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How Solo Road Trips Can Be Fun at Any Age

By Joy Harmon January 15, 2024 Travel

Are you a Baby Boomer who still enjoys driving? Many people do continue driving into their senior years. It makes so many things more convenient if you drive rather than take another mode of transportation.

Shopping is easier (if you don’t find deliveries convenient), there is less lifting, and trips are shorter. It really does give you transportation freedom.

How About a Road Trip?

How about taking car trips? Flying is faster, but for short distances you often spend as much time in the airport as you do in the air.

Driving in your own car is much more comfortable than traveling by air, unless you can afford those big upgrades to business or first class. There’s no surprise package food or delayed meals due to air turbulence either.

If you are retired, you might find that there are advantages of solo road tripping.

There’s no reason you must stick to a schedule now. There are no deadlines, so taking a side trip on a whim is part of the adventure. You can stop whenever you like. Choose your own music or just enjoy a quiet drive. You never know who you will meet or what unusual things might happen. It’s an adventure!

Meeting People

If you travel with family or friends, you are a closed group and you are less likely to meet new people. When you travel alone, you are much more approachable. I’ve met many interesting people when traveling solo.

Even on public transportation, or just walking down the street, you meet the most unusual people. I’ve had conversations with bikers, homeless people, even street artists while traveling alone.

Safe Traveling

Being totally spontaneous is fun, but it’s not for everybody. If you are not experienced at long distance driving, you’ll need to plan more carefully.

Avoid driving at night or where there are long stretches of highway without towns or roadside rest stops. These can be dead zones for cell phones, so do plan traveling through these areas in daylight hours.

It just takes a little planning. Map your route on a real map. Use GPS when you can, but have a physical map in case you lose GPS reception. Estimate the amount of time you want to be behind the wheel each day, factoring in rest tops, side trips and meal stops. This should make for a relaxed schedule.

Positive Experiences During Small Emergencies

Even if the unforeseen happens, make the best of it. I once found a wonderful historic hotel after I’d driven too long and too late.

Chosen by film crews while on location in the Southwest, there were pictures of all the famous visitors lining the walls, along with old west décor. It was real charming with its neon light and rail fence.

How to Choose Accommodations

I find I can usually book accommodations a day in advance with a smart phone. However, in a tourist area or busy metropolitan area, you’ll want to book further ahead.

What are some things to consider? Be sure to check for ratings online, if you have particular needs or desires. Location is important, too. In tourist areas, the rates will be highest close to the attractions.

Close to major highways, most any accommodation will be clean and safe. In remote areas, such as national parks and wilderness areas, this can be a major problem. Book well ahead for these locations.

Dining Can Be Inexpensive and Fun

On a budget? Take along a cooler for cold drinks and lunch fixings when on the road. It saves time and allows you to stop whenever you like. You never know when you’ll spot a nice meadow or shady tree-lined creek that would make a nice picnicking spot.

Do you need to refill that cooler or picnic basket? Stop at local farmers’ markets. The fruits and vegetables are always tastier fresh from the farm.

In an area with orchards during fruit season? You’ll get the best fruit you’ve ever tasted right on the farm. During harvest, there are sometimes sheds warmed by ovens with pies baked right there in the orchard. Cherry season, anyone? You can’t get that in a roadside restaurant!

Picnicking is not your thing? You needn’t worry. Major highways in the US usually have plenty of roadside restaurants at most exits. These include fast food restaurants as well as family style restaurants. Sure, they are convenient but can get boring.

Spice up your mealtime by following a roadside sign to a small-town restaurant. Once, while driving through the Midwest, I followed a sign for a Mexican restaurant several miles off the highway. Wow, it was the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten!

Make It an Adventure

Take a chance. Strike out on your own. Make your own adventure. Follow that sign to an old west ghost town, stop at a local theater for a live show. Turn off at a local festival. Just know everything is not going to go as planned. Make it an adventure, the small events make solo travel fun.

Tips and Tricks for a Safe Road Trip

Fran Braga Meininger, a contributor to Sixty & Me, shares with us the lessons she gained from a recent road trip.

Plan Ahead – Well in Advance

Decide what you want to see, then calculate the distance for the round trip to decide if it’s feasible in the number of days you plan to be away. I can only comfortably drive about five hours a day, so I planned three nights of travel time each way.

I planned my overnights in towns that were interesting, either for their beauty or history, with sites in town that I could visit each morning before heading out, so I wouldn’t feel like those days were only consumed by driving.

Make Reservations

I reserved my hotel/motel stays weeks before I left. Even though I was traveling in October, which is post peak season, many locations were still very busy, so I felt secure knowing I would have a confirmed reservation waiting for me at the end of a long drive.

Be sure to confirm your reservation, print out the information and carry a file of your itinerary, physical addresses, receipts and confirmations with you. If you book online and don’t receive a response, call. Some hotels, in more remote areas, are a little behind the digital age.

Share Your Itinerary

Send your plan to a friend or family member, so someone knows where you are each day. Check in with them on a regular basis, daily even, if that feels right to you. Be sure to include the contact information for the hotels so they can follow up if they don’t hear from you as arranged.

