Adventure Travel for Seniors, Part 2

Article by Dr. Michael Tobin

Trekking to the Everest Base Camp – Is Adventure Travel for You?

Part II:  Group or Solo Travel

Let’s say – theoretically -that the youthful adventures you once dreamt about have been “responsibly and conveniently” forgotten since you became an adult. (Come on! Does a mature individual live his life like Don Quixote or Walter Mitty?) And now, at 60 +, freed from the financial and parenting constraints of your earlier years, and still – Thank God – a bit “crazy after all these years,” your youthful spirit of adventure returns – now not so theoretically but rather pragmatically – along with the epiphany that “it’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

And, for argument’s sake, we’ll say that your youthful day dreams had you as a Himalayan trekker or some iteration of a high-altitude climber. So, now being that it’s never too late, you’ve decided that you want to climb to the Everest Base Camp (or some reasonable facsimile), and you want to know how to make that happen.

So, here’s how:

First let’s answer this question: Are you in shape for a physically demanding challenge?  See Part 1 where I explain how to train for a trek.

Next, how do you travel? Solo or group?

To be more precise: solo adventure travel includes the following possible configurations:

  • Travelling alone
  • Travelling as a couple
  • Travelling with a small group of friends and family

Whatever the configuration, you or someone with you is organizing flights, accommodations, guide, and porters.

Group travel, for the purposes of our discussion, is with a commercial adventure travel company responsible for all the logistics.

The question of solo vs. group has more to do about what you consider to be a higher value for you: freedom or security. 

Solo: Free as a Bird

Personally, my wife and I have always travelled solo. This way, we get to choose our guide, set our pace, decide who to hang out with and who to ignore, keep to a particular itinerary or change it, and decide where to stay.  Also, it’s generally less expensive to travel on your own than with a group.

Another plus for me(perhaps a minus for others) about solo travel is that you’re not confined to the social system of a group. Group travel provides you with an immediate defense against loneliness. You hang out with group members and usually don’t seek additional contact with trekkers outside your group.

In contrast,some of the most rewarding experiences my wife and I have had occurred when we reached out to our fellow travelers while sitting in a guest house or taking a break to rest. Freed from our customary roles and routines, a high-altitude stranger becomes a fellow traveler and potential friend waiting to be discovered.

In Nepal, which is a popular destination for 60 + trekkers, I met a large number of solo trekkers, primarily couples and small groups of friends. Most everyone arranged for a guide once they arrived. (It costs significantly more when you do it online.)

Check out this excellent resource about how to find a suitable guide. Regarding the question of whether you even need a guide, that’s a no brainer: absolutely yes.  Read this if you need to be convinced.

BTW, once you’re on the trek, the guide (the one you find on your own, the one you picked and like) finds the guest house that best fits your need for comfort (relatively speaking) and price. Personally, although it wasn’t always an option, my wife and I wanted a room with a bathroom (a liberal use of the word). If you choose your guide wisely (see above link), he (less frequently a “she,” but possible) becomes your entre into the world of Nepali religions, politics, social norms, family life, etc. We’ve used the same guide for three trips to Nepal and we’ve spent time with his entire family, sharing home-cooked meals in Kathmandu and Pokhara.

Group: Safety and Support in Numbers

So why group, if solo seems so doable? I think it’s fair to say that a group provides more security and less confusion for a first-time trekker to a third world country. The adventure travel company takes care of all of the logistics: guides, porters, accommodations, bus, jeep, and air travel within the country. In addition, they’ll divide the group according to their level of fitness and provide separate guides for the slower and faster group members.

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to observe trekking groups and without exception they seemed professional.The trekkers I spoke with gave high ratings to their respective companies. An added benefit to using a trekking company is that the lead guide is often a real expert on Nepali history and culture. At one guest house, I sat in on a lecture the guide gave on Edmund Hilary’s life story – which was both fascinating and informative.

The other plus for group travel is the feeling of group closeness, friendship, and support. As a psychologist and a 72-year-old, I suffer from no naive illusions that relationships among group members are always harmonious. Yet, from what I observed,they certainly seemed that way. Group members share a very intense bonding experience. We trekkers tend not to be complainers so when things are tough, laughter and humor become the best defense against misery.

To finish up here’s a very good resource on Nepali adventure travel companies: Nepali Adventure Travel Companies.  I apologize in advance for telling you to do the obvious, but in the spirit of leaving no stone unturned, please carefully read what all the raters have to say about their respective companies.

One more resource: you can always write to me at tobin@gurfeintobin.com for advice and encouragement.

On the next blog, I’ll deal with what to bring and what not to bring, including some things you may not have considered.

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