Last updated on May 24th, 2022
Travel Tips from an Octogenarian
By Diana Eden, Contributing Writer
When my handsome 39-year-old financial advisor said to me, “Well, you probably won’t be traveling much anymore,” I wondered if he had some premonition of a worldwide pandemic that would end my traveling days. But no, he was referring to MY AGE, as the trip I was financing was to celebrate my 80th birthday. In his tunnel-visioned youth, he was unwittingly relegating me to life in the rocking chair. Not me! I flat out refuse.
Full disclosure: I am very fortunate to still be in excellent health. Both hips and knees are the originals. My spine is a little crooked, I get short of breath on long uphill climbs, and I occasionally get headaches if I drink more than two alcoholic drinks a day. But that’s it.
For the benefit of other seasoned JourneyWomen like me who are still on the move, and even some who may believe their travelling days are behind them, I share my best tips for making travel over 80 fun and fulfilling.
1. Pack light and carry on
This is key for travellers of all ages, but it becomes more poignant as you shed the strength and vigor of youth: I ONLY take what I can lift, drag, or carry – one small suitcase and one carry-on with wheels. As much as I like to think that there will always be a kind stranger to help, often I must lift the bag up onto the conveyor belt at security, off the carousel in baggage claim, and sometimes up some unexpected stairs I hadn’t spotted in my internet exploration. I pack very flat, no air allowed, no little sub-packages to take up real estate. Since my trips are seldom longer than two weeks, and I am not attending a film premiere at Cannes, if I don’t have the perfect shoe for every outfit, so be it. As long as I am warm enough or cool enough.
For more tips on Packing Light, check out our packing guide:
The Ultimate JourneyWoman Packing List: 71 Tips to Choose From.
2. Create a home base – and make yourself at home
Choose ONE place to visit, a place you can call home for a short time and which offers lots of local side-trips within easy reach. Stay locally – rent an apartment, condo, B and B, or house. ALL of my favourite stories and memories from my travels have come not from the Hyatt’s lobby, but from the kindness of locals who are delightful, generous, and love to share what they have.
We experienced this on one trip as soon as we arrived in our little town in Tuscany. We stopped by the local alimentari for the few basic things we would need for dinner – pasta, garlic, olive oil, cheese, tomatoes, wine. The proprietress Irma Ricci was mortified that she was all out of garlic! But as we settled into our house with the sun setting, we saw the dust of an approaching car coming our way. It was Senora Irma, bringing us garlic fresh from her garden.
Part of creating a home base is stocking up the kitchen where you’re staying. Some of my friends say they do not want to be bothered with groceries and cooking while on holiday, but I have found that doing one shop on arrival will take care of the whole week. Buy drinks, alcoholic and non, breakfast supplies, fruit, and cheese for snacks, and all will be well. If you have an avid cook in your group, even better, but mostly you will sample the local fare at cafes and restaurants, preferably far from the tourist centres.
The 142 steps of the Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte in Caltagirone, Sicily / Photo provided by Diana Eden
Nothing can beat waking up each morning with the sounds of the city or countryside right outside your window. My favorite moments are usually the mornings where my co-travelers and I get up at our leisure. Some are early risers and have already been for a walk when I get up. The rich aroma of coffee often wakes me if the sounds of light conversation haven’t. We sit on a patio, balcony, in the garden, savoring the slow morning rhythm, discussing the day’s activities, and setting no schedule other than “when you are ready, perhaps in an hour…or two.”
On the same memorable stay in the farmhouse in the Tuscan hilltop town of Montisi, we loved to walk up the road to the local winemaker, Sr. Gattobigio. He showed us where he kept the key to his wine cellar in case he was not around. “Just bring your own bottle and fill it from the keg,” he pantomimed. “You can leave a couple of Euros if you like.” It helped make us feel like we were part of the community, which we were for the time we stayed there.
