Tips for Traveling Solo
Be prepared, pack well and plan for ways to save money
Many people enjoy traveling during their retirement years, and while some prefer to go in big groups or with their partners, others like to strike out on their own. Solo travel can be an incredible way to explore the world more freely, but comes with special considerations, especially for older adults.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when traveling solo:
Consult Your Doctor
Certain health conditions like COPD and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) may be agitated by air travel — and especially long flights — and any kind of travel can be risky if you've recently had a surgery. Your doctor will be able to advise you on your travel plans based on your existing medical conditions and the medications you are currently taking, as well as the knowledge that you won't have family or friends there to assist you. They can also recommend certain activities you may want to avoid, like climbing steep steps or walking on an uneven terrain like sand.
If you're concerned about the country or city you're planning to visit, it doesn't hurt to do some research about known issues and the experiences of other solo travelers.
A visit to the doctor is also the perfect opportunity to make sure you're up-to-date on your vaccines. Different countries have different vaccination requirements, but staying current with the CDC's list of recommended vaccinations for your destination will assure you're helping lower the spread of preventable disease while also protecting yourself.
Solo traveling has a reputation for being unsafe, and while it's not a surefire recipe for danger, it does require extra care. If you're concerned about the country or city you're planning to visit, it doesn't hurt to do some research about known issues and the experiences of other solo travelers. For international locations, the U.S. government has a regularly updated list of security levels for each country, including a breakdown of which cities are the highest risk.
Invest in Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is important for all older adult travelers, but especially solo travelers who don't have the immediate support of a friend or family member around them.
"Traveling can be a very large expense for an older adult on a fixed income," says Rachel Slomovitz, a Financial Empowerment Coach with Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging subsidiary ESOP. "We all want to protect our money and investments, so it's a good idea to purchase travel insurance. There are so many unforeseen circumstances that can delay or cancel travel plans. For example, we never know when health issues can arise, or when a trip to the ER will cancel our travel plans."
"Airlines lose luggage so often these days that you don't want to take the chance of it not arriving at your destination."
She continued, "Travel insurance not only covers a person when they need to cancel due to medical reasons, but will also cover emergency evacuations, doctors, hospital stays and transportation to and from the hospital if you get sick or have a pre-existing medical condition."
But travel insurance isn't just important for unexpected medical events or changes in your travel plans. It can also protect you from one of the biggest inconveniences of travel: lost luggage.
"Airlines lose luggage so often these days that you don't want to take the chance of it not arriving at your destination," says Slomovitz. "Purchasing insurance will cover the cost of new clothing and personal items. That's more money in your pocket to enjoy your vacation."
Bring the Medication You Need (Plus Extra)
Don't leave home without the right amount of medication. You should always bring your usual dosage, but most travel experts also recommend having a few extra days' worth of medication on hand in the event you are delayed returning home. When flying, keep your medication in your carry-on or personal bag, as you don't want to be left without medication if your checked luggage is delayed or lost by the airline.
Prepare Medication Correctly
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends the following when traveling by plane:
- Tell an agent if you are traveling with liquid medication over the regular liquid limit of 3.4 ounces.
- Keep medication in their original, labeled packaging.
- Bring a note from the prescribing doctor when traveling with a controlled substance or injectable needed for health reasons.
- If you are traveling internationally, check with the foreign embassy of your destination country to make sure your medication is permitted there. If not, you may need to ask the embassy if the medication is allowable with a doctor’s note or talk to your doctor about alternative medication you can use while abroad.
Look for Ways to Save Money
Vacations can sometimes be pricey for solo travelers, as they aren't splitting food, lodging and transportation costs with other guests. The easiest way older adults can save money while traveling?
"Take advantage of senior discounts," says Slomovitz. "Many older adults forget to ask travel agencies, hotels, airlines and even destination locations like museums or national parks if they offer these discounts, but they can significantly reduce the price of your trip and activities."
"When you do eat out, try to avoid touristy restaurants that hike up their prices and look for where the locals eat."
Slomovitz also recommends the following tips:
- Join in on a group tour, rather than a private one. “You save money when more people are included,” says Slomovitz, “and it’s a great way to meet new people, especially for solo travelers.”
- Stay at Airbnb-style lodgings instead of a hotel. “You can usually save money this way because you’ll have your own kitchen, and oftentimes their rates are lower than hotels, especially for solo travelers who aren’t splitting room costs,” says Slomovitz.
- Buy groceries and cook a few meals in instead of eating out. “Choose meals that you can cook in a single pot or pan and consider designating only one day of your vacation to eating out, or one meal per day,” Slomovitz suggests. “When you do eat out, try to avoid touristy restaurants that hike up their prices and look for where the locals eat.”
- Book your vacation in advance and plan ahead. It’s always more expensive to purchase last minute flights and hotels. Cheapair.com suggests booking 70 days out before your trip. “If you’re a retiree, you also have the advantage of being more flexible in avoiding the grossly inflated peak season prices,” says Slomovitz. “Taking advantage of that can be a huge money saver.”
Share Your Travel Plans With Others
Lastly, when traveling alone share your itinerary with loved ones and be sure to let them know that you've arrived safely to your various destinations - whether you've made it through customs or are coming back from a group tour.
This can go a long way in giving both yourself and your loved ones peace of mind, and should something happen, it helps provide necessary information about your location. Several cellphone apps are able to share your location with trusted family and friends, so you may want to consider these options for that extra bit of security while traveling solo.