I’ve traveled alone ever since at age 21 I bought the cheapest one way ticket available. It took me from Germany to Jakarta and I never returned home. The crowded Indonesian capital has never been a great choice for a young, blond solo traveler on her virgin trip. Especially in the days before internet, cell phones and Lonely Planet guidebooks. But I survived unharmed and at 52 I still love traveling alone. Why?
Why I love solo travel
Because solo travel is an indulgence. Imagine having unlimited ‘me time’. You are not beholden to anybody’s schedule or whims. If I feel like meandering all morning to take photos, I can. And if I want to skip the museum, I can.
Traveling solo also makes me more aware of my needs and limits. It asks me again and again to challenge myself. It helps me reconnect with myself and be more aware of the world around me. Traveling solo I’ve had experiences and interactions with people that I would never had if I’d been distracted by a friend or partner continuing the same old conversations and patterns we have at home.
Why it’s great to travel solo at 50
Whether you are in a relationship or single, you should try solo travel at least once in your life. 50 is as good a time to start as any. In fact, a solo trip at 50 can be as important a journey of self discovery as the coming-of-age-trip many of us make after finishing highschool or university and before settling into careers and adult lives.
50 is a major turning point for many women. It’s when we have to accept that we’ve entered middle age and, dare I say it, begin to slide towards our senior years. It’s also when many women get a second wind.
I’ve met empty nesters, itching to discover the world. I’ve met married women, who take to the roads solo, because they are full of energy and endlessly curious about the world. While their hubbies are happy to stay within their comfort zones and play a few rounds of golf, these women want to climb Machu Picchu, dance the tango in Argentina, or browse the souks of Morocco. I’ve met recently divorced or widowed women who knew only one way to deal with their emotional devastation. Solo travel allows you to reconnect with yourself and rediscover who you are. Trust me. Traveling solo through India after I lost my husband was tough, but it put the smile back on my face.
Here are 13 tips to inspire women solo travelers over 50:
1. Exude confidence
You can’t fake confidence. With age, you’ve earned it. So learn to wear it on your face, express it in your body language, show it in the way you walk. Dress to feel good about yourself and to command respect. Read up on your destination before you visit. It’ll keep the touts away if you look like you know where you are going. If you are lost, pop inside a shop to ask for directions. Don’t get the map out in the street and make yourself a target in places swarming with shifty characters.
Pretend to be an expat. I learned this trick in Shanghai when people mistook me for a foreigner living in China, because I was carrying a red plastic bucket. I had bought it at the local markets for handwashing my knickers whilst living on a cruise ship that had docked for 3 days at the Bund. The scammers didn’t even look at me and the shopkeepers assumed I spoke Mandarin, because who else would carry a red bucket around town?
2. Learn to dine alone with confidence
When I was younger dining alone didn’t bother me, but once I hit 50 this suddenly became a big challenge. It didn’t help that on one of my first solo trips as a menopausal traveler, I visited honeymoon land Hawaii. Who wants to feel like a lonely old spinster with only a glass of wine for company?
I have two solutions to this. Number one, make lunch the main meal of the day. Eating alone at lunchtime in a busy café is a far less challenging proposition. And finishing your day with a few snacks is also healthier for you than a big evening meal.
Solution number two is simple. Just do it. Again and again. Treat yourself to the nicest place you can afford and watch your confidence grow. These days, as a resort reviewer for www.maldives.com I get to dine alone in the world’s most famous honeymoon destination. I do get puzzled looks all the time. But you know what? It doesn’t faze me at all. I’ve learned to enjoy my own company at dinner.
3. Don’t just fake a husband, fake an entire family
It’s the oldest trick in the book. I’ve never bothered with a fake wedding ring in the days before I had a real husband. When my real husband passed away, every Indian man thought that I immediately needed a new one. It got so unbearable that I resurrected my husband and pretended he was waiting for me at the hotel or the museum. As I get older it becomes almost impossible to explain to an Indian, and many other locals in the countries I visit, why I don’t have kids. So I make them up. It’s simply easier.
4. Smile lots, but smile selectively
Smiling and being friendly goes a long way to winning people’s trust and hearts. It helps at the immigration counter, it helps get the staff onside in your guesthouse or hotel, it helps to make friends and meet the locals. But be selective with your smiles.
At 50 we might become invisible as women to men from our own cultural backgrounds, but I am always astonished how much notice men will take of me in other countries. It’s nice to hear a compliment, but it helps to keep in mind that men in developing countries see you for your passport and credit card. As a young man in Luxor put it to me last year referring to the many mature age English ladies finding love in his country. “Let’s face it, who will have an aging English woman? Only a desperate Egyptian.” Autsch!
5. Use Airbnb or stay in family-run guestouses.
Leave the hotels to business travelers, couples and families. Airbnb allows you to stay in a real home and if you worry about getting lonely on your travels, you can select places that come with instant company. Guesthouses are also a great option. They are usually small, often family run and packed with like-minded travelers happy to share information. And you’ll be surprised how many mature age travelers stay in hostels. Guesthouses are also great places to meet a travel companion to share a scary train overnight train journey in India.