The Tuscan farmhouse that Diana and her group rented. / Photo provided by Diana Eden
3. Take transportation into your own hands
Personally, I like to rent a car. No, not in the heart of urban centres like Paris, where I use L’Uber and Le Lyft, or Rome, where couples have been known to break up in their third go around on the Grande Raccordo Anulare, trying to exit the airport. But in the countryside, it is effortless, gives you independence, and allows you to explore places the tour buses don’t go. I suggest you assign your calmest travel mate the co-pilot seat in the navigator’s role. Someone who will not scream at you if you miss the correct exit off the roundabout. Who cares if you get lost? You’re on holiday.
The most embarrassing adventure I had driving in the Italian countryside was when I was attempting to learn how to drive a stick shift and had ventured off the main road by myself and into the tiny town of Petroio, where the streets got narrower and narrower. Eventually I could go no further but was not skilled enough to back up the hill in order to turn around. Luckily, I found a local young man who came to my rescue.
4. You’re never too old to learn a few words of a country’s language
If you learn nothing else in the language of the place you are visiting, learn how to say good morning, please, thank you, and “I’m so sorry, thank you for your patience” as you hold up the grocery checkout line, searching for the right coins.
As an aside, one time, friends wanted to go buy a bag of ice for cocktail hour and couldn’t remember the word for ice in Italian. After pantomiming “drinks?” and “shivers?” (for ice cubes), they were sent to the nearest bar where they had such a good time with the locals that they came back without the ice after several rounds!
Moral of the story: Language foibles can lead to fun adventures. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Most cultures appreciate your attempts, and people are generally happy to teach you the proper word for all manner of things – “It’s cubetti di ghiaccio, by the way.”
Fellow traveller Mary Beth suspended in time / Photo provided by Diana’s sister, Carol Moore-Ede
5. Don’t be afraid to go your own way
When you have that home base, there is a delight in knowing that not everyone has to do the same thing. One may wish to lay in the hammock and read. Others may want to go to a nearby farmers market, or to a local church or museum. The joy is that there is no tour bus waiting at 8 am to herd you off, nor waiting for slowpokes who are not back on board when they are supposed to be.
Everyone gets to do what they want at their own pace. Lunch is usually out, and then home for a nap – oh, glorious nap! In the late afternoon, people emerge on their own time, sensing that it might be getting near cocktail hour. Then follows a discussion of what lovely restaurant will be chosen for dinner or from which hilltop the sunset may best be viewed.
6. Treat the return trip like a marathon, not a sprint
On the way home, I always split the journey into two and stay in an airport hotel halfway. You wouldn’t drive for 17 hours without a stop at a roadside Holiday Inn, would you? After three to four hours going through customs and security lines at my departure, followed by an eight or nine-hour transatlantic flight, I can’t bear the thought of a three-hour layover, more lines, and another five-hour flight to the West Coast where I live! A lovely bed in an Airport Marriott means I am rested the next morning for the last leg, and arrive home fresh as a daisy. Well, almost. That is how I, at 80, rest, recuperate, reboot on my travels.
Diana was born in England, raised in Toronto, lived and worked in New York, Los Angeles, and now Las Vegas. She is a former dancer, actress, Emmy-nominated costume designer, and now author. She has recently published her memoir, Stars in Their Underwear: My unpredictable journey from Broadway dancer to costume designer for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
JOIN US ON WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23 AT 8 PM FOR TO MEET DIANA AND HEAR MORE ABOUT HER STORY IN OUR NEW ‘BEHIND THE SCENES’ WEBINAR.
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Good for you. and nice article. I am 82, still traveling and not planing on ever stopping unless I am physically unable to do so. I fly from Seattle to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico at least twice a year. And take my 57 year old son on longer trips. Last year we took a cruise Argentina to Chile, via Antartica. The year before, spent 6 weeks traveling India, third class trains, buses and pedicab from Mumbai to Varanasi and back to New Delhi. With side trips in between. I avoid tours like the plague and am a do it yourself traveler. No Holiday Inn Hotel for me, but B & B’s or small local hotels. Year before it was Botswana, Zambia and Namibia, all by local Mini bus or bigger long distance buses. I have done 132 countries to date, mostly with my husband who passed away 7 years ago. Travel keeps you young and your reflexes up. It’s fun to meet the locals, and spend some time in their world. Dorothy
Love your spirit, Dorothy! We are looking for story ideas featuring your age group of adventurers. Let me know if you have any ideas. 🙂
After retiring, I offered each of my five grands a trip of their choice when they turned 12. I had the most wonderful adventures and treasure the time I spent alone with each one for two weeks. If you are interested, I could write a short tale of each one. We went from Africa to Costa Rica and places in between….. The first trip happened when I was 68, the last one finished when I was 77. I am still traveling, and each one of my grand travelers has asked me if they could go with me!!
