As a more ‘mature’ traveller who sometimes travels alone, I’m often asked ‘ “Why do you do it?’ ‘Don’t you get lonely?’. The truth is, I LOVE solo travel and often choose it over group travel. (I’m using the word travel here but applying it equally to going on holiday or any kind of adventure.)As I’ve got older, I’ve realised that it’s part of my psyche and also closely linked to being a travel writer. Of course, I also really enjoy travelling as a couple, with family and with friends. It’s just that I am perfectly happy in my own company and relish the experiences you can have as an independent traveller.
Here’s my advice to enjoy time travelling on your own, whether in your home country or abroad. These solo travel tips are aimed at the older traveller but most apply to any age.
50+ Solo Travel Tips
1. Take time to plan your trip
Whether it’s your first time going solo, or you’ve done it many times before, take time to plan your trip carefully. Make sure the place you want to visit is suitable for a solo traveller. Most are but a few countries are less easy to get around or possibly a little suspicious of strangers. If you’re a woman, make sure you’re familiar with local traditions ie covering head when entering a temple and familiarise yourself with local courtesies. I plan a lot more nowadays just because I am more aware of what could go wrong than when I was younger.
2. Research destination, check health advice and take meds
Research the country/area/resort/accommodation/sights/places to eat/drink before you book anything. There are plenty of ways to do this online; just google ‘solo travel in …’ and see what comes up. Trip Adviser, Facebook Forums, Twitter and other social media platforms can help. Ask friends, check with your travel agent and, if you are thinking of going to an area that might be troublesome, check Foreign Office and World Health recommendations. Make sure you have fully comprehensive travel insurance and have got all your jabs up-to-date. I wanted to go on a last-minute trip to South East Asia a while ago and didn’t have all my jabs; some need a few weeks to take effect so I had to postpone the visit. Don’t forget to take all your meds and copies of prescriptions.
3. Use lightweight luggage and pack as little as possible
As I’ve got older, I find it more difficult to cart a heavy suitcase up and down stairs. Railway stations (and London Underground) are the worst, closely followed by smaller hotels and B&Bs which sometimes don’t have lifts. Think about HOW you are going to carry your luggage; a rucksack may be more practical but if you have a bad back like me, they’re not always the best choice for longer trips. Don’t overstuff your bag; the zip or buckle may break but also you may want to bring back a larger souvenir and you’ll need space.
4. Choose your accommodation carefully
Do you want somewhere large and anonymous or smaller and more intimate? As a 50+ solo traveller I prefer to stay in small/medium-size hotels or guest houses, ideally in the centre of where I am visiting. If budget dictates room rate, I may go for a B&B but I find being on my own more obvious in the Breakfast Room. Many solo travellers love hostels as they are can be friendly and yet still give some privacy. Another option is Airbnb, becoming a very popular budget option with older travellers. Always check for single supplement. Travel companies are becoming more competitive so look out for solo travel deals.
6. Ask a local or hotel concierge for tips on where to go
On a weekend trip to Rome with Citalia, their local concierge met me at the beginning of my stay and went through all the things I could realistically do during my stay. This was invaluable as I was able to tell him what I wanted to see AND what I wanted to avoid ie touristy eating places. If there’s a not a handy concierge, just ask the owner of place you are staying, go to the Tourist Information Centre or pop into a local shop.
7. Choose a table in a corner
‘Any tips for eating on your own?’ That’s a question I’m often asked. It’s the part of solo travel I like least, especially in the evening, when I like to chat about what’s happened in the day. If you’re feeling self-conscious, choose a table in the corner or slightly away from the main eating area if possible. Another option is a window seat facing out. I usually have a guide-book, my phone or notebook to keep me occupied before the meal arrives.
7. Drink at the Bar
If you want a drink after dinner, or anytime, ask for recommendation for a friendly bar or hotel, maybe not where youngsters go! If you’re feeling sociable, sit at the bar. The bar-tender will often chat, and you never know who you’ll meet. At a bar in North Wales recently, I sat at the hotel bar on my second night and met a lovely couple; we watched the Royal Wedding together the next day.
8. Find out where other travellers meet up
In most towns and cities on the tourist trail, there will always be somewhere that travellers meet to exchange stories and share tips. I remember a lovely little café in Pokhara, Nepal, where we used to go every evening, any time from 7pm. People of all ages from around the world were there and it was really friendly and fun. In Jasper, in the Canadian Rockies I found a great cafe called The Other Paw Bakery popular with locals and tourists; super cakes too.
9. Take sensible safety precautions
There are lots of things you can do to stay as safe as possible. Here are a few suggestions:
- Check with locals for any dangerous areas
- Keep important belongings in a hotel safe
- Carry valuables hidden on your body
- If you have a handbag/purse/bag put it ACROSS your body
- Don’t make eye-contact in places where you feel unsafe
- Keep to public places and avoid backstreets unless you are sure you’ll be OK
For more suggestions (not specifically SOLO travel tips) read: Top Safety Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday
10. A smile is international: we’re all the same at heart
The more you travel, the more you’ll realise that age really is just a number. The majority of people around the world are friendly, welcoming and want to help, however old you are. On a recent trip to Thailand, I made friends with other travel writers and digital influencers, all at least 25 years younger than me. Shared interests were what made that friendship, not age. Staying young at heart really is important and will bring joy to your travels, create opportunities to meet new people and get the most from your experiences, whatever age you are.
Heather Cowper on How to fund your travels for the 50 Plus and Financial Tips for a Golden Gap Year
Kathryn Burrington on Stay Healthy and Happy on your Golden Gap Year Travels
This article on Solo Travel Tips for the Over-50s is written in collaboration with Aviva. As we all know, retirement doesn’t look how it used to. For those of you itching to take that long trip – trekking in Machu Picchu, exploring India’s Golden Triangle and island hopping in Greece – this can be your reality, too. Aviva is here to help you seize your retirement making trip planning simple and putting you in control of your own adventure.
Any other suggestions? I’d love to see your stories, tips and any feedback in the Comment Box below.
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I first travelled solo over 30 years ago and hope to continue for the next 30 years – but also love travelling with other of course! Do share your own tips here.
Great tips Zoe, I normally travel with my husband but on the occasions when he hasn’t been able to join me I’ve felt quite comfortable travelling solo and really enjoyed the freedom not to worry about anyone else’s likes and dislikes.
Yes, that freedom is a real plus of independent travel Heather and one I value more as I get older. Mind you, I do really like going away with someone special too!
Excellent Tips For Everyone, Not Just Solo Travelers! I recently traveled mostly solo for 7 weeks throughout India from Canada. Met some wonderful people along the way. It’s amazing by just saying “Hello” to someone, how many doors it opens! Always enjoy staying in smaller boutique hotels and/or Home Stays such as Airbnb. 🙂
Thanks for your comment Robert; hopefully these tips are of broader use to almost anyone of any age. As yu say, a friendly ‘Hello’ gets you are very long way 🙂
Brilliant tips Zoe. I need to get more adventurous with my solo travel! I didn’t travel solo until I was well into my forties so I’ve got a bit of catching up to do.
Great tips. You could include: label your luggage each time you move, for the next destination; keep a photostat or photo of your passport in case you lose it. Enter the number of your 24 hour medical insurance help in your phone with your policy number. And if you smile at the right people they will help you with your luggage.