Death, divorce, friends we’ve left behind, family more than a short car ride away, caretaking elderly and sick relatives, quarantining in place – all are examples of the changing circumstances of longer life. So, while we may have lived with someone for most of our lives, now we may be suddenly faced with being alone, a not unfamiliar story at our time of life.
This can be a little scary if you’re female and of a “certain age” and thinking about travelling by yourself for the first time. Figuring out where to go, where to stay, where to eat, what to see and how to get there, can be very daunting. So, for a little inspiration and guidance, we talked to four women who often venture into the unknown alone. We wanted to see how and why they do it.
Small group tours
Cindy Karp is a local real estate broker and award-winning photographer in her late 60s. Very adventurous when she was younger, Cindy said, “When I got divorced, about eight years ago, I still had that yearning to travel but I was scared.” As she researched her options, she came across smarTours, which bills itself as “small-sized group tours.”
They were offering tours, at a great price, to places she wanted to go. They also took care of everything, airfare, travel, itinerary, food, hotels. For Cindy, it was worry free.
“As an older, single adult, it was fabulous. There were 11 people on the tour – I became friends with all of them.” Cindy so loved the small-group tour experience that she booked other tours with this company and then, through word of mouth, found others, including Overseas Adventure Travel, which specializes in The Solo Women Experience. They offer a free booklet at their website called NEW 101+ Tips for Solo Women Travelers. (www.smartours.com, www.oattravel.com).
“I recently tried to book something on my own, with airfare, hotel and everything — invariably I always screw up,” she says. “I think I know everything, but I don’t.”
With so many tour groups catering to single women now, Cindy says she feels very comfortable, even when she doesn’t know anyone. Having an interest in photography also has been very helpful in connecting with people during her travels.
“It gives me interaction with the people I’m seeing,” she explains. “I take pictures and give them my card and send the pictures to them right then. It opens doors for me.”
If you have a special interest, Cindy recommends letting the tour company know. Since Cindy is a photographer, she often asks the tour guides if she can sit up front in the bus to get better pictures.
Cindy also advises keeping up with the people you meet on the tour by friending them on Facebook or Instagram. Two days after she gets back from a trip, she puts together a book made of all her pictures, notes, memories that she shares with everyone she met on the tour.
Cindy’s tips for traveling are to travel very, very light. Don’t take valuables, expensive jewelry, or expensive cameras. Take your phone, cash with lots of small bills for tips and keep your money in several places. She says she has never had a problem with loss or theft.
“Someone said if you want to live a long time, book a trip,” she says. “So, I keep booking trips – I need something to look forward to.”
She sleeps in her car
For most of her life, Carol-Lee Baker, 76, had lived with other people. First, at home with her family, then college roommates followed by her first husband, more roommates after her divorce, and then a remarriage. Now, she’s divorced again and comfortable with the solo life.
“I had never been alone,” she recalls. “I would have panic attacks when we first separated. At night, I would get up and go to Walmart and walk around just so I could see other people.”
When Carol-Lee was 66, her daughter moved to Alaska. Flying across the country was going to be expensive and with her financial situation uncertain following her divorce, the only way she thought she could afford to see her daughter was to drive.
So, in 2012, the day Carol-Lee retired, she finished her work, slept a few hours, got in her car that she’d already packed up, and headed north to see her daughter.
She had already calculated that she could only afford to stay in hotels about half the trip. It was on that first trip to Alaska that she realized how she was going to afford to see her daughter.
“I left early in the morning and the next morning I was at Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Colorado,” she recalls. “I had stopped to sleep for a couple of hours in the car and just decided that’s how I was going to travel and that’s the way I have done it ever since.”
Carol-Lee stops and sleeps whatever length of time she needs to, sometimes it can be a 30-minute nap or a four-hour deep sleep. On the way to Alaska, she spends two nights in a hotel; to Oregon, where her daughter now lives, it’s only one night.
She rarely eats in restaurants; instead, she packs a cooler and prepares salads ahead of time.
Carol-Lee doesn’t plan her trips down to the last detail because she doesn’t know how far she is going to be able to drive without stopping. She generally travels on interstate highways, and stops at a rest area, if it looks safe, or at a busy truck stop if sleep overtakes her. She likes to drive at least a thousand miles before she stops.
“Truck stops are very frequent along the highway, and they are fine with people pulling over and sleeping there,” she says.
“I usually like to leave in the middle of the night to get through whatever large city I have to get through,” she explains. “I like the solitude – it allows me to think a lot.”
She shared a few driving tips she’s learned from driving so many miles. First, she always gets her car checked out, and she pays close attention to the weather reports before she leaves. She chooses her route based on weather predictions.
In rain, snow, or fog, she recommends getting behind a tractor-trailer as they can see further. She also doesn’t let her gas tank get much lower than half. While she hasn’t had an issue with her car, she doesn’t travel without AAA emergency road assistance. And although she has never had a problem, Carol-Lee reminds us to trust our instincts. “Don’t worry about being rude, if a situation doesn’t feel right, get out of it.”
She buys an updated Atlas each year and has several books on the National Parks – she always includes at least one Park stop on a trip. Having just bought a new book, “50 States, 5,000 Ideas,” she’s inspired to get behind the wheel again once gas prices come down.
Today Carol-Lee has visited all 50 states and driven through 49, in a car, all by herself – that’s about 135,000 miles. She hopes she can continue her solo automobile adventures a few more years; by then, she’ll be 80.
