by Ann Marie Mershon
I took this selfie on a mountaintop overlooking Bodø after a gorgeous solo hike.
Many of us over 60 are single or have husbands uninterested in touring the planet. Is that any reason to avoid the trips we yearn for?
I lived overseas (alone) for seven years, and though I preferred traveling with friends, I spent a week in Malta by myself and another one alone in Thailand. I managed, but I learned some things along the way. At first I sat with a book at dinner and ate other meals in my room, but once I reached out just a bit, I found people were friendly and welcoming. I need connections.
1. Tell restauranteurs that you’re alone and would appreciate being seated with another party.
If that’s not an option, seat yourself near someone who is alone or people who look friendly. Why not?
Last month my husband suffered a back injury and had to wave me off for two weeks in Norway without him. I would have cancelled the trip if it hadn’t been for a huge family reunion in the fishing village where my grandfather grew up. Determined to make the most of things, on my first night in Bodø I wheedled my way into a busy seafood restaurant and was seated beside a couple from Lilljehammer. It took me a minute to engage them, and they turned out to be charming as well as informative, giving me ideas for activities in the coming weeks.
I indulged in this delicious solo lunch at the Underhuset Restaurant in Sakrisoy, Norway.
2. If breakfast is provided at your hotel, strike up a conversation as you stand in line and ask if they’d mind if you join them at their table. Few people would refuse.
Once your day begins, you have other options for making connections, or perhaps you’d prefer to tour on your own, which is great, too. I like going through museums by myself, but I prefer company at meals.
3. Stay in hostels or bed-and-breakfasts that offer time for socializing.
On my last night in Lofoten, Norway, I moved from my studio apartment to a hostel-type room, where I was pleased to chat with a young Australian woman. She happily joined me on a trip to a glassblower’s shop the next day. The drive was spectacular, and I enjoyed her company immensely, especially after five days by myself.
4. Plan at least one interesting activity each day.
Jerry and I had planned a kayak trip in the Lofotens for our second week in Norway. At the beginning of my solo week, I perused the tourist information books and chose one or two activities each day. I booked a studio apartment in Å (pronounced “Oh”), a town of about 50-60 residents. The Lofotens are spectacularly beautiful, with mountains jutting from the sea between adjacent fjords. Å featured two fishing museums,and I visited them on separate days, making sure I was included in guided English tours of the museums. It was fascinating to learn about the life my grandfather must have lived as a fisherman.
One day I arranged a kayak trip of the Reine Fjord, and my young guide Kaspar was an absolute delight. The two of us spent a fascinating four hours chatting and paddling some of the most breathtaking water on the planet.
Nothing beats kayaking the Reinefjord with a charming young guide. Really.
5. Join group tours at museums and tourist sites, then engage others in conversation throughout each tour.
It might cost a little more for a spot with a tour guide, but you’ll learn a lot more and have the opportunity to connect with other English speakers. Of course, most Norwegians speak English, but they don’t tent to reach out to strangers. That was my job.
Another option is traveling on a tour, which offers you automatic companionship. I’ve sponsored a few tours of Turkey, and I was amazed at how close members of the group became after spending a few weeks touring and eating together.
I met this friendly fellow on a tour of the Elephant Sanctuary near Chiang Mai, Thailand.
6. Engage shop owners in conversation.
Whenever I felt lonesome in Turkey, I’d find a carpet shop to wander into. Carpet dealers always offer a cup of tea or bottle of cold water as well as friendly conversation. Of course, I always looked at carpets, but I only bought one occasionally. I still treasure my relationships with Hussein Palyoğlu and Musa Başaran, who always seemed pleased to see me. Western cultures might not be quite as welcoming, yet most shopowners are eager to engage customers, and they can offer a wealth of information about the area. Who knows? You might even find the perfect souvenier or gift to bring home.
One of the many delightful carpet dealers I’ve met over the years, this one in Cozumel.
7. Choose a safe bar or pub and enjoy a chat over a glass of wine or a beer.
Should you dare, you might also consider a stop into the hotel bar or a nearby pub, making sure you use good judgement and hang on to your purse. Though I’ve always found it difficult to step into a bar alone, it can be a good way to meet other solo travelers. It’s important to keep your wits about you and avoid being pulled into an uncomfortable situation, but it’s also great fun to chat with other travelers or locals about activities they’ve enjoyed or recommend.
I grew fond of Efes beer while in Turkey, especially since their wine is, well, not as good.
8. Take a group tour that matches your age, interest, and activity level.
There’s a wide variety of tour organizations geared for people of different interests and activity levels. Some arrange cruises, others bus tours, and some offer high-energy active options. The first time I took a group to Turkey, I arranged it through Go Ahead Tours, an adult affiliate of EF Tours (an international student tour organization). We were a group of 24, and everyone fell in love with our intelligent, fun, and informative guide, Mehmet. There wasn’t enough physical activity on that tour for some of us, though that was the only complaint. This year I’ve organized an independent tour through Sojourn Turkey Tours, and we’re doing a similar tour with fewer people and more activity—lucky us!
The fellow waving at me was our wonderful tour guide Mehmet, here at Ephesus in Turkey.
However you choose to connect with others while you travel, I wish you a fulfilling and interesting experience.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
~ Mark Twain
This article (with different photos) originally appeared on Sixty and Me, a web site for women over sixty: http://sixtyandme.com/8-tips-for-staying-social-when-traveling-solo/