The over-60s guide to independent travel

Travelling independently isn’t just for the young and carefree. You can still have great holidays abroad even when you’re no longer in the first flush of youth.

Left your backpacking days far behind but can’t get excited about exploring foreign parts on a tour bus? Travelling overseas independently can be just as much fun in your mature years as it was back in the day.

Australia is a nation of travellers and older people are doing their bit to keep our international airports humming. Over-60s were responsible for 17.2 per cent of the 9.9 million short-term overseas departures made in 2016; up from 13.4 per cent of 4.9 million departures a decade earlier.1

Careful planning is the key to having a great trip on your own terms. Here are some tips to help you enjoy your time away.

Less is best

There’s no tour leader or bus driver to help carry and watch your luggage when you’re travelling independently, and you may regret the decision to pack a third jacket or extra shoes when you’re lugging oversized bags through a crowded train station or city centre. If you only take as much as you can comfortably carry yourself – think medium-sized suitcase and day pack – it will make getting around easier and reduce the chance of items being lost or stolen.

The importance of timing

Personal safety is a significant consideration when you’re navigating unfamiliar places. It’s easy to become disoriented and flustered, particularly if you’re travel-weary and don’t speak the local language. Avoiding late-night arrivals and departures and planning in advance how you’ll make your way from airports and stations to your accommodation may increase your comfort factor and reduce the risk of misadventure.

Go central

If you’re bound for a big city, choose a place to stay that’s central, not out in the suburbs, for several reasons. Getting around is ultra-convenient, getting lost is less likely, and if you’re setting a cracking pace for yourself on the sightseeing circuit, there’s the option of popping back for a siesta before you head out again for the evening.

Short tours

You may not want to be on a bus every day with a troop of fellow tourists, but the downside of independent travel can be a surfeit of solitude or too much time spent in the company of your travel companion. Taking half-day tours can help you strike a happy balance, providing the opportunity to socialise with some new faces and get your bearings in a short time.

Keep in touch

It’s sensible to ensure people back home are aware of your movements, particularly if you decide to stray from your original itinerary. Plan to stay in regular contact with friends and relatives so they know your whereabouts and that you’re safe and well.

Low-cost telecommunications and the internet make this easy and economical. Depending on your destination and the length of your trip, you can switch your phone to global roaming or invest in a roaming SIM – a travel SIM that allows you to access local phone networks at low cost in multiple countries.

Fit and healthy

Making the most of your time in a foreign place can be exhausting. Get in shape before you set off so you’re able to enjoy, rather than endure, long days of sightseeing and cope with clambering on and off public transport and carrying your gear from place to place. Regular walking is a good way to build up your stamina. Alternatively, your upcoming departure may be the impetus you need to join (or return to) a gym or increase your participation in another fitness activity.

It’s never fun being ill and when you’re far from home and fending for yourself, it can be doubly difficult. Get the all-clear from your GP before you depart and take a plentiful supply of any regular medications (plus a well-stocked first aid kit) to reduce the likelihood of having to hunt for a chemist or doctor mid-journey.

Cover yourself

There are lots of ways you can economise when travelling overseas but scrimping on travel insurance shouldn’t be one of them. You may want to consider a comprehensive policy that includes unlimited medical cover. This will provide peace of mind, as well as the emergency assistance you’ll need if you’re unlucky enough to experience a serious accident or illness.

Holding the fort

If unexpected drama crops up at home, having someone you trust who can sort it out in your absence can be a godsend. Asking a trusted friend or relative to keep an eye on your home and deal with any immediate issues can mean you’re not scrambling to respond from afar, for example if a pipe bursts or you’re the victim of a burglary.

1 ABS, Overseas Arrivals and Departures, Australia, Dec 2016.

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