“How do I travel solo?”
Meet Carol, a spry and spunky 80-year-old who wants to travel solo. A recent widow, Carol and her husband traveled extensively all over the world. As the years went by, they shifted their travel mode to cruising. Even when her husband became ill, they were looking forward to a trip around New Zealand.
Now Carol wants to learn to go alone. Like many people who have never traveled solo, she’s nervous and full of the “what ifs” that can make he whole idea seem impossible. What if I get lost? What if I get sick? What if I don’t know the language? What if I get held for ransom? What if…? Yet she’s determined. We had a good talk about how to move forward.
My suggestions aren’t different from those for anyone who wants to travel alone. It does take gumption, along with a bit of extra planning. Once you get started, though, you’ll find solo travel is fun and gratifying in its own way. It’s YOUR trip, done at YOUR pace.
Three answers to the question: How do I travel solo?
- Start small. Learning to travel alone after decades of having a reliable companion takes time. The good news: you already have solid travel skills. Now you just have to shape them. Don’t book a trip to Kathmandu for your first journey. In fact, no airplanes at all. Instead, try a road trip, with a night or two nearby. Is there a small town you’ve wanted to visit? How about a day trip by commuter train into the city to see an art exhibit? Make it easy. You can always leave. If you need more ways to practice solo travel, read this blog post.
- Start familiar. Going someplace you already know can bolster your confidence. Carol loved their trip to Montreal, so I suggested she return to navigate on her own. She has the comfort of knowing the city, combined with the challenge of seeing it with fresh eyes. Maybe a city is too intimidating for you. No worries! A large town, or any place with a variety of interesting activities, is great. The idea is not to be overwhelmed by the environment, but also not have to learn how to get around at the same time you’re learning to travel solo.
- Start with a tour. Joining a group can be the perfect way to test your “solo travel” legs. Choose a place or an interest, and you’ll meet like-minded travelers. Instant connection! I recommend booking a single room on the tour, so you have your own space and solitude. People who are “mature” (read over 50) may want to consider Road Scholar, the organization with trips all over the planet. Road Scholar answers “How do I travel solo?” by providing reasonable–sometimes free!–single supplements, as well as special encouragement to those who travel alone. I took my first Road Scholar trip in 2017; the oldest person was 82! Overseas Adventure Travel and Rick Steves tours are other good options.
Belt and suspenders: Solo travel requires a few extra measures for support and security
For those who ask “How do I travel solo?” there are a couple of extra important things to add to your preparation list. Common sense stuff that will become second nature, but might not be automatic now. The peace-of-mind from doing these will make your trip less stressful.
Travel insurance: Athough it’s always a sound idea, travel insurance is even more important for those who travel alone. You’ll want someone to assist with whatever happens, from flight delays to lost luggage to emergency transportation back home. Or maybe before you leave–stuff happens and plans may need to be cancelled. I always use *Allianz Global Assistance; they have a 24/7 hotline. World Nomads is good, too, but the company has age limits.
Government programs: Go ahead and laugh, but the government really CAN help you! For frequent or international travelers, consider signing up for the Pre-check or Global Entry programs. If you are leaving the country, please use the free STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) to register with the State Department. You’ll provide your destination and dates of travel, as well as emergency contact information.
Saving and sharing documents: Scan and save your itinerary, including airline and flight numbers, contact information for your hotels, and any other way people can locate you. Also include your passport, copies of credit cards, and receipts/tickets any pre-arranged tours or activities. Store everything on the cloud and share with family or those who are keeping track of you. Don’t know what the cloud is? Print copies and hand them out. Always make sure you have a copy or can access what you need.
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