Life under Lockdown – The Business Woman

Making travel safe and affordable for single women over 50. Well, that was the plan…

The New Travel Business by Sue-Anne Mayne

Last year, with a limited budget, a hankering to explore new places and an empty nest in sight, I set up a friendly homestay community for ID-verified women over 50. Quite a number of midlife and older women who suddenly find themselves single  – or like me, are married to someone who prefers to potter at home – don’t have anyone to travel with. And the prospect of staying in a soulless hotel room, or dining alone with only a book for company, is singularly unappealing.

Enter SisterStay – connecting life-loving women everywhere so that we can travel alone, but stay with a friend – albeit a friend we’ve not yet met. I thought it would be an overnight success – as did my early partner – but it turns out starting your own business, if that’s what this eventually becomes, is a long, hard slog.  And many go broke or give up along the way.  Most small businesses take at least two to three years to become profitable – even without a pandemic!

Before starting SisterStay, I didn’t have a Facebook profile and I’d never been on Instagram. All I wanted to do was bring women together so we could all make the most of life.  I had no idea social media was seen as such an important part of establishing a brand.  Even the words “establishing a brand” make me feel like I’ve accidentally wandered into the wrong conversation.

I naively thought I’d mention the idea of SisterStay to a few women’s groups and it would be up and running overnight.  I knew exactly which groups to approach; I just didn’t know they would be tougher than the Bank of England to break into.

So, I scanned the Internet for months trying to find a suitable and affordable ‘marketplace website’, then I spent another few months learning to tailor it to SisterStay’s specific needs – all the while watching the bank account decrease and the host numbers stay stubbornly low. One or two generous-spirited businesses saw early merit in the idea and let me place a blog on their website, but mostly it was just word of mouth that put us on the map (so to speak).  Slowly, slowly, we gathered a trickle of interesting women who really wanted to be a part of a friendly community opening their homes to welcome others.   

Then, in February this year, for the first time, a women’s group magazine actually approached me for an interview. It felt like a real turning point. At last, someone was knocking on my door instead of me constantly hammering on theirs. And our first overseas Hosts began to list in Italy, Australia and the US.

But all the time that I was feeling 2020 was going to be SisterStay’s big year, the one in which women everywhere would discover how fun, easy and affordable solo travel could be, coronavirus was brewing and preparing to shut the whole world down. Not just one country. Not just one industry. COVID-19 has decimated businesses all over the world.

Luckily, SisterStay has only one (absolutely dedicated) employee – me – but it also has a community of women who want to travel but can’t leave their homes and although now is the perfect opportunity to research and contact other potential members, it looks really insensitive trying to drum up business – especially travel business – in the middle of a pandemic.

The main travel season is short at the best of times. This year may be the shortest ever on record. If it actually gets going at all.

In the meantime – while trying to balance a very full and busy house with the whole family home again under lockdown – I am also endeavouring to put out regular social media posts which sound positive, but not frivolous. Sensitive, but still fun.

And I am trying to consolidate that feeling of ‘community’ with newsletters and quizzes and a member-to-member ring-round. Next week, I’m organising my first ever multi-user SisterStay Zoom call! I couldn’t even spell Zoom before all this began.

Setting up an organisation like this – and keeping it alive during lockdown – has been way more complicated and time-consuming than I ever imagined it would be. The learning curve is steep and relentless. But I am absolutely committed to making it work. I truly believe – even if it never makes any money – that older women everywhere deserve to be able to travel and explore and have fun, safely and affordably, and that we are best placed to help one another to do that.

In a funny way, this weird period of lockdown might actually be just what makes people sit back, take stock and really think about how they want to travel in future.  Certainly cruises don’t look so exciting right now. But nor does any form of unsustainable travel.  We have seen how lots of cities like Venice and Barcelona were suffering from over-tourism.  It was awful for the local residents and it detracted from the experience of the tourists.  Who really wants to battle with crowds and angry locals while on holiday anyway?

We need to find a way to travel more responsibly, with a greater appreciation for the planet and its local inhabitants. Instead of ticking off all the sights in the major cities, perhaps we will start to explore the day-to-day rhythm of the places we visit – even in our own countries – spending time with the local residents, seeing how they live and forging personal connections which will stay with us way longer than any checklist of tourist hotspots.

Maybe lockdown was just what we needed to imagine a better way forward.

Sue-Anne Mayne is the Founder of SisterStay, a friendly homestay community for ID-verified women over 50. She loves life and is determined to keep living it to the full as she grows older.  Her mission – to make sure women everywhere stay positive and engaged – is what gets her out of bed every morning, even under lockdown.

If you would like to write your own Guest Blog, about your Life under Lockdown, I’d love to hear from you! Click here to see what you need to do. It’s more important than ever that we hear each other. And if you’re reading this, and thinking ‘she doesn’t mean me‘ – you’d be wrong. Get writing!!

Stay safe. Stay sane. This isn’t forever. We can do this.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Joan Mudd says:

    Sue-Anne what an absolutely brilliant idea! I think that once this is all over (to all intents and purposes – because it will never be “over”) your business will boom. People will have had the opportunity to reflect upon their lives and decide to do things they were afraid to do before eg solo travel. Having your organisation as a trustworthy safety net is just superb. More power to you

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can’t wait for things to be back to normal to try it out!! It’ll be a while before there’s much foreign travel possible, so I think it’s time I explored the UK!!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. SisterStay says:

      Thanks, Joan. Feel a bit fraudulent being called a business woman but do believe the concept will thrive in the new post-lockdown travel world.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. anglosvizzera says:

    Brilliant idea! I’m sure the extra publicