Traveling solo used to be only for adventure-hungry backpacking 20-somethings. Leave it to baby boomers to create a new and growing trend in the leisure travel industry: Seniors — especially women — traveling on their own.
Some are traveling for business such as the 65-year-old woman who has been in at least eight different countries on three continents in the past seven months leading training seminars for a U.S.-based manufacturer. Or the 60ish mother and her 40ish daughter who just returned from three weeks on tour together in Italy, leaving husbands and children to fend for themselves. (They did fine.)
Then there is retired school teacher, Sharron, 69, who joined a group of 35 on a RoadScholar.org organized through her Atlanta church called “In the Footsteps of Christ,” which took her to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the River Jordan and Egypt. Of the 35 people, there were only four couples…the rest singles, mostly women.
Here are tips from these solo travelers and from experts in the travel business.
1. Do your homework. Get reliable recommendations on travel agents and tour agencies with solid track records to book your trip
2. Online deals may look good but can be misleading or a scam. Don’t give out your credit card number without doing a lot of checking.
3. When comparing trip prices make sure they are apples-to-apples trip comparisons.
4. Go on a trip with an open mind. You will return with new friends and memories from life-changing experiences.
5. Small group travel means that you’re not really alone but have security and a travel director to assist you.
6. Share your goals with your travel director. If you want a camel ride, say so.
7. Take lots of small denominations in foreign currency to avoid international ATM fees and tipping awkwardness when traveling solo.
8. Never allow a hotel desk clerk to verbally mention your room number when you check in. Instead have them write it down, then look at the number when you’re on the elevator.
9. Don’t put off your travel dreams just because you’re on your own. Looking into your options and prices. Go with other like-minded women. Make something happen.
For Cynthia Anderson and her husband, Donald, co-owners of Sunshine Travel & Cruise Co. and USA River Cruises based in Vancouver, Wash., solo travel and women-only group travel has been among the biggest surprises for their business over the past 10 years. Despite 9/11 and despite the 2008 economic downturn, their travel businesses have been growing like crazy. Women traveling on their own or in groups have been a big factors in that growth. Other travel professionals are seeing similar trends in independent travel.
That’s good news for single women, widowed or divorced, who like to travel as well as for those who are married but may want to take a trip without their spouse. More travel businesses are catering to their needs. Anderson said women travelers once represented about 20 percent of USA River Cruise business but that percentage has climbed to 37 percent.
“We’re seeing a huge surge of people wanting to take family and extended-family members on trips,” she said. “We’re seeing many in the 55-and-older age group who are opting for small ship travel. Women love them because when you’re on a ship of say 28 passengers somewhere in the world. You end up knowing everybody and it feels safe.”
Travel trends also include more inter-generational travel where grandmothers are taking granddaughters on trips or grandparents are taking grandchildren.
And more international travel of all kinds as baby boomers retire, write out their “bucket list” and see the clock ticking. Friends of mine just returned from 21 days in Turkey and said they had a fabulous time.
What women travelers want.
April Merenda, president and co-founder of www.gutsywomentravel.com, explains that single women travelers want a unique travel experience.
“First of all, single women travelers don’t want couples…they don’t want to feel like a fifth wheel,” Merenda said. “Secondly, they like to linger, ask questions and multi-task. That may mean getting a spa treatment, attending a cooking class, shopping or hearing a guest educator.”
Couples, she said go to resorts and tend to concentrate on one location. Single women are looking for variety, interesting experiences and bonding with other women.
“Women like the company of like-minded women,” Merenda said. “There’s strength in numbers. They will share what’s happening in their lives be it aging parents or teenage kids.”
Merenda, who founded her online travel business for women 10 years ago, said the number of women who are traveling completely on their own without other family or friends has jumped from about 50 percent of her clients to 70 percent. “GutsyWomenTravel.com is not about climbing Mount Everest,” she said, “but about having the courage to put your self first.” Women, she said, “spend their lives doing for others. Independent travel is about occasionally making time for yourself to refresh and renew your mind, spirit and body in the company of like-minded women at fascinating destinations.”
Gutsywomentravel.com and travel and tour businesses like them catering to solo travelers emphasize the safety features of their tours. Tours are typically designed to offer a variety of experiences and chances to meet local people.
At gutsywomentravel.com, trips are no more than seven days’ duration or less “as we recognize that women are time-deprived,” Merenda said. Women-only tour groups and the travel industry in general recognize growing market opportunities by catering to women, since women make 70 percent of all travel decisions.
At Road Scholar, a not-for-profit Boston-based travel and learning organization, the trends show an increase in international travel and intergenerational travel. “Our programs have always offered accommodations for single travelers,” said Stacie Fasola, Road Scholar director of public relations “Our only barrier is ability level in terms of walking, hiking. Our programs are rated accordingly.” Road Scholar encourages solo travelers to share double-occupancy rooms. It charges extra — in the $200 to $650 per person range — for a single room.
Fasola said a typical Road Scholar traveler is a retired female educator who may have been a school administrator or librarian. Something close to 60 percent of Road Scholar clients are women who like the educational aspects of travel. The organization offers hundreds of group trips a year with some as inexpensive as $600 for an all-inclusive three day expedition in Arizona. Most are more elaborate and far ranging such as 10 days exploring “The Hidden Treasures of Florence,” for $3,398 including meals, hotel and transportation and airfare from JFK.
Eating alone? Not.
“Our solo travelers may have concerns about safety,” Fasola said. “They likely will not want to eat alone or go to hotels alone. Travel is an experience you want to share. We help make that happen.”
At Rick Steves’ Seattle-based travel and guide publishing company, a growing trend is not solo women travelers, but male solo travelers, said Deanna Woodruff, tour department manager.
“In 2000, we occasionally had a solo male on one of our tours,” she said. “Now it is common to have at least one solo male traveler on each tour and on some tours you may find two or three.”
As for Cyndi Anderson at Vancouver’s USA River Cruises, small ship travel on rivers and waterways throughout the world has become popular for the easy of travel from one location to another and for the safety.
“These trips include shore excursions and independent exploration with a ship’s crew looking out for you,” Anderson said. “We see ship operators putting on more single cabins.”
The best travel operators, she said, will arrange for a pre-trip get-together for their singles travelers. The idea is to meet before you start traveling, she said.
My good friend Sharron, the retired school teacher, said her travel group of mostly women became a little family. “My experience,” she said. “was better than a college course. This was more than just sight-seeing…it was a trip of a lifetime.”
Don’t wait to take yours. Julia Anderson
www.cruiseandresorts.com for Sunshine Travel and USA River Cruises.
www.gutsywomentravel.com for women-only travel groups.
www.roadscholar.org for travel-education tours.
www.ricksteves.com tour travel and guide books.
www.tripadvisor.com search “solo travel” forum.
www.women-traveling.com, group travel for women.
Read more: New Options for Solo Woman Travelers