Why Train Travel is Perfect For Solo Travelers Over 40
Train travel is a great way to see Europe at any age, but somehow for solo travelers over 40, it just fits like a comfy pair of jeans. Traveling through Europe with a Eurail Global Pass dishes up all the freedom and adventure of gap year type backpacking, but with more comfort and style than a local chicken bus and more luggage flexibility than a budget airline. Plus, you can connect with locals and travelers in up to 28 countries while taking in some truly breathtaking scenery along the way.
Traveling by train as a solo lends itself well to meeting new people. Solo travellers are generally more approachable and open to conversation with others – especially other solos. Sure, conversations crop up with any age group, but solo travelers over 40 seem to have some pre-existing bond; some natural draw to each other. We’re the ones who successfully completed our childhood free of cell phones, Internet, and social media. Chitchat is effortless and conversations often start with “Are you travelling for business or pleasure?” or “What places do you plan to see?”
Where these conversations end up can take as many different directions as the train itself. These are some of my memorable encounters.
Solo travelers over 40
A happy, forty something German man with a wide smile and sharing my train compartment once told me his thoughts: “I think our age group is more in touch with our gut. Many young people now are connected only to their brain because of technology, but the gut will tell you much more than your brain. In your brain you think and in your gut you feel.”
Since both of us were solo travelers over 40, we admired the open fields and rivers passing from Germany into Poland for awhile before he gestured towards our panorama: “Each day is full of presents for us: Trees, animals, stars, and sun, but some people have lost the ability to see them. Solo travelers over 40 can still relax and appreciate what we see out the window – the plants, the architecture, the reality of what is standing there. And we can still have a conversation without ‘technical help’.”
Lake St. Moritz
I remembered his words as I sat on a rough wooden bench on the bank of Lake St. Moritz, Switzerland while enjoying some time between connecting trains. The lake was mirror-like in the morning calm, the surface only rippled by the occasional paddling coot. The sunbeams felt warm on my face and fresh, conifer scented air filled my lungs. People strolled the lakeside pushing baby buggies or walking dogs while some looked ready for a hike. The birds chirped in the trees. I’d never pictured St. Moritz like this; I’d only ever seen ski photos. ‘Maybe I’ll just stay here awhile and catch the next train’, I considered, knowing that traveling on my Eurail Global Pass gave me that flexibility.
Taking the night train
My travels through Europe didn’t seem complete without taking a night train. With all the couchettes booked up by a school group on a field trip, I booked into the compartments for my Austrian segment.
I must admit it didn’t start well. The grey-haired foursome in my compartment was there to party, so the younger woman and I found quieter spots. There, a bearded local man, a woman who’d been visiting her son at university in Vienna, and I tried to sleep.
We pulled the seats to where we could lie down on them and napped, spoke, and even chuckled occasionally. All three of us were solo travelers over 40 yet somehow even in these circumstances we connected. I suppose we shared an experience. Before morning, the woman I was tossing and turning beside and I had exchanged phone numbers, and she extended an invitation to visit her where she lived in Austria. At my raised eyebrows, she responded: “Yes, I really mean it.” I smiled back and hoped I could come back this way. In any case, I would call her.
Connect without Wi-Fi
One sunny morning, while attempting to get some work done on my netbook, computer problems I was having drew the attention of a nice-looking man from Germany. Well, it may have been the angry muttering directed at my netbook that drew the attention, but either way he noticed. As an IT specialist he tried to help me connect to the Internet.
Lack of a Wi-Fi connection turned into a Berlin connection. He knew Berlin well – a city I had yet to visit – and offered to show me around. My gut told me this was a good idea and that I had to try to work this in to my plan. I highly doubted he was over 40, but hey, it’s not a prerequisite to connecting.
The days and the countries passed. Quite a charming character returning from the dining car one evening joined a new compartment mate and me. Now a professor, the man had been to North America in his youth and regaled us with colorful tales of romance, travel, and peddling his wares. Even at sixty years of age he was still a good-looking man so his stories rang with some truth, as well as some fiction.
It was the type of conversation you can really only have with strangers. We laughed at his antics, we discussed taboo topics, we disagreed passionately on other topics, and then we laughed again. The compartment no longer felt like a train journey at all, but a private capsule set in a place and time separated from the real world. It seemed like hours that we talked, and then suddenly it was my stop. My younger compartment mate set my suitcase on the dark, empty train platform and the door closed as he rejoined the professor.
The magic of that moment was over but the next chapter will now begin. Where it ends up can take as many different directions as the train itself. Also for solo travelers over 40.