I’m single and approaching retirement, and I would like to know more about solo travel. What can you tell me about retirees who travel on their own? Can you recommend any resources? I trust that people will start traveling again in 2021.
Several studies in recent years have found that solo vacationing is becoming a big part of the travel business. In 2019, for instance, solo travelers accounted for 18% of online travel agencies’ global bookings, according to Travelport, a U.K.-based travel technology company. That figure was up 7% from a year earlier.
Yes, many of these go-it-aloners are on the younger side (read: millennials). But I have spoken with a number of retirees who have tried, and enjoyed, the solo route. Among their observations:
• Solo doesn’t mean solitary: Many solo travelers in retirement join, and take trips with, small groups that have a particular focus—such as photography or scuba diving. You might not have a spouse or partner traveling with you, but you immediately have something in common with other members of the group. A good example: Boston-based Road Scholar, a leader in educational travel, where nearly one in four of the nonprofit’s participants flies solo.
• It isn’t just for singles: Several years ago, I was interviewing a newly retired couple in Virginia. The husband mentioned that, before retiring, he had come up with a number of destinations and sites that he and his wife might want to visit after leaving the office.
“About one-half of the ideas she was enthusiastic about, and about one-half she wasn’t enthusiastic at all,” he told me. Their solution: separate vacations, at least on occasion. In fact, just before our interview, the husband had returned from a trip to Peru, a country he had always wanted to see. His wife took a pass and spent the same time vacationing with her sister in the U.S.
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Put another way, for readers who have a spouse or partner: If that partner has always wanted to visit, say, Antarctica—and if penguins’ charms are lost on you—think about giving him or her that trip as a gift.
• Worth the risks: Traveling solo certainly has its challenges, including concerns about safety, added costs (the surcharges that some tour operators and others tack on for single guests) and, yes, bouts of loneliness. But most of the retirees or near-retirees I have spoken with who have tried vacationing on their own said the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
As one traveler told me: “I found that there were some real pleasures to being by myself. You make your own time; you get up when you like, you go to bed when you like. If you find something you’re interested in—a shop you like, a museum you want to explore fully—you have all the time in the world to do that. You aren’t worried about holding somebody else up. And if you don’t like something, you leave.”
As for resources, start with Solo Traveler, which publishes a wealth of information about the topic. Solo Trekker 4 U is a good tool for planning trips. Several tour companies—among them, Exodus Travels, Intrepid Travel and Overseas Adventure Travel—have long catered to solo travelers. And check out SmarterTravel, which has a terrific collection of articles about traveling on your own. (Example: “The 27 Best Apps for Solo Travelers.”)
A final note and request for all our readers: Write to us about your experiences with solo travel and any resources you think we should highlight. Your thoughts may be used in a future column.
I received my annual notice of Social Security benefits for 2021 and in it, for the first time, is a mandatory payment for Medicare Part D. I collect Medicare and have a supplement from my former employer, which includes pharmacy benefits. Why am I paying extra for Medicare Part D?
There are two possibilities. And help may be available in both cases.
First, Medicare beneficiaries who exceed certain income levels on their tax returns pay a surcharge, an amount above and beyond the usual premiums for Medicare Parts B and D. This known as the “Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount,” or IRMAA. You can find the income levels and added premiums at medicare.gov for Part B and Part D.
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The federal government uses a two-year “look back” to determine whether you should pay the additional fees. In other words, your 2021 premiums are based on your tax return for 2019. The surcharge, says
a Medicare insurance consultant in Las Vegas, must be paid by the Medicare enrollee even if his or her drug coverage is paid for by a third party, such as an employer or retirement system.
That said, you can ask the Social Security Administration, which runs Medicare billing, to consider using your 2020 income—or even an estimate of your 2021 income—if either is lower than the figure for 2019. This could reduce, or even eliminate, the surcharge. Use Social Security Form SSA-44 to learn about this option and to file an appeal. Says Mr. Brown: “It’s one of the tougher forms to fill out, but worth every cent.”
Second, Medicare enrollees who go without drug coverage more than 63 days, and then get drug coverage, may face a “Late Enrollment Penalty.” It’s possible, Mr. Brown says, that Medicare didn’t know about your employer-provided drug benefit—then did learn of it—and is viewing this as “new” coverage, coverage you obtained “late.”
The solution: Present a “Letter of Creditable Drug Coverage” from the insurer, showing that drug coverage has been in effect.
Mr. Ruffenach is a former reporter and editor for The Wall Street Journal. The Ask Encore column examines financial issues for those thinking about, planning and living their retirement. Send questions and comments to [email protected].
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