I always try to book my first night in a new destination. That way I don’t have to waste time finding a suitable place and it means I’ve spent time searching for a place that will be safe and will feel a bit like a home away from home.
6. Join a community away from home
Yoga retreats are packed with women – and some men – traveling solo. I recently spent my 52nd birthday solo in Sri Lanka in a yoga retreat and I had an instant community of caring and fun-loving friends. Not all of them were single, but all of them were traveling solo. Meditation retreats are also great for feeling part of a community, though you might be spending a lot of time avoiding to look or speak with anyone. If yoga and meditation are not your thing, there are plenty of other options. Enroll in a language course. Visit a surf camp. Do an art retreat. Join a writers retreat. Go on a guided photography safari. The sky is the limit.
7. Choose your destination well
At 50, you know what you like and don’t like. If you like beaches, make sure you avoid honey moon destinations. I you are worried about getting lonely, avoid remote places. Cities are great places to start as a virgin solo traveler. There is always plenty to do and see and if you get really homesick or affected by culture shock, just go to a big hotel. It doesn’t have to be 5 star, but it’ll give you some of the mod cons of home.
If you are worried about your safety, start with an easy place. Japan is incredibly safe and the people are most helpful and friendly. Though communication can be a barrier. I personally love the challenges and joys of communicating with people whose language I don’t speak. But you might find it stressful. So stick to places where people speak your language. Northern Europeans speak English famously well. If you find India too daunting on your own, try Sri Lanka. It’s like India on valium a fellow traveler recently observed. And the people are super friendly.
8. Pack light.
This is a no brainer. If you are traveling alone, you want to be able to carry your own bag. As I get older, I can’t afford to strain my back lifting heavy suitcases onto trains, up several flights of stairs in Berlin, or grab it and run from a dodgy tuk tuk driver in Delhi.
After years of traveling on occasion I still overpack and every time I do, I regret it. Traveling light actually feels totally liberating. Try it. For handy hints on how to pack light visit this resourceful blog: www.herpackinglist.com.
9. Avoid trouble
I admit, I am not the most safety conscious traveler. At 20 I hitchhiked solo from Germany to Greece (sorry mum), at 50 I did strenuous hikes in the rugged and isolated mountain ranges of Hawaii at the wrong time of the day in the wrong weather without letting anybody know about my whereabouts. Last week I rode a scooter in near zero visibility along a busy road at nightfall in monsoonal Sri Lanka. In hindsight, I wouldn’t do any of those things again. Why? Because I was asking for trouble and there is nothing worse than getting into trouble when you are traveling solo. At any age.
10. Be safety conscious
My common sense safety rules are simple. Scan your passport and credit cards and other important documents on your devices and for extra safety, send an email to yourself and a friend or a family member. It’ll safe you a lot of headaches should you loose your passport or credit card. Be alert, not alarmed. Trust your instincts. If someone looks dodgy, don’t go with them. With age, my gut instinct has become pretty reliable and kept me out of trouble so far. Being safety conscious also means dressing modestly and age appropriately to deflect stares and to avoid offending local etiquette.
11. Treat yourself
After decades of shoestring travel, these days I’ll splurge a bit more on myself. I’ll visit a spa, I’ll stay in nicer accommodation and I spend money on things I wouldn’t normally have done. Even a few years ago, I’d squeeze into a tiny rental car with a bunch of backpackers to save costs. Last year I treated myself to a mini solo road trip in Kauai, Hawaii. I rented a car – the cheapest available – got myself an awesome playlist and off I went. It was pure bliss.
12. Start ticking off that bucket list
At 50 your time is beginning to wind up. Sorry to be so blunt. But at 60 you might not have the same energy you have now. And you never know what’s around the corner. I’ve seen my husband run out of time. His bags were packed to visit South America. He never got to see Patagonia. So why wait? Take a sabbatical, rent your place out on Airbnb and visit the places you’ve dreamed about for so long. And if you can’t find a travel companion, do it on your own. Plenty of women do. Google ‘women solo travelers’ and you’ll be surprised how many mature aged girls are hitting the road solo.
I ticked one item off my bucket list this year. I spent 5 months in a developing country as an Australian Volunteer for International Development. It was one of the most rewarding forms of travel I’ve ever done. It allowed me to get skin deep with the local culture of Maldives and to apply my professional skills in a totally new context. Writing the curriculum for a 4 year degree in Visual Arts for the Maldives National University was a chance to contribute something of real value to another country. And it led to a new job and a new career. I am now managing editor and senior writer for the English section of the largest local newspaper and for a travel website. Another item off the list. Tick!
What are your travel tips for women over 50? Please share below.
This post was written as an entry for the Virgin Australia “Top Travel Tips” competition run as part of this year’s ProBlogger Training Event. The lucky winner will receive 250,000 Velocity air mile points, enough for me to tick several more travel destinations off my bucket list.
Latest posts by Kerstin Pilz (see all)
- Travelpilz gets a facelift, a new name and a new website! - February 9, 2017
- 5 things cyclone Yasi taught me about life (and death) - February 2, 2016
- Why I love Christmas in Germany - December 22, 2015