For many of us, the way we travel starts to change around the age of 50.
We enjoy spending longer in a place while discovering its history and culture. We put more emphasis on comfort, more emphasis on a temperate climate, good food, decent infrastructure, and a variety of activities where there is little risk of breaking a bone. Since we’re travelling alone, an affordable and safe destination is a must. And meeting people close to our age is a bonus.
With that in mind, and with over 25 years of experience adventuring solo, here are my top 7 destinations for solo travellers over 50. (It’s worth mentioning that there are so many great destinations out there, but these are my favourite ones!)
As the birthplace of western civilisation and democracy, Greece’s history goes back thousands of years and is best discovered through the archaeological sites and museums dotted around the country. The climate is warm and sunny from April to October, which lets you enjoy the beaches on dozens of islands. Crete is my favourite for hiking and spring flowers.
Despite the lure of the islands, be sure to dedicate a few days to Athens. While the city appeared busy and chaotic during my first visit in 1993, I quite enjoyed strolling around and, more recently, using the expanded metro. Healthy and delicious food, friendly locals, as well as an older population (one person in five is over 65) round off the highlights.
Often-overlooked, Portugal will delight you. Travelling around this compact country is quick and easy. For example, you can go between Lisbon and Porto by train in less than three hours. Besides cities, Portugal’s draw cards include charming villages (check out Óbidos), castles and cathedrals, nearly 1,800 kilometres of coastline, and the picturesque Douro valley, famous for its wine. Be sure to catch a fado performance (traditional folk music) at À Capella in Coimbra, my favourite Portuguese town.
Large food portions at restaurants help make the country surprisingly affordable. Always ask for a ‘meia dose’ (half serving) unless you’re starving. Sample the best pastel de nata (egg tart) at Pastéis de Belém, in its namesake suburb of Lisbon. Portugal also has an older population, compounded by the expat retirees who winter in the Algarve where the average temperature is a mild 15°C.
Just like Greece, Italy is rich in history and culture, and features one of the best cuisines in the world. By all means, visit the astounding art treasures in Rome and Florence and the canals in Venice, but also visit less well-trodden regions such as Puglia, Basilicata, Umbria, or Le Marche, to see a more authentic glimpse of the country. Italian trains are very affordable, although not always punctual.
If you like day hikes, stay in Cinque Terre for a few days and walk the easy coastal path between its five colourful villages. It may surprise you to learn that Italy has the second oldest population in the world, with 22.4% of people 65 or older. Thank that Mediterranean diet, and the relaxed attitude of its citizens.
Argentina is huge. I spent 12 weeks there and still haven’t seen everything. You can hike around lakes and up mountains, ride a boat to a glacier, see penguins, taste wines, admire some of the biggest waterfalls in the world, visit museums and churches, and shop until you drop. If you’re fascinated by the tango, spend time in sophisticated Buenos Aires. Catch a free performance on the street, buy a ticket to a show, or even take a lesson. Some schools like DNI Tango match you with different solo partners if you come on your own.
Avoid expensive flights by taking night buses, which are affordable, safe, and comfortable. Or choose to spend your time in one region. Go to Patagonia, the Lake District, and Iguazú Falls for stunning landscapes. Or escape the crowds in the pretty colonial cities of Córdoba and Salta. December to March is summer in Argentina, making it a great winter destination for North Americans.
If you’re solo, head to Mexico‘s Pacific Coast and the colonial towns of the highlands such as Oaxaca or Guanajuato. These places offer a little more authenticity than the Caribbean coast, which often caters to package tourists and couples (with prices to match). Mexico City is also reinventing itself as quite the cultured capital, with an exploding food scene that I’m a big fan of. Due to its altitude, the city tends to be cool and pleasant to stroll around.
Colourful, sunny, and very affordable, Mexico is home to various indigenous groups with their own foods, customs, handicrafts, and archaeological sites (Aztec, Maya, Mixtec, Zapotec, and more). Mexico is also home to some of the friendliest people I’ve come across. Add to this a large number of North American expats, especially in winter, and it isn’t hard to meet people.
Get away from the hordes of tourists and full-moon parties and visit underrated Laos. The gracious and reserved Lao people, orange-robed monks, and ornate Buddhist temples are reminiscent of Thailand, but without the crowds.
The peaceful town of Luang Prabang in the north makes a visit here especially relaxing. Take a boat trip on the Mekong, visit small villages further afield, or go for a hike in the beautiful countryside. The climate is also cooler and more comfortable than in much of South East Asia.
Laos offers a distinct cuisine based on sticky rice (which you eat with your fingers). Try orlam (a thick soup with buffalo meat) or chicken skewers wrapped in lemongrass. You can eat for a couple of dollars at the street markets, but check out the Tamarind Café in Luang Prabang for something a little more upscale, and consider taking their cooking class.
Where else do taxi drivers wear white gloves and meals can be ordered from a display of plastic food dishes? Japan feels different and exciting, but it’s so clean, safe, and well-organised that you’ll easily find your way around – even if you don’t know a single word of Japanese.
Most hotels charge per person, not per room, meaning that you’re not penalised for travelling solo. Add to this the famous Japanese politeness and the delicious food, and you have a winner. Tokyo and Kyoto are the two cities you absolutely can’t miss. But the speedy and ultra-punctual bullet trains make travelling around the country a breeze.
In a country where respect for elders is a tenet of the culture, more than 26% of people are over 65, making Japan the country with the oldest population in the world. Worth a visit just for how young you’ll feel!
Ready to take on that big, beautiful world? Intrepid has a wide range of trip themes and styles to suit all travellers. Check out Intrepid’s solo tours.
To read more about solo travel for the 50+ crowd, check out this author’s personal blog: bigtravelnut.com
Image Credits: All c/o Marie-France Roy (except Amalfi Coast c/o Intrepid Travel).