Solo Travel Over 50 - My Experience Exploring the World
Travelling solo can be a liberating experience.
Deciding on your must-see destinations and mode of travel, you can explore the world on your own terms.
But there are some considerations before jumping on a plane and flying off into the sunset.
In this article, Pen Turner continues with her theme of the golden gap year, drawing on personal experience to explore the pros and cons of travelling alone.
Advantages of Solo Travelling
When I decided to travel around the world, I knew I would be going on my own (except of course, for my trusty companion, Scott-the-penguin).
The thought didn't worry me – I'm the sort of person who has always been happy in my own company.
Travelling solo has certain advantages – you can make decisions on the spur of the moment and change your plans, extending your stay if a place looks interesting or curtailing it and moving on if it doesn't live up to expectations, without having to take anyone else's wishes into consideration.
It's true that there are some drawbacks; single accommodation is more expensive than sharing a room: you have to be more safety-conscious with no-one else to 'watch your back'.
But many of the perceived difficulties raised by concerned friends before I started my travels did not seem such a problem to me. For instance –
- “Don't you feel awkward eating alone?” That's never struck me as a problem. I usually have a book with me or, if I was eating somewhere new I could look at the view and reflect on what I had done that day or contemplate what I would be doing the next day.
- “It's difficult to take photos of yourself on your travels”. I'll let you into a secret – I HATE photos of myself so rarely take them; but this is where Scott-the-penguin came in handy, posing in front of the Saturn V rocket at Kennedy Space Centre or Sydney Harbour Bridge.
- “You won't be able to 'share the moment”. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet I was posting a blog each day to tell my friends at home about my latest adventures, and enjoyed reading their responses. This blog later became the basis for the books I wrote about my travels.
- But the most common one was “Won't you be lonely?” It was only a few weeks after I left home that I realised I was starting to lose my British inhibition about talking to strangers. As a Londoner, this was deeply ingrained; in London, you NEVER talk to your fellow passengers on the train, you don't even make eye contact. But about halfway across the USA, I could feel myself losing this reticence; I was taking a series of long-distance train journeys and found myself chatting to other travellers over meals, or in the bar. One such conversation even made me change my plans as a Kansas resident on his way home told me about a nineteenth-century paddle steamer that had sunk in the Mississippi and had now been excavated from a field and put on display in a museum. This sounded such an intriguing story that I made a point of visiting it during my stay there.
And in any case, I wasn't alone for the whole six months of my trip.
One of the purposes of going was to visit friends, some of whom had only been a name on an email up to this point.
It was great to finally meet everyone in person, and my New Zealand pen pal even took time off work to show me around her amazing country.
At other points in my journey I was staying in hostels, where guests tend to congregate in communal lounges where they share travel stories and tips; or with hosts I had contacted through the 5W or Couchsurfing networks (see my previous article on accommodation) so it wasn't as if I was sitting alone in a hotel room every night for six months.
Bored? No Way!
Another question I was asked was “Didn't you get bored on your own?”
I had deliberately chosen to travel by train or coach wherever possible, only flying when it couldn't be avoided.
So most times I had a whole new continent passing by outside my window every moment – how could anyone be bored with that?
On one journey through the Australian outback, we were lucky enough to have a very chatty train attendant who kept up a running commentary over the train's PA system on the things we were seeing.
We learnt about the geology of the area, the history of some of the towns we passed through, the names and properties of various plants and trees, and that termite mounds all point a certain way so the air is drawn up through the mound to keep it cool. Yes folks, termites have air-conditioning!
In addition, I used to listen to audiobooks as I watched the scenery go by; I had these stored on my laptop and would transfer enough reading matter to my MP3 player for each journey before I started.
Nowadays, platforms like Audible make an even wider choice of reading matter readily available, and listening to books means you don't have the problems of weight and space taken up by physical volumes.
If I didn't have a view (it was night, or I was on a plane and hadn't managed to score a window seat) then as well as my audiobooks, I would occupy the time by writing my blog.
I spent several weeks during my trip interacting with others while working as a volunteer, but this is a topic in its own right so I will be coming back to this in a later article.
However, some options include:
- Teaching English
- Conservation projects
- Animal volunteering
- Archaeological digs
- Building schools
Choose Your Destinations Carefully
There might be some places that you don't want to go on your own, especially as a lone female traveller in parts of the world where attitudes to women are not the same as at home.
The 5W group I mentioned earlier has a regular section on its website where members can seek travel companions; a typical advert might say 'I hope to be travelling around eastern Europe next Spring; would anyone else be interested in joining me?'
In my own travels, though I had travelled around Japan quite happily on public transport on my own, I didn't feel I would be able to cope in Sri Lanka with getting to the places I particularly wanted to visit.
So instead I joined a package holiday for that section of my trip, which meant I had the benefit of a guide, a minibus and a group of fellow travellers for that leg of my journey.
In my opinion, the advantages of being able to capture a 'special moment', such as sitting in silence while watching the shadows creep up the rock formations of the Grand Canyon as the sun set, far outweighed the disadvantages.
So don't let the fact that you have no-one to go with put you off taking the trip of a lifetime.
Author: Pen Turner - if you want to learn more about my own adventures, check out my 'Travels with a penguin' books available from Amazon.
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