Alan Fairfax explains how his life and his lifestyle have changed both since his retirement and subsequently becoming a widower.

“There comes a time in life when we reach that magic age, when pension takes over from salary and we retire from work. I remember my retirement party well and the words of a senior manager “You have reached that period of life when it’s time to relax, take things easy, travel the world and not have to get up early 5 days a week and travel by crowded train into London”. Have those words come true, well some have, I certainly get up later and don’t have to catch the train, but what of the other points.

I for one had many ideas of what I was going to do. I was still in good health and active, I was offered two very well paid jobs in the Middle East both of which really appealed but my wife was not keen, in fact it was, by all means take one of them, but I’m not going overseas and miss seeing the children and grandchildren. Needless to say, I turned down both offers which turned out to be the correct decision, read on. I then wrote a review of a trans Atlantic cruise we had both just taken and submitted it to a new company, Silver Travel Advisor. It won first prize in their monthly competition and suddenly my world changed. To cut a long story short I began writing for them on a regular basis following visits to cruise ships and various trips, so began my journey as a travel writer. As time went by my travel articles were published in several magazines but 12 years further on times have changed and you begin to realise that what is said to you on retirement has a limited life span.

My wife and I usually travelled together, we loved cruises, had a favourite hotel in Mallorca and spent long periods during the summer on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, but following a knee replacement she suffered a large brain haemorrhage and died 6 months later, 54 years of marriage suddenly gone in a flash. My world fell apart, and now, 2 years later, things have changed drastically, the main thing being, when she passed away my get up and go went with her.

Suddenly I felt very lonely, insecure, I had to prepare my own meals and like many men I couldn’t cook so it was time to start searching out frozen meals at local supermarkets. One local supermarket started giving 10% discount to ‘Pensioners’ on a Tuesday. The first time I attended ‘Discount Day’ the place was packed with people of my age group buying frozen meals in bulk. You very quickly learn those that are good value as opposed to those that just look good on the packaging. Personally, I avoid those with rice and go for items such as cottage pie, spaghetti bolognaise, pizzas, frozen fish fingers, chips, chicken fillets and several others, not the healthiest of food but easy to cook. I eat out several times a week but find it lonely , also  expensive as costs have risen dramatically in the last 12 months.

4 months after my wife passed away, I decided to book a cruise to get away from everything but found it quite difficult. Have you ever tried finding a travel agent who employs a widow or widower who has experienced a solo trip as a true solo where they don’t know anyone else who is going, no, I don’t expect you have as most travel agents go in groups on ‘Fam Trips’ so never experience loneliness and have no idea of our needs. One agent recommended a particular ship because her grandparents liked it. Perhaps travel agents should employ people who have experienced bereavement and can tell solo customers what it’s really like to be an older solo traveller.

I called it taking my first trip into the unknown which is strange since my first cruise was in the early 90’s and I have done many since but never as a widower. My first solo cruise was with MSC visiting ports in the British Isles. I chose this itinerary working on the basis that if it was too much for me, I could leave the ship and get a train home. I joined the FB page for the cruise and found others in the same position as myself. Once on board we all met up and had a very enjoyable cruise together. My second was with P&O of longer duration, a repositioning cruise from the UK to the Caribbean. Again, I joined the FB page for the cruise and discovered several going from my previous cruise. They advertised a solo meet up in the ships newspaper which I attended and again met various people many of whom I am still in contact with. Quite a few cruises followed as I wanted to find the one that suited my needs best, the winners for me in this area are Marella and Fred Olsen both of whom host the first solo meeting arranging drinks for those attending and then get those present to introduce themselves, thus breaking the ice. They will if required arrange solo tables, solo excursions, speciality dining and this goes to making the trip memorable for all the right reasons. One thing for males to remember, you will be vastly outnumbered by females. According to ‘Mr Google’ women out live men by an average of just over 8 years. On one welcome solo meeting I attended there were 19 females and only 3 males.

There is however a downside, a very big one and that is cost. Most advertised prices are based on 2 people sharing a cabin and if you think all you do is half the total price then think again. The cost of a solo is much higher even on new ships that have solo cabins. The single supplement can go as high as 100% and in a few cases even higher, this of course appears very unfair especially if the cruise is all inclusive and the cruise line is saving on the 2nd persons food and drinks. Also, when you fly to the port of departure you are only taking up one aircraft seat. Luckily a person I met at a solo gathering put me onto a company called “Passion for Cruises” who specialise in solo travel. They list 100 cruises and the prices shown are the solo price, yes, I booked with them and have done since. Perhaps someone should start a cruise line specialising in solo travellers, there are thousands of us solos out there.

Insurance is another avenue that changes with age and many insurance companies will not provide travel insurance to those over 75 years of age. All however is not lost, there is a travel insurance company called “Paying Too Much”, they really are the exception with by far the lowest annual premium I could find with pre-existing conditions. I can hear you saying, yes but cheapest isn’t always the best or you only get what you pay for and in many cases that is true. Last year I was unfortunate enough to suffer a fall whilst overseas, fracture my femur and be hospitalised. On arrival back in the UK I submitted my invoices for expenditure overseas and claimed for reimbursement of a forthcoming cruise I was unable take due to my injury. They paid within days and my renewal this year is only a few pounds more.

I have also joined a group called “Way Up”. They operate throughout the UK and there is no charge for joining. I attend meetings at various venues close to my home, they are designed for people who are bereaved and no, we don’t sit there feeling sorry for one another. Within 15 minutes’ drive there are 2 meeting venues both at garden centres, at one we have a coffee morning whilst at the other its coffee followed by lunch. I see basically the same people each time and friendships are struck up. Some have gone on cruises and beach holidays together, others have similar interests in gardening, cooking, going out to dinner or the theatre, enjoying rugby and football matches or in the summer cricket or bowls. The main advantage is they have all been through and are going through what I have been through so there is a mutual understanding.

Retirement, later life and bereavement affect people in many different ways, this is just my story from retirement to the present day and how it has affected me. If you go on a cruise and see an old boy looking lost, it could be me, come and say hello”.