A Pass or Fail Test for Women Travelers: Before Your First Trip after Losing a Partner
By Phyllis Stoller, President
an award winning tour operator for women’s smart tours
| A women on a trip in Rome taking a photo of the Vatican near the Castel Sant'Angelo.
More and more women are traveling. The age range of solo women travelers is now more broad, often reaching into the 80’s. Younger women’s salaries are increasing faster than those of men (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Older women are more fit, live longer, have personal money, and a desire to learn. 50% are single: divorced or widowed; some of the remaining 50% are more keen to travel than their friends. The number of women traveling solo for leisure grows exponentially for the group who have just finished paying their children’s college tuition. Having said all that, new widows and divorced women are still often afraid to take the plunge.
If you are thinking of your first solo trip, here is a test to see if travel by yourself will work for you. If this trip is your first after losing your partner, pay closer attention. Holiday travel is approaching, with its emotional content and unique sadness.
What is your personality: social or shy? In both cases, find a small group for the first solo trip. The industry defines small group as a max of 21 passengers. Check that most meals are included, especially at the beginning of the trip. If there is a welcome party, share with the host that you are alone. (Concierges can be very helpful in this regard and they are happy if you share your anxiety of being solo). Meals that include wine are less stressful, since there is no awkward sharing of a bill with strangers or worst: a couple. Significant times: your birthday, former anniversary, Easter, Passover, Dec 24/25 or Dec 31 should be filled with included events, but not free time.
Do you live in a city or a rural area? Many women do not take these factors into consideration when choosing to travel alone. City folks are used to noise, traffic, and a certain level of crime or perceived crime. If from a small town, go for an itinerary that offers some bus tours so you can relax while viewing. Can you see beyond urban grit and not assume that the area is scary? If you are from a city, do you need white noise to sleep? Sleep is a serious consideration if alone since you want to be sharp caring for your valuables, and on time as part of getting along.
Do you have a PhD or are you self-taught? If museum visiting or historical sites are new to you, the tour should include a guide who will explain the context. Ask yourself: Will I feel comfortable posing what might be "uneducated" questions? Will the tour guide be too joke-say, rather than educational for me? Here you need to get under the skin of the tour company and analyze their sightseeing choices and the time allotted for each visit.
Are you fit or fragile? Travelers should walk through an itinerary in their heads. If you are a first timer alone, make sure you can keep up. Call the tour company and go through the trip day-by-day, visit-by-visit. Add to your analysis: time zone changes, altitude, less availability for drinking water, heat, nasty bathrooms, and exotic food. Ask what happens if you want to skip an event? Let’s say you had a hip replacement and do not want to take a horse carriage? Or you are the only one from the West Coast with the bigger time zone change and want a morning off?
Are you on a tight budget? Some women feel intimidated if there is shopping or too many options. The beauty of a group tour is that everyone is experiencing the same thing; conversation flows with joint experiences. Shopping time and options divide a group. Look through the day-by-day visits. Example: The itinerary says Free Time after lunch. What are your options alone during this free time; is it in shopping streets, or are you driven back to the hotel after lunch?
Do you feel your background might be different? Is everyone a PhD? Is the group welcoming to every ethnic group? To gays as well as straight women? Is everyone from a specific state? Do you need to have skills? Technical clothes? If you do not get a clear answer, move on.
Are you easily frightened? When you are alone for the first time away from home, fear is a big factor. It might relate to animals (riding an elephant in Jaipur?), heights (Eiffel Tower?) first time alone in a hotel room? What happens if you get sick alone in the room? Be honest with yourself as well as with your tour operator about your level of nervousness. Where can you wait while others ride the elephant or up the Eiffel Tower? Who can you call if you need help or are ill?
Can you be flexible? Travel has exciting and disappointing surprises: the unexpected parade or conversely bad weather. As a solo woman traveler, you will not have a partner to gripe to. Can you deal with unexpected events like hotel stairs with your luggage? Asking for help in a hotel and tipping is a worry for women first trip around.
Do you know your expectations? You might want to prove you can travel solo after divorce or widowhood? You might enjoy an educational component. You might just want an escape. Your expectations should match the goals of the tour company: Learning /relaxation / cultural immersion / gaining a skill / pampering. If you don’t fundamentally know what you want and cannot match it to the mission of the tour operator, you will come home disappointed.
Your first trip without your partner is like your first blind date. Ask the right questions ahead of time, be flexible and not judgmental. Avoid the politics and religion stuff. Muster up confidence, smile throughout and all will be well.
Phyllis Stoller is
President of The
Women’s Travel Group and an avid history buff about
travel, adventure, and women’s issues. See her other article for TransitionsAbroad.com on Women Traveling: Looking Back We See Ourselves.
See Transitions Abroad's Women Travel Page for more advice.