Kembell Huyke, 74, of Flushing, N.Y., retired as a banker 11
years ago--and now he's seeing the world. He loves to travel,
sometimes with his partner, and sometimes on his own. In the past
decade, he has booked a single passage on ten journeys with
ElderTreks, a group adventure-travel company for people 50 and
older. Among his destinations: Ethiopia, India, Iran, Myanmar,
Thailand and Tunisia. "Every trip is a life-enhancing, learning
experience," Huyke says. "Best of all, by the end of every solo
trip, I've made at least one new friend."
Huyke is a part of a growing demographic in the travel industry:
tourists 55 and older who travel without a spouse or friend, often
on group tours or cruises. And many older travelers are truly going
it solo--designing itineraries that take them where they want to go
without the restrictions of a tour group.
Those choosing to travel unaccompanied are best served by using
a travel agent to arrange their trip. "If you need advice on how to
get from Point A to Point B, you can call us for help anytime,"
says Nathan Warner, a travel agent at Liberty Travel in Dulles,
Beth Jenkins, an agent with McCabe World Travel, in McLean, Va.,
says that a knowledgeable agent will customize a trip with safety
in mind and has contacts for guides and drivers all over the world.
The agent also can arrange for a solo traveler to join a group
excursion, or even a cooking class, for a day.
However you design your single travel, "when you travel alone,
you meet new people," says Cynthia Schoeppel, 64, of Alexandria,
Va., who is divorced. She prefers the security and convenience of
group tours, and she has taken ten solo trips in the past decade,
including three with educational travel company Road Scholar. Often
she selects trips with a home base in a major foreign city--such as
Madrid, Rome and Florence--where she is comfortable as part of the
group or walking on her own.
Typically, Schoeppel has found there are about six singles out
of 25 to 35 people on each Road Scholar trip. "People are
friendly," she says. "All day, you're busy." She often goes out in
small groups of both singles and couples. In Tuscany, for example,
she joined a few people after dinner to sit in a café in a city
Tour operator Abercrombie & Kent reports a 19% increase in
solo travel in 2013, with most travelers 55 and older. Forty
percent of the tour operator's solo passengers are married, but
their partners may not share their interest or they have a
scheduling conflict. Many in the married group are pursuing a
personal passion such as wildlife photography or history. African
safaris are the company's most popular destination for singles.
Small-group travel is a "natural fit" for solo travelers, says Jean
Fawcett, media relations manager for Abercrombie and Kent, "giving
guests the experience of exploring a destination with other
Women far outnumber men as solo travelers: about 70% versus 30%,
say tour operators, who theorize that women over 55 are more
adventurous and active than their male peers, and often outlive
their partners. JoAnn Bell, vice-president of programs for Road
Scholar, says many of the organization's single travelers are
recent widows and widowers, embarking for the first time alone.
Ward Luthi, founder of Walking the World, an adventure-travel
company for older explorers, says his tours, typically 10 to 16
people and two guides, lend themselves to solo travel because the
group stays together all day. Singles don't have to fear a
later-in-life version of being shunned in the high school
cafeteria, he says. Most meals are eaten as a group, or the guides
invite the group's members to eat with them.
The major drawback to traveling alone is not loneliness, but
cost, otherwise known as the "single supplement." Pricing on most
group tours and cruises is based on per person, double occupancy.
Thus, singles are charged more--sometimes by up to 100%--for
bunking alone. But you can avoid or reduce the single surcharge.
Choose a tour operator that welcomes singles. Smithsonian Journeys,
for example, will occasionally discount or waive the single
supplement. Abercrombie & Kent lists savings on its Solo Travel
page, including trips that waive the single supplement or reduce it
by up to 75%. Many tour operators, such as Smithsonian Journeys,
ElderTreks and Road Scholar, will match singles with a roommate so
they can pay the regular rate, and Road Scholar will waive the
single supplement if it can't find you a match. Road Scholar's Web
site has a page for special offers, which includes deals for
If you're looking for a cruise that caters to the older crowd,
look for the higher-end cruise lines that offer smaller ships, such
as Oceania, Azamara and Silversea. Carolyn Spencer Brown,
, which provides information and reviews, says Oceania and Azamara
"don't cater specifically to the family market." Also, she says,
Silversea often eliminates or reduces the single supplement. "And
river cruises are great because the small ship size encourages
group camaraderie," she says.
Meeting Like-Minded Travelers
Some larger companies, such as Norwegian Cruise Lines, are going
after the singles market by offering solo cabins grouped around a
lounge area, which makes it easier for singles of all ages to meet
each other. Brown recently went on a Norwegian cruise, and she says
there were a fair number of passengers over age 50 in the singles
If you're traveling with a group, book early because the demand
for single accommodations, especially on cruises, often outstrips
the supply. And before you sign up, ask the tour operator how many
other singles are going, says Gary Murtagh, president of
ElderTreks. "We have a mix of couples and singles, and everyone
gets to know each other," he says. Between the daily activities and
group meals, "90% of the time you won't be alone," he says.
In some cases, you may be able to get in touch with other solo
travelers on your tour before you depart. Cruise Critic offers an
online forum called Roll Call where you can chat in advance with
You're likely to find common ground with other group members if
you choose a destination based on your interest and preferred
activity level. If you're an avid walker, for example, you'll
probably bond with others on a Walking the World trip in September
on the Pilgrimage Walk to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Daily
activities include walking four to six hours a day, for 5 to 15
miles over varied terrain, including steep and rocky sections.
If you're truly adventurous, you can travel without a group or
companion. "You can do what you want, when you want. You're not
dragging anyone along, or being dragged along," says Janice Waugh,
57, of Toronto, Canada. Waugh has taken about 35 trips alone since
her husband died eight years ago, to destinations including Chile,
China, Cuba and India.
On a solo trip, Waugh says, "you can rediscover your own
rhythm." This can be especially liberating for women over 50, who
have spent a lifetime raising children, being responsible for their
parents and working at a career, she says. Waugh, an introvert who
was married to an extrovert, found that on her own she was
especially good at connecting with people and making new
Waugh is so committed to solo travel that she wrote a book,
The Solo Traveler's Handbook 2nd Edition
(Full Flight Press, $17). She also writes a blog,
, which provides advice and resources on such topics as safety and
Her tips for meeting other people include staying at
bed-and-breakfasts and hostels, where people are friendly and
travelers share breakfast at communal tables. Waugh recommends
using the free
Global Greeter Network
(www.globalgreeternetwork.com), sponsored by many cities worldwide,
which provides companions to show visitors around local sights.
Waugh cycled around Chicago with a greeter, and she and a greeter
who spoke English walked around a section of Paris.
Security is a key concern for travelers, especially for women
who are touring alone. Debra Asberry, president of
, in Annapolis, Md., which takes 800 clients a year on 50 different
tours, says unaccompanied travelers should check the U.S. State
Department Web site and local tourism agencies to make sure there
are no security warnings for the areas you plan to visit.
Women in particular should vet their hotels by checking
and other Web sites for comments about how safe it is to walk
around the neighborhood at night, Asberry says. Unaccompanied women
also should make lunch their main meal and eat dinner at or near
the hotel. In some destinations, a woman eating alone at night may
become a target for theft. At lunchtime, a woman eating alone
appears to be on her lunch break.