Castiglione del Lago Italy
Life On The Mediterranean GREECE,ITALY,LIFESTYLE,TRAVEL Solo Female Traveler over 50. What’s the fuss?

Solo Female Traveler over 50. What’s the fuss?

Castiglione del Lago Italy

Recently I’ve stumbled upon loads of articles about solo female travelers over 50. This seems odd to me. Maybe not to those who’ve not traveled much, and now find themselves taking the leap at 50. I can’t help but feel this is describing an affliction of some sort, like you’re old and have now attained superhero status because you’ve started to travel alone at age 50. It made me wonder, is being a solo female traveler over 50, all that unique?

Are solo female travelers over 50 defined by their age?

I am not defined by my age. Maybe I should be, because it’s clear that being over 50 gets you covered in the Huffington Post. I could even be part of a list of Over 50 Solo Travel Bloggers to follow. Who knew? Yes, I’m over 50. In fact I’m 642 months. Go ahead and calculate. I’ll wait… I think we should go back to how we described children before 24 months. Oh, she’s 20 months. It’s more fun and ambiguous. But I don’t remember a time when I was afraid to travel alone.

Solo female travel with my young niece who's never traveled alone

My niece who IS 20 months, and me after having returned from a year abroad.

Life’s milestones define who you are

Frankly, I forget how old I am. I have no children with milestones of graduation, marriage or children of their own to remind me of my age. As one of my friends said after a music festival I attended, ‘Can someone please take the batteries out of Maureen?” I feel like I’m 25 and mentally I’m still there. And maybe that’s a big part of it for women – feeling their age? Always having a family around? A partner or husband?

Steve Cole Sax Mallorca

With saxophonist Steve Cole and his wife at the Mallorca Smooth Jazz Festival. If the party’s still going, I’m usually still there…

I’ve had a very independent side since I was 9, when my sister died. A few months later, my brother headed off to college. I went from a complete family of five to a very disjointed family of three. My parents were wrapped up in their own grief, and I knew what feeling alone felt like.

I learned how to do for myself because I couldn’t rely on anyone. Our house wasn’t the same ‘fun’ any more. I kept my grades up, didn’t rock the boat and tried to smooth the way, because at times our house was tense. Through all this, I learned how to appreciate my own company. Which brings me to today, and why I wonder if being a solo female traveler over 50 is all that unique. Maybe so, but my story explains a lot about me.

Bidding my parents and my precious Bassett hound goodbye 

Moving to Italy for a year

My first substantial semi-solo travel experience was when I was 20. I moved to Italy for a year to study abroad. I don’t know if you remember a series in the late 60’s called, To Rome With Love? But seeing the opening credits every week showing the magnificent Colosseum stuck with me. At 5 years old I wanted to see the Colosseum!

Yes, there would be other students on my program, but I didn’t know them beforehand, so it was still a semi-solo experience. You meet people along the way, as you do when you are young. And I did. Lots. Many of whom I’m still friends with today. All I knew is that there was a big world out there and I needed to leave my hometown of pop. 1261 to see it.

Lake Garda, Sirmione, Italy

Friend from the program, Lisa Marie Gelhaus, who I’m still friends with today. She loved Italy so much she returned and is still there.

Traveling alone to Greece

Then I toured the Greek Islands at 21, completely alone, just before returning to the US. All I had was an itinerary my Greek friend, Frangoulis, scratched onto a piece of paper of where to go and what to see. I took a boat from Ancona, Italy, and off I sailed to Greece. I wanted to see it and was running out of time. If there’s one thing my history taught me, time is not a given. Carpe Diem is still my favourite phrase today.

The thing I loathed about group travel is when someone says, “Hey, you wanna go see that contemporary art exhibit featuring elephant dung?,” Yeah, me neither. As a solo traveler, I do what I want, when I want and with whom… or not. And I have seen the elephant dung exhibit. I don’t need to see it again. Maybe it’s being selfish. Maybe it’s knowing myself and what I’m willing to put up with.

solo female travel over 50

Train ticket from Bologna to Ancona, Italy. $5.15 back then.

When I got to the port in Patras, Greece, I had to take a bus to Athens. I still remember sitting next to a girl my age who spoke some English. She assumed I was English and went on to say she doesn’t like Americans. I learned very quickly to shut my mouth, and to be from anywhere else. You learn that, and it’s still helpful today. I’ve been Canadian more times than I can count.

First stop, Athens!

Once in Athens, I made my way to the tourism bureau to find cheap accommodation. With a few options in hand, I stepped outside and ran into a guy ironically from Chicago, 3 hours from home. He knew the places the bureau mentioned and offered to go with me to translate at the reception. His parents live there and spend lots of time in Athens. He just happened to be getting maps at the bureau for some friends. Random. I found a place to stay, he gave me a quick tour of the Acropolis and kindly treated me to dinner. I also admit I was/am quite sociable. Not overly so, but I can start and keep a conversation going if and when I want. So, I usually have no trouble meeting people on the road.

