Before I departed on my one-woman tour of Europe in 2016 I read many blog posts, books and articles by women who enjoy traveling alone. I don’t think I’ve ever found one that tells the negative side of solo travel for older women so I think it’s time for an honest report.
I am not a novice traveler. My husband and I traveled for a nearly year throughout Europe. By car, train and cruise ship we went everywhere west of Budapest. Four years later we returned for five months in Ireland, France and Italy. Since then I’ve traveled alone quite often. I am a retired travel agent and I’ve often created tours and led as many as 30 people in places such as Athens and the Channel Islands. So I know how to travel! (Or so I thought!)
In the year following my husband’s death I began planning an extended journey around Europe. I included in my itinerary some places I’d visited before and loved and some places I’d never been to but wanted to visit. My journey lasted nearly five months and took me from Malta to Ireland. Here are some lessons learned about traveling alone from someone then approaching 70 years of age.
There are, to be sure, advantages to traveling alone. The most obvious for many people is that it’s better than not traveling at all. When there’s no one to go with and staying home is not preferred, a carefully planned trip may be the best option. Taking a cruise, joining a tour group, becoming part of a ready-made collection of people is a good choice. There are also some disadvantages: single travelers often have to pay as much as 100% more for a cruise or tour because the travel company had counted on two people in that room, not one. It can be a bit unnerving to be going from one place to another alone.
For those who want a personalized itinerary — returning to Paris or finding a grandparent’s home town or seeing that not-yet-visited special place — going alone may be the only option. There are advantages to traveling alone. Desk clerks, rental car agents, and waiters were nicer to me than when I traveled with others. People offer assistance more readily. Perhaps my wrinkles help? Gentlemen helped me find a train station, told me the history of their towns, and forwarded mail to me after I’d moved on.
I spent much less on food because I prefer staying in vacation rentals with kitchens (called “self-catering” in the UK and Ireland). When I did go to restaurants I was paying for only one meal. On the other hand, hotel rooms and rental cars generally cost the same whether one person or two will be using them.
Younger solo travelers often say it’s easier to meet people when you travel alone. I’m sure for them it’s true but I found it to be the opposite. I am not a woman who commands attention. Little more than five feet tall, plain in appearance, dressed for comfort not style, I pass through the streets of large cities and small towns unnoticed. Although I’m quicker to strike up a conversation or to make a joke than I was when my husband with me, only once in my five months of travel was I invited to join others at dinner or for a walk or a drink.
As author Virginia Baily wrote in her novel Early One Morning, “Invisibility creeps up on you [as you age]. It is impossible to pinpoint the moment of its onset. Older than you might imagine when you’re young. A forty-year-old woman, for example, has a pull. Perhaps around the age of fifty it begins … recently there had been a fading.”*
* From Early One Morning by Virginia Baily: (p. 149)
The photo shows an Australian solo traveler with the hostess of a lovely B&B in Provins, France