Article by Debbie Suenson-Taylor
Travel Agent and travel lover Debbie Suenson-Taylor shares some of her tips for 50 plus female travellers who are choosing to travel alone.
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view.” – Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button screenplay.
Ask any seasoned traveller and they’ll tell you that the best way to travel is on your own. You never have to explain to anyone what you want to do: your plan is always the most popular one and you never have to take into account anyone else’s feeling. You won’t have to compromise on visiting the art galleries when all you want to do is lie on the beach. But if you’re new to travelling solo here are a few suggestions to make it not only easier, but perhaps also more rewarding:
Independent but Not Alone
If starting your trip alone without a safety net is not your thing then starting off with either an organised tour, a pre-arranged commitment such as a job or a stint of voluntary work may be a good idea. You can still feel independent but your tickets, accommodation, possibly food and activities will be sorted out already. It is a great way of meeting like-minded people.
Tours are a great way to start of ‘going alone’ particularly to culturally challenging countries such as China. You would still get to visit key sites and places that you would like to see but the culture shock will be softened and you will have a wider group to share experiences with at the end of the day. One of the best group tour options are with tour buses. You’ll get to see the big sites, with knowledgeable guides, fellow travellers and at a price that you know up front. An alternative to the tour bus, with more flexibility but generally geared to the backpackers market, are the hop-on/hop-off buses. These passes are usually time limited but freedom gives you a chance to break away to go trekking, or cycling or just a few days rest!
Is Volunteering For You?
Women in their 50’s have gained many skills beyond or alongside a career – running a home, budgeting, managing events So combining travel with either teaching or volunteering is a natural progressive step to be involved in new communities and giving back to others who have less opportunity to develop those skills, particularly a language. Investing in an English as a Second Language (ESL) qualification would be a great foundation for going overseas. You can go anywhere with the qualification and the whole experience could be a catalyst to looking at life from a fresh perspective. It’s also a great way to meet new people of every age and culture. When choosing a volunteering programme it is best to select one in which you either have useful experience or one which encompasses long-held interests on your part which might prove beneficial to the local community. For example, hobbies which match to the needs of a community, such as the ability to set up computer networks, establishing a childcare facility, or coaching sports can provide a win-win situation for a community group. A couple of sites to source ideas are http://www.travellersworldwide.com/grown-up-gappers or http://www.travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk/
Do Your Homework
As a woman travelling solo it is worth doing some cultural research first. Whatever your destination it is important to establish the status of women in the local society, the cultural expectations and the ways of behaving. Changing the way you dress and behave will not only protect you from being hassled but it will also show respect to your host country. A ‘fake’ valueless ‘wedding band’ and the statement ‘I am waiting for my husband’ can also help as well.
Women often find that when they are travelling alone you are more likely to receive hospitality because you are perceived to be less of a treat than a man. You are also perceived to be more vulnerable and people will offer assistance. In some countries you can take advantage of women only carriages, waiting rooms or queues. However, realistically, you are likely to get hassled at some point, a man wanting to walk with you to practice his English. Go with your gut instinct and common sense and never put up with any invasive behaviour.
One of the most powerful and up-to-date sources of information is the travellers’ grapevine! You’ll meet the most interesting people on the road, they’ll fill you in on great places to stay and visit, plus they can make great travel companions. If you have decided to travel alone a useful website to refer to seek advice/chat is at www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree.
At TravelProducer.co.uk Debbie draws on her past travel business experience together with her real world travel adventures and creates personalised travel plans for clients. She also advises on and handles travel logistics for groups such as cycling tours, film crews and photographers.