Check Weather and Road Conditions Frequently

If you’re driving over mountains or across deserts, the conditions can change quickly and dramatically. Be sure to watch weather patterns, not only for your location, but for the region, as storms miles away can cause flash floods or high winds.

Get Your Car a Check Up and Keep It Happy on the Road

Take your car to a trusted mechanic, explain the situation and ask them to check belts, filters, coolant, power steering and brake fluids, oil, running and headlights, tire pressure and the condition of the spare.

Know how to change a tire, locate the spare and review how to use the jack. Some areas may be beyond cell phone service or road service may not be immediately available.

Be sure to carry a pressure gauge with you and do a visual inspection every morning, ensuring your tires are properly inflated and there are no fluids leaking from under the car.

While on the road, top off your gas tank before leaving for the day. Never drive on less than a half a tank. You never know when you might get stuck behind a traffic collision, have to take a detour or experience prolonged delays for road construction.


Live mapping and online navigation have changed my life. I feel so much more confident with them to guide me. I use Siri on my iPhone but there are numerous other choices. Siri connects to the Maps app and gives me verbal directions well in advance. It also warns of traffic hazards, road construction, offers alternative routes, displays the speed limit and projects arrival times.

However, don’t depend solely on electronic devices, carry detailed paper maps of your route and know how to navigate with one. There are still many areas of the world where there is no signal to receive GPS support.

Things to Carry with You

I was 200 miles from the nearest store when my car displayed “Change Key Fob Battery,” and I realized I neglected to bring a second set of keys. I was lucky and made it to the store to purchase a battery without consequence, but it did make for a very anxious drive.

Here’s a list of items that will help ensure you have what you need to stay safe and comfortable when the unexpected arises:

  • Extra set of keys – Store them separately, one in your luggage and one on your person, for example.
  • Extra pair of reading glasses and sunglasses.
  • Drinking water – One gallon per day per person if you’re driving through a desert.
  • Nutritious snacks – Granola bars are a convenient source of calories that don’t need refrigeration.
  • Blankets or a sleeping bag – If you get stuck somewhere at high altitude or overnight, you won’t want to waste fuel to run the heater and staying warm is critical.
  • Phone car charger – Test it before you leave to be sure you have the proper connections. I also carry a fully charged external charger.
  • Printed contact information for family and friends. We all rely on our smart phones to store our information these days, but if its batteries are dead, you won’t be able to retrieve any information in case of an emergency.

Travel is so important for me, not just as a welcomed relief from my everyday life, but to remind me how big the world is and how varied and exciting it can be when I get out into it. Staying safe and feeling confident in my abilities to venture out sets me free to experience more than the well-traveled path. 

The Story of the Road-Tripping Grandmother

Mary Lou Harris, another Sixty & Me contributor, shares with us the story in the New York Times article about a grandmother, Su Min, who was fed up with staying home. “Life was just too upsetting,” she said and headed out on a road trip with no particular destination. And where does she spend her nights? Well, of course in a rooftop tent above her car.

I’m thinking this desire for women to get away on a road trip must be a worldwide phenomenon. Although her reasons to head out on a solo road trip were different than mine, Su Min’s need to get away was strong. So strong, in fact, for this grandmother from Central China that she didn’t just daydream about it, she took action.

Apparently, after living the dutiful life of a wife, mother and grandmother, Su Min decided it was time to exit the life of expectations. Now, although she is traveling alone, there are more than a million social media followers on the journey. She has been on the road for six months with no end in sight.

She posts videos on the Chinese version of Tik-Tok. In her posts, she speaks of a lonely and sometimes violent marriage.

What Hides Behind This Urge?

This was not a sudden whim on the part of Su Min. She gathered information from many sources and looked for equipment that would best suit her – like a pop-tent that would fit atop her vehicle. Add a portable refrigerator and a rice cooker to the tent and she was on her way.

Su Min’s road trip has her meeting people at every stop, solves problems along the way, and helps her makes friends with other women, young and old, as they share experiences online.

I ponder whether the reason for women who feel this need to hit the road is a general discontent with life. I know women who are in solid relationships without major family problems who, nevertheless, sometimes feel the need to make a solo exit and get away by themselves.

This may be a type of life passage for women who have reached a certain age or time in their life. Su Min is retired, in her 50s and until recently took care of her twin grandchildren. She had done her homework, and this was her window in time.

That Window in Time Is Important

How often does an opening in the calendar come when your grown children and spouse or significant other don’t depend on you, emotionally or physically, to support them in their lives. How many women retire only to find that responsibilities of aging parents come before that grasp for freedom on the road?

Su Min knows she will return to her family at some point but is nowhere ready to do so. She plans to visit most of China and expects it will take two years. Now, that’s a road trip!



Let’s Have a Conversation:

What kind of road trips have you taken in your life? What are some fun adventures or unusual places you’ve found by accident while traveling solo? Have you ever had a serendipitous meeting while traveling solo? Please share your experiences below!

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The Author

Joy Harmon is a writer and former theatrical costumer currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She proudly serves as a board member at the Gate Theater, Chiang Mai's first English language community theater. Please connect with Joy on her website and check out her first novel, Woman on the Road

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