Independent travel – not just for twenty-somethings

Not long ago I was asked to write an article about the differences between traveling independently as a senior and a twenty or thirty-something. Admittedly, I bristled. I replied that the essence of travel was the same regardless of our age. We all visit new places to satisfy our curiosity, to experience something different, and to learn about cultures different from our own.

The myth that independent travel is only for the younger crowd needs to be debunked.

Since then, however, I have not been able to get the question out of my mind. When I left corporate life to travel around the world nearly eight years ago, I was 54 years old. My luggage was a rolling case that converted into a backpack with a zip-off daypack. I carried everything on my back for a couple of years, but the combination of growing older and adding more camera gear and electronic equipment eventually meant the pack was too heavy for me. Grudgingly, I converted to a smaller carry-on backpack for my equipment and a small rollerboard case. I remember wondering at the time whether that meant I was getting too old for such long-term travel.

Barbara Weibel on a day hike atop the old city walls in York, England

Barbara Weibel on a day hike atop the old city walls in York, England

Independent travel means not taking a pre-arranged tour. It means not staying in an all-inclusive resort designed to keep guests from ever leaving the grounds. It means not eating at fancy hotel restaurants that are not representative of the country you are visiting. It does mean staying at guest houses owned by locals, eating at neighborhood restaurants, and wandering through areas of the city or countryside that are not on the typical top-ten list of places to see.

Independent travel is more difficult, (and infinitely more rewarding), but it is not only for the younger crowd. I will admit, however, to making some concessions over the past few years that have made this mode of travel easier. I hope that sharing a few of my tips will encourage other mature travelers to give independent travel a try as well:

  • Rather than opting for a pre-arranged tour, consider traveling to the destination, basing at a local guest house, B&B, or hotel, and then taking day trips. Facilities can often help guests arrange such local tours; look for an indication of this when browsing search engines for a place to stay and be sure to read the guest reviews.
  • Try a hostel! Unfortunately, hostels have a reputation as party places, where young people wander in at all hours of the night, drunk and rowdy, This couldn’t be further from the truth. In eight years, I’ve had only two such experiences, and I frequently choose to stay in hostels because of their affordable prices, access to laundry facilities, and great common areas where I meet people from all over the world. Though the average age of hostel guests tends to be younger, I have never felt unwelcome, and over time more and more mature folks are discovering hostels (I even shared a bunk bed with an 80-something woman once in Mexico). Finally, while hostels are best known for their dorm rooms, many also offer private rooms with en-suite bathrooms, especially those in the burgeoning new category of luxury hostels.
  • Upon arrival, pick up several business cards for the hostel/hotel. If visiting a country where you don’t speak the language, make sure these business cards carry the address in the local language so that, after a day of wandering, you need only hand the card to a taxi driver.
  • I love to hike, but a bad knee and hip means I can no longer do week-long treks in the mountains. Instead, I find a centrally located guest house and do day treks, returning to the hotel each evening. This way, I need only carry a lightweight day pack.
  • If, like me, you enjoy walking, consider taking regular breaks in coffee shops or sidewalk cafes along your route. Not only will it be more relaxing, it’s one of the best ways I know to strike up conversations with locals.
  • One of the best ways to discover a city is to use public transportation, however be aware that even in the world’s greatest cities, many metro and train stations do not have escalators. Do yourself a favor and splurge on a taxi or car service to and from the airport to avoid battling crowds and struggling up and down long staircases with heavy luggage. Use public transportation once you’re settled.
  • Speaking of luggage, jettison about half of what you want to pack. Build your travel wardrobe around one color and create diversity with ties, scarves, and accessories. Take only one pair of dressy shoes, one casual pair, and perhaps flip-flops if your destination is the beach. If you over-pack, you’ll quickly regret having to haul around a heavy case.
  • Finally, don’t try to cram too much in during your stay. If you build in some leisure time, your trip will be so much more enjoyable.


When Barbara Weibel realized she felt like the proverbial “hole in the donut” – solid on the outside but empty on the inside, she walked away from corporate life and set out to see the world. Read first-hand accounts of the places she visits and the people she meets at Hole in the Donut Cultural Travels. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter (@holeinthedonut).

Posted by | Comments (4)  | December 30, 2014
Category: Female Travelers, Senior Travel, Vagabonding Styles

4 Responses to “Independent travel – not just for twenty-somethings”

  1. EDS Says:

    Hi. Thanks for this really informative blog post…you’re right….travelling is not really meant for the young ones….it can be done for everyone….it should BE!…:)Cheers..Happy new Year wishes!

  2. Sassytravels Says:

    Thanks barbara, I couldn’t agree more.. I am doing my first TOTALLY solo trip in May this year from Australia to Europe …yes I’m nervous and yes I’m excited. But the fact is I still have choices despite my advancing years… I still have the ability and I still have the desire. Some people think I’m crazy and others think I’m awesome. I just want to give it a go …living in Spain has always been one of my dreams so I am going for two months….it’s now or never…. I am only 62 after all…. 🙂

  3. Jennifer Stark Says:

    So true Barbara!
    We left teaching early & have just spent 3 amazing years travelling our beautiful world.
    Let us know if you come to Adelaide, Australia.
    “Cheers Jon and Jenny XX

  4. Barbara Weibel Says:

    Sassytravels, as a fellow 62-year old, I’m hereto tell you that we are still very young! Spain is one of my favorite destinations and I’m sure you’ll love it. Spending a few months in a Latin country so that I can improve y Spanish is also on my travel wish list. EDS, Happy New Year to you as well – so glad you enjoyed my article and found some helpful tips. And Jon & Jenny, if I get back to Australia and plan to be in the Adelaide area, I’ll be sure to get in touch. Thanks so much!