Lucky us. We weren’t born in an era when it was difficult – if not unthinkable – for a woman to travel on her own. An elaborate system of chaperones, travelling companions and even servants meant that American ladies in bygone days did not get to experience the rewards of travelling solo.
More women are living alone, or have a destination wish list or budget which doesn’t mesh with any of their friends,” says Janice Waugh of SoloTravelerWorld.com.
It appears we are taking to solo travel like ducks to water – particularly in the 50+ demographic. There are more opportunities to see the world on our own, and society is way more accepting. If you like the idea of heading out on your own, here are some handy things to know.
l) “Solo” doesn’t mean “single.” As mentioned, more women are leaving spouses and partners behind when they head to the airport. Sometimes the spouses aren’t interested in traveling, or have traveled so much for work that, for them, it has lost its appeal.
2) Your first trip needn’t be a three-month backpacking expedition around South America. Why not start with baby steps: perhaps a weekend away from home, or tack a few days on at the end of a “regular” vacation to see how you like it?
3) Like most women, security is probably a concern for you. You might want to consider a getaway to an all-inclusive resort in the sunny south for your first “outing.” They are a great combination of sociability and safety, and a wonderful way to meet other people in a casual, friendly setting. Ask your travel advisor to recommend a resort which has activities you love (e.g. yoga, golf, scuba) and you’re guaranteed to meet new people.
By the same token, a cruise may suit your needs with its combo of security and opportunity to socialize. More cruise lines, including Cunard with its famous Queen Mary 2, are including single cabins in their design. As a bonus, there are tables where singleton travellers dine together and countless activities from lectures to classes on, for example, how to master your iPad. Some European river cruise companies are incorporating single cabins as well.
4) Make a local connection. You’re headed to Berlin, and your dentist has a sister there? Or perhaps your best friend’s mom and dad live in Sydney, Australia? Don’t be shy to reach out and make a connection before you travel, perhaps bringing a small gift from home. Try to set this up in the first day or two of your trip: it will start to give shape to the vacation and you may make further local connections as a result.
What if there’s no local connection at all? If you are headed to a city of any size, there will likely be a social or activity group where you can meet fellow walkers, gardeners, or art lovers. Slot in an activity to join them and you’ll start creating your little group. Or let’s say you want to take advantage of your time away to learn something. There are countless courses available which may give you a new hobby or passion – and the chance to meet and learn with a new batch of people who share your interests. Take conversational Spanish in Mexico City, then practise after class in local shops and restos, or perfect your pasta in Florence. Or – how cool is this: attend Adult Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama.
5) Dining solo can be a drag. Three meals a day on your own can make for some lonely times. Investigate supper clubs, restaurants with communal tables, or carry a newspaper from your home town or a current bestseller: it may trigger a conversation. If possible, visit the same restaurant, café or pub each day and you’ll start to feel like a local.
6) But don’t forget to pack your common sense. Your hotel can supply suggestions for safe neighborhoods and single-friendly eateries. Don’t wander around city streets alone late at night. Venture out during the day with the minimum of cash and one credit/debit card and be sure to keep them in a small wallet on your person. Read up on local customs, including dress. “If the local women have their shoulders covered, yours should be too,” says Elizabeth Gilbert, writer of the best-selling travel memoir Eat Pray Love.
Riding public transportation? Sit next to someone, because you never know who’s going to sit next to you.
7) Embrace the “more is less” style of packing. Chances are at some point – if not for the whole trip – you’ll be responsible for carrying your own luggage. Travel light and you will bless yourself, whether you are wrangling your suitcase up 60 stairs from the Paris Metro (subway) or squashing yourself and your suitcase into a washroom cubicle at an airport or train station. And that’s another plus of travelling solo: there’s no one to say, “Hey, didn’t you wear that outfit two days ago?”
Much of this has assumed that one of the reasons you are travelling is to meet other people. But perhaps you are travelling to be with yourself, maybe as a personal test or that’s just the way you are. Many women have found that travelling with minimal amount of socializing suits them to a tee, providing a wonderful opportunity for reflection, dreaming and getting away from the constant noise of our everyday lives.
Whether you choose to travel to meet people or spend time alone one thing is guaranteed: you will have experiences you never would have had travelling with someone else. There is nothing like it for building self-reliance, resourcefulness and confidence. Your travel advisor is the best starting point for finding out about the options for solo travellers, including tour operators who specialize in it. Don’t be shy about sharing your hopes, dreams and wishes for your next trip!