You’re going where?
Because let’s face it, some people think there’s a cut-off age for adventure and that after a certain time, life should become more predictable.
It absolutely can, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t have to be.
If you choose adventure, it’s your choice, and it can be every bit as rewarding after 60 as it was in your 20s.
But a few rules do apply – they just might be a little different today.
Going off on an adventure of any kind needs a bit more preparation than signing up for an organized tour or walking into your travel agency and having someone take care of all the details.
Travel off the beaten path tends to have a common thread, wherever you go: unpredictability. You can plan (and you most certainly should) but be ready to improvise.
If you like foods and the familiar sounds of English being spoken, you may not feel comfortable in an environment where you cannot communicate easily or where everything is new and different, and you’re crammed on a bus with a bunch of chickens.
Bottom line, travel to offbeat places means things will NOT be like they are at home. But then, isn’t that the point?
Once you feel mentally prepared, your next step is to decide where to go. If you’re seriously concerned about hygiene, you might want to avoid countries with squat toilets, or if you’re a vegetarian, meat-based cultures might be problematic.
And if you worry about politics or about being able to get home quickly, you might decide against visiting one of the world’s unrecognized countries.
Research the natural hazards – earthquakes, floods, tsunamis. You don’t need the extra pressure, so if your choice of destination tends to be flooded or surrounded by fire several times a year, think again.
When I decided to go to Sri Lanka, I did worry about tsunamis (a terrible tidal wave struck the region in 2004), so I made sure I had a map of the area surrounding my hotel, and an escape plan. Just in case.
If you’re going to a country that isn’t on everyone’s top 10 list, consider registering with your embassy. Many countries have registration systems for international travelers, like the US Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
This helps them reach you in case of emergency or unrest and will boost your peace of mind – and that of friends and relatives who think you’re being a bit too daring.
Always have some local cash – not much, but enough to bail you out with a taxi if you need one. Many countries don’t accept credit cards outside major cities and international hotels, and cash reigns supreme. Just don’t carry around a huge amount and change money as you need it.
Although I’m a fan of “wandering off,” I do have a basic itinerary and always leave it with someone. It includes my flights in and out, the hotels I’ve reserved and approximate travel dates.
Each day, I check in, either by email or some other form of communication, and if my itinerary changes, I let someone know.
When I first started traveling solo all those years ago, keeping in touch was so much harder. Some communities didn’t even have a way to call internationally, and I often went a month without contacting my family.
These days, few places are that isolated (although I admit, in some parts of Kyrgyzstan recently, I was unable to grab a phone signal).
While taking care of your health is a no-brainer, I’m consistently shocked at the number of people who forgo something as essential as insurance when they travel. Yes, it is harder to get insurance after 60, but you can – and must.
Make sure you take your meds and your prescriptions, and ask your doctor to explain what is in the medicine. Should you run out or lose it, there are equivalencies in most countries, but usually under a different name. If the pharmacist knows your medicine’s chemical make-up, they can find a substitute.
And make sure you research drug policies at your destination. When I went to Uzbekistan, I was surprised to find out they banned all forms of codeine. As I crossed the border, officers went through all my meds looking for telltale signs of the offending drug.
Remember, hygiene may not be what you’re used to, so take the usual precautions and avoid foods that might make you sick. And of course, drink only bottled water and use it to wash your food.
In some countries, you may have legitimate security concerns, which is why research is so important. As I write this, I’m in Tunisia, in North Africa. This small country suffered several serious terrorist attacks in recent years, some targeting tourist resorts, so the concern is legitimate.
Staying away from crowded areas or demonstrations is a good idea, but so is remembering that violence can – and does – occur anywhere.
Writing off an entire country because of a few isolated attacks makes little sense to me, as I sit on my balcony, overlooking a clear blue Mediterranean under the mild winter sun.
A final safety note: as an older woman, I fully realize I’m more vulnerable than someone in their 20s. All that means is that I have to be more careful.
How often do you travel alone? Do you visit foreign countries solo? How do you prepare beforehand? What tips might you have for beginning solo travelers? Please share them with our community!