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Solo Travel Over 50: Why Women Travel (even if others think we're crazy)

Women on the Road
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Solo travel for women. Solo travel over 50. Independent female travel. Going round the world. Taking a senior gap year. Adventure travel for mature travelers.

Call it what you will. If you've tried it, you know it can change your life. If you haven't, shouldn't you?

Why do women travel, anyway? let's deal with this first.

What a silly question, you might think.

Because we want to see the world, of course.

Yes, but WHY? What is it that pushes us to leave the comfort of home and family, to quit a job (I did this in my forties)?

Why women travel is no mystery: like anyone, we seek to escape, to see new things, to experience and discover, but more than men, we also seek to give back. After all, 70% of volunteer travel experiences are undertaken by women.

There are so many reasons we might decide to wander away from home at our age. I'm not talking a week in the Caribbean but a longer trip, one that includes strong elements of discovery.

Here are a few of the main ones:

wanderlust

  • Plain human wanderlust is often at the root of travel – that age-old desire to explore new pastures, see new things, have new experiences. I come from a long line of nomads and don't dwell on the why – I just need to. Age doesn't even come into it.
  • You might have missed out on long-term travel when you were younger because you were 'serious' and went straight from school to work. Well, now it's your turn and you and want to make up for it. 

escape

  • Some of us need to get away; there's too much stress, too many pressures at home or at work, a sometimes unexplained need to turn your back on life for a time. Haven't you ever felt that way?
  • You may be shopping for a new life. Perhaps you're coming out of a difficult relationship or health scare and want to look at things in a new way, on your own. Or find your soulmate halfway around the world...
  • You may want to experience living like a local and delving deeply into a new culture, becoming a digital nomad or perhaps even an expat... 

curiosity

  • It may be all about culture, about discovery of a world other than your own, a curiosity about faraway lands. Perhaps you've studied history or archaeology, or you've read foreign authors and dreamed of following in their footsteps – the Russia of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, the France of Balzac or Hugo, the Istanbul of Orhan Pamuk... or something as simple as exploring how travel art can help give you a sense of place.

learning

challenge

  • For some women, travel means adventure – mountains to climb, gorges to traverse, bays to kayak along, caiman-filled rivers to cross... You may want to stretch yourself, to see if you can do 'it', whatever it is.
  • You may be seeking some kind of empowerment, a change in who you are and how you feel and travel may just grant you that. 

altruism

  • You may feel a need to help, to give back a bit of your own good fortune by volunteering, for a week, a month or a year. Altruism and public service have always been great reasons to push beyond your comfort zone.

CREATIVITY

wellness, body, spirit 

  • You might need to reconnect with yourself, and get back in touch with a part of the person you were before career or family became your life.
  • Perhaps you need to make connections, to meet people of all sorts, from all over. This helps us feel like members of the same human race.
  • Your travel goal may be spiritual. You may be following one of the world's great pilgrimage routes, like the Camino, visiting a sacred site, or headed on a spiritual retreat in the Himalayas.
  • Maybe it's a health thing and you want to get fit. Travel can do that. You walk a lot, lift a heavy pack or lug a suitcase, swim and snorkel and hike. And you do most of these every day. I lost 20kg while I traveled and never once thought 'I shouldn't eat this.'
  • A trip is often a quest. On my own multi-year trip through nearly 30 countries, what started as an external adventure slowly became an inner quest. I left to get away, propelled by wanderlust, and ended up asking questions rather than finding answers. Inner exploration may be part of your search.

Those of us who have spent significant time solo on the road realize exactly how much it can change us.

After my own years of travel, everything began to look different. Some things that had mattered before just fell off my radar screen. Others I hadn't even thought of took a front-row seat.

But I changed. Deeply. Here are just some of the ways.

Long-Term Solo Travel for Women: 16 Profound Ways It Will Change You

1. You will become more self-sufficient.

If you lacked independence or self-confidence, solo travel will make you more self-sufficient. You will cope with situations you hadn't even dreamed of before, like finding your way out of a hostile place or being lost. Even if you don't know a word of the language, you'll find a way to communicate. You'll use your arms and hands, pull out your high school French or hand over a map. You'll figure it out. You'll learn to cope because you'll have no alternative. And if you get into trouble, you'll find a way out. You'll trust your instincts more.

Meeting people at parties even during solo travelWhen you're on your own, you quickly get invited to join other groups of people - it's almost easier to make friends when you travel solo

2. You'll learn to relax and take things as they come.

You'll become more flexible. Instead of getting upset when things don't happen as or when they should, you'll learn to go with the flow. Many cultures have a saying: No Worries, or something similar. You'll learn to make that motto your own. (And if you need extra inspiration, take a look at these solo travel quotes.)

3. Your sense of proportion will change.

Little things won't bother you anymore. No bus? No problem. You'll travel tomorrow. Or next week. No money? No problem. Something will work out. Someone takes your seat? Jumps the line? Too insignificant to matter.

