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Tips for travelling alone over 50

older woman holding a map

"You meet such wonderful people when you travel alone." Whether you're doing so by choice or circumstance, travelling by yourself can be a daunting experience - but it needn't be. Feel ready to take on the world with these tips and tricks for solo travel.

 

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1. Avoid the single supplement

It's a truth universally acknowledged (albeit not accepted) that companies often charge a premium fee when it comes to solo travellers, which can significantly increase your travel costs. Here's what to consider if you don't want to get caught out.

 

Look around for companies that cater for single travellers

"It’s worth typing single traveller into any holiday company website search box and see what appears. It is amazing what comes up! The 'no single supplements' may not be widely publicised, so you could also call the reservations department to find out."

"There are some operators, such as Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) with their ship Epic and P&O with their ship Azura, which have designated single cabins, but these do tend to get booked up very quickly."

 

Keep an eye out for deals

"When companies, especially cruise operators, have last minute stock to sell, they will often do a very good deal for a single traveller. It's just a question of holding your nerve to book late, and being aware that your first choice may not be available."

"Always look out for last minute deals and contact the company directly by phone to ask what is on offer for single travellers."

 

Share a room with a fellow traveller

"Another option on some holidays is to opt for same sex room sharing, which might mean occupying a room with a stranger. This is not for everyone, but if you are very lucky you get the room to yourself if no one else books the same deal."

"I have done a lot of holidays with companies such as Exodus. They will match up two single women (or men) who are prepared to share a twin room. Of course, you could end up sharing with someone who you really don't get on with. I have come across other people who have had this problem, but over the last 10 years I have shared with some great ladies."

 

 woman taking a photo

2. Organise your own itinerary as much as possible

One of the best things about travelling by yourself is that you get to call the shots - all of them! Fancy eating at a certain restaurant one night? No compromise necessary, just make a reservation. Want to make an unscheduled pit stop along your route? The choice is yours. This also applies to where you stay and any activities you want to enjoy while you're away. Travelling alone really does mean you can have it your way.

"The best holidays have been those where I've organised my own itinerary and travel, and booked accommodation that charges per room and not per person per night. France is pretty good for this and I have a favourite hotel that I keep going back to."

 

Plan before you head off

"If you want to travel solo and independently, pre-planning is the answer, especially if you are new to this. It is sensible to book your accommodation in advance and to check in with family or friends each day by text or email."

Also make use of free travel apps - they'll make travelling a lot easier, especially if you're feeling overwhelmed. 

 

Consider a hostel

While hostels for older travellers are few and far between at the moment, there are plenty of over 50s who opt for budget accommodation in the form of hostels and meet some fascinating people in the process. Hostels aren't just for the wide-eyed youth of today, though you'll meet plenty of them as well. Whether you stay in a dorm room, or book a private room in a hostel (of which there are plenty), odds are that you'll be saving money and staying in a less isolated environment at the same time. Plus, hostel employees are often friendly and will be able to share their wealth of knowledge on the local area - most are travellers themselves!

If you're someone who prefers cooking while travelling, there are lots of hostels that offer kitchens full of equipment as well. And most shared rooms provide lockers for you to keep your valuables safe when you're out and about during the day. It's never too late to give it a go, even if you missed the backpacker and gap year experience the first time around.

 

3. Be vigilant

A key question on the lips of many wishing to embark on a solo adventure is, "Will I be safe travelling on my own?" While it's always good to be aware of your surroundings and to learn a bit about your destination in advance (advice on what to look out for in particular cities/countries is widely available online through sites like Lonely Planet), it's important to remember that you're not alone, at least not really.  

 

Remember that it's normal to feel a bit nervous

The first time you strike up a conversation with a stranger can feel a bit daunting, but with enough practice you'll find it becomes increasingly normal. Travelling alone forces you out of your comfort zone, and it's amazing how rewarding that can be. Meeting people from all over the world, with different points of view, can be a truly eye-opening experience.

"One of the most important things is to remember that you are not alone and many other solo travellers feel exactly the same way that you do." 

 

Avoid taking valuables on day trips

"Photocopy your passport and leave a copy at home with a friend, and keep another in your suitcase, so that if your passport disappears you still have the relevant information to hand."

"Be aware of your jewellery, accessories, sunglasses, electronic gadgets, credit cards and money when you're out and about. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, somebody would probably like to relieve you of your possessions."

