[This article originally appeared on HuffPost Travel Canada]
What does the solo traveler look like nowadays? A 20-something guy with a beard and a backpack, or a 30-something professional woman on a career break, volunteering abroad? Believe it or not, it’s more likely to be their mom. Yes, their mom.
Women are following their own schedules to explore destinations beyond North America, preferring to relax in luxury at resorts, full service hotels or on board cruise ships.
As a frequent solo traveller myself, I sought out some Toronto experts to find out what they think of this trend and get some advice from travel experts.
Janice Waugh is perhaps the best-known solo traveler, and author of the popular blog The Solo Traveler. Janice took her first solo trip in her 20s, but it wasn’t until her 50s that she started regular solo trips after her husband died and the kids had grown up. “Travel has been part of my life since my first trip at 15. Giving it up was not an option. My conclusion: if I wanted to travel it would have to be solo,” Waugh said.
In 2009, Waugh started the Solo Travel site building up readership using Social Media networks Twitter and Facebook. “My idea was that the blog wouldn’t be about me but for all those who travel solo. Hence, the Solo Travel Society on Facebook was created. I may moderate it, but thousands participate. There are two posts every week that come from readers.”
Communication is the biggest change in travel since she started the blog. “We hear about troubles abroad very quickly. Media coverage can make destinations quite frightening – sometimes unnecessarily so. However, I believe the reality of the past and present are quite similar. There were and are places that one would be well advised not to visit. It’s still up to the traveller to do the research and assess the risks carefully.”
“India is the most challenging country I’ve been to so far,” Waugh confided. “I don’t say this because of the danger reported for women but because it takes time to figure out how the country works. How the train system and the class system works. It’s the logistics that are really challenging. As for safety, caution is warranted everywhere. I dedicate an entire section of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook to solo travel safety.”
Waugh recommends group tours for those who are going it alone: “Group tours are great if you are new to solo travel or you are going to a country that is particularly challenging. I took a tour to China last year and while I would love to go back and take on the challenge of managing it all myself, the tour was great for getting to know the country without the worry of navigating the transportation and accommodation.”
For some, solo travel comes at a time of deep reflection. This was the case for Mariellen Ward, a professional travel writer and cultural explorer based in Toronto and sometimes Delhi. When Ward’s mother passed away suddenly she needed to be alone so she rented a car to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. “I was completely grief-stricken by her death, and needed to be alone to cry a river of tears into the vastness of the ocean” she stated. “A few years after that, and after losing my father to cancer, I felt compelled to follow a life-long dream and finally go to India. After losing both of my parents, I was very depressed, but I was also motivated to start living my dreams. First I became a yoga teacher, then I travelled to India, and then I became a writer.”
Those trips were the most transformation experiences in Mariellen’s life and she has written several published articles and blog posts about her first trip to India. On Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of the Hindu god who represents luck, auspicious beginnings and safe journeys, (August 23, 2009) Breathedreamgo.com was launched as Ward began her journey as a travel writer.
The blog was born from her 2005-2006 trip to India where she had posted a twice-weekly blog sharing her healing journey with followers on her blog. Today Breathedreamgo.com has grown from her personal platform for travel writing to what she hopes is the go-to website for people who are either looking for inspiration to live their travel dreams or who want to travel in India.
Ward loves solo travelling but admits that there have been a few difficult moments: “moments of uncertainty, loneliness and some fear. Mostly fear that I won’t be able to handle a situation. I am especially wary of situations that require physical endurance and strength. I do have a very adventurous streak and I’m learning to overcome my fears.”
Grandmother of Women’s Travel
If Waugh and Ward are seasoned solo travelers, then Evelyn Hannon, known as the ‘Grandmother of Women’s Travel’ is a pioneer in the world of solo travel from a female point-of-view. She has visited over 70 countries and set foot on all seven continents. Her blog, journeywoman.com, online since 1997, is based on those experiences and provides a wealth of information for women who want to explore the world on their own. It’s a valuable resource that answers just about any question a female solo traveler may have from having a relationship while on the road to safety tips and dealing with loneliness. The Toronto-based web site has grown to 70,000 newsletter subscribers in close to 200 countries, 32.5 K followers on Twitter and 10,250 on the Journeywoman Facebook Community.
Hannon took her first solo journey after her devastating divorce more than 30 years ago. Though she cried through most of that journey, she began to realize how good solo travel is for the heart and soul. I met Hannon late last year to discuss female solo travel and the rise of the 50+ age group who are now retiring from their 9-5 jobs. With her years of travelling solo and her experience within the travel publishing world, Hannon finds that older adults are now travelling like never before and with a refreshing confidence. Many are free from family obligations and have the disposable income to devote to finally experiencing their travel dreams. These sage women are looking for authentic experiences, not a mad dash around various sites.
Hannon is a strong advocate of group tours for older adults travelling solo. In fact she goes a step further and has devoted a section on Journeywoman.com for classified listings; the go-to place for the latest tours and holidays designed especially for women. She stated “These specialized journeys with their civilized pace erase all that energy sapping baggage shlepping and transportation woes. Yet, they offer company when you want it as well as sophisticated programs designed ‘to meet the locals.'”
Hannon’s advice to travelers: “Do your research (which is half the fun) before you leave. Then once you are there live in the moment. Don’t spend all your time looking through a camera lens. Don’t worry about seeing everything because that will never happen. Take time to sit in a cafe, enjoy a local delicacy, listen to the sounds around you, do some people watching and pat yourself on the back for getting out and exploring the world,” she added.
For anyone thinking solo travel might be for them, Waugh offers sage advice: “For new solo travellers the best thing is always to take it slow. Start with a short trip in a familiar culture, then branch out. For seasoned solo travellers, I suggest that they stretch themselves. Continuous growth is a good thing.”
Adventure Tour Companies (no single supplements and traveller’s are matched with same sex share, group size is usually 10-16 people)