Travel will broaden your horizons (pun intended) in unanticipated ways with every single trip, but what if learning new things is the intended goal? The Road Scholar organization — not to be confused with the prestigious Oxford University Rhodes Scholars, though the allusion is apt — leads travel expeditions it calls “learning adventures.” These unique tours combine travel and experiential learning opportunities in all different topics, formats and locations worldwide. 

If you think this sounds wonderful, but worry that you don’t have anyone to travel with, we have great news: Solo travel is on the rise among older adults. The Road Scholar organization keeps meticulous track of travel trends. In October it published a solo travel report outlining trends in solo senior travel, including that 20% to 30% of Road Scholar’s travelers each year go on their own. Vacationing alone can be an intimidating prospect, but the company reports that people not only do so regularly, but they enjoy it so much they become repeat solo travelers. We’ve scrutinized the report and thought it would be helpful to summarize what you need to know.

The Number of Solo Travelers, Especially Women, Is Growing

According to the report, 85% of Road Scholar’s solo travelers are women, and more than half of those women are age 65 and older. One reason for this growth is the change in population demographics; according to the Center for Elders and the Courts, a resource for the judiciary branch on issues related to aging, longer lifespans and aging baby boomers will combine to double the population of Americans aged 65 and older from 2000 to 2030. By the latter year, persons aged 65 and older will comprise 20% of the U.S. population.  Since women tend to live longer than men on average, a gender disparity arises as the population ages. Today, 58% of Americans age 65 and older are women. Additionally, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center poll, 49% of women over 65 are unpartnered, either by choice, divorce or a spouse’s death.

Reasons Why

For the Road Scholar report, 600 senior women were surveyed to find out why they preferred to travel solo. Over 25% responded that “it makes it easier to meet new people and make friends,” while 22% gave “autonomy over their itinerary” as an answer. Others preferred to go it alone because they like their own space, they needed time to reboot at the end of a busy day or they just didn’t have anyone to travel with who shared the same interests. About 7% of the women chose to travel solo because it was liberating and empowering, which isn’t something we mention lightly. [As an aside, I had my first opportunity to do a tour on my own this summer in Cozumel, Mexico, and “empowering” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Although I speak fluent Spanish, for reasons unknown, I hesitate to do so when my family is around. Apparently, if you set me loose in Mexico on my own I don’t experience that reluctance in the least. It was absolutely revelatory. Another of our writers, Cari Scribner, has also written about why it is wonderful to travel solo.]

Jan Hagen in Siberia
Jan Hagen in 2016, in a view overlooking Lake Baikal in Siberia, from our story “One for the Road – Traveling Solo.”

A surprising number of partnered women preferred to travel alone. Almost half of them had spouses who simply weren’t interested in traveling, but others expressed that they shared different interests, or they preferred to have travel experiences with friends or other family members. (One of our favorite quotes from a Road Scholar traveler was: “Don’t let a silly thing like marriage get in the way of your passion to learn about the world!”) Still others cited logistical reasons, like physical disabilities or needing someone to stay home to care for pets. 

Tips For Going Alone

If we’ve convinced you that it’s time to book a trip either by yourself or with a close friend, good. Traveling solo can be an enlightening experience that everyone should try at least once, but it does require some preparation. Joining a tour group is a great way to dip your toe in the water; if you’re anxious, you can even do what I did: Go with your family but book solo excursions to embark upon. For safety tips and other ways you can prepare to vacation on your own, check out our Traveling Tips for the Solo Women Traveler. Bon voyage!

Top image © Arisara_Tongdonnoi, via Canva.com


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