I turned 83 on Sept 16, only to be struck by an intestinal hernia that required surgery the next day! I was certainly thankful that my three remaining trips for 2020 had been canceled–although I did make it to Tunisia and Algeria in Feb. By myself, I hired a guide in each country. In general I prefer small group travel nowadays, but couldn’t find any going to N. Africa. International Travel News will publish an article about my N. Africa trip next month. The trips that got cancelled were Iran and four Eastern European countries I had not yet been to: Kosovo, N. Macedonia, Belarus, Moldova. I have a friend my age who lives in PA and she was going with me on the Belarus, Moldova trip–which also includes Ukraine, but we have both been there. Now she says if I will go with her next year, we will do all four countries! I have my fingers crossed that we will make it!
Dorothy, your energy sounds amazing! 132 countries and counting…. I’m impressed!
Your travels, energy and interests are awesome. I am also in same age and have given up travelling…as most tell me “you are too old”…etc…. TODAY i have a new lease on “moving” staying active. Thank You! Your travels help all of us who still want to `stay active and interested in life.
Several years ago, my travelling friends passed away and was left without travel companions. I will keep reading, staying alert to travel groups and by spring/summer will find travel groups.
Your an inspiration! Do you ever travel alone?
To the 80’s women- you made my day. I have more trips to do from age 70 onward and was looking for travel stories from women well in to their 70’s and 80’s.
Just so great hearing from these women.
I love this inspirational article from Diana. Age should in no way stop people travelling if they wish to do so. I’m in my 50s – my company runs hiking holidays in Italy and many of our guests are in their 70s and 80s. They are active, great company, resilient and have many stories to share. My mum is one of our oldest guests, she is now 83 and we would have been hiking together in Sardinia this month if the pandemic hadn’t changed our plans. She travels alone to Australia each year to visit me in addition to regular trips to Italy. We have a 90 year old neighbour here in Australia, she was born in Slovenia and returned there last year to see family and friends. She said she’ll go back again if she lives to be 100!
Right?! We LOVED this story. We are always looking for story ideas featuring the Older Adventuress, so feel free to pitch us!
I am 81years old and have travelled many times . Since the pandemic I have done short two and three day trips. I absolutely want more articles for the 80plus traveler. Everything goes to 60plus. 60 plus is NOT 80. We travel , but certain realistic situations of being older need to be addressed. Do not be afraid , be courageous, mindful, energetic but also realistic..ex: take a short nap and bathroom break. Drink water on a regular basis, take a small purse, if you take a solitary walk ( this s for any age) carry some form of ID and where you are staying
In the town . Delores Larque
What a lovely article and so inspiring. Despite being stuck in Australia under tight lockdown regulations, I was transported away for a few minutes, enjoying the warmth of both the locals and the climate, and taking a very relaxed holiday. Thankyou so much.
Helen, I love that you were transported away by my words. Thank you for the compliment! Here’s to many more journeys of all kinds.
This article makes me feel that there IS possibility. Many of my friends are going into ‘senior communities,’ but I want to keep moving, as long as health and finances make it possible. I also eschew group outings, as I like to plan things myself and don’t like to be herded around in a group. I want to be just like Diana, and wish her, also, many more journeys of discovery!
