A Social Experiment (Part 1): Travelling Solo for the Over 40s

I’m putting myself forward to take part in a social experiment.

I am going to be a guinea pig. 

It’s a little ironic; I spent 15 years in another industry where I was often referred to as another animal. It amused me to stand at the front door of a house while some small child shouts over their shoulder, ‘Muuuuum, the pigs are here.’

I’m not sure if it’s progress or otherwise to go from pig to guinea pig, but none-the-less, this is what I’m doing.

Suzanne Holden

THE BACKGROUND

In my local town, I run a hiking group, I put out a date, time and place on social media to say where I’m walking and people are welcome to join me.  The only proviso is, that they are able to walk at a reasonable pace for 1 -2 hours and they have a sense of humour.

And people turn up.

I have my regulars who love nothing more than an excuse for a walk, chat and meet new people. Some bring their kids, some come to learn new walks, some bring a friend and some step out of their comfort zone and just join alone.

After one such walk, someone said to me, it’s not just a walk you are offering people; it’s the social connection. 

And he’s right. 

I’m not offering anything that people can’t just go and do themselves. It’s about doing something you enjoy, with others.

It’s the ones who join in alone that intrigues me.  I really appreciate the effort it takes to turn up and join a bunch of strangers. It’s not easy to do; most of us like to live in our comfort zone.

LIFE BEGINS AT THE END OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

When I’m not out leading local hikes, I work in the travel industry. I’m both a tour host and travel agent for people wanting to go on their own independent holiday.

I have a great job!

What I am noticing is, an increasing number of people who want to travel, but, like the people who turn up on my walks alone, they don’t necessarily have anyone to travel with.

It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have a partner, or they haven’t got friends. It just means they don’t have someone available who wants to do the same thing as they do. 

For some this is not a problem, they just pack their bags and go.

For the majority, this is too far out of their comfort zone.

SO, WHAT’S IT LIKE TO TRAVEL ALONE?

To be honest, I don’t know!

I’ve always had family or friends to travel with.

This is where my social experiment comes in.

I decided to book myself on a tour and go on my own.

Goodbye comfort zone.

I have to admit; when I send other people on holiday I do ridiculous amounts of research to make sure the trip and client are a great match.  But sadly, I did not do this for myself.  I just picked a location I hadn’t been to before (north island, New Zealand) and a timeframe and price that suited me.

It was also about going a week without teenagers sighing and rolling their eyes behind their devices when I tried to communicate with them.

A week without having to cook unappreciated meals.

A week where I am asked, what ‘I’ would like to do. 

TAKE. MY. MONEY. NOW.

The ‘NOW’ bit was the part which might have been my undoing.  I was under pressure. I had to book something quickly.

LAST MINUTE JITTERS 

It was a couple of days before departure that I actually started to read the itinerary properly.

Oh my wordy, what was I thinking. 

There was hiking (that was fine) but also cycling, canoeing, mud pools and traditional Maori greetings.

Cycling and canoeing – that’s so not me!

Mud pools – the thought made me wince! 

As for rubbing noses with strangers – a firm handshake is more my style!

The itinerary said the accommodation was going to be basic, with occasional mixed-gender dorm rooms, and it was advisable to take my own soap and towel, as these were not always provided.  What the . . .

It was then that the anxiety kicked in, it appeared I had booked on one of those active adventures for 18-30-year-olds.

I am old enough to have kids that age, for goodness sake!

There was no turning back. <Insert expletive here>

When I explained my dilemma to a friend, he said,

          ‘Great, this is exactly the concerns I, as a solo traveller, would have; wondering about the people I’m going to be travelling with, will I fit in!’

I knew I could find out about the demographics of my group, it would only take a phone call.  However, this was a social experiment, too much information may taint the results. 

It WAS going to be okay (or so I kept telling myself). 

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