When we hear the phrase "solo travel", most of us probably conjure up images of young people heading out on a gap year or having a backpacking adventure around Southeast Asia. But solo travel is becoming more and more popular among people of all ages – and that includes over 50s.
Whether you want to know why people travel solo, where you can travel by yourself or how to keep safe while travelling alone, you've come to the right place.
The benefits of solo travel
Travelling alone can be pretty daunting, particularly if it's not something you've done before. You might even be wondering if it's a bit weird to travel alone – it's not! In fact, solo travel is a fantastic way to explore the world on your own terms. The truth of the matter is that travelling solo has numerous benefits.
A trip on your terms
Picture this. You're trying to plan a holiday with your partner or spouse, but you just can't agree on where to go. Your other half wants to go to a resort for a relaxing week of sun, sea and sand. But you are more in the mood for something different – a city break somewhere new or maybe a cross-country road trip.
You run through the pros and cons of each and realise you're never going to agree.
Instead of deciding to take a trip you aren't really in the mood for, consider taking trips separately instead. A few days apart will hardly bring about the difficulties sometimes associated with long-distance relationships. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Time away from a spouse or partner could actually strengthen your relationship in the long run – think about how much you'll have to catch up on when you get back!
Planning a trip that's just for you means you can be a bit selfish. You can go exactly where you want without any guilt.
Activities just for you
Once you're actually on your trip, travelling alone also means you'll have the freedom to spend your time just how you want to.
If you're an early riser, you can get up with the larks and beat the crowds at major tourist attractions. If you're more of a night owl, you won't have to feel guilty about sleeping in. If you want to try something new and adventurous, there'll be no one to stop you.
Whatever you like to do on your holidays, you'll be free to do it. With nobody else to answer to, you can enjoy yourself on your own terms.
A chance to meet people…
Another benefit of solo travel is that you'll be able to meet new and different people. When we travel with others, it's easy to keep to ourselves. As a result, we often miss out on the opportunity to chat with locals or engage with like-minded travellers.
When we travel solo, though, we're more likely to push ourselves out of our personal bubbles and strike up a conversation with a friendly-looking stranger. Even if you're travelling totally by yourself (i.e. not as part of a tour group), you'll still be coming across new people every day. It's easy enough to get chatting – especially while experiencing something new.
Travelling alone is a fantastic way to expand your circle and make friends with people you might never have met otherwise. You might even find romance – it's certainly easier than online dating!
…Or time to be alone!
Some of us are looking to meet new people and expand our horizons. Others, though, are looking for a bit of peace and quiet.
A solo trip could be a great solution if you feel you need a bit of time away from it all. Taking a holiday by yourself is an easy way to have some quality time alone.
Stretch out in a double bed with nobody tossing and turning next to you, or stay up late reading your favourite book without worrying that you're disturbing someone with the light on.
How to meet people
If you're thinking about travelling alone for the first time, you might be wondering how easy it is to meet other people. Will it be lonely? How will I find someone to have dinner with?
These concerns are only natural. But in reality, travelling solo is a great way to meet new people - if that's what you want to do.
Wherever you go, you're likely to encounter fellow travellers, whether at your hotel, on public transport or out at tourist sights. It's easy enough to start chatting when you do bump into people. Strike up a conversation at a museum or in a café, or say hello to people you meet in the hotel lounge.
If you're shy, it's easier to meet people as part of an existing group. Book yourself onto a travel tour excursion or a free walking tour of the city you're in. In this type of situation, you'll be on equal footing with other members of the group, so it's not too hard to take the next step of asking a fellow solo traveller out for dinner or a drink.
If you're an adventurous type, you might also meet new people while participating in a kayaking excursion or an organised hike.
All you need to do is be open and engaging, and you're sure to make friends.
Types of solo trip
Solo travel can really encompass any type of trip away. It doesn't have to be a backpacking adventure (but it can be!).
For one thing, a solo trip doesn't actually have to mean a journey that you take entirely by yourself. If you're a bit nervous about travelling alone, you might prefer to join a group holiday. Numerous companies offer group trips aimed explicitly at over 50s. Still, nothing is stopping you from joining an all-ages group trip if you want.
It's worth noting that some companies running group tours charge an extra fee for singles. This is because it's often more expensive for companies to pay for a hotel room for one person than it is to pay for a twin room for two to share. This extra money might pass over to the customer in the form of single supplements. To avoid this, it might be more sensible to opt for group-trip operators that specifically cater to singles and solo travellers.
Travelling alone but as a part of a bigger group means it's easy to make friends. Still, you might feel like you lose some of the flexibility that makes solo travel so unique. So if you'd prefer to really experience a holiday by yourself, we recommend simply heading out on your own. Of course, you can always join group excursions for the day if you want, but the bulk of your holiday will be solo, giving you plenty of freedom!
