How to make the most of traveling over 40
Traveling can be one of the very best things you do at any age. Traveling when you are over 40 can mean that you may have to make some adjustments to how you travel to get the very best experiences.
I am the first person to tell you that no matter how you like to travel, that fact that you are out there and doing it is what really matters. Seeing and experiencing different lands and cultures is what will help to remove prejudices in our own communities.
As a traveler who is no longer in their 20's, I've learned that there are a few challenges that can seem like road blocks to the best journey. These are my top 5 challenges that I've found and of course how to avoid them yourself.
1. Finding Accommodation as an older traveller
Strangely when I was asking friends about travel fears this one came up a lot. I had probably more than half the people I asked tell me that not being able to get somewhere to stay means that they pre-book everything. There definitely is some credit to having this fear, however there are many ways you can still achieve a more relaxed trip, without leaving yourself on the street.
Consider Using Hostels More
If you would like to travel with a greater level of freedom being able to be flexible in what accommodation options you use is essential. As an over 50 traveler I don't particularly like hostels, but I definitely use them. While you never used to be able to book dorm beds, most hostels do take bookings now so that has meant that your risk arriving at a hostel only to find out they are sold out is greatly reduced. This can really set the hairs on your arms to attention, especially if you are by yourself and it's getting late so consider booking online to avoid the stress.
The key to getting the best from hostels is to use them when you are busy. Having a full day and only needing to come back to the hostel to eat and sleep means they are really worth the much reduced cost. If you are looking at a more casual day or a day off, springing for the privacy of a cheap hotel might be a better option.
What is worth remembering is that hostels by default are usually geared around budget, fly by the seat of their pants travellers. If they don't have a bed for you, ask if you can use the Wi-Fi to find another hostel or ask if they know of any that they might call for you. Receptionist at hostels are often other travelers so just ask them for help. Chances are they've been in the same situation as you.
Book Your First Night's Accommodation
I almost never go anywhere without my first night's accommodation booked. I just find it way easier to know where I'm going and have somewhere to sleep. If I know there are a few days worth of sight seeing I want to do, I will book a few days to start.
Do Some Very Brief Research About Your Next Destination
While I'm getting around where I am, I use the Wi-Fi (or my local sim card) to have a brief look at what might be my next destination, just to see if anything is going on at that time I should be aware of. I famously (well maybe not famously) ended up in Nashville for Country Music Week and paid way more than I wanted to for accommodation just because I didn't realise it was CMA week. I ended up having a great time and loved being there during that event, however a simple search for “Nashville events in June” would have alerted me to the fact that it was CMA Week and that things would be hectic.
Check 2-3 Booking Websites for Availability
If it feels busy where I am, like Cherry Blossom season in Japan, I might check 2 or 3 booking websites for prices and availability at my next stop. I've gotten really quick at doing this and it takes me maybe 10 mins to see room numbers and costs which will give you an idea of availability and prices. I usually use Booking.com, Agoda and Hostel World.
Don't forget to check the last minute websites for unsold rooms and mystery hotels.
Finally, be prepared that if you are going to wing it, you might end up paying for a much more expensive hotel. If you have that capability in your emergency fund, you might find you have to use it. Less than ideal I'm sure, but keeping a little stashed away for emergencies can really pay off if you get yourself stuck.
Some Options If You Can't Find Any Accommodation
Lastly, if you absolutely can't find anywhere at all. Consider booking yourself on an overnight bus heading somewhere else. If you can't find accommodation where you are, think about alternative options. Get a train to another destination, get on a bus or even get yourself to a cafe and check out AirBnB for last minute rooms or even couch surfing websites.
Honestly, if you have access to your contingency fund and are prepared to use it, you can almost always find somewhere to stay. I've slept at a bus station once in years and years of travel and that was mostly because I got the date wrong of my bus ticket and checked out of my accommodation a day early during Mardi Gras.
While I wasn't technically without accommodation, my tiny tent does look pitiful among all the big tents at Serengeti National Park. It was even scarier when a pride of lions came through in the middle of the night and a cub tripped over one of my guy lines. I needed to pee so bad but held it until daylight after that.