"Bags and rucksacks need to be kept closed at all times and it’s worth thinking about taking a pre-paid currency card, rather than your credit card, with you."

 

All you need is common sense

"Travelling on your own requires a few simple safety precautions and a good dose of common sense! Should you get lost, do ask for directions and say you are meeting a friend."

"It's not a good idea to advertise that you're on your own. Likewise, clutching a guidebook can be a bit obvious too. Read up information before you set off and then enjoy the sights unencumbered."

"Remember to let the hotel or representative know when you're planning to be back, ensure that someone at the hotel or within the group has your mobile phone number, and always take their number with you if possible."

 

Meet other travellers before you go

"Some companies run forums so it's possible to 'meet' fellow travellers before departure, and it's certainly a good way to learn about the world of travelling solo, even if you just read the posts and comments."

"How about a trial run on a UK group away day (theatre visit, coach trip, garden tour) so you can figure out what might work for you on a longer break?"

 

tour guide in turkey 

4. Choose your type of holiday carefully

Planning a holiday can be tricky at the best of times, let alone when you're organising everything by yourself. Unsurprisingly, there are more choices for single travellers than ever before. Struggling to narrow down a few options? No matter. We've got you covered. 

 

What type of holidays are best when travelling alone?

 

Organised tours

"An organised group is an excellent introduction to singles holidays and could provide the confidence you need to embark on a more independent experience in the future."

"Would you prefer to be with your own age group or is a mix of ages better for you? Many escorted tours have both couples and singles on them."

"At the airport, aim to spot some fellow travellers (peek at the luggage tags) from your tour company. If you're not ready to chat to others yet, at least you will have someone to look out for at your destination."

"Once on holiday, if you are a bit shy, have a few snippets of small talk ready - discussing previous holidays or the journey are always easy opening topics. Talking about food, or your expectations of the holiday, are usually relaxed subjects too."

 

Airbnb Experiences

Airbnb isn't just about finding you the cheapest home from home any more - the site can now match you up with knowledgeable locals to provide you with a tailor-made 'experience' during your stay. From hiking in Hollywood to photography lessons in Paris, there are so many courses and experiences out there to take advantage of, all run by local people. If you're not excited by the thought of a group tour, this may be a great alternative.

 

Cruises

A cruise is the ideal holiday choice for solo travellers wanting a relaxed trip with the majority of their itinerary planned in advance.   

Check out the Gransnet guide to cruising for more information on the different types of cruises available, plus essential tips and advice from regular cruise-goers. 

"Really think about where you’d like to go and what you’d like to do. Beach, city, touring... the options are endless."

 

Singles holidays

"To enjoy an organised singles group, you do need to be comfortable in the presence of other single travellers, and be fairly sociable and willing to participate."

"The key is to relax and go with the flow. An organised group is an excellent introduction to singles holidays and could provide the confidence to embark upon a more independent experience in the future."

 

Independent travel

"If you are determined to give it a go, the key is to do as much research as possible before you travel Read reviews, join forums and ask questions."

"Book as much accommodation in advance as you feel comfortable with."

"Sometimes it can be good just to have time to yourself when travelling by yourself. If you’re eating alone, take a book and maybe pick a more informal bistro-style restaurant where you can sit outside perhaps. Hotel dining rooms can be a little intimidating."

 

Take a holiday AND save the world

If you fancy a holiday with a difference, and want to help others in the process, why not think about volunteering abroad? Whether it's conservation, teaching, sustainability or working with local wildlife, there are a wealth of opportunities available.

"This is a fabulous way to see the world and make a difference to a local community or project within an organised structure."

"Be prepared for what will probably be a lower standard of accommodation and living than you are used to, and for working hard in often difficult conditions. The job satisfaction and feel-good factor can make it all worthwhile though."

 

Special interest holidays

"Walking holidays are a great way to make friends and share a common interest, as well as being outdoors all day. The same goes for any special interest holidays – photography, painting, dancing... there's so much choice!"

"Often a group activity, cycling or visiting Italian art galleries, for example, can create a common interest. Consider where you will feel most comfortable."

 

If you ever think that you might be ready to find a travel buddy, however, websites such as Find Companionship provide opportunities to meet friends in your area - who knows, they too may have a desire to visit the Parthenon or see the fjords! 

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Images: Shutterstock