build schools in rural communities, she knew she had to tag along.

Every two years, she takes off for six weeks to experience places not typically thought of for restful, retirement holidays. Comerford usually travels with the same group of four, including her old colleague, a fellow retired nurse, and two other friends. All four retirement-aged women are willing to go the extra mile to really experience different ways of living in the world, which often includes ditching plush hotel beds and luxurious bathrooms for mats on the floor and squat toilets.

As a group, the four women have added Nepal, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Morocco to their list of destinations, among others. Many of these trips have involved multi-day hiking expeditions through treacherous terrain, like a 10-day trek through the Himalayas and a seven-day hike through the Atlas Mountains. During these expeditions, the women often carry their belongings on their backs and sleep rough with few creature comforts.

“I’m fitting work into my life now, not the other way around.”

- Sonja Comerford


When asked why they chose to take on these adventures instead of a beach vacation that many would argue Comerford has earned after over 40 years of nursing, she says it’s the warmth of the people they meet that keeps bringing her back.

“It makes you appreciate what you have, seeing how people live with so little that are so resilient and humble and giving.” she says. “They almost give you the shirt off their back–and it may be their only shirt.”

For Comerford, the trips are also a chance to regain her peace. She says the trips to sleep under the stars in the Sahara and hiking the peaks of the Himalayas allow her to regain perspective and reconnect with the physical world around her.

“The fresh air, the natural beauty of all these trails – it’s peaceful, it’s calm, it resets you,” she reflects.

It’s not all travelling off the beaten path though. Comerford likes to balance these more extreme trips with some relaxing time on luxury vacations to Fiji and Hawaii with her husband, hiking local trails in the Fraser Valley and going on quilting cruises to Alaska as well.

Now, a few years into her retirement, Comerford feels she’s struck a good balance in her life. She still loves to go into work, don her scrubs and put her 40-plus years of nursing knowledge to good use. But when Comerford takes off those scrubs, she’s ready for the real adventures she loves so much outside the hospital walls.

“I think I’ve found a pretty good balance,” says Comerford, “of working and exploring the world.”

UPDATE (Summer/Fall 2023)

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UPDATED: December 19, 2023

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