Athens Acropolis

Me at the Acropolis in Athens. Taken by my new friend, Louis Nicholas.

Next, take a ferry to the Greek Islands

The next day I made it to the port, figured out how to buy a ticket, and was sailing via ferry to the island of Paros; the next place on Frangoulis’ itinerary. Not having any money in those days, I paid for a place on the ferry deck and not a seat. What a great way to see the Greek Islands on the front of a ferry.

It was there I randomly met two girls my age; Elizabeth from San Fran and Victoria from Australia. We just started chatting and discovered we had no set itinerary, but were looking to spend 3 nights on Paros. Once we arrived in Paros port, an older woman was standing there asking if we needed a room. They did that in those days. She had a room with 3 beds and a bathroom for the equivalent of $10 a night. We said, “Perfect.” I spent 3 fun-filled days riding donkeys, swimming and exploring with 2 new friends for $3.37 a night!

Paros Island Donkey ride

Riding donkeys up to the Valley of the Butterflies on Paros Island, Greece

My new roommates, Elizabeth and Victoria on Paros

Just let random events lead your experiences

From there we went our separate ways and I continued on the boat, for what seemed like an eternity, to the far island of Rhodes, near Turkey. My itinerary said I should go to Lindos.

Once I arrive I find the bus, and again meet 2 random guys onboard from Australia who were on vacation. They were looking for an apartment in Lindos and said they’d happily split a 2-bedroom with me. We found a cool 2-bed place in an old cloister and I paid $10 a night for my own room for 3 nights. Those guys were even kind enough to splurge on a few meals and drinks for this broke college student. We had a brilliant three days. I get it that times in the 80’s were different. It seemed safer or I had less worries as a single, young female.

Acropolis Lindos, Rhodes Greece

Lindos Acropolis with another new roommate, John, and Lawrence is taking the photo

Courtyard in Lindos Greece

Our cloister apartment in Lindos. We were on the right.

Let your friends help develop your itinerary

I bid my adieus to the guys and took a boat once again up the coast north to the Island of Kalymnos. Frangoulis’ family live there and that’s where he grew up. While not the most attractive island, he really wanted me to see it. Frankly, there are so many wonderful Greek islands to visit.

All I knew is that his family own a Pharmacy on the port. So I arrive at the port and go to the first pharmacy. And sure enough, it was theirs. I introduce myself to Georgio, Frangoulis’ brother-in-law, in Italian, as both he and Maria, Frangoulis’ sister, studied in Bologna. I said Frangoulis said I should stop by and say hello. So that’s what I was doing. I chatted for a bit, told him where I’d been, where I was going and said my goodbyes. And off I went in search of a place to stay for a few nights.

Frangoulis’ sister Maria who still owns a pharmacy on the port in Kalymnos

I found a cheap place in town and settled in for the night. When I go to sleep, I leave the blinds up on the window a bit. I’m afraid of the dark so I need some light coming into the room.

About an hour later, I am freaked out by a knock on the door. It was Georgio. He said, “Maureen, come on. You are coming with me. I spoke to Frangoulis and you are coming to stay at our house.” So I quickly got dressed and squished everything into my pack. Georgio tucked it between his legs and I hopped on the back of his old, rickety scooter. Off we went to their home up the hill.

Views of Telendos island from Kalymnos Island Greece

Beach in Telendos on the other side of Kalymnos Island.

I asked Georgio how he knew where I was. He said he drove to every guesthouse on that part of the island and asked if there was an American staying there. Then, with my window blind up, he recognized my SHOES! All very random.

When I got there, they had a lovely large, comfy room for me to stay in. The next morning when I woke, I opened the French doors onto an amazing terrace overlooking the island and the sea. It was the most breathtaking view I’d ever seen.

Views over Kalymnos Greece

Views from the terrace at Frangoulis’ parents’ home

The hospitality of this family was beyond generous. They even took me over to neighboring Telendos Island for dinner one night. All six of us packed into a small motor boat and sailed less than a mile to this beautiful island. We ate and drank alfresco, listening to local Greek musicians for the equivalent of $25! I know all these details because I wrote them on the back of the these old photos.

Telendos Greece

Island of Telendos off of Kalymnos, Greece. If you look closely, you’ll see a resting Queen with a jewelled necklace.

I told them I only planned to stay for a couple of nights because I needed to get back to Bologna to pack to return to the US. They said, “Please stay here the week and we will pay for your flight back to Athens so you can catch your boat back.” So I stayed… Surreal.

