In Rome, the author gives a gladiator a playful poke with his own sword.
Story and Photos by Elaine Mays
Friends and family are all too busy to travel. Do you go it alone or wait until someone comes along to join you in your next great adventure? Try traveling solo; you might like it. Certainly having a traveling companion has its advantages, but so too does going alone. You wonder, how can I have a good time all by myself? The key words are “by myself”. You are never completely alone, unless you’re going to the North Pole.
One of the pluses of traveling solo is that you are more likely to meet fellow travelers or talk to the locals than if you are traveling as a duo or in a small group. The best part of traveling solo is that you choose when to be with people and when to have that quiet time to yourself. Here is what I have learned on my travels while having many adventures in Italy, Britain, France and Canada in a fun, flexible and safe manner.
Do your homework.
Learn about the area you’re visiting. Get maps of the cities and if you are taking a bus or train to get there, pinpoint the station in relation to your accommodation. While using other public transportation, and undoubtedly you should consider doing so with the price of taxis, get to know the public transit system. There are maps available on line for the Paris and London Metro and others as well. But also find out if you can walk to the sites you are seeing. Some cities of the world are exciting walking cities during the day, if not at night.
Completed in Florence, Italy in 1436, the Duomo is one of the most enduring symbols of the Italian Renaissance.
Taking the train from Paris, Elaine made her own way to Versailles where she enjoyed a leisurely visit to both the palace and gardens.
Explore independently and with local tours.
Visiting museums is a good start to delving into history and, although it sounds macabre, cemeteries also give us a window into the past in a way that nothing else can. Research online the hours and days that main attractions are open. Sometimes you may even buy museum tickets in advance online which saves line-up time in major cities. Many historic cities have self guided walking tours and some cities allow you to hop off and on a tourist bus all day, all over a city for one price or absolutely free.
There may also be reasonably-priced guided tours available taking in the major attractions in and around a city. Tap your hotel concierge or desk clerk for information about these opportunities or you may be able to book on-line before you go.
Hate eating dinner alone? Then don’t. Find a pub where people are sitting at the bar, maybe enjoying some live music and join in with some local beer or wine. You’ll soon strike up a conversation and possibly make some new friends. Or if you are tired and just want to stay “home”, stop by the local market, purchase some cheese, fresh fruit, bread and wine so you may eat in. You can watch a video and go to bed early to restore your energy for the next day.
A fruit stand in Rome is a great place to save on restaurant meals.
Unless you have your own Sherpa, you will want to limit your luggage to what you can handle easily. You are better not to have to depend on others to help you. If you can ration yourself to carry-on luggage only, you will avoid the hassle and delay of baggage carousels and the possibility of losing luggage.
Try to arrive in a country with some local currency in your pocket. Searching for an ATM machine or money exchange booth at an airport, train station or bus depot upon arrival adds unnecessary stress.
My 45 Euro a night cell at a convent in Florence, Italy.
It is quite likely that cell phones from your own country will not work in foreign countries. Alternatively, you may buy a phone card or a cheap cell phone to use while in the foreign country. That way you can give the number to family or friends, and you have access to a phone in an emergency.
If you are traveling in a non-English-speaking country and you don’t speak the language, learn some common phrases like hello, good afternoon, evening and maybe some pertaining to your hotel reservation and ordering food and then make an attempt. Even if they answer you in English, locals will appreciate your effort, and maybe you will share a good laugh with them.
When traveling to unfamiliar cities, plan to arrive during daytime hours so that you have plenty of time to get to your hotel and get oriented.
If your flight is canceled and you can’t get another that day, go to a nearby hotel, don’t stay at the airport overnight. It isn’t worth the risk.
Not forgotten! Flowers from home, received on Elaine’s 72nd birthday while traveling in Italy.
Take in a St Patrick’s Day parade on the streets of Vancouver, BC. It’s free and fun to be part of the crowd!
Take your cue from the locals. If you are doing any hiking or going to local parks, find out if they are safe areas and well patrolled. And never hike alone in remote areas. This applies to jogging as well.
Don’t travel to cities or countries that are known to be dangerous, are experiencing war or political unrest, unless you are prepared for more excitement than you had anticipated.
In Paris’s Montmartre neighborhood, Elaine bought paintings from the artist.
If your carefully laid plans do fail and you find yourself in a strange city, your hotel reservation somehow canceled or your train has been derailed so that you can’t get to your next destination, don’t panic. Sit down, take a deep breath and consider your options. There is always a solution to everything and as a savvy senior you will find one. Glitches do happen, prepare yourself for that possibility.
You can truly have a wonderful trip traveling solo, deciding the itinerary, where to stay and dine without having to consult or depend on anyone else. You will meet interesting people, and return home with many stories. You are never alone; you always have yourself … your best friend! For more personal security tips for women of all ages traveling abroad, check out our article by Journeywoman guru, Evelyn Hannon. The last tip is the best!
Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Elaine Mays is a freelance writer and book author. After a long career as a software design engineer, Elaine published two books under the pen name of Hannah Stevens: The President’s Wife and the sequel Madam POTUS. She has traveled solo to Italy, British Columbia, France, and the U.K and plans to visit Africa in 2013. Her author website is www.hannahstevensauthor.com. As a recent cancer survivor, she also has an inspiring cancer blog, www.alittlerain.com.