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Travel Logs February 2018

Solo Travel After Age 50: Definitely Doable

By Harriet G. Fry

Cruise ship travel isn't just for couples, families, or spring break groups, I've learned. Some cruise lines even waive the dreaded single-supplement costs for their solo sailing passengers.

Travel by myself at my age? You bet! It's easy to travel on your own without feeling overwhelmed or afraid. Following a few practical steps sprinkled with some self-reflection is all it takes to trade feelings of ambivalence for happy anticipation. First ask yourself: Am I more comfortable with a planned, fully escorted tour itinerary, or would I rather play it by ear? I always come up with the same answer   I want the best of both worlds! I look for travel options that offer both the fully escorted itinerary and "day of leisure" breaks so that I may explore on my own.

For instance, when I'm looking for cultural and historical enrichment, I find that nothing beats having an experienced, locally-based tour guide to provide insights and information beyond what I can find in the tour brochures. I also seek out folks who share my interests. On a fully escorted tour with a diverse itinerary, it's hard not to find like-minded individuals for at least one, if not several stops along the way.

On a 2013 trip to Russia, I struck up a conversation with a family of four and we ended up sticking together during most of our museum-visiting itinerary over a period eight days and four cities. I also met a fellow solo traveler on the same tour, a young lady who, like me, preferred desserts to spirits. After following the itinerary to visit a Russian vodka-sampling establishment, she and I took a detour to the ice cream stand!

The "day of leisure" built into an organized itinerary allows for a break from the lockstep of scheduled stops. I enjoy taking advantage of a full day of "me" time to catch up on postcard writing, exploring the neighborhoods not on the tour itinerary, and interacting with the local residents for the total-immersion experience. If I'm traveling through a non-English-speaking country, I like to use those days of leisure to make a serious effort to assimilate. Phrase book in hand, I try out my conversational foreign language skills while I explore an area's unique offerings. Never have I been met by less than appreciation for, and patience with my efforts, by the local population!

As for mode of travel, again I am a "best of both worlds" kind of gal. I'm as happy on land as I am on water. Cruise ship travel isn't just for couples, families, or spring break groups, I've learned. Some cruise lines even waive the dreaded single-supplement costs for their solo sailing passengers.

Norwegian Cruise Lines, for example, is very solo-traveler friendly, offering discounts and special "studio" suites on some of its vessels. These ships even provide a private "Solo Traveler Lounge" and crew coordinators who facilitate solo-friendly activities, as well as help identifying "good fit" groupings among the solo cruisers for dining options, special shipboard events, and solo-themed meet  n greets. Cruise ship travelers can also join an online "roll call" communications thread. (The website www.Cruisecritic.com lists roll calls for a multitude of cruise lines.) Roll calls provide a venue for cruisers to meet one another before embarkation.

Once upon a time, I was afraid to travel solo on a cruise. My biggest fear? What if I fall overboard while I'm leaning on the deck rail? Nobody knows me, so nobody will look for me! I'd pretty much decided that, if I did book a cruise, I'd stay in my cabin most of the time. This irrational sticking point was dispelled the moment I was welcomed aboard. One hour into the meet  n greet and I knew I'd found a family among my fellow solo cruisers. (Those deck rails by the way, turned out to be extremely sturdy!) I enjoyed safe, sociable sailing start to finish, and again, I wasn't alone unless I wanted to be.

Still, some travel fears may be warranted. In 2016 I decided to travel to Guatemala on a tour that featured both land and water excursions throughout the southern highlands and the lake region of Panajachel. The Zika virus was in full bloom. I was undeterred, given I had purchased all the "right" travel attire (including a netted safari hat I intended to wear when traveling by boat).

When my plane landed at La Aurora International Airport, the first sign that greeted me in the terminal was a huge BEWARE OF ZIKA warning, complete with a gazillion steps on how to navigate this serious health risk while in Guatemala. Three days later, far from skyscrapers and buses of Guatemala City, enjoying an excursion to the town of Santiago via the calm   or should I say standing   waters of Lake Atitlan, I realized to my horror that I did not have my netted hat with me. I was convinced I'd be bitten and die of Zika.

Happily, I'm still here, because luckily, I was never bitten by any kind of insect while in Guatemala, let alone the Zika virus-carrying mosquito.

Traveling (solo or otherwise) to countries where advisories are in force is a personal decision (just like deciding whether or not to take that road trip from St. Louis to Denver during a bad-weather alert). Travel advisories are not mandates. Nobody will stop you, just know the risks. Check the U.S. Department of State website www.state.gov/travel/ for travel advisories before you book an overseas trip.

So, ready to go? In this day and age, the internet is a popular choice for booking a trip. I've tried it. While I encountered no problems, I still prefer that personal touch of walking into a travel agency, sitting with a "real" travel agent and planning my adventure with someone's expertise to fall back on. Agents are paid  commissions by the tour companies, so there is no overhead on your part when booking a tour company or cruise ship itinerary. There may be a service fee associated with booking air or land transportation not attached to a package tour, but it is minimal.

I love traveling solo but I also love knowing I have my real person at the other end of the line to call for help if or when I need a last minute replacement for a lost ground transportation voucher, or if I just have a question that I didn't think about beforehand, but really need an answer to before I board that train, plane or ship.

Traveling alone doesn't mean being alone. It abounds with opportunities to meet new people, explore new places, and learn new things. And, being "of a certain age" doesn't have to stop you. There are plenty of us 50-plus solo travelers out there, having a great time. Why not join us!