Don’t badmouth “senior communities!” My late husband and I lived in one for 2 years mainly so he would have meals and activities while I traveled a couple of times a year–he had vascular dementia and really no longer wanted to travel. Even after he had his final stroke, I stayed in the community for 2 more years for the friends I had made there–I don’t make friends easily, but in the community we have a lot in common. Finally I moved out for financial reasons into an apartment complex that caters to seniors but doesn’t exclude other age groups. Just no dogs! However, due to COVID19, I can’t even have visitors so I am getting lonely. And looking forward to at least one more year of overseas travel. Maybe then I will switch to cruises–although I mostly don’t like them, certainly not alone. You’ve no idea how alone you can be on a cruise with 5000 other people, all of whom appear to be paired!
Hello Dawn, I agree being a solo traveler in a herd of thousands on a ship sounds awful! Have you considered traveling on a smaller ship, perhaps a river cruise? There are lots of smaller ships out there that may be great for you. Smaller ships tend to be more casual (dine with whomever you chose, even changing your companions daily to meet more people) and flexible. Another advantage is getting into smaller ports, visiting places the big ships cannot go. Personally, I don’t want to cruise with more than 200-300 others max. I notice more cruise companies are offering dedicated solo cabins too. Good luck with your future travels!
A wonderful read. As I continue to travel solo for extended trips to countries around the world and always returning to Italy, I am asked ‘how can you travel alone’. But you are not alone long when you meet locals and experience life in small villages or large cities.
I am encouraged that others are traveling without any restrictions on age! Brava.
While traveling across Canada by train a few years ago, we were seated at dinner with two ladies celebrating their 80th birthdays. I couldn’t resist asking who was sleeping on the top bunk. One immediately turned to her friend and asked, “How many times do you have to get up for the bathroom during the night?”
Thanks for the inspiring article and great travel tips.
Nice to know that turning 80 does not put you in a rocking chair, I am 88 and still traveling and if the pandemic did not set in I would have done the Central Silk Road this year. Trying to see is there is some where safe to travel in 2021, however living in Florida, we just can not seem to get our numbers down.
love these stories of older travellers. i’m still a wannabe, admiring their adventurous spirit!!
A delightful and helpful article for women of all ages! My mom has enjoyed many traveling firsts in her seventies (including zip-lining!), and I hope to travel at least that long and beyond. Blessings and thanks to all of you who have opened doors for us younger women and share your wisdom and experience with such generosity.
Thanks, Diana, for your prescription for a lovely vacation. Made me think of the movie “Enchanted April.” Rock on!!
Such inspirational stories. I too am a solo traveller and until now , at 72, have been wondering how many more years I could continue to travel in this way. I now realise there is no limit, only the self imposed, limits. Thank you Diana and other contributors.
Are there groups or individuals that a novice 80 year old can travel with
Absolutely! Check out our Women’s Travel Directory on this website for a list of women-friendly tour companies!
I love travelling and over 82. My health is good. My only problem is my bladder. I have tried exercising which seems to help some.
I have found a few gadgets that promise relief. My problem is I hesitate to put something in my body that is foreign. I wonder if there is something out there that works and is safe. I know it is new territory and I am suppose sit back in
my rocking chair and wait for the grim reaper.
Any new ideas that have been tried by females and works would be appreciated .
Help! I don’t want to sit and wait to become a name on a piece of marble.
Love this – one bag with imperfect shoes- cobblestones are treacherous and unforgiving. I will look up that farmhouse. Thank you and great travels!!
Diana, thank you for the inspiration!
How lovely to anticipate continued independent travel as I age! Many of the tips you suggest I already do – I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a hotel, except the occasional airport hotel. I am so looking forward to travel restrictions lifting so I can hit the road! My husband will be home working while I head off to the next locations on my bucket list – trekking in Jordan and walking another Camino!
Would be useful to edit the photo of “Mary Beth in the hammock” to an actual woman of the age to which the article relates … in a hammock! I am, 776, planning my fourth Camino de Santiago from Porto, Portugal just as soon as US-based airlines make it feasible in 2021.
Thanks Catheriam, The photo was provided by Diana, who wrote the article. I’ll let her respond to you.
Catheriam, Thanks for your comment. Point taken. I chose that photo because it had the magnificent view behind it. I considered several other photos of myself in the hammocks but none were as perfect – composition was too casual, showed extra white plastic chairs with odds and ends on them. I had some of our friends but would have had to write them to get permission to publish.