Her advice for anyone heading out for the first time, “Go if you haven’t seen a good portion of the U.S. There is such jaw-dropping beauty everywhere. I am in awe all the time at the scenery. “
On a budget
Patricia King, 71, is an award-winning former journalist, with a huge case of wanderlust. Although she grew up in the Northeast and Midwest, she started visiting relatives “down South” as a child and has now visited 49 states (Alaska awaits!) and several countries.
Older and single, Patricia started a lot of her travelling once her daughter moved to Atlanta 1995.
“I would go from Indianapolis to Atlanta, to see my daughter and granddaughter, up and down I-65 and one day I said to myself, “I wonder what’s in Nashville.” She says she pulled off and didn’t get back on the road for three days, exploring Broadway and the various tourist sites.
“The way I travel is, not exactly by the seat of my pants, but it’s not conventionally,” she explains. “I am open to explore whatever I see along the way.” While she would love for her friends and family to go with her, she can’t wait for them to get ready.”
“Solo traveling is a beautiful experience. It helps you grow and learn about yourself,” Patricia says. “You meet new people, and you learn to be independent, resourceful, and resilient. And you can be more adventurous and do things that would be too risky or difficult if you were in a group.”
When traveling abroad, Patricia loves taking the train the best. It’s safe, there’s plenty of leg room and she can sit, sleep, dine, and sightsee in comfort. She says trains can be less expensive than a car or plane, and they have great discounts for the handicapped and seniors.
However, “Coach is not for a 70-year-old person,” so she recommends getting at least a roomette when travelling by train.
“I also don’t have money for hotels, … so I discovered hostels,” she says. “People of all ages, people of my age stay there.” Hostels, very common in Europe, and increasingly common in the U.S. are budget accommodations where guests can rent a bed, usually a bunk bed, in a dormitory. Each dorm shares a bathroom, and guests have access to a kitchen and lounge area. In addition, many hostels now offer private rooms with en-suite bathrooms.
“Chicago has a great hostel where you can get a private room,” Patricia says. She’s found, “If you want to talk to people, hostels are a great place for socializing. They are cheap and usually located in the center of town.” She has found them very safe and helpful for arranging tours. Patricia uses www.hostelworld.com when she’s planning a trip.
There’s only one mode of transportation Patricia hasn’t tried and that’s a cruise – she plans on at least one.
Patricia says her mission is to get boomer travelers off the couch and into travel adventures. She’s long wanted to be a travel writer, so to that end, she started her own website and blog, www.savvytraveling.com.
Her motto: “It’s never too late and you’re never too old.”
Travel in the great outdoors
Rosemary Vogle, now 74, found herself alone at age 55 after her 15-year second marriage ended and her sons had grown up and left home. It was then she decided she needed a change of scenery and applied for a transfer from her telecom employer in Texas to Georgia where her aging mother was living.
As a horse lover and outdoorsy person from childhood, she searched for and found affordable land in south Atlanta, which enabled her to purchase a horse.
“My horse was my life saver,” she says. Joining a saddle club and trail riding became her way to make friends and do a little traveling by taking trail rides with the group in north Georgia.
“I bought a bumper pull horse trailer even though I had never pulled a trailer before,” she remembers. “My friends were driving in front, I was in the middle, and I had someone else behind. I slept in a tent. When I left there, I said’ this is what I want to do the rest of my life.’”
Over the years, she managed to do some heavy-duty primitive camping with her horse. For a while, she towed a four-horse stock trailer, which had been converted so she could transport the horse on one side, and sleep on the other side later.
In time, however, her mother needed more care, which meant Rosemary had to move closer and give up her horse and that lifestyle. She says they traveled together a little, but her mother was more inclined to stay in hotels. “That was not for me,” she recalls.
Instead, at age 66, she got a Jeep Cherokee, a travel trailer, and a couple of dogs, and planned a cross-country trip to see some friends in California. “I was not going to wait for someone to go with me.”
“I planned all of my stops online,” she explained. “I’m an Excel spreadsheet person so I had RV reservations made across and back. I knew exactly where I was going to stay.” With her dogs and her gun, she says she was never afraid.
She did decide, after the trip, that she wanted someone to camp with in the future, so she joined the Good Sam Club (goodsam.com). The organization provides discounts at its 2,100 RV parks and campgrounds. It’s also the perfect organization to find like-minded people. She belongs to the Happy Hearts chapter of GeorgiaGoodSam.org, which organizes a variety of camping get-togethers.
She explains how it works: “Pretty much you drive, set up camp, eat (Rosemary always brings her food and precooks a lot); then you go to bed. If you are going to be at a site for a couple of days, there are usually outings or events you can join.” Often there are potlucks, and the group works together on a variety of projects such as quilts for projectlinus.org, which provides blankets for children in need.
Last year, though, she did head off alone with a new truck and travel trailer. She visited Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Lately, Rosemary says she’s become a little more cautious since she fell off a ladder washing her horse trailer. Reluctantly, she sold her horse. Rosemary says that when she travels, she meets people from all over that have the same desire to see this beautiful country. For those who want to do the same, her advice is: “Preplan. Be flexible. Take it slow. Don’t get upset.”
Award-winning producer and writer, Arlene Williams, lives on 57 acres with trails and a lake in Winterville with her 1 mother (87), 2 horses, 2 cats, and +/- 3 dogs (she fosters).