New friends overlooking Telendos

Frangoulis’ younger sister

What if I hadn’t traveled alone?

The point is, none of this would have happened if I hadn’t traveled alone. I would have stayed with the group and never let chance take its course. Random encounters would not have happened. That taught me a lot about myself. Trusting my instincts, trusting others. Going with the flow. Being okay being alone. The same goes for anyone over 50 traveling today. You just get out there and let chance come your way.

One film you should watch if you haven’t, is Shirley Valentine. She a extraordinary woman stuck in an ordinary life. All she wanted to do was travel. It’s a fun movie.

Do 20-year-olds today travel alone?

Fast forward to now, and I had that same 20-month old niece stay with me last summer in France for 6 weeks.  I’m thinking, Great. We’ll visit some places and she’ll then travel on her own.

Solo female traveler over 50 London Eye capsule

My niece and I in London, who’s no longer 20 months old!

She had a friend join her for a couple weeks and they did travel a bit, but when I asked if she was going to do some travel on her own, she said, “No. Why would I do that? That would be boring.” I was shocked. I was really wishing she had read Katie’s Guide to Fearless Female Solo Travel. It would have sparked some enthusiasm.

It all made me question what is it we are putting in the minds of people today that they think that way? Is there no longer that sense of adventure? Are people so conditioned that the world is a dangerous place that it’s taken away any desire to explore alone? What is it?

Or how is it that they find their own company boring? I believe today as it was then, you will find people on the road you resonate with, regardless of whether you are 25 or 55. If nothing else, I think it would be easier once you are older, wiser and hopefully, more street smart. And with a bit of extra cash as an older traveler, you wouldn’t have to bunk up with random strangers to save a few bucks.

I’d be keen to get your input whether you are a seasoned traveler or just starting out. What gives? What is so terrifying about being a solo female traveler over 50?

Maybe it IS unique and I should just celebrate the circumstances, good and bad, that have led me to where I am today.

Keep traveling ladies! See you on the road. And let me know if you need any inspiration.

20 thought on “Solo Female Traveler over 50. What’s the fuss?”

  1. Thank you for the story, it was fun to read. I am 56 years old Icelandic woman which loves to travel and I prefer to travel solo. Actually, I am collecting countries and I have been to 52 countries and plan to add 6 new countries next year.

    1. Hi Olina, sorry for the delay. I’ve been traveling. 🙂 I loved reading your comment. I agree. I enjoy the road alone so much more than with people. I’m at about 50 countries myself. Which countries will you visit this year?

  2. Loved your story. Just as I believe we have to follow our stars, I think that we have to do the things that make us complete in life. By the way, whatever happened to Frangoulis?

    1. Gearoid, thank you for reading this! Wow, and thanks for the question. At the time, Frangoulis was studying medicine in Bologna, so I assumed he’d go back to his island. I went back to Kalymnos 3 years ago to see who was still around. I was keen to see Georgio and Maria who run the pharmacy and find out about their now grown kids, and ask about Frangoulis. I assumed the parents would have passed given the years.

      I went back to the same pharmacy trying to figure out if the man behind the counter was Giorgio, with 30 years difference. Didn’t look like him. So I sat outside for about 15 minutes just watching what was going on, then got up the nerve to go inside and ask if this was Giorgio and Maria’s pharmacy. The man said they moved just down the road, but that Giorgio was no longer living. It was just Maria. So I went down the road and found the pharmacy, and there was Maria with the same slim figure, same hair cut albeit very salt and pepper. I introduced myself as the American that came to stay with them 30 years ago and she remembered me. We reminisced about the boat trip to Telendos where we had dinner. On the walls were photos of her dad and Giorgio. She said Giorgio had died 3 years after I visited. He was 37! Really sad. She never remarried and maintained the pharmacy alone, and their kids now work in Athens.

      Frangoulis? Well he works in the radiation department at the hospital on the island and he stops at the pharmacy every day at 6p to meet with Maria and other passersby. So I was super excited. I had a few hours to kill before coming back so I had lunch on the port and thought about the times back in Bologna we’d talk about. How we used to spend time together with my boyfriend and his girlfriend, Farah. We had a lot of fun. 6p rolls around and I see him walk into the pharmacy. I waited another 15 minutes before going in.

      So I walk in and introduce myself to him and repeat the same things I said to Maria. Maria chimes in, Yeah, she’s the American friend you told to come to the island and look us up. She stayed with us a week. I got a blank stare. He didn’t remember me. Nothing. None of it. Not my boyfriend, not his girlfriend! I was stunned. Embarrassed. And so was he.