One of the wonderful things about this farmhouse was the opportunity to have multi-generations of friends and family visit us. Mary Beth is married to my husband’s nephew.
Congratulations on your energy and adventurous spirit. I hope you get to travel soon.
Great article. I am just a beginner traveler and a youngun’ ( a mere 72).
I love to write and would love to write about my experiences traveling solo.
How do I do that
Great article Diana and I also enjoyed each of the comments! I’m in Nirvana when reading them.
I began traveling with my family from Lima, Peru to Arica, Chile when I was 3 weeks old and I’m still doing it solo at 73! I’ve been to 61 countries, lived in 10 and studied in 6 of them. While traveling I volunteer, study, research and immerse in the culture to learn from the locals. I was in Santiago, Chile on my way to Patagonia when the pandemic started last March 13, 2020. I had to be evacuated in 2 days.
My family and I just returned from exploring “the mighty 5” National Parks in Utah. I highly recommend them, especially Bryce NP for the “hoodoos” and the perfect weather for hiking in June.
Health and happiness to each of you in your journeys:)
I, too, am a widow, not used to travelling on my own, decided a small tour would be best to get me started. Was horrified when informed there would be an additional ‘supplement’ which was nearly half as much again.
Tongue in cheek, I said I assume there will be an empty seat next to me on the plane, that the hotel room will be full size, upgraded to luxury,extra meals, drinks, etc?
Oh no, they told me, they would be losing money on a single traveller.
Well, guess what. By pure chance later, I met a friend of a friend who HAD paid the supplement, she said there were two singles on her trip, both small room, single bed, no extras.
It would seem the tour company made money on that trip.
One of the reasons I chose OAT (Overseas Adventure Travels)for my safari in Africa, coming up in August, is that they have spaces for singles with no single supplement. I look forward to meeting other singles and couples among the 15 people who will be on my tour.
I’m thinking of taking my two granddaughters, ages 24 and 26, with me on a trip. Some walking days would be good. Varied ages in a group of not more than 14 people would be good. One flight out of Toronto to wherever ideally. To Southern Hemisphere in November would be ideal. Suggestions welcome for a ten day trip. Barb
In 2006, at age 64, I bought a small RV (Rialta) and over the next 15 years I put 66,000 miles on her travelling solo from Seattle WA to all 48 contiguous states, doing genealogy in the locales my ancestors lived (NY, PA, CT, MA, MI, WI, OH, IA, SD, MO, and eastern Canada). I urban boondocked 90% of the time (over 300 nights), parking near the libraries, archives, historical societies, and cemeteries in the locales my ancestors lived. I drove her to Fort Lauderdale in 2014 where I boarded a ship for a 43-day cruise up the Amazon River (and back down), then followed the east coast up through Maine, into Canada and back across the top-tier states, walking a bit of the Appalachian Trail and driving the “Going to the Sun Road” in Glacier National Park – fun 7-month trip! My husband, preferring to spend vacations outside of libraries and archives, organized proper trips to such places as Brazil, Argentina, Russia, (most of) Europe, and Iran, where we usually rented cars and stayed in small hotels. In 2022, we are planning to celebrate our 60th anniversary in Austria, Italy, Greece and Iran (pandemic permitting). Go – you won’t regret the trip!!
I am 80 and have COPD, on 9xygen 24-7. Is it possible for me to travel?
I’m so happy to read all your stories.
I used to be a devoted solo traveller (Nepal, India 4x, Iran, Morocco, Paris, New York)
I’m 75 now and was afraid that it was considered strange, still longing to travel on my own, to far away countries.
Now I know that i’m not alone.
You all give me so much strength.
Wonderful to read all these inspiring stories. I have been passionate about travel since I was a child and, up to the pandemic, my last trip had been to the Stans and was at a total of a hundred countries. With two years at a standstill and at the age of 73 I was left with this feeling of “how much longer will I be able to travel”? After such great examples here I am encouraged to stay active and healthy and fight tooth and nail to visit some of these places into my 80s and even 90s!