Solo Traveling for older women in/around Korea?
October 26, 2009 10:19 AM   Subscribe

My mom is nearing 60 and is thinking about going back to her home country to travel alone. I'm all for it but it also worries the heck out of me! I wonder if there are any "older" korean women travel groups that she might be able to hook up with...and what the pros/cons are. Are there any places out there that she should particularly stay away from? I could just be overprotective here... but would love to hear any input about solo/group traveling in / around korea and whether there are any travel groups for older women. :) TIA!!!
posted by Jujee to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your mom is in her late 50s. Unless she has health or mental problems you didn't mention, there's no more reason to be worried about her traveling alone than there is reason to be worried about you traveling alone.
posted by decathecting at 10:22 AM on October 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

I have a family member who is an older lady and likes to travel the world, who's been doing this for many many years, and who now is a big fan of going in groups of her peers, usually with groups such as ElderHostel or groups that do short-term ESL teaching for older adults. So there are definitely programs out there although I guess I don't have any specific information. But she says it's a great way to meet people and make friends her own age with similar background and interests.

If you're worried about her health, my family member has a travel insurance policy through MedJet Assist, which turned out to be extremely useful when she got sick overseas. They were very helpful in the whole process, including getting her a flight with a nurse to accompany her home.
posted by amethysts at 10:30 AM on October 26, 2009

As a data point... my grandma traveled back to her native Poland, alone, several times in her late 60's/early 70's. She was perfectly fine.

Heart problems probably mean she won't be doing it any more... which is too bad. You should encourage your mom to go while she's healthy!
posted by sbutler at 10:32 AM on October 26, 2009

One more thing, whether or not she wants to travel in a group depends on if she's going to visit family or if she wants to see the sites/experience nature/etc.
posted by amethysts at 10:36 AM on October 26, 2009

It would be helpful to know if there are any specific reasons for your worry. For example, does she get lost easily? Is she not good at planning for contingencies?
posted by scody at 10:53 AM on October 26, 2009

Response by poster: She is in good health and definitely has her wits about her. I do believe she will do fine but I'm normally a bit of a worry wart by nature + a bit overprotective of my mom - who really, probably doesn't need any protection from me... I just want to be sure I've done my share of research before she books her flight out - partly to calm my own nerves and partly in hopes of finding more information for her to send her off her way. :)
posted by Jujee at 11:03 AM on October 26, 2009

I just want to be sure I've done my share of research before she books her flight out - partly to calm my own nerves and partly in hopes of finding more information for her to send her off her way. :)

I'm all for doing research to calm one's own nerves. However, unless your mother has expressed openness to your input already, I'd tread carefully in figuring out what research to do for her.

That said: there are a number of web sites geared to the older solo female traveler, or travel sites with discussion forums and threads thereon geared to female travelers. Perhaps doing a search in these sites for "Korea" would let you read anecdotes from actual travelers, some of whom may have just come home recently; I've often found that the "one person to another/reporting from experience" kind of travel advice is a lot more valuable than what you find in most guidebooks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:23 AM on October 26, 2009

Someday you will be in your 50s, and you will look back on your younger self that asked this question and laugh. Are you sure that your mother even wants to travel with a group, if that's available? Does she want your input?
posted by amro at 11:42 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks Empress. Yes, she is absolutely fine with me doing some research for her and putting in my two cents. I'm hoping to find some specific site recommendations or personal experiences on here (etc etc) since I don't have as much time as I used to to scour the 'net. Although I plan to do more searching beyond this site, my time is limited with a full-time (or rather, overtime) job, a toddler, and a DIY husband who is gutting/renovating our home (we're living in limbo, as I call it). anyway...looking forward to more posts here. Thanks again.

btw, amethysts, good idea on the insurance - I'll look into that, too!
posted by Jujee at 11:45 AM on October 26, 2009

I think your mom will be fine, what are you worried about happening? I assume she speaks Korean and I can vouch for Korea being relatively easy to travel in not speaking any Korean. If she gets lost or has a problem she can ask for help. I would guess that your mom might be too young for "older" travel groups. My mom's 67 and she's only just started taking those older people trips (to casinos) and all the older people (and their limitations) can really get to her.
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:17 PM on October 26, 2009

As my mother is along the same age, and has expressed the same desire to go back home to Korea for a bit, please post what you find :-)
Although, if your mother is anything like mine, the advice will be graciously accepted, and summarily ignored if it doesn't fit into what she thinks she wants ;-)
posted by niteHawk at 12:25 PM on October 26, 2009

Response by poster: (totally not getting any work done today!)

