A growing trend of married older women traveling solo points to a broader societal shift of lifestyle choices as travel companies adapt to this diverse demographic with tailored and safe experiences.
More women are traveling alone, and tour operators and travel companies are seeing a surge in older, married women embarking on these solo adventures.
In 2023, the most common South African travelers booking with Flight Centre were women traveling solo, with an average age of 52: 38% of its customers booked solo, compared to 22% of bookings for couples, 6% for families and 6% for small-group bookings.
“We’re seeing a sharp rise in solo female travelers,” said Antoinette Turner, general manager in South Africa for Flight Centre, one of the country’s largest travel agencies. Flight Centre has also seen a 15% increase in solo traveler bookings, compared to 11% pre-pandemic, for tours conducted by The Travel Corporation brands Costsaver, Trafalgar, Insight, and Luxury Gold, over the past year. Women made 81% of these bookings.
Solo Female Boomer Travelers
A report by Road Scholar, a Boston-based tour operator of educational group travel for older adults, sees a similar trend among older women traveling without their partners.
About 60% of Road Scholar’s 19,000 solo traveler customers in 2022 were married women but traveling without their spouses. The company said 27% of these women had never traveled on a Road Scholar program with their spouse. The primary reasons for traveling solo were varied: 42% mentioned their spouse’s lack of interest in traveling, while 40% cited different travel interests.
“I cherish my time to explore and do what I want on my timetable,” says Road Scholar solo traveler Marcia Henderson, 66. “I like to walk, hike, etc. He [my spouse] has knee issues and doesn’t share my passion for nature, culture, and history. It would be an atrocity not to travel just because my spouse doesn’t like it. This is my passion, and he is supportive as I support his golfing.”
According to Road Scholar, this trend is part of a broader pattern of Baby Boomer women travelers coming into their own, and society has shifted to “allow” older women the freedom to do it.
“Second Best Life“
Katalina Mayorga, founder of El Camino Travel, a company specializing in group tours for solo travelers, says she is seeing more female clients over 55 years engage in solo travel as they enter a phase she calls their “second best life.”
“I don’t know how many emails we get where it’s like, ‘Hey, I want to experience the world. I’ve done what I needed to do with my kids; now it’s my time to take care of myself, but my husband doesn’t want to travel, so I’m going to travel by myself and live my second best life’,” said Mayorga.
This Washington D.C.-based group travel company founded in 2014, did not start as a women-only tour operator. But with 90% of its clientele being women, the company now caters more specifically to their needs.
In 2023, El Camino facilitated over 40 trips, exploring 15 different destinations. The most popular destinations for their trips have included Colombia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Bolivia, Egypt, and Morocco. These locations were chosen for their emerging and off-the-beaten-path appeal, said Mayorga, particularly attractive to women who may not feel comfortable traveling there alone.
Letting Their Hair Down Safely
Mayorga said that the solo female travel market is diverse and is not only about catering to young, single women. It also requires a nuanced approach to safety, with El Camino’s itineraries letting women explore off-the-beaten-track destinations, even at night.
“In Colombia for example, the nightlife is so core to the culture. You don’t experience Colombia if you don’t go out at night and dance. You hear the music, there’s over 1,000 rhythms and beats in Colombia,” said Mayorga. “But as a woman, you’re not going to go out alone at night, as you have to think about things like I can’t leave my drink alone.”
El Camino’s tours provide women travelers with a sense of security and ease, allowing them to immerse in local cultures without the usual safety concerns. “It’s like having the independence of solo travel, but the safety and the comfort of the pack,” said Mayorga.
Don’t Rule Out Gen Z
Booking.com forecasts a notable surge in solo travel interest for 2024, with 54% of women expressing plans to travel alone next year. The online travel agency giant’s survey involving 27,000 travelers across 33 countries reflected a broader shift towards independent travel experiences for solo female travelers.
Flight Centre’s data also shows that 56% of bookings for Contiki, the Travel Corporation’s youth travel brand, were solo, with 62% being women, a rise from 45% of solo travelers pre-pandemic.
This younger demographic seems to be getting a much earlier handle on seeking autonomy and travel experiences that meet their evolving lifestyle choices.
A StudentUniverse survey, a Flight Centre owned student and youth travel marketplace, showed that 58% of Gen Z female travelers are keenly interested in solo international travel, mainly for empowerment and personal growth. It aligned with their focus on mental well-being, with many seeking self-discovery and new experiences outside their comfort zones.
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Photo credit: A woman swimming in infinity pool, overlooking the ocean. Maximilien T'Scharner / Unsplash