By Sharon Lee Mathis
Retirement is often seen as a time to travel and explore the world. However, many people put off those dreams simply because they don’t want to travel alone. The thought of solo travel can be intimidating, but I can tell you from experience, it’s incredibly rewarding. In fact, according to Solo Travelers World, over 50% of solo travelers are over 55 years old. The benefits of solo travel are numerous:
Freedom: Solo travel offers the freedom to do what you want without compromising with a travel partner. You can choose your own adventure and create your itinerary, which can be liberating and empowering. And there’s no listening to someone else snoring!
Personal growth: Solo travel requires you to step out of your comfort zone and rely on your abilities. This can be a great confidence booster, and you may discover hidden strengths and talents. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve on your own. My advice: “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.”
Self-discovery: Time alone provides solitude and time for introspection. You may discover that you learn more about yourself than your destination. It’s a great opportunity to reconnect with yourself and find your inner zen. I recommend that throughout your travels you try some meditation each morning.
Learning: Solo travel is a great way to learn about new cultures and history. By immersing yourself in local customs and traditions, you can better understand and appreciate the world around you. Life-long learning is also a great way to stay mentally sharp and engaged as you age.
Here are my top 10 tips to make the most of your solo travel experience:
- Start with an easy trip: Choose a destination where you speak the language and feel comfortable. Go deep into the details of your destination instead of trying to go to multiple places. Immerse yourself in local food, events, history, and culture. Once you have that experience under your belt, you can plan trips to more exotic, far-flung locales.
- Do your research: Check out blogs, articles, books (Rick Steves is the Boss), and Facebook groups (Travel Fashion Girls, Rick Steve Europe Group, France + All Things French, Women Over 60 Home Exchange and Shares, The Sole Female Traveler Network) to find hidden gems and crucial details. Prioritize finding information on passport, visa, and travel document requirements, transportation to and from the airport, appropriate attire, the safest neighborhoods, and activities to do upon arrival (experiences through AirBnB).
- Be safe: My advice is to carry your money, credit cards and passport in a money belt under your clothing. Take a photo of your passport and credit cards and put a paper copy in your suitcase. Don’t walk alone at night.
- Don’t overestimate your physical capabilities: Be sure to pace yourself and plan activities that suit your current abilities. Get a couple of pairs of good walking shoes!
- Pack light: Remember, you will be carrying your luggage everywhere, so take only a carry-on suitcase, if possible. Don’t forget to include extra essentials like medication, hearing-aid batteries or other items that may be hard to find.
- Arrive and depart during the day: Navigating is easier and safer in daylight.
- Dine at the bar: Dining alone can be uncomfortable. I prefer eating at the bar because it can be a great way to strike up casual conversations.
- Embrace technology: Use your smartphone for directions, translations, exchange rates, and more. And don’t forget to have a backup of all your travel plans in case your phone is lost or broken.
- Take classes: Yoga or cooking classes can be a fun way to learn new skills, stay active, and meet people.
- Stay connected: Be sure to tell someone where you’re going, check in with them regularly, and ask them to add you to their “Find My Phone/Device.” Having an emergency contact can give you peace of mind and ensure that someone always knows where you are.
I can’t recommend solo travel enough. It’s a great way to experience the world and grow as a person. Don’t let the fear of traveling alone hold you back. Take the leap and discover all that the world has to offer.
Sharon Lee Mathis is a seasoned world traveler. Every year she takes a small group on an African safari. Last year she traveled to Oaxaca Mexico and the Blue City in Morocco. This year, she will sail the coast of Croatia to visit wineries and take cooking classes. She will also be heading to Italy, France and England to visit friends she has met while traveling. Sharon is a former Deputy CFO at NASA Ames and now works at “I’m Retired.”
Throughout this “Going It Alone” section of this blog, we will share learnings from others navigating retirement alone, so that you don’t have to do it all alone.