The ideal travelling partner is someone who shares the same interests, is easy-going and adaptable. Otherwise, you are better off travelling alone.
My first ever trip abroad was to India and Nepal in 1975, and I went alone. I have made several trips since then on my own. As the years pass, it gets increasingly harder to find a travelling buddy who can rough it out with you if need to. As seniors, we have become very set in our ways, and used to being in our comfort zone.
Regardless of how many times we have visited a place over the years, there is always something new to learn from each visit. The same applies to my recent trip to Melbourne. Although it was my fourth visit to Australia, and my second to Melbourne, I gained fresh insights about the city and the people from my week-long stay there.
Here are some tips for seniors travelling on their own for the first time:
Choose a hotel that is centrally located. It may be slightly more expensive, but you save on transport as everything you need or plan to do is within walking distance. My daughters did a great job arranging my accommodation and flight as their Christmas gift for me. I was fortunate to stay at the Sebel in Flinders Lane, right in the heart of the city's business district. The hotel was a mere five minutes walk round the corner from Flinders Street station. Each morning after breakfast, I would set off to explore the city on foot or by shuttle. After lunch I would double back to the hotel to freshen up, nip out again and only return to the hotel after dinner.
|My work station with my laptop all set up to get connected online|
You want to be in touch with your family, so ask the hotel about internet availability and charges, if any. The Sebel, for example, provides guests with complimentary internet access for only 30 minutes each day, and only in the hotel lobby. Anything more you will be charged accordingly. If you are using a smart phone, it is advisable to get an international sim card easily available at the airport or at any convenience store. Remember to turn off data roaming when you are travelling. You don't want to be greeted with a hefty bill from your local telco when you get home from your trip. One more thing - don't forget to pack an adaptor for your electronic devices.
3. Travel light
Ladies, forget about packing your Sunday best. Leave your jewelry and perfume at home. Bring only essential make-up and toiletries. Forget about matching clothes, shoes or handbags with the right colours or occasion, unless you are prepared to pay extra baggage charges at the airport. I had only a small cabin-size trolley bag and my pc bag with me for the one-week trip. I wore Fitflops throughout the entire trip, and packed only 4-5 changes of clothes, all casual.
4. Maps and brochures
Get a good detailed map of the city and also brochures/pamphlets of the places you want to visit. You can pick these up for free at the city's Visitor Centre, or at your hotel front desk. Plan your itinerary the night before, and ask for more information and advice from the staff at the front desk. You will be wasting time, energy and money if you wander around clueless. Don't be shy to ask for directions. Australians are among the friendliest and most helpful people that I know.
5. Public Transport
Also get a copy of the city's public transport (PT) network and schedules. They are available at the stations. The best and cheapest way to see the city sights is by PT, so it makes sense to get a stored-value travel card for A$6, and top up whenever the need arises. Most cities have a free shuttle service that takes you on a tour of the main attractions. I found the 40-minute ride most helpful as it gave me a good idea of places that I would like to check out, and those that I could strike off from my To-Visit list. You can choose to get on or off at designated stops along the route.
6. Events and Attractions
Scan the events page of the local papers and find out what's going on in the city that appeals to you, for example, what's playing at the theatres, cinemas, and Town Hall. Thanks to my cousin Henry, I had a ticket for a premium seat to watch the award-winning musical "Once" at the Princess Theatre. Other popular musicals that were playing during my stay in Melbourne were "Strictly Dancing", "Les Miserables" and "Grease". I also caught the movie "Exodus: Gods and Kings" at the Hoyts cinema at Melbourne Central. I wasn't going to wait till I was back home to find that the censorship board has banned the movie. One never knows.
|Depending on your budget and what you are looking for, you can shop at the malls or at the markets. But know that you may be able to get the same items, especially souvenirs, for much less at the markets, e.g. Queen Victoria Market.|
If shopping is on your priority list, again check the local papers for sales. Find out where the popular department stores or malls are, and how to get there. If you are shopping for souvenirs or gifts to bring home, control the temptation to buy whatever grabs your fancy on Day 1 of your trip. Likewise, don't buy at the first shop you visit. Compare prices and goods. You don't want to kick yourself later for paying more for something that you could have gotten at a lower price at another shop. This also applies to last minute shopping at the airport before your flight home. Merchandise sold at the departure lounge can often be cheaper than that sold at the main airport hall.
Eating out is not cheap. More so when the currency exchange is not in your favour. In Melbourne, it makes sense to buy fresh fruits, nuts and cooked food at the markets. If you don't mind an occasional meal of fast food like pizza, burgers and sandwiches, there are plenty of such food joints in the city. Another option are the food courts where you can get variety. Just don't convert the price, if you want to enjoy your meal. I paid A$12.80 (RM37) for a plate of char kwey teow (fried noodles) and A$5.80 (RM16.70) for a bowl of soup with five pieces of wantan. It would have cost me only RM5 and RM4 respectively in Malaysia. By the way, bring a bottle of water with you wherever you go. Keep hydrated as you walk the streets of the city in the summer heat.
9. Tourist Attractions
To stretch your tourist dollar, visit places where admission is free. You will be surprised how many there are. For Melbourne, I highly recommend St Paul's Cathedral, Victoria State Library, Immigration Museum and the public parks. The hours pass by quickly when you are having a good time. I spent an entire morning at the Immigration Museum and an entire afternoon at the Victoria State Library. That's one whole day at just two places.
|From city ambassadors and firemen to police officers and passers-by, Australians are happy to offer assistance to visitors.|
10. Ask for assistance
What happens if you are lost or unable to locate a place you plan to visit? Just ask. Most people are friendly and helpful to visitors. They will give you directions, tell you which train to take or recommend the best places to get what you want. I have no qualms about approaching a stranger to ask where the toilets are! Australians have a wonderful quirky sense of humour which I love. Just look at these T-shirts at Robbie's stall in Queen Victoria Market.
One final word. The best way to explore a city is on foot. So make sure you pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes, and a shawl or sweater in case it's a bit chilly. Armed with a good map and a bottle of water, you should be ready to set off early each morning for a day of exploration and adventure.
Snapshots of Melbourne:
Travelling alone does not necessarily mean you have only yourself for company. If you take the initiative to say 'Hi', you will be surprised how quickly you can start a conversation with other hotel guests, fellow tourists, or the locals. You can also look up old friends and family members who have settled in that country. In that sense, you will not feel lonely, unless you really prefer to be left alone.
On Day 4, I took the train to Glen Waverley to visit my brother John and his wife Phyllis. It was a pleasant 40-minute ride. We had dinner at the Silky Apple Chinese restaurant with the rest of my relatives, including my niece and nephews. By coincidence, my sister Felicia and her husband Michael had flown in from Perth to attend their daughter's convocation that weekend. What a lovely family reunion it turned out to be, thanks to LeShan who hosted it.
As you can see, one is never really lonely, even when travelling alone.
A big THANK YOU to John, Phyllis, Henry, Belle, and Moon for making sure that I had a memorable holiday in Melbourne.