You’re rarely too old to travel independently – fitness and good health matter but age less so.
This fact hit home when I was backpacking solo across Africa in my mid-forties and woke up in my dorm room to the sight of a near-naked 80-year-old man getting ready for his day. He was ‘country-scoring, trying to visit every country in the world and by his count, he didn’t have many left. He and I – separately – were on solo journeys, evidence that baby boomer travel of the independent kind is alive and kicking.
More and more baby boomers – men and women – are taking to the road alone. What stands in our way isn’t our age. Most often, it’s our fears.
I’ve traveled independently most of my life and have taken so few tours I can probably count them on one hand. It’s not a decision I’ve made lightly because travel organized by others is so much easier.
Baby boomer travel: the good side of going solo
Think about it. Wake up at dawn or noon, as you please. A languorous stretch in bed and a decision: what to do today? No shoddy souvenir shops when you’d rather be in a café, no bickering from the seat behind about where you’ve been or where you’re going. No arguing, no waiting for latecomers, no hanging around. It’s called freedom, and it is one of the main reasons I love to travel solo.
There are others:
– I’ll say this one again: you can take your time and do things at your own pace.
– You can test yourself in difficult situations. With no partner or structure, you’ll have to find your own solutions to problems and that can be hugely empowering.
– You’ll practice discipline and planning and organizational skills because if you don’t, you may not have a decent place to sleep come nighttime.
– You’ll communicate more because you won’t have anyone to communicate with. Sound counterintuitive? When you’re with a travel partner or group you can cut yourself off from the world and live in a cocoon. Alone, you’ll be looking outwards for companionship. Which is why…
– You’ll meet more people, and spend time with more people than you would in a group. As a traveler it’s easy to meet other travelers, and as an individual, you’ll be more approachable, not just by other travelers but by local people too. How many locals (other than hawkers) have ever struck up a conversation with you when you’ve been part of a group?
– You may learn more and your curiosity may be awakened. With a group and especially a guide, a lot of learning is handed to you on a platter. If you have to work for it you may retain more. I do.
– You can hone your skills at languages, map and GPS reading or technical abilities (Skype, iPads and the like).
– You can practice some of those more elusive qualities, like patience, or serenity, especially when things don’t happen as planned (they rarely do, especially when dealing with schedules).
There are downsides, though…
Solo travel as a baby boomer is exciting and fun and challenging but it’s not always paradise. It can be tough to travel on your own at times, but only at times.
Your expenses may actually be higher (the dreaded single supplement) and you may pay more as an individual traveler than you would in a group.
There’s also an emotional disadvantage. If you’re a person who can only experience things by sharing them with someone, you might find solo travel disconcerting. At times you’ll probably feel lonely, think of friends and family back home, or wonder what you’re doing out there at all, admiring that breathtaking sunset all on your own. I’ve certainly wondered, but the beauty overcame the loneliness and I was soon busy making new friends. It passed.
It can also be a bit scary out there, especially if you’re used to having someone along or if you don’t feel supremely confident about your ability to go it alone.
And there’s the question of health and fitness. I’ve never been an athlete and I’m even less of one now so pushing myself physically is a challenge I’m not always happy to face on my own.
So yes, there are a few disadvantages, but compared with the freedom, discovery, strength, awareness, knowledge and friendships to be gained from exploring the world on your own, you may find they are worth it.
I need to believe in my own independence and I love the rush of empowerment that invades me when I cope.
Baby boomer travel by yourself is not for everyone but if you haven’t at least tried it once, how will you know?