2. Avoiding The “I'm Too Old For That” Mentality
While this doesn't seem like a fear initially, being afraid of what you might not be able to do, can very much affect your experiences. I remember doing a day zip lining in Costa Rica and having both the guests and the staff constantly commenting on an “older woman” doing it. I was around 50 at the time and it felt really odd that everyone kept questioning it, but I realised as the day went on that I am somewhat unique and I guess they just don't see many mature women sliding through the air on a metal cable. It was a fun day!
There can be a fine line between knowing your limitations and participating anyway. I have a bad back, almost no flexibility in my ankles (from a repaired Achilles and broken ankles), one of my knees only bends just past 90 degrees and I can't turn my head very far one way. If you read that you might think, hmmm, not sure you should be doing half the things you do, but I know how far I can push it.
✔ I know I'm faster going up than down because of my knee
✔ I know as long as there is no bending over and walking my back will be fine
❌ I know that I just can't surf anymore (no flex in my ankles)
❌ I know I can't Kayak unless there is a back rest
✔ I know I can put one foot in front of the other for days
❌ I know my upper body strength is rubbish!
but mostly I know that
I just don't care what anyone else thinks of me.
And that – is the key!
Who cares if you are slow, or need some help getting into or out of something? If you are surrounded by 15 twenty somethings I guarantee that they are definitely talking about you later, Probably while they are out drinking and you are in bed asleep! But, there is almost no chance they are saying “did you see that older person struggling today”. No. They are going to be talking about how they want to be like you when they are your age. There is always some twit that thinks that you shouldn't be out there pushing the boundaries at “your age” but they are the twit – not you.
This fear could also be a “I'm too fat for that” concern. I've been told many times that I'm too fat to do that mountain swing, or climb that mountain and if its a weight limited thing, sure I walk away but tell me I'm too fat to haul my arse up that hill – that's never going to work out for you. I DARE YOU!
Read about me getting told I'm too fat to hike in The Philippines.
So, realise that you are going to be the oldest at more than one attraction. Be proud, suck it up, get out there and CHARGE THE GLOBE!
Could I ever do Half Dome – not on your Nelly. The desire is 100% there but the knees just wouldn't hold out for the down. There are so many other hikes I can do that won't risk my life. I don't need to impress anyone. If its out of my reach – that's it. I'm good.
3. Saying No and Not Getting Flack For it
This fear is almost always closely tied to being afraid that you are too old for adventure travel. If you are 40 or over chances are you were brought up being taught to be polite, say please and thank you, accept graciously and never say no to someone's face. It might not have been 100% “don't say no” but we are not the generation that says no easily. Well most of us aren't.
My dad who I now realise I'm very similar to always told us:
No is a perfectly good answer!
Why can we say yes easily but find it immensely difficult to say no as a statement? Why do we feel we don't have to explain yes, but we do have to explain no. I've found that when I've travelled with others, they often stutter and stammer over saying no to something. Sometimes it's because they are uncomfortable just saying no, but often it's a fear of being judged for not doing something. I find this especially to be the case when I'm on a group tour.
Any of you that have done a few group tours will undoubtedly have come across that person or couple who sign up for an adventure tour and then don't want to do anything, or worse, they do and then complain non stop. No-one wants anyone else to think that of you. This shouldn't bully you into doing anything you either aren't comfortable with or just doesn't interest you. If you are a visitor to my website I'm pretty sure you are up for most things so don't let your own thinking get to you. I'm pretty much unbullyable (yes that is a word), but I used to be my own worst enemy. I thought I had to get everything I possibly could out of every day, and often ended up doing something that I really didn't want to or maybe shouldn't have been doing.
Likewise don't be scared to walk away from something if you realise you are out of your depth. There is no need to explain to anyone else why you are walking away, but staying because you think others will think worse of you is a pretty irrational fear. It is your trip, your vacation or your day out. Don't waste it doing something that is going to be more difficult than its worth or that you flat out don't want to do. Sometimes waking away has its own reward like the time I met Francisco & Hobi in the Philippines.
Don't let fear of what others might think control you. You are the master of your own domain!
Don't want to go caving? Don't. Never force yourself to do something NOT to be judged. Head to the coffee shop, write in your journal or go for a walk. It's your time. Do what makes your soul shine.
4. Overcoming The Fear Of Not Knowing
As a twenty something traveller, fear is something that is very easily pushed to the back of your mind. While you will definitely encounter it, usually your lack of experience and knowledge of what “could” go wrong saves you from letting that fear really take hold. It is just how our brain develops.