4. You'll become stronger.

You'll learn to push your limits and step our of your comfort zone. Solo travel isn't always easy for women - but you'll overcome problems more quickly. Things that might scare you - like dining out alone - will become second nature. Perhaps you'll use your travel to stretch yourself in other ways - by joining an ashram or kibbutz or other unfamiliar environment. You may even thrive on the challenge.

5. You will learn a lot of things.

You'll be learning new things every day - words and phrases in a foreign language, how people live, what they eat, how they treat one another...  or learning to meditate or do yoga or write or paint. Your learning may be more mundane - accepting to try new foods or to wear different clothes. Politics and history will become real for you rather than something you read about or watch on TV.

Travel stretches you - by trying new foods, like this salt cod in PortugalIt took time to get me to try this salted codfish in Portugal but I eventually did

6. You'll learn to take care of yourself.

If you used to run to the doctor every time you experienced mild pain, this will change. You'll learn to take care of your own health, especially in rural areas where medical care may be non-existent. Don't neglect your travel insurance or first aid kit checklist, but learn a few basics about how to deal with illness when no one else is around. You'll feel more empowered if you know you can face health issues with knowledge and confidence, at least until you can get yourself to a doctor.

7. Time will shift.

Our everyday lives tend to be filled with impatience - when the bus runs a few minutes late or the restaurant table isn't ready on time... solo travel changes all that. In many societies, time is measured in days or weeks, not in minutes or hours. As you travel, your sense of time will change. If someone's late, they probably had a reason. You'll find out in due time. If someone doesn't show up, you'll see them another day. Rather than concentrating on what you don't have, you'll be focusing on the day, on 'what's next'.

A billion people live with under $2 a day. Meeting some of them can be a humbling experience

8. You'll have greater empathy.

You've often heard that poverty means living on less than $2 a day. As you travel solo and pay more attention, you'll understand the word poverty in a different way. Rather than watch it on television, you'll be breathing the stale air of indoor wood fires or watching children vie for food. Rather than an abstract concept, you'll witness the daily fight of millions just to stay alive. And that will change you forever.

9. Solo travel helps you meet new people.

Whether you're a loner or a social butterfly, you'll have no choice - you'll constantly be meeting people. They might be fellow travelers or local people on the bus, but each day you'll add to the number of people you've met. And it will feel as natural as stepping outside. Some of these people will remain passing acquaintances - but others will become lifelong friends, connected by moments shared.

10. You'll be more open to the world.

If you're an outgoing or extroverted person, you'll put those traits to good use and expand them. But if you're the slightest bit quiet or shy, traveling on your own will change all that. You'll enjoy the similarities you share with others rather than focus on your differences, and learn how to accept what's around you more easily.

11. Little things will take on more value.

Your life may become more filled with little things that matter. The smaller gestures - a smile, a helping hand - these are the things you'll be exchanging with people on the road. Perhaps you had less time for these small gestures back home but on the road, they will take on new meaning and happen more often.

12. You'll learn to love your own company (if you don't already).

There's nothing like solo travel for women to make you enjoy your own company. Part of it is the empowerment of traveling on your own but also the sheer number of people you meet - you'll begin to appreciate your solitude. Women who worry about loneliness shouldn't - it's usually a question of too many people rather than not enough.

Conspicuous consumption at Suria Mall in KLCan you learn to live without shopping malls?

13. You'll do without the extras.

You may have thought they were essentials - television, computer, theater, cellphones, shopping malls, regular nights out, a car... Once you get used to living without many of these things - and you will if you're on the road for any length of time - you'll genuinely adapt, and start appreciating what you have as opposed to missing what you don't.

14. You'll be less fearful.

What once looked daunting may become commonplace. If you've been afraid of things - creepy crawlies, unusual food, rickety planes and leaky boats - your fears will probably subside. After a few rides on rusty planes, anything with a working engine was OK by me. Same with small reptiles. Those harmless little green geckoes that run across your ceiling in tropical countries never actually fall off - but they eat all the mosquitoes so in time I actually learned to like them.

Becoming fearless by riding rustbuckets like this one in AlbaniaGetting ready to cross Lake Komani in Albania in a state-of-the-art ferry. I may have become less fearful but I'm still wearing a portable life vest under that shirt

15. Many of your prejudices will get a shakeup.

On my own out there, I was rarely part of a majority. Being white in Africa or black in Eastern Europe or a woman on her own in a patriarchal country will give you a different perspective on prejudice and minorities. It's easy to forget these issues when you're surrounded by people who share similar outlooks and standards but you might be surprised at how things look from other perspectives. 

16. You'll truly appreciate what you left behind.

If you left home because you weren't happy, you may find a lot of the bad memories begin to fade with time. Perhaps you hated your job - but at least you were able to have one. Your rent might have been high - but you had a roof over your head. You may have disliked certain foods - but there was always a supermarket around the corner where something else was available. Your family may have nagged you - but you may miss them on the road. Whatever your complaints back then, you'll probably start appreciating some of the things you left behind.

Not all of these things will happen to you - but there's no question that as a woman, solo travel will change you. 

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