I can pinpoint at least one time when I felt like the oldest traveller in town.
Waiting to board a ferry in Malaysia, the still, humid air was filled with the animated conversation of a group of young backpackers. Bursting with the optimism of new friendships and travel adventures yet to come, they simultaneously chatted and scanned their social media feeds, luggage discarded at their feet.
Heck – and I know that this is a travel cliché – there was even a dude with a guitar.
I’m going to level with you.
I am now in my 50s and there have been times when I have felt that travelling is a younger person’s game. Therefore, I understand if, like me, you are a traveller in midlife who is not comfortable with the prospect of travelling alone.
As I went from my 30s into my 40s, increasingly I felt I was in a travel tribe of one. I rarely came across those in my own age group, the dominant travel posse being the gap-year and beyond crowd.
These were travellers in their 20s and 30s, setting out adventures large and small, collecting friends and Instagram likes in equal measure. And when I did come across other midlife travellers these were not often solo travellers.
But thinking about it, the dearth of midlife solo travellers makes perfect sense.
By the time that they reach their 50s, many people are paying off their mortgage, building their career or raising children. Travel is something that they ‘get out of their system’ before facing these commitments, or something they pick up again when they retire.
So what drives people to travel alone in midlife?
For me, it was simply down to a lack of like-minded friends to travel with; solo travel or not travel, that was my choice.
But what about you?
Perhaps you have lost your travelling companion and find yourself unexpectedly single, either through divorce or bereavement. It could be that you are in a long-term relationship that has lost its fizz, or your partner is uninterested in travelling?
Or maybe the empty-nest syndrome has hit and a different kind of loss smacks you across the face?
Like me, you may be faced by one simple choice: travel alone or don’t travel at all. And this isn’t an easy decision to make.
No-one likes to be the odd-one-out and, for a while, the fear of being a travel oddity, the ghost of travel past, held me back. But slowly I overcame these midlife travel jitters and realised that this wasn’t an issue.
Travelling alone in your 50s doesn’t mean that means that you can’t relate to younger backpackers. Although older than the 30-year-old traveller, you will find similarities in lifestyle. For instance; it is likely that you will both be balancing a working life with travel.
But one central value unites all travel tribes: a passion for exploration and discovery. In that, you have a topic of conversation that transcends generational divides.
However, the fear of being a solo traveller over 50 may go a little deeper than being in a travel tribe of one.
Travelling alone isn’t always easy. Safety concerns, loneliness and eating alone are just some of the barriers that solo travellers have to overcome.
However, midlife female solo travellers have some aces up their sleeves.
Life experiences and dealing with past travel calamities make you more resourceful. I could fill a book with my own travel disasters, from petty theft to surviving an emergency plane landing.
As you get older, you become more comfortable in your own skin and don’t crave the company or validation of other people. I’m not saying that the travel blues will not occasionally bite, but there are strategies you can adopt to prevent solo travel loneliness.
Eating and drinking alone is not such a big deal. Although people in some countries may be baffled at a middle-aged woman travelling alone, nearly everywhere you go you are treated with respect.
Once you pass the age of 40, and especially beyond 50, as a woman you do tend to feel invisible much of the time. However, this can work to your advantage if you don’t wish to attract unwanted attention when travelling.
But if the thought of travelling alone in your 50s still fills you with trepidation, take age out of the equation and focus on the advantages of solo travel. Whatever your age, solo travel is a liberating and potentially transformational experience and, in many respects, travelling alone in midlife is easier.
Finally, don’t let the fear that you will be the oldest traveller in town put you off solo travel. Whilst you are likely to be outnumbered by younger people, travellers tend to be an inclusive and open-minded bunch, whatever their age, united by a desire to explore our wonderful world.