      He made light conversation about how he was married and now divorced and has 2 kids, one on the island and one in Athens, and that his life is basically working at the hospital. He’s overworked as the population of Kalymnos has dropped by more than 1/2 with the recession and the hospital is busy. He looked tired and seemed much older than his age. Our conversation was brief. I only stayed about 30 minutes. Really strange feeling when someone who made such an impact on your life doesn’t remember you. That’s happened to me a couple of times. I do plan to return to Kalymnos again, but with photos next time to leave with Maria. Really appreciate you taking the time to read that!

  3. I love this story Moe, it really captures the spirit of island-hopping in Greece!

    1. Thanks Steph. I remember when doing it, it didn’t seem like such a big thing. When I spoke to my niece about it last year, I realised how adventurous I seem to her. Quite nice to be the cool, European Aunt. 🙂 So loving your blog! Stuck on it at the moment. Hahah

  4. So Moe, I take that back – the party is not over and DO NOT REMOVE the batteries, but I do want some of those energy bombs you taking ..LOL!! I will try and catch up with you somewhere over that beautiful rainbow ? and we will do a city or two … or three .. together.

  5. I’m 55, been married 35 years, have 3 grown kids and grand kids. About 10 years ago I finally convinced the husband to travel. 3 weeks was his limit and he’d want to go home. I was just getting started. After a few trips he decided it’s not his thing and he’d rather stay home but had no problem with me going….so I went. I usually travel with a friend I met in Ecuador but have gone alone and both are awesome. My parents weren’t thrilled but they slowly realized this is ME. I’ve always HAD the travel bug but have been “responsible” all my life. I got a lot of grief from my community. Poor Mike! His wife takes off on him for months at a time and leaves him ALL alone (with our special needs son). Never mind that he’s fine. He’s busy doing his own thing and I can take care of a lot of things via the internet. They’re all used to it now and ask me where I’m going this winter. Some even follow my blog and travel vicariously through me. My point is that what we’re doing it outside our society’s “norm”. Grandmas are supposed to stay home, knit socks, babysit their grand kids, bake cookies, cook everyone wonderful meals and volunteer (all of which I used to do in addition to working full time). Apparently marriage is a life sentence. Once you settle down, that’s it. You’re supposed to do these things when you’re young. Right. Well, I’m doing it now. I figure I’ve done my time. I work hard all summer and spend lots of time with the grand kids so winters are mine and I’m having FUN. My grand daughter says I’m the coolest grandma EVER. I’ve promised when she’s done high school, we’ll do a backpacking trip together. She’s going to have to get in shape as now, at 16, I doubt she can keep up to me. You’re right. Age is just a number. I figure if I’m blessed enough to be so healthy, I need to take advantage and live MY best life, not the life society tells me I should.

    1. Well done, Jodi. Loved reading your story. I agree about society’s norms and it’s a shame. We only get one life. There’s a great line in the film, “The Way” with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estafez (real life father and son). Martin is driving Emilio to the airport and is unhappy that Emilio doesn’t know when he’s coming back home. Martin says something to the effect that not everyone has the luxury of just ‘upping and going.’ And Martin says, “You might not like my life but it’s the one I choose.” And Emilio said, “Dad, you don’t choose a life, you live one.” Great movie about St. James’ walk to Santiago de Compostella.

  6. Hey there!! I love your post! I am Greek and really your Greek adventure put me in tears… I am so glad that you had a wonderful time, ah and those photos from the past, a gem! I am 40 and people think that I am just mad travelling in this age, alone. You know how Greeks thing… 🙂 Well I guess I do not care anymore and do whatever I love most…
    Keep on travelling dear!

    1. Hey Pinelopi, Thank you and I’m moved you were so moved by it. I love Greece. It’s one of those places I never tire of and constantly desire to see more of. There are so many beautiful places there and I love the Greek people. I also think that because this was the first place I really traveled alone, that is why I love it so much. I learned so much about myself during that 3 week period. Really appreciate your reading the article and your comment. Big hug to you!!

  7. I started my 1st overseas adventure at the young age of 49. Travelled much like you solo and went where the wind blows. It is the best way to travel. Your right age is a state of mind but found I was an inspiration to a lot of the young ones I travelled with along the way. Apparently we are unique to have the strength to face our fears and go it alone. After my 1st 12 month adventure I’m back home saving for the next. Who knows where I will go next.

  8. another one here who sees nothing odd about travelling solo at any age. I’m over 50, and I’ve been travelling solo since I was 21, I’m a New Zealander, living in the south of Germany and I get myself out there as often as job, finances and other commitments allow!

  9. Love this! Some of my favorite memories from solo travel are similar to yours – meeting people so easliy and going with the flow! I think you’re proving that age really is just a number! Keep on exploring….alone!

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