Ever since I wrote my post “Solo travellers in your 40s or 50s” I’ve been amazed at the number of people reading the post (over 10% of my entire traffic) and leaving comments. It turns out that there are quite a few of us middle-age folks either travelling solo or considering doing so. If you are over 40 and planning a first solo trip, read on.
As I’m about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my very first solo trip next month, I’ve been thinking more about the special challenges of travelling alone for the first time. I don’t think twice about booking myself a lone air ticket these days, but that wasn’t always the case.
When people talk about planning that first solo trip and being scared to death, I can relate to their anxiety. And the older you get, the harder it becomes to make changes and try new things. But I’m also very excited for them, because at the end of the day, travelling on your own terms and the freedom it provides are truly awesome!
Below are some ideas on how to make your first solo adventure (and later ones too) less stressful and anxiety-inducing when you’re over 40.
Nothing destroys the spirit and body faster than having to drag heavy luggage by yourself through the heat and uneven sidewalks of many world destinations. And that’s saying nothing of having to repack every few days. It can be a total drag (no pun intended), especially as you get older.
For this reason it’s worth spending some time carefully choosing your bags and deciding what to bring. Whatever you do, if you’re travelling alone, do not carry more than two separate pieces of luggage. Check out this article (with video) to see what I pack on a typical trip of anywhere from one week to 4 months. (Hint: it fits in the bags shown above!)
Start slow and easy
It’s common knowledge among experienced travellers that the first 24 hours of a trip are the hardest. You’re tired, jet-lagged, hungry, a little lost, and perhaps wondering what in hell you were thinking when you booked this trip. (It still happens to me on occasion.) Don’t worry, it will pass. Just follow these tips to make the first day as comfortable as possible:
Not just for the plane, but to munch on during that first day when you’re likely to get hungry at odd times (like 4 AM) when local restaurants may not be open.
Choose a comfortable place to stay
Make sure you book a nice place to stay for the first few nights, even one that’s a little above your budget. If you’re a light sleeper, bring earplugs. (I never EVER travel without earplugs.)
Consider booking a tour
If you’re especially anxious, book a tour. It doesn’t have to be for your entire vacation. It could be a 4-day tour at the beginning of a 2-week trip, a 2-week tour at the beginning of a multi-month trip or just a day tour to give you an overview of the city and help you get your bearings. (You can book the latter after you arrive.) Read this two-part article if you’re trying to decide whether you should go on a tour or travel independently.
Pick your accommodation carefully throughout your trip
Meeting other travellers when you’re a young backpacker requires nothing more difficult than checking into a youth hostel. But as an older traveller, you may be looking for something a little quieter and more comfortable than a hostel.
Do not dismiss hostels entirely though. Most don’t have age limits, and some “boutique” hostels have started sprouting up in Europe, North America and elsewhere. If you want to socialize but not necessarily party all night (or hear others do so), read the descriptions and reviews on HostelBookers or Booking.com and choose “non-party” hostels. Not all hostels are created equal when it comes to rowdiness. Usually the quieter the hostel, the older the guests.
If you’re the type of person who’s more comfortable with fewer people, renting an AirBnB room in a house lets you meet locals and perhaps a couple of other travellers in an adjacent room, creating a more intimate experience.
Of course you could just stay in a regular hotel, but unless you’re the gregarious extroverted type, you’re unlikely to make much social contacts there.
Arrange to meet people you know
One of the advantages of being a little older is that you’re likely to already know more people all over the globe. Family members, friends, current and ex work colleagues, even social media contacts.
When trying to decide where to go, figure out where you already know people. Or announce your destination on Facebook or Twitter, ask a question, see if any of your contacts/followers live there or will be there when you are.
It always feel nice to have a few lunch or coffee “dates” lined up when arriving in a brand new destination by yourself. You’ll probably be surprised to discover that some people you barely know are offering to show you around, take you to their favourite restaurants, etc.
Arrange to meet locals
If you don’t know anyone at your destination (or even if you do), there are several ways to meet locals that don’t involve having to cold talk someone in a public place. The growing sharing economy offers a multitude of options and here are just a few.
The Global Greeter Network is a free service that matches travellers with locals in over 100 cities around the world. You fill up a form a few weeks in advance of your trip and are paired with a volunteer who loves his/her city and just wants to help visitors discover it.
With locals lists over 1200 things to do and food experiences to have with verified locals in 21 countries and 46 cities. This could involve joining a local to discover the best local food spots in Kuala Lumpur (US$14), making a traditional ceramic tile in Porto ($18), or even a taking a day hike to a waterfall with one night stay and two meals in a Sri Lankan village (US$57).
Even AirBnB lets you book experiences on their site now!
Don’t travel too fast
Besides packing too heavy, the other thing that will exhaust you and make you grumpy pretty quickly is travelling too fast, especially on any trip longer than two or three weeks. What “too fast” means is different for every person of course.
On a short trip (1-2 weeks), you could even consider staying in a main city and day tripping to the surrounding areas. You often get discounts at AirBnB accommodation for staying a week or more. And in a hotel, you should try asking for a discount if you’re willing to pay for your entire week upfront.
On a longer trip, don’t schedule yourself too tightly and make it possible to change your itinerary, stay longer in a given place, and so on. Keep a day a week to do laundry and rest. In warm climates, people rarely own a dryer, so you’ll have to wait for your clothes to air dry. If you packed light as I suggested, you won’t have much to wear while you wait. Take this opportunity to catch up on your reading, writing, or sleep!
Not all solo travellers are the same, and solo trips are as varied as people. If you’ve always travelled with others before, you may discover that your personal travel style is very different from your friends’ or partner’s. Give yourself time and permission to discover who you are as a traveller.
I hope this has been helpful and inspiring to all of your brave travellers who are over 40 and planning a first solo trip!
If you’re still worried about being lonely, here is what not to do to meet more people.
(Note: This post contains an affiliate link.)