The world is your oyster
Once you've decided whether you want to venture out on your own or join up with a travel group, the next step is to determine what type of trip you want to take.
Many solo travellers love backpacking and staying in hostels. Of course, accommodation in dorm rooms isn't for everyone, but it definitely makes it easier to meet new people!
Another excellent type of solo trip is a city break. A getaway to a city you've always wanted to visit is a fantastic option for solo travel because you can see the city the way you want to. If you're interested in art, you can take your time in museums without worrying about your partner getting bored or hungry.
Or, if you fancy yourself as a bit of a foodie, you could take a solo food tour of a country of your choice. Then, you can simply roam from restaurant to restaurant, snacking or feasting as you go.
Want to visit many cities or countries but don't love sitting on public transport? Plan a road trip around your favourite country or continent to see more of the world in one go. Road trips are ideal for solo travel as you can go at your own pace and enjoy the flexibility that car travel brings.
Adventurous types can book a solo adventure or a trekking experience. Head to the hills and sign up for a pilgrimage walk in Europe – the Santiago de Compostela in Spain is very popular – or go mountaineering.
Fans of winter sports don't have to feel left out, either. Check out this list of the best ski holidays for singles over 50.
Whatever type of holiday you like, you can undertake as a solo traveller. There's really no limit to what you can do…or where you can go!
Where to go as a solo traveller
When you've figured out what type of trip you want to take, it's time to start thinking of where you want to travel. Remember - one of the main benefits of solo travel is that you get to decide what you want.You make the rules!
Starting reasonably close to home, there are some fantastic destinations in Europe that are ideal choices for solo trips. Italy, Croatia and Portugal are good options if you want a mix of good weather and fun things to do. Iceland is an excellent choice if you're feeling a little more adventurous or want to take a road trip. The country has one main road that can take you nearly anywhere you want to go.
Don't forget that the United Kingdom also has some excellent towns and cities, as well as gorgeous countryside. So plan a solo staycation and start exploring more of good old Blighty!
Further afield, there are several appealing destinations in Central and South America. Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador…all these and more make great solo travel destinations.
If you want to plan a trip to North America, remember that public transport can be slow and expensive compared to car travel. It's the perfect destination for a road trip, though! Wind your way around the USA's numerous national parks – just don't forget your walking boots!
Other options include Thailand, Vietnam (both great for backpackers and hostel stays), and Morocco (good for foodies!).
There really are so many destinations available to solo travellers. Anywhere you can go with a friend or a partner, you can go by yourself. It's just worth bearing in mind some extra safety considerations, especially if you're a woman. Travelling as a woman alone can be dangerous, so you'll want to choose your destination wisely.
Travel tips: Keeping safe while travelling alone
All types of travel involve risk – that's just a fact of life. But when you're travelling alone, there are more things to consider, and you have to be fully aware of what's going on around you when there's no friend or partner to help you out.
With that in mind, here are a few top tips for keeping safe while you're travelling solo.
- Always lock up your valuables when you aren't using them. Most hotels have a safe – use it!
- Don't be flashy when you're out and about. It's a good idea to leave the expensive watch you got as a retirement gift at home! Keep your money out of sight, too.
- Buy an anti-theft backpack or wear a money belt under your clothes. This will reduce your risk of being targeted by pickpockets.
- If you find yourself in a sketchy part of town and you don't know where you're going, avoid pulling your phone out. Walk with purpose until you find a café or bench where you can sit down, then consult Google maps.
- Invest in a comprehensive travel insurance policy. You never know what might happen while you're away, and this will save you from unexpected expenses or disasters!
- Write down a list of phone numbers on a piece of paper. This is useful to have in case your phone is lost or stolen.
- Keep a note of any allergies you have or medications you take in the local language. That way, you can quickly inform doctors or restaurant staff of anything they need to know about.
Travel safety as a female traveller
Travelling as a woman alone comes with additional risks, and it's essential to take that into account when you're planning your trip. Here are a few extra travel tips for keeping safe as a female traveller.
- Keep in touch with your friends and family back home with regular check-ins. Just a quick message to let them know you're okay will do. Set up a system so that if they haven't heard from you in a certain amount of time, they should contact the emergency services where you are.
- Let friends and family know where you're staying and when. That way, they can keep a virtual eye on your movements.
- Invest in safety devices like a personal alarm or a portable door lock. These are great tools for ensuring your safety while you're in a foreign country.
Travel solo and see the world
Travelling alone is a great way to see more of the world on your own terms. If you don't have a travel buddy lined up – a spouse, a friend, a partner – that doesn't mean you can't enjoy trips away.
Travelling solo will increase your confidence and get you out of your comfort zone. You'll be able to meet new people and experience new things – and with no age limit in sight, there's no stopping you. So what are you waiting for? Start planning!