By Jo Castro
When I was in my twenties, travelling alone seemed easy. I’d just be guided by my bucket list, my heart and my budget. I’d book my trip and off I’d go, safe in the knowledge that I’d be sure to meet other young travelers and never be lonely.
Now over 50, it’s a little different because backpackers of my age are a little thin on the ground, and in the luxury market very often people travel as couples and hotels can be lonesome places when it’s just you and your suitcase.
Travelling alone can be empowering
But leaving the rut of routine and responsibility and heading off alone has its lure too, and as we get older we may find we have to travel solo for a number of reasons.
Rest assured though, for when you get on the road, fear dissipates quickly, and you will begin to enjoy your own company.
Travelling alone can also be empowering. Despites the setbacks you may face on your travels, your confidence will rise. Without a doubt there are times when you're going to be out of your comfort zone and facing various challenges, but very soon you'll find that you’re capable of making decisions quickly and effortlessly. Everything is up to you; you are accountable only to yourself, and the decisions you make affect only you. Soon you'll be making decisions like a seasoned professional and feeling empowered by the process.
You’ll more than likely start reaching out to people, asking questions and even talking to strangers, and in time these people may very well become close friends. Travelling alone is a great leveller and it will make you seek out new friendships.
Planning your first solo trip
To begin with don’t be too ambitious. Start small. Book a short trip somewhere which has always been on your bucket list, a place you know you’re going to fall in love with which offers activities you’re going to enjoy.
If there are things you’d like to learn about, such as photography or cookery then think about booking a course during your stay, if you’re into a bit of pampering then pre-book a weekend at a spa retreat, or maybe factor in a few days on a walking or cycling tour.
You might also like: 10 Reasons to book a cycle cruise holiday
Don’t be talked out of it
If you’re a woman, some people will think they’re doing you a favour by trying to talk you out of going alone. Negative thinking and criticism are not what you’re looking for when you need some bolstering up to get started. So chat about your trip to people who will support your ideas and help you plan your trip in a positive way.
Make new friends
Travelling alone brings immense freedom, and it also gives you a chance to make new friends and connections. So don’t negate the networking aspect of solo travel. There are various forums on the internet you can join, as well as BroadsAbroad a travel network for women over 50 who travel alone.
Where to stay
You have so many options these days from luxury hotels to budget hostels, B and B’s, home stays, volunteering on farms, rooms in private homes and Airbnb’s. The best options are those where you’re likely to meet up with other like-minded travelers or locals, so anywhere with a communal kitchen or shared lounge is a good start. Big international hotels although lovely for a rest can be lonely places if you’re travelling alone.
House sitting is another great option, especially if you’re wanting to be away for any length of time. It will most likely bring you in touch with the locals and you will have a reason to get up early everyday to possibly look after resident pets. Perhaps you’ll enjoy dog walking and chatting to other dog walkers, perhaps the neighbours will invite you round for a meal.
Check out house-sitting sites on Google or try Happy House Sitters for Australia, which solo traveller, Michela, at Rocky Travel suggests. Michela inspired this post and she has lots of solo travel tips on her site too.
Your personal security becomes even more important when you are on your own.
If you’re staying in a place that gives you the heebie-jeebies, then trust your instincts and leave. Find somewhere that makes you feel safe, where people are friendly and you feel supported.
Don’t walk the streets at night alone, anywhere.
Be appreciative, respectful and sensitive to cultural and religious differences.
Don’t act like a tourist. Fanny bags (bum bags), small rucksacks, fancy cameras and the like can make you stand out. Try and look like a local.
Book your flights well in advance.
Book your hire car in advance.
Travel on public transport.
Stay in places where you can prepare your own food (and enjoy going to markets for fresh local produce).
Eat lunches rather than dinners (as they're generally cheaper).
Don’t sing the blues
There are times, when you’re on your own in a foreign country, when you’re likely to feel a bit down and sad. Perhaps you’ll be missing your nearest and dearest and wondering why you set off alone.
Remind yourself of all the positive benefits of solo travel and try not to let dismal thoughts get the better of you. Perhaps take yourself out to a vibrant al fresco café in a beautiful place, or go for lunch in a bar where there’s music. Get out in nature and go for a walk, somewhere beautiful. Visit a museum or an art gallery and take your mind off your own problems.
Just do something either energetic or with other people and you’ll feel much better.
All in all travelling solo can be life enhancing - you will have adventures, you will meet new people, and most likely you’ll go home a much stronger person too.
Johanna Castro is a fifty-something freelance writer and online publisher. Join her in a quest to discover the Art of Aging Fabulously on her Blog at Lifestyle Fifty and be empowered by her life and style tips, plus travel adventures along the way. You can also follow Johanna on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter or jump aboard her travel blog ZigaZag too.