Who Do You Belong To?

My Garden Gnome or my Alter Ego?

Is it you baby or just a brilliant disguise? Bruce Springsteen (1987)

On a recent trip to Paris on Eurostar I had an epiphany. I was travelling alone and the queues through customs were long and sometimes a little chaotic. As I moved through the various custom points, I was asked on three different occasions if I was with the family in front of me. I began to feel like a lost child with an adult saying to me “Who do you belong to?” I realised then that what people saw when they looked at me was a lady, getting on a bit in years, tagging along on a family holiday, and not the globe-trotting adventuress I really felt like. I was shocked to say the least. Of course, I understand I am no Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep, I’m just ordinary, but I am an experienced solo traveller. So, I looked around in the departure lounge, searching for someone who looked like me: a lady around my age (74 next month) who appeared to be travelling alone. I could see no one. Unless of course, I was making the same assumption, that the older ladies reading their novels, tapping on their phones, or standing in the queue for coffee were attached to someone, either a partner or a family. There appeared to be many younger women travelling solo however, either with business like luggage and the obligatory laptop, or carrying enormous back packs they could hardly lift onto the x-ray conveyor belts. But where was I? Don’t women my age travel independently? Well of course they do, many of them on package holidays. But independently on trains, planes and buses, perhaps not so many, or do we just not see them?

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

Statistics:

It may surprise you to learn that according to https://solotravelerworld.com/about/solo-travel-statistics-data/ 81% of women solo travellers are over the age of 55 years. 13% of women are between the ages of 35 – 44% with a tiny proportion of women aged 18-24 standing at 1%. 40% of solo travellers are boomers, with a high proportion of them being women.

Travelling Solo

So, it seems that the proportion of confident young women back packers are small in number, but in my head I imagine that’s what female solo travellers look like. I think for this reason travelling alone after 70, takes confidence. Perhaps that’s why fellow travellers look at me and wonder “Who do you belong to?” It’s not that I lack confidence to travel alone, I dont. What I lack sometimes is a sense of my own self. Sometimes I feel self conscious, like I should be with someone really. I don’t look like a carefree solo tourist, I feel a bit like an outlier, and that is what is sometimes noticeable to others. What if the ticket on my phone app doesnt work. What if I’ve forgotten something vital like my phone or my passport, even though I’ve checked them a hundred times. What if I get on the wrong train? No, I’ve done this too many times to worry about that, but nevertheless, this is what people occasionally see etched on my face, not lack of confidence but the sheer dread of doing something totally embarrassing.

Make embarrassing moments the wonderful stories they are

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Pexels.com

The joy of travelling solo is that if you make a mistake, who knows? Only you know and you won’t make the same mistake again. This is how you gain your confidence. You know the saying what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? This is the joy of travelling solo, especially if you are over a certain age. Your family and friends are not around to witness your faux pas. Bear in mind I’m not talking about you stepping off a cliff or wandering off into the wilderness, never to be seen again. I mean the kind of mistakes you might laugh about if you were not on your own. This is what we need to get over as older solo travellers. Train yourself to be more philosophical. We all get confused and make mistakes. I did when I was 25 and I still do at nigh on 74.

Fear of getting on the wrong train is a typical example and surprisingly, one that stops many women from getting a senior rail card and hopping on the first available train to somewhere exciting. I once sat opposite an elderly woman on a train going to London. She looked at me sheepishly and said “I’ve just missed my stop, can you tell me what the next station stop is please”. I told her Nuneaton. Concerned I said, Can I help you? Is there something I can do? She smiled and said “No, I’ll just get off, have a look around and make my way back. I’ve never been to Nuneaton before” she said almost as an afterthought. The lady was clearly embarrassed, but she shrugged and told me that at 80 years old she should expect to do such things. She also said that she missed her motor bike. Her son had demanded she stop riding it on her last birthday. “I went everywhere on it.” she said, and it turned out that every year until recently, she’d ridden the bike to Scotland for a two-week camping holiday. “I never took any clothes except what I was wearing and one change. I bought new knickers at every town I visited and threw the worn ones away.” She paused and smiling said, “every year, Scotland had a pair of my knickers in all the litter bins along my route”.  

Photo by Tanishq Dhiman on Pexels.com

I remembered this inspirational lady when I boarded the wrong train in Paris and ended up 80 kilometres away from my destination in Nevers, a beautiful town, but with fully booked hotels and no more trains running that evening. The lady on the train had turned her misadventure into an adventure. I did the same, I shrugged, and hailed a taxi. Shocked at the distance I wanted to travel the driver eagerly accepted my 200 euros, and I sat back and enjoyed the scenery I’d inadvertently paid a lot of money for. Worse case senario? I would have thrown myself on the mercy of the local police. After all they can see I am a little old lady. Who would know anyway? The point is that if you keep yourself safe and confident, and you are covered financially for any emergencies you are never really lost, just a bit mislaid.

Staying Safe

  • Google your destination before you travel (Walk through the streets on Google earth)
  • Don’t travel solo is you are not fit and well
  • Your mobile phone is your best friend. Dont run out of battery. Carry a portable charger
  • Stay calm and always double check you are getting on the right train or bus
  • Keep your passport safe. Know where it is all the time
  • Keep different forms of money in separate places, especially credit cards and emergency funds
  • Use a city safe bag https://pacsafe.co.uk/collections/citysafe-cx
  • Don’t arrive anywhere unfamiliar after dark unless you are being met by a taxi or a person you know.
  • Keep a list of emergency numbers
  • Stay in touch with family and friends
  • Be aware of scams (read up on them before your journey)
  • Have good travel Insurance 

In summary

Be confident. Visit the places on your bucket list. Indulge the person your are on the inside. If you have no one to travel with, do your research and travel by yourself. Who do you belong to? You belong to yourself. Enjoy the freedom of being inside your own skin. If you mess up, as long as you are safe, who will know? Turn the misadventures into adventures. Enjoy your sunshine years, You don’t have to be Kate Adie. Be Dora the Explorer instead. and set your adventurous spirit free.

If you are an old dame who regularly travels solo leave some tips for newbie solo travellers in the responses. If you are not confident about travelling alone, but really want to see more of the world, let us know. You are not on your own.

Published by shirleyjustwrites

I have been writing for many years as a lecturer in history and health and social care. I now specialise in travel with a focus on solo travel for women 60 years and over. I have travelled extensively in Europe and visited New York for the first time in 2016. It was love at first sight, although, I have to say I do love Paris and spend quite a lot of time there looking for writing inspiration. I ive in the Midlands and have a second home in Central France The aim of my travel writing is to encourage older women to be confident in their solo travels, whether by plane, train or bus.

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