20 Something Traveling–Been There, Done That
When thinking of a female solo traveler, I’m sure the first image that pops into mind is a 24-27 year old girl simply sick of her 9-5 desk job and craving something more. These women decide to toss the boring life of monotony and, instead, don a backpack and travel the world. They’re young, they’re fresh, and they’re ready to make the most of their “younger years.”
As I near the dreaded 3-0, I start wondering about the possibility of solo female traveling mid 30’s and beyond. I have found a slew of blogs featuring women that have braved the roughest frontiers with nothing but a bag on their backs–but I have yet to encounter a blog that has a 34+ something woman traveling the world.
It made me think: Do people simply tire of the backpacker lifestyle after their 20s? Not only women, but do men also become exhausted sleeping in dirty hostels or smelly rooms and gradually trade in the adventurous life for a 5 star hotel with ironed sheets and a continental breakfast? Especially in the case of women: Do they feel ashamed or embarrassed to travel alone as they get older? Particularly in Asia, an older, unmarried woman in her late 30s traveling the world is not only unbelievable to the locals–it’s completely alien.
But on this trip, I’ve encountered not one, but two older, solo female travelers.
The local bus stop
Three days ago I was waiting at an extremely local bus stop in Phuket, Thailand when another American traveler came my way. She was tall, blonde, and in her late 30s (by the looks of it, and later she further disclosed the fact). We were relieved to see one another, and after the initial greetings we started swapping stories.
This was her second trip traveling alone. She was unmarried (with a boyfriend) and had nothing but a backpack slung on her shoulder and a Lonely Planet in hand. She was bright, bouncy, fun and vibrant. I found out she was a flight attendant for almost ten years, and her boyfriend is a pilot currently working in Afghanistan (they meet multiple times throughout the year in different parts of the world).
“This will not be my last trip alone,” she said to me with a smile. “It’s exhilarating to be do things solo, and having the freedom of doing whatever I want is refreshing. I love it. I decided I’m going to continue doing this once a year for the rest of my life.”
She hopped off at Khao Lak, a beach stop closest to the Similian Islands in Thailand where we parted ways. I continued into the jungle alone.
After arriving at my jungle stop, I wandered into the jungle village of Khao Sok in a daze. Although Khao Sok is pure jungle, the village on the outskirts has become a bit of a hotspot for backpackers in recent years, offering bungalows, restaurants–even wifi and an atm machine.
As I was on an empty road searching for a bungalow, I noticed a tall, brunette woman walking behind me. She looked like she was in her late 30’s.
“Excuse me,” I turned to her. “Where are you staying?”
“Right over there,” she pointed. I heard a British accent in her voice, “it’s not bad, that one. Only 300 baht (10 usd) a night.”
I reserved the room, took a seat beside her at the outdoor cafe and popped open a Singha beer. Along with the beer, conversation got flowing.
She was also traveling alone. An HR contractor from Holland (that studied abroad in England), she takes multiple journeys throughout the year due to flexibility in her job. Last year she went to South Africa, only a few months prior she was in Greece. I was brimming with envy as she told me about the travels of her life. We decided to go to dinner where things became a tad more personal. After four large bottles of Chang, she looked me in the eye and said:
“How old are you?”
“28. And you?”
“Just turned 51.”
I dropped my fork and it clattered on the plate. This woman could pass for 38, definitely no older than 45. When she uttered those numbers I could only reply:
“I was just wondering if women still continue to do solo traveling even when they’re older–and you’re living proof of that. I haven’t met anyone that has been so many places in the world, and you’re still at it. It makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to do that too.”
“I am not married. I have no children. I have the freedom to go wherever I want whenever I want. The fact of the matter is: I enjoy life. I love sailing. I love diving. I love seeing the world and I love to live life to the fullest. I still date and have boyfriends–hell, I even had a fling with a 28 year old not too long ago. I ran a 5 hour marathon just 3 years ago.”
She paused. I was listening intently.
“Mary,” she pointed at me. “You keep traveling. Continue to see the world.”
I nodded, “I will.”
“Good,” she sat back.
“But you know,” she sighed. “I don’t know if it’s my age or what, but I noticed I don’t meet as many people when I travel solo as an older woman. Maybe it’s the age gap, or the party mindset of the young backpackers–but I find it harder to connect with others. It’s been a real pleasure meeting you and having dinner with you tonight.”
I enjoyed it as well–but maybe too much. All those Changs (6% Thai beer) really caught up with me, and the two of us were stumbling home.
When I woke up the next morning, I was hungover. And I had a jungle to trek and a cave to explore. It was amazing, but damn doing it hungover didn’t make it any easier.
You’re never too old to travel. I know people say that all the time, but really, traveling solo as a woman even in your 20s can be frightening and wearisome. It’s more dangerous to travel alone as a woman, and more than that it can be a tad lonely. When I went to Bali alone surrounded by honeymooning couples, it made me self conscious and–I’ll admit it–a bit envious. I can only imagine that feeling becomes harder to overcome as you get older.
But the main point is to just forget all of those social stigmas. Throw away that veil of self-conscious pity that you give yourself. You’re free and alone, no matter what the age, and you’re seeing the world.
So I hope to find more blogs with older female travelers, and I hope to meet more on my journeys in the future. I think it takes guts to travel alone, even more to do it as a woman, and as woman in her 50’s doing it? Phew, cheers to you.
I write this in the Phuket Airport as I head to Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia and Singapore, here I come!