You Don’t Have to Be Young, Single, or Adventurous to Take a Solo Trip. Here’s What I’ve Learned.

Tips from a lifelong solo traveler on how to make solo travel rewarding at any age

Woman with backpack and knit hat walking on path in autumn forest

Solo travel can mean many different things, from strolling alone to joining a group trip without your partner.

Photo by encierro/Shutterstock

I started young. And my “habit” never stopped.

I had the good fortune to spend a college semester abroad, divided between London and Florence. It was my first trip to a huge city and foreign countries (Western Canada didn’t really count). Although I was part of a group of 20 students from different schools, I was on my own for a week as I traveled from England to Italy. While I made ample rookie mistakes on my train trip across Europe, that semester was a real education in learning by doing.

I’m independent but not antisocial. The older I get, the more I prefer “my way” of doing things. But routine gets too routine. The antidote? Travel—in particular, solo travel.

Being at the now-or-never stage helps me focus my plans. (I’m 70.) To get to places you most want to see, you may no longer be willing to wait a year or two for someone else’s schedule to work with yours. But you can go it alone, even if you’ve spent decades as part of a couple.

As with all types of travel, going solo has its pluses and minuses. Is it right for you? Read on for tips about this way to travel.

By solo travel, I don’t mean hiking the Camino de Santiago by yourself.

With age comes wisdom—and a few constraints. A fall can do more damage now. That’s why I passed on walking across a frozen stream in Colorado last winter.

Solo does mean going without a buddy, spouse, or other companion. If you’re accustomed to being a twosome, being a “party of one” may feel a bit odd. You may also find it liberating.

If you haven’t traveled alone before, ease into it.

For example, maybe you’ve never camped but would like to spend more time in nature. Try glamping for a night or two at various places; the options range from basic to luxe. No need to make a big investment in time and equipment to see if you like sleeping in a tent.

Similarly, if you’re considering a cruise by yourself, opt for a long weekend rather than a three-week polar expedition so you can get a sense of it. Many cruise ships continue to charge sometimes hefty single supplements, but there are cruise lines that don’t.

You don’t have to do the whole trip alone.

A fine way to try out going on your own is to join a small group. If you don’t want to be surrounded by couples, check out tours designed for people on their own or for women or men only. (On my various group trips, twosomes have been the norm.) You won’t be overlooked or without someone to talk to. While I’ve found that making friends is more difficult as I age, when you’re in company with like-minded travelers, it’s very easy to get acquainted and discover common interests. Perhaps some of your new “friends” will stay in touch after the trip.

Consider the size of the group, too. For a week, 12 to 24 people works well. A group can be too small: I spent several days with only two older couples, which made us a “group” of five. They traded endless stories about their second homes, grandchildren, and many trips abroad. It was like “dueling grandparents” and I was on the sidelines.

Even better: Combine group travel and solo travel.

Start with a group and add days afterward so you can focus on your interests. This works especially well for getting accustomed to a large foreign city. I did the reverse on my first trip to Ireland. I knew I could handle an English-speaking city the size of Dublin by myself, but I joined a hiking group to see the countryside. I wasn’t sure my feet could handle lots of miles, so I opted for an “easygoing” trip. Once you start looking, the number and diversity of small group trips ensure you’ll find a match for your interests and abilities.

As a student, I walked almost everywhere to save money—and discovered that walking is the best way to explore a place. Now I can afford cabs but still prefer to walk. For my aging feet, I pack a variety of shoes; yes, they can hog space in luggage, but having choices helps. Also, bring bath salts and peppermint foot cream to treat your feet after a long day. And a small spiky rubber ball is a great way to massage weary feet.

Learning a little of the language makes a big difference.

Another unglamorous but handy tip: Learn a few phrases before you go someplace where English isn’t the lingua franca. The clerks, bus drivers, waiters, and others you’ll be greeting will appreciate the effort. When you’re on your own, you are far more likely to talk with the locals. And they can be good resources for off-the-radar cafés, local bargains, and sights. Locals love to make recommendations.

In essence, the plus of solo travel is that you’re in charge. The minus? You’re in charge. When you go it alone, you’ll learn more and have better stories to tell when you return.

Pat Tompkins has written for Afar about movies, books, art, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and other topics.
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