I was a late arrival to international traveling. I spent most of my adult years imagining myself as an adventurous fellow, but I always found excuses to avoid trips to far-off places. Part of the reason was a fear of getting out my comfort zone; another was the fact that I was single. Traveling solo takes self-confidence and resourcefulness at any age. When you pass 65, you throw in added concerns about medical problems arising far from home.
When my wife and I went to Costa Rica this month, we were part of a 16-member tour group run by Overseas Adventure Travel. The Boston-based company specializes in educational and adventure tours for seniors and baby boomers. The brochure specified that participants must be able to walk three miles unassisted and participate in six to eight hours of physical activities each day. We would be trekking through rain forests, riding horses, rafting on rapid rivers and traveling long distances by minibus over unpaved roads. Oh, yes, and we would have the option of ziplining through jungle canopy.
One interesting member of our group, which had 10 women and six men, was a woman from upstate New York named Joyce. She was at least 80 years old and was traveling solo. She participated in all our activities, including horse riding up and down steep, rocky trails, and kept up fine with the group pace. She also gave ziplining a try.
Let me say that ziplining is not for the faint of heart. When I signed up for it, I thought it would be a mellow glide through the treetops, offering a different view of exotic creatures. Instead, I was outfitted with about 15 pounds of metal clamps and ropes, walked 20 minutes up a steep hillside, listened to lengthy instructions on how to avoid going into a spin or whacking my head, and then watched as the first member of our group shot down a 150-foot cable at perhaps 30 miles an hour. There were 10 such runs on this outing.
Joyce came through the experience with a smile on her face and enthusiastic exclamations. After an initial wave of fear, I found the runs exhilarating, but I do wonder whether I’ll be up for such an adventure 10 years down the road. I also wonder whether I will want to handle the stress, uncertainty and fatigue of long-distance travel at that age. Doing it alone, as Joyce did, takes inner strengths I haven’t cultivated.
Interestingly, women seem more inclined toward solo travel than men. A representative for Overseas Adventure Travel told the New York Times that 80 percent of the solo travelers on its tours are women. In addition, the percentage of solo travelers is on the rise. More than 40 percent of OAT travelers are solo, up from 35 percent in 2013 and 27 percent in 2007, said spokeswoman Priscilla O’Reilly.
A good number of these female solo travelers, Reilly said, are married to men who are either still working or are disinclined to travel. Rather than curb their enthusiasm, these women do it on their own. “Some of them admit that after having taken care of spouses and kids for so many years, it’s nice to have an experience on one’s own without worrying, ‘Is Fred having a good time?’ ”
In our tour group, there were three married women whose husbands chose to stay home.
The travel industry is responding to this upsurge in solo travel. Said the Times: “The climate for solo travel is (slowly) improving. Some fees are being dropped, and more packages and deals are being marketed to people who plan to vacation on their own.”
Traveling is a good way to push the envelope and discover you can still be young at heart and open to new experiences.