Have you noticed that there aren’t too many of us out there? It started really hitting me about four years ago. I would be in a hostel, mostly filled with the usual 20-35 crowd, and then perhaps a couple of retirees over 60. But I rarely encountered anybody in my age group anymore, people in their 40’s or 50’s.
That made sense I reasoned. Most people in their middle years are raising children, paying their mortgage, and working hard to get that next promotion (so they can get more money to send their children to university and finish paying their mortgage). For most of them, travel is probably something they did in their youth, or are planning to do after retiring. The ones who do travel, mostly do so as a family.
Oh well, nobody said that being different was easy. However, thinking about it some more, I realized that there are both challenges and rewards to being a middle-age solo traveller.
While not close in age to most people, you can actually relate better to more people than the young crowd or retired set. You can have good conversations with a 28-year old working person, since their lifestyle is probably not all that different from yours (work – save some money – travel), and a 68-year old retiree, since you’ve probably started thinking about what your retirement years will be like. You’re sitting in the middle age bracket, and you’re pretty approachable by everybody.
When you do happen to meet people around your own age, you’ll probably have quite a bit in common with them. You’ll likely have no children, or grown up ones. You’ll have a career and/or money management skills that let you travel. And you’ll probably be an experienced traveller, if not a complete travel nut! You are more likely to build deeper connections with those few people, and to become long-term friends.
And last but not least, if you are an older woman travelling solo, this will also mean less harassment in certain countries. At least I hope it does! After my dreadful experience in Egypt in the 90’s, I decided to give the Middle East and North Africa a wide berth until I was older. I am hoping to test my theory soon by checking out Turkey.
When travelling solo (*) you naturally hope to meet other people. If most independent travellers you come across are 20 years younger or 20 years older than you, this task becomes more difficult. It’s not that they are shunning you for being in a different age group, it’s more that your interests and level of stamina may not match theirs. Perhaps going clubbing all night does not appeal anymore (if it ever did). Isn’t anybody up for a nice dinner followed by a walk, or a show, and then a beer and a chat at a nearby bar (where you can hear yourself talk)?
Although hostels are economical and at one point might have been your preferred choice of accommodation, you may start feeling a little out of place. For one thing, you probably want to have your own room now, so you don’t have to climb into a bunk bed and hear people snore all night. Having your own private room, you may tend to spend more quiet time in there instead of the common areas or dorms where all the socializing happens.
Since your budget is probably a bit more generous by now, you want to eat out, while your companions are planning to stay in and cook, in order to save money. You may feel like the odd one out. Because you are. On the other hand if you are a 45-year old woman travelling solo, you’ll be a real hit with the 60-80 year old solo males! Let’s just hope that the conversation turns to their art career in Spain, rather than their latest open-heart surgery!
Good accommodation resources for “older” solo travellers
If you’d rather not stay in hostels or couchsurf, here are some affordable alternatives:
AirBnB: This lets you rent a room in someone’s home (great for solos) or a whole apartment. (Get a credit when you sign up through this link.)
Homestay: Similar to AirBnB, but may be more prevalent in some parts of the world. The main difference is that you pay the host in person rather than through the site. (Get a credit when you sign up through this link.)
Booking.com: This well-known site lets you book hotels as well as some B&Bs, guesthouses, and even hostels. I like it because you don’t pay a deposit, and most of the time you can cancel up until the day before your booking. Register on the site (for free) and after five bookings you’ll get Genius status, which gives you 10% off select rooms, secret “genius” deals (deep discounts), and extra perks.
TrustedHousesitters: I’ve saved thousands of dollars in accommodation by house-sitting for people around the world. You can learn all about this wonderful way to travel by reading my primer on how to become a house-sitter.
Now your turn: what has been your experience as a middle-age solo traveller?