Once you hit 40 or 50, you have that life experience that makes your brain a little more aware of your situation and surroundings. You have heard all the horror stories, and I'm sure experienced some less than ideal moments yourself. Despite this, it is relatively simple to overcome that fear and enjoy travelling.
Fortunately I'm not someone who suffers from chronic anxiety or stress, so I've not often found myself in a situation where I'm really afraid. There are many ways to make sure you are as safe as you can be and I do go into detail in my post about staying safe abroad, so I'm just going to tell you about a little trick I recently learnt that has been amazing. I'm not talking about the “omg what will these people think of me in my comfortable shoes” fear. That's not fear. I'm talking about fear that stops you leaving the hostel after 4pm or the fear that seriously limits your adventures.
How To Get Your Travel Fears Under Control
If you find yourself getting a little panicked, stop, breathe and think about whether you need to be this scared at this moment in time. Let's say you are on the plane to a destination that is new to you and you are starting to stress yourself out about arriving somewhere foreign.
Take a deep breath and step back out of the fear. You might have 7 hours before you even get there. Why are you scared now?? Give yourself a break and relax.
Once it gets closer if you feel yourself once again starting to stress, think about what you've done to alleviate any challenges. If you have a transfer booked and you don't know where to go, look around the plane for a family that might be local to where you are headed. If you see one, get up out of your chair and go over and ask if they speak English. If they do, ask them if they might know where you go after baggage claim or customs to find your transfer. Asking a family will probably feel less challenging that approaching a man for example. What's the worst that they will say? No? Who cares – you have 300 other people to ask!
You have probably another 100 people between you and the airport exit that you can also ask once you land. There will be people in the immigration line, at the baggage carousel, an immigration officer, duty free, cafe's or newsagents, other travellers waiting to board, signage. You get the idea.
Now – are you still as stressed?? Probably not or if you are, I'm guessing its less than it was. And if you are still worried, what's the worst thing that happens? You can't find your transfer and you get a cab from the registered rank. Is $50 really worth getting that upset over?
I would suggest you check out Ant Middleton's book about the “Fear Bubble”. If a soldier can get his fear under control, so can you! He walks through his step by step principle to getting your fear under control in situations where its just not necessary. No matter what you think of him personally, this is a really good principle that is simple to put into practice. If its not right here right now, step back away from it, relax and deal with it when you absolutely have to.
5. Fear Of Getting Mugged or Robbed
This does feel like a legitimate fear. While I've never been mugged in the true sense of the word, I have been in a bank when it was robbed and was also the person who had the gun held to their head. I still have a scar on my temple from the heat from the muzzle. The robber fired a shot into the ceiling and then pressed the gun to my temple to make everyone listen, hence the heat stamp. So I know what it feels like.
However – this was in the 80's in a capital city of Australia, so it can happen anywhere! You don't have to be in Caracus for bad things to happen and in the same way, just because you are in a small bank in suburban Perth on a Monday morning doesn't mean it won't.
Thinking you are going to be mugged simply because you aren't in your local environment just doesn't hold water does it? Do you think of being mugged walking down the street at home? If you don't, why are you thinking about it when you are away? Personally, I think primarily it is because you feel like you don't have access to services to help you should that actually happen. What if you do get robbed? You have to replace your phone, your money, and/or your cards in a foreign country. Apart from the card, everything can be replaced and easily and if you are prepared to just hand over the cash, your chance of being hurt is slim.
How To Overcome The Fear Of Being Robbed
Firstly, recognise that those gangster movies you love are just that – MOVIES! While bad things do happen for sure, three young men walking toward you in pants around their hips and branded sneakers aren't necessarily from a gang. You've probably been watching too much TV! A huge percentage of the time they are just fasionable young kids.
Secondly, understand that spending your time in tourist locations is more likely to result in you being pickpocketed than robbed. Typically (of course not always) you are more likely to be exposed to non violent crime than something more sinister. If you see someone you feel is suspicious, take a deep calming breathe and just walk past them. After you've done this a few times you will start to relax and your spidey senses will get a chance to actually work out what's a bad situation and what's just fear.
