Holidays for solo travellers over 50
Written by Ben Groundwater for Australian Seniors Travel Insurance.
Here’s a question: what do you want to do today? You, personally, on this day of travel? Where do you want to go? What do you want to experience? What do you want to see and taste and feel?
If you’re travelling by yourself, the answer is: whatever you want. No restrictions. No compromises. Solo travel is the ultimate freedom, the opportunity to act spontaneously and even selfishly with no regrets. And it’s gaining in popularity, particularly among those over 50.
Before the COVID pandemic, travel website Booking.com reported that 14% of travellers were planning solo stays; by the time we emerged from lockdown in 2021, that figure had nearly doubled. The most recent statistics from Tourism Research Australia show more than one-third of domestic overnight trips in Australia are taken by solo travellers, with almost half of those aged over 50.
Solo travel, after all, is the chance to see the world on your terms. It’s the opportunity to go where you want and do what you want, to rely purely on yourself, to discover what you’re capable of.
Why senior solo travel can be a rewarding experience
The trick is to approach solo travel in a way that is comfortable and enjoyable for you. There are no hard and fast rules. Travel can be a completely solitary pursuit, or it can be something you do as part of a group of fellow adventurers. You can stay in private accommodation or in a more social setting. You can strike out on your own for part of the trip and link up with others later on.
The main thing to consider is that you won’t be the only one doing this. No-one will think it’s strange. In fact, you might even be part of the majority.
One of the first things to decide is where to go. Australia is the perfect jumping-off point for anyone experimenting with travelling on their own, a safe and predictable country that still offers a wide breadth of locations and experiences.
If you’re planning on true solo travel – that is, striking out alone without a tour –plan ahead for your safety, ensure you inform your loved ones and make sure the area you are planning to visit has sufficient mobile network coverage in case of an emergency.
All of the state and territory capitals are well set up for solo travellers, with numerous accommodation options, plus easily accessible attractions, the opportunity to join day tours.
Australia’s ‘second’ cities: Newcastle, the Gold Coast, Cairns, Fremantle and Launceston are also some ideal spots within Australia for those going it alone.
If you want to get off the beaten track on your Australian adventures, it’s worth looking into a tour company that offers the safety of a group, while also allowing freedom for you to do your own thing. For example, Intrepid Travel and G Adventures, which were once focused on a younger crowd, now encourage travellers of all ages. G Adventures’ tours that partner with National Geographic Journeys are particularly popular with mature clients.
How to plan your senior solo travel adventure
There are other great tour companies in Australia, too. AAT Kings, focuses on over 50s passengers, offers shared rooms to avoid the dreaded single supplement. Outback Aussie Tours has found that many of its solo traveller passengers meet friends for life on its comfortable, guided tours to outback Queensland. It offers special discounts for Probus members, and attractive itineraries for solo travellers such as the Legendary Longreach & Winton, Outback Getaway, and Journey of the Gulf Savannah tours.
For holidays on the rails, Journey Beyond, the operator of iconic train experiences The Ghan and the Indian Pacific, offers luxury single cabins. The train’s restaurant manager can also arrange seating options to ensure solo travellers meet other passengers over meals.
For women travelling alone, Wild Women Journeys offers active adventures that will appeal to those who might like to try, say, road-tripping through the Kimberley or doing yoga at Uluru on their next solo holiday. Tours like these are a great way to avoid feeling lonely when travelling solo, plus allow you to experiment with adventure travel if you’ve never done it before.
Staying safe and healthy while travelling alone as a senior
For overseas adventures, cruising offers a good option for solo travellers. For example, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises organises a welcome meet and greet at the start of all its sailings where solo travellers can get to know each other. It is also waiving the single supplement on selected European sailings in 2023. Popular itineraries include an eight-day exploration of Burgundy and Provence in France, following in the footsteps of Van Gogh, Cézanne and Gauguin.
If you don’t want to commit to a whole group journey, there are still plenty of ways to be social for those travelling alone, including staying in shared accommodation such as hostels or B&Bs, and taking day tours. But the fact remains, you will be able to meet people if you want to. Because, ironically, if you’re travelling solo, you won’t be alone.
Jacky Edson Hawke
Tips for the solo adventurer by Jacky Edson-Hawke, 69, an experienced solo traveller
How long have you been travelling solo?
I came to Australia [from the UK] on a working holiday visa 42 years ago. I landed in Perth, and straight away got a job as a cook with a tour company. But I’m an only child, so travelling on my own is not a problem. I retired in 2019, bought a motorhome, and I’ve been on the road ever since.
What do you do on your travels?
I’ve always been a camper. I just love the outdoors. Bushwalking, going to the beach. I’ve had no bad experiences doing that solo. And I belong to the Caravan and Motorhome Club of Australia. They have a solo section, so I belong to a group of solos travelling in motorhomes and caravans. There’s about 600 people in the group who are on the road full-time.
Do you meet a lot of people?
You do. I think you meet more people on the road when you’re travelling on your own. If there’s a campfire I’ll go and join somebody, and you feel your way – if you’re feeling welcome and having a good chat you stay; if you think you’re not wanted, you say thanks very much and go. You tread carefully.
What’s your advice for people thinking about travelling like this?
Do it. A lot of people say, “Oh, I wish I could do that.” Well, the only way to do it, is to do it. Though I do always say, hire before you buy. If you’re looking for a vehicle like mine, and you hire a couple, then you know what you’re looking for.
7 safety tips for the solo traveller
1. Share your plans
Let a few friends know your plans and pass on any flight or accommodation information. And check in regularly to let people know you’re safe.
2. Ditch the valuables
Plenty of solo travellers are justifiably worried about security – to mitigate some of those fears, leave any expensive jewellery or other luxury items at home.
3. Start small
No need to begin your solo travel career with a month-long overseas jaunt. To settle into this style of travel, begin with a few weekend trips around your own region.
4. Don’t overpack
Bear in mind, whatever you pack, you will have to carry yourself. This is a time to lighten the load.
5. Do your research
Knowledge is power for solo travellers. Find out the safest parts of the city, the best hotels, how to get there and more.
6. Try day tours
Just because you’re solo, doesn’t mean you have to be alone. Book day tours in the city you’re visiting: say, a food tour, or an art tour, or a day trip out of town.
7. Bring a book
To begin with, it will feel a little uncomfortable to dine and drink alone. Give yourself something to do by packing a good book to read at restaurants and bars.
9 May 2023