Traveling in retirement when we are single can be a challenge! Obviously it will be easier if you have a group of friends you've been traveling with, or family members who like to come along. For those who are newly single, have changed locations, or simply have different travel goals than immediate acquaintances this may require stepping outside of the box.
As I explore travel opportunities in the new year, I've begun looking at group opportunities, tours, women's tours and cruises. I've looked at ways to avoid the single supplement in cruises, and have seen many opportunities. I plan to take advantage of a couple of those, and will share later on this blog, as always.
For myself, however, I still want to explore the open road-even if it's alone. I enjoy driving tours-I've taken so many over the years and they have always been enjoyable. As always, there are a few issues specific to single travelers, depending on your comfort level.
When it comes to the driving itself,a little safety preparation makes all the difference (for singles as well as couples). Times have changed. Having a working cell phone and or GPS, an emergency plan (through your insurance or AAA), and a well stocked car (water, blankets and flares, for example) eliminate most of the "single woman alone on the road" issues of the past. There are roads and even interstate portions that I would not have traveled aloneten years ago, before much of the new technology. Although I have not broken down, my personal philosophy is that rather than open my door to a stranger, I will wait for the emergency roadside folks (although I have taken road side assistance from a trucker in the past).
Exploring the open road alone Driving alone allows you to take advantage of any whim when it comes to pull offs or stops. Often when you are part of a couple or group, one of you is more "daring" when it comes to ignoring the schedule and driving off the road to an adventure. If someday I decide I want to see the largest/oldest prairie dog along Interstate 70, I'll simply pull of the road. In general, I plan my point to point schedule to allow for stops-if I get to my appointed location early, I can either amuse myself or continue on. I personally do not drive at night, but that's a vision issue rather than a safety one. I have never been uncomfortable, be it pulling off on route 66 or any other stop, at doing these types of things alone.
Eating Out Alone, On The Road. There are generally two sets of circumstances when it comes to eating out on the road. The first situation is the small town (or occasionally right off the interstate) hotel or motel along the way. I always take along a full picnic basket, so I always have the choice to eat in my room depending on the location and the food options. However, after being in a car for a few hours, I generally feel the need to walk, and if there is a reasonable, not fast food or chain restaurant nearby, I will take advantage of it. My experience is that in this type of restaurant no one thinks twice if you are single or alone. Also, you are liable to be eating next to other travelers who may talk about the roads and were they have been-conversations flow. I've talked before about the inn and restaurant that is on my regular route to Denver (where I stay in an excellent, top flight Best Western). Every time I walk down to this inn, I end up talking with someone about their drive to Denver, Santa Fe or elsewhere.
Eating Alone, In Town The second situation where a single person may have to eat alone is at a larger town or city-perhaps their end destination. Again, I am not a hide in my room type person. I believe in eating my way around the country. When possible, I stay in an older hotel or bed and breakfast if it accommodates my knee (no stair climbing whatsoever). These kinds of places often have good quality local food and ambiance (as opposed to the restaurant in say, the Raddison). Again, fellow travelers often talk across tables. As I also enjoy exploring a location on foot, I do enjoy trying out new restaurants. If this restaurant requires a reservation, I ask my hotel to make the restaurant and ask if I can have a window table if one exists. If I am out wandering on my own, I almost always have a small purse/shoulder bag and put my kindle in it. I simply say "It's just me and my book today" and leave it at that. I'll say here that very rarely do I get put in the"back of the bus". On occasion, such as at a casual seafood restaurant, I am asked if I mind sharing (think long tables with paper and mallets, for example). I am always happy to do so, even if the table includes young children. Finally, I generally eat the early shift when I am traveling, to avoid the date nite effect, especially on the weekend.
Doing Stuff and Seeing Stuff-On Your Own. I suspect that this is an area that depends on your comfort level, and may require some adjustments. I was married for years to an independent guy and we had as many different as similar interests. He went on ski trips alone, and I went to quilting conventions alone. He did not like movie theaters (attention span issues), and as a result for years I went to movies alone (often while my teenagers were walking the mall). As such I'm more comfortable buying a single ticket to a movie or concert than someone else might be. Also, my idea of exploring a city is to do a lot of walking, take a hop on hop off tour and explore the ambiance. So over a three or four day visit, I may actually schedule one museum type thing per day (something I'll talk more about when I talk about the frugal aspects of road tripping). The important thing here is that no one is snickering behind their hands and pointing and saying "look at here, she's alone". You may have more sucess getting a last minute ticket when you only need one, as well. The one place I, as a single woman have difficulty to date are the small club type places that as a jazz and blues afficionado I enjoy. This is still the kind of place where a couple guys can go more comfortably than a single woman of any age (Denver visitors and residents, think my old favorite El-Chapultepec.)
However, we all like to share our experiences and talk to people. In order to get more interaction and improve your travel experience, there are some option. You can choose destinations where you have friends, family or acquaintances (even online friends such as blogging friends). I've been invited to stop and see three or four blogging buddies if I head their way, and when that happens I surely will. I have family in Seattle, and friends in a variety of towns. While these friends are not the "come and stay with me for four days" type (thank heavens), they are the "let's have lunch and I'll show you around the town one day while you're here" types. If you have a specific activity that you really enjoy you can check online and see when those types of conventions or events are happening. You may be able to plan a trip to an interesting location and combine such an event. Just to use a quick example, there is a huge quilt show in San Diego in September. This would be a great time to visit the city as well. Be you a runner, crafter, collector or movie festival buff, the options are large.
The bottom line is, if you are interested in traveling the open road alone, there are many options for the singel guy or gal. While I haven't talked about it here (I love driving fairly fast and I am in no way mechanical), there are even websites and books about single RVing and train travel. If you're a single looking to travel in retirement, there are more options than most of us will have time for! And I still want to include a train trip in my travel plans this year!