I often hear older people tell me that they couldn't run from someone trying to rob them. From everything I've been told, you shouldn't run anyway, but I do understand the concern. If you feel like you aren't in peak physical fitness or have something that you feel makes you stand out, don't walk. Spend the money on a cab or bus and save yourself the stress. When I first left on my big trip in 2016, I was recovering from a ruptured Achilles that I had reconstructed about 7 months earlier. Early in the morning, or if I had been sitting for some time, I still limped quite badly. To hide it, I would simply get up from where I was, stroll around for a bit or browse the shops slowly (I could hide it if I wasn't really striding out) and then when it was warm and OK I would walk home then. I always knew I could move quicker if I needed to but, I did feel like I was a little obvious limping. So I just didn't put myself in a situation where I was obviously restricted.
The massive benefit of being an older traveller is that you blend. You blend well usually. I'm almost invisible as a budget traveller because I'm really ordinary looking (apart from being tall), I never look like I have $20 to my name and my age suggests experience. Even if this is your first overseas trip, being older gives you automatic experience in the eyes of others. This works for muggers too!
There are some simple steps to take to lessen your change of being mugged and to not hand over too much if you are:
not walking in area's that aren't great at night & if you are in a less than ideal location and that is unavoidable, walk in a group or take a taxi
don't carry heaps of cash and only have one credit or debit card on you – while this might not stop you being robbed, it will enable you to readily hand over anything you have with no challenge.
keep some cash tucked into your bra so you have some money to get back to your hotel if need be
- don't check your map on the street. If you have wireless ear buds, put one in (just one) and set Google Maps to walking and press start for it to give you directions through your earbud. As long as you don't look to be distracted no-one will even notice you have one ear bud in. TIP: Get the black ear buds as they blend heaps better than the white ones
walk confidently toward where you are going. Move like you know where you are headed with purpose and you will seem WAY less of a target & finally
don't wear tourist clothes! OMG – cargo pants are a sure sign you are a tourist. If you don't wear them at home don't wear them on holiday!
There are other things I do to make myself blend as much as possible, like never wearing my jewellery when I'm away from home. If I am not familiar with where I'm going, I never take any jewellery at all. Even when I visit Europe or the US, I never wear my jewellery. My accent strongly advises that I'm not a local anywhere outside Australia, so I don't want to make myself a target by dripping in gold or diamonds. Not that I have too much gold or diamonds but you know what I mean. The only reason you can be more of a target as a tourist is because the muggers know that the police attention is likely to be minimal or none. They are probably not going to put much effort into a tourist being robbed. You will be gone next week and they have more important things to do. Sad but true!
Lastly, be aware that for most muggers, it is about getting money and getting away. Sure it will be really stressful if you do get mugged, but it's not good business for petty thieves or pickpockets to hurt you. That attracts way more attention than they would like so being prepared to get mugged is actually in your favour. I have more tips for staying safe as a solo female traveller in this post.
What To Do If You Do Get Mugged
If someone approaches you with intent, make yourself as small as possible. Hunch your shoulders, lower your head, nod to anything you are told and readily hand over whatever they ask for. Nothing you have on you should be worth getting hurt over.
Afterward, take note of where you are and if there is someone around, get them to call the police for you. If there isn't anyone around, head back to the most populated area close by and ask for someone there to call the police for you. Report that it happened, as regular reporting will help local police to patrol affected areas, get a copy of the report for travel insurance and use your stash to get back to the hostel or hotel. Tell someone there that you just got mugged and are feeling stressed. It's important that you express what happened to you to get it out of your head and hopefully make it more manageable.
Head up to your room or bed, take a shower, have a cup of tea and try to calm yourself for at least an hour or so. Accept that you may feel off for a few days and similar situations might unnerve you for a while, but talk to someone. Get it out in the open and don't let the fear consume you.
How to Stay Safe While Travelling as an older woman
While most of my advice is designed for female travellers, it can be used for any traveller.
I have found that over 30 years of travel experience has very much fine tuned my ability to both stretch myself a little past my comfort zone AND be very aware when things just don't feel quite right. Don't be too hard on yourself if you are a little hesitant to start. Everyone's comfort level is different and you need to do you.
It's your trip, you need to do it how you want to and if you aren't someone who would wander through a street food market at 11pm – don't do it to prove anything. You don't need to.
There is a term “hike your own hike” in multiday backpacking that can be applied here. Travel how you want and stay safe while you are doing it.