Finding accommodation that is safe, feels like home, where you meet the locals, and get to know them before you stay, sounds like a fabulous accommodation option.
This week I want to introduce you to Sue-Anne - the woman behind a new accommodation option for women over 50, SisterStay, that offers those options!
We met on Instagram and have built a great friendship. (I am not an affiliate of SisterStay - I'm just sharing cool stuff that needs to be celebrated!)
In this interview I ask Sue-Anne lots of questions about travel (of course!) and also about SisterStay. I hope you enjoy the read...
Sue-Anne, in Kent, embracing life and celebrating connections. Photo Credit: Sue-Anne @SisterStay
Do you do solo travel? Is SisterStay about solo travel?
When I hear the words “solo travel”, I tend to imagine someone schlepping a big backpack – or a small one if they’ve been following the sage advice of The 5 Kilo Traveller – from hostel to hostel, around the world, on an extended voyage of self-discovery.
SisterStay, on the other hand, is more about finding a safe and easy way to travel on your own - for as little or as long as you like - whilst staying with a friend, albeit one you’ve not yet met.
Some people just use it to find affordable accommodation for a few days while they do something specific like take part in a course or event, but most of our members use it more as a mini-break to explore somewhere new. And in the process, they quite often get to know someone new too.
I really like to connect with people when I travel. I often start up conversations with random strangers along the way. And I like to get to know the person I’m staying with a little if possible because it’s always interesting to get a glimpse into someone else’s life.
Long after I’ve finished my journey, I find myself thinking back to the people I’ve met on my travels. My interactions with them form some of my strongest and happiest travel memories.
Sue-Anne exploring Tintagel Castle, Cornwall. Photo Credit: Sue-Anne @SisterStay
What inspired you to start SisterStay?
I’ve always loved to explore new places and I’ve always enjoyed meeting new and interesting people. Growing up in Australia, we had exchange students from around the world living in our house for months at a time. It was so much fun and we always became great friends.
When I left school, I was an exchange student myself to Japan for a year. It was one of the best years of my life. Everything was so new and different and exciting and I felt really safe and comfortable exploring it all because I was staying with local host families who really cared about my welfare.
Fast forward 30+ years: I’m in my early 50s; I’ve had three great kids of my own, the youngest of whom was just coming up to his final stint at secondary school and I decided I needed a new focus for once he’d left home.
I wanted to be able to wish my children well in their next stage adventures without constantly thinking about them and wondering when they’d be home again. I already had a part-time job, but I felt I needed something more distracting and fulfilling and preferably of my own making.
I still had a lot of energy and enthusiasm to devote to something new so I thought about all the things that I am interested in. And I also thought about some of the older women I know whose lives and adventures have become limited since they found themselves on their own.
I had all of this in my head when I happened across the “Story of AirBnB” in an airport bookshop and was struck by a sudden bolt of lightning that I needed to create a homestay community specifically for older women.
Exploring England - Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland. Photo Credit: Sue-Anne @SisterStay
How does SisterStay differ from other accommodation providers?
The big difference between SisterStay and other accommodation platforms is that we are all personally verified, friendly females over 50 and yes, we are a genuine community.
Hosts and Guests can read all about one another in advance and see what interests they might have in common. We have three different levels of Host depending on how much time they have available for their Guests, but every Host will welcome you into the home where they themselves live and make time to discuss your travels with you.
Another notable difference is that we have a single overnight fee of GBP 36 (approx. NZD 70) wherever you stay, so unlike other platforms, it’s not a variable rate according to whatever the market will bear.
It’s much more a friendship-making than a profit-making organisation. You might stay in a King-sized room with an ensuite bathroom or a single room with a shared bathroom, but wherever you stay, it will always be with a member of the same friendly community of ID-verified women.
Sue-Anne exploring the Farne Islands, Northumberland. Photo Credit: Sue-Anne @SisterStay
Do you think since the pandemic, people are after more real people connections?
I very much hope so.
The pandemic has given us all a lot of time to think about what sort of future we want for ourselves and the planet. I do think ‘slow travel’ to fewer far-flung destinations for longer periods – so you really get a feel for the place and the people who live there – will become more popular in future.
We all love to explore new destinations, but we don’t want to trash them in the process, so staying with real people (as opposed to landlord-run apartments which might lie empty in the off-season) and taking the time to get to know those people and others who live in that location should benefit everyone.
As I said earlier, it’s the conversations with interesting people and chance meetings along the way that make up my favourite travel memories.
How has your travel experience influenced your business?
I love to travel, and when I was younger I remember being very excited at the prospect of staying in some swanky hotel whenever I was away (generally paid for by my employers).
These days I am not looking for a soul-less bedroom with a safe and a mini-bar. I feel lonely and disconnected in places like that. I like to stay with friends both new and old and enjoy a bit of local hospitality.
I want to visit those off-the-tourist-map places that ordinary people go to. I think many older women in particular enjoy this kind of immersive experience.
Sue-Anne, celebrating the seasons in Sheffield Park, West Sussex. Photo Credit: Sue-Anne @SisterStay
How do people react to your SisterStay business?
Most people are amazed it’s not already been thought of! But it makes sense for older women, who are so often used to looking after other people, to open their doors to one another.
For anyone looking for a safe and friendly way to travel and explore new places – and to host other interesting women who also want to make the most of life, without fear of wondering who will be coming through the front door – it’s the perfect solution and unique in what it offers.
What do women get from staying at a SisterStay home?
SisterStay offers good old-fashioned hospitality.
You will always receive a warm welcome, special insider knowledge as to where to go and what to see – maybe even someone to accompany you as you explore – and a comfortable bed in a real home with someone who really cares that you have a good stay.
Exploring London, Tower Bridge. Photo Credit: Sue Anne @SisterStay
What are the joys you get from SisterStay?
Because I personally verify the identity of everyone who joins SisterStay, I have the privilege of speaking at length with each new member. I love to chat about how we got to this point in our lives, what we want to do to make the most of the future and how SisterStay can help with that.
Of course, I also love to meet new members by travelling and hosting myself. I am limited with the latter element right now as I still have two grown-up sons living/studying at home because of the pandemic, but being able to be a part of my own homestay community is a key reason for starting it!
What are 3 tips you recommend women do when going on a solo trip?
Well, apart from the obvious stuff like don’t forget your travel insurance and take great care of your valuables, I would say:
1. Follow The 5 Kilo Traveller’s advice so you don’t end up taking lots of luggage you just don’t need!
2. Stay with a friendly Host so you don’t have to worry about your overnight safety, or which bus to catch into town, or what to do if you forget your toothpaste. Leave all that headspace for planning fun things!
3. Support small and local businesses. Collectively, we have the power to make a difference to the communities we visit. Meet the locals, buy from their businesses, be a thoughtful tourist.
Checkout the SisterStay website. Photo Credit: www.sisterstay.com
Explore SisterStay more...
I just love what Sue-Anne has created. It's the kind of connections the world needs, and it would be great to see it grow around the world.
If you're after some beginning tips on how to travel solo - check out my introductory solo travel page - it might get you thinking about solo travel, and maybe help you get over some barriers you have about heading out on your own.
SisterStay is certainly a great option for over 50 female travellers. I can't wait for the New Zealand borders to open (in safer times) and to experience SisterStay for myself!
I've warned Sue-Anne I'll be booking in!