Bunglegirl - my mom does speak Korean. I think of crazy things like getting robbed, beat up, etc.

niteHawk - we're only a state away from each other. maybe we can hook our moms up!
posted by Jujee at 12:33 PM on October 26, 2009

JuJee - I thought of that, but my mother is in Fla now a days - she never moved up to NY/NJ with me, and for the life of me won't come up to be closer!
posted by niteHawk at 12:48 PM on October 26, 2009

Best answer: My halmunee used to go back to Korea on her own every couple of years up until she was 80 or so. My mom goes every couple of years, too. It's totally fine, of course :) Just a couple things -

- How used to international travel is your mom, generally? My grandmother spoke great Korean, of course, English not so much. We used to get one of the escort passes that allow a non-traveler to go through security to make sure she got on the plane okay. You might want to look into what it'll be like coming back, too - make sure that she knows how to deal with customs coming back into the country.

- Is your mom going to see family or friends? Halmunee always had a full schedule when she went back, with people there to pick her up and take her around and spend her time with. If your mom is just going as a tourist, staying in hotels and taking cabs, it may be a little different. Make her feel better by helping her look for places to stay, etc.

- If your mom hasn't been back for some time, she may be surprised at all the changes. Korea remains very safe, though, with little street crime and little violent crime. The biggest concern is pickpockets in tourist areas - tell her to take normal precautions.

- suggest that she NOT rent a car. Driving in Korea is horrible, horrible, horrible; the roads are narrow, people drive increasingly larger cars in incredibly aggressive ways; ugh! Cabs and subways are the way to go. If she wants to get out into the country, I'm sure there are tons of chartered trips and vans and things, you could help look into it, but really the best thing to do will be for her to inquire once she gets there, at the hotel or with her local friends (or call ahead of time, if she wants to get her itinerary set up before she leaves).

- My omma is 58, and she would be infuriated to think that I was worried about her traveling alone, back to Korea of all places. Ajumahs are tough old birds!
posted by peachfuzz at 1:15 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

my mom does speak Korean. I think of crazy things like getting robbed, beat up, etc.

Remind yourself that there's nothing you can do to control this sort of thing and the likelihood is very small. The US is a much more violent place and I usually feel safer in foreign countries than here. If she has street smarts (doesn't hang her purse on the back of a chair, keeps an eye out for suspicious people) she'll be fine. The thing is, you're going to drive yourself crazy with worry over something that you can't control.

To answer your question better, there's couchsurfing, where you can stay with people in their homes to get a feel for the culture. There's a lot of older hosts, maybe she could meet up with one of them for coffee when she's in town so she's not lonely and has a companion to show her around town.

Travel group pros: Most things are booked, scheduled and paid for. You don't have to worry about paying for things as much or arranging transport or decide what to do. There's a built in group of people to socialize with.

Travel group cons: Its all planned so you don't have a say in what you do. Your visits are usually hurried and there's not time set aside to sit back and enjoy your surroundings. You may not get along with other people. You may not like the restaurants chosen. Its almost impossible to meet locals traveling this way.

I think tour groups are more of a theft target than individuals traveling alone because they are tricked into a false sense of security.
posted by Bunglegirl at 1:29 PM on October 26, 2009

my mom does speak Korean. I think of crazy things like getting robbed, beat up, etc.

Please, don't worry about this. Korea is one of the safer places to travel as an older woman.

Question, though - does your mother have any family or friends back in Korea? Frankly speaking, her visit to Korea will be a lot smoother if she has family or friends to act as travel guides and give her pointers on local transportation, getting a cell phone, etc., than if she just goes and tries to wing it by herself. Or, does your mom have any other single older women friends she could travel with to Korea?
posted by needled at 2:03 PM on October 26, 2009

When you are 60 you will not think of yourself as old. I doubt that your Mother thinks of herself as old. In fact, she is not old. Don't worry, unless you left something out of your post--like she has early onset dementia or something.
posted by naplesyellow at 2:28 PM on October 26, 2009

You might find some travel groups for older women on the Journeywoman web site, particularly the classifieds.
posted by Joleta at 9:05 PM on October 26, 2009

I'm not sure if this information will help you in any way at all, and I admit it's a pretty broad generalization, but Korea has become a super popular place for Japanese women your mom's age to visit these past...oh, seven years or so if my memory serves. I mean hoards and hoards of Japanese women in love with actors like Bae Yong Joon and Jang Dong Gun visit Korea every year, and most of these people probably don't speak a lick of Korean. Many of them go alone, or with a friend, over a weekend or something. Your mom, on the other hand, wouldn't really be a tourist. She speaks the language. She'd be going home. I know, anything could happen when you're traveling, but if Japanese tourists can enjoy Korea and come home in one piece, your mom should be fine.
posted by misozaki at 11:57 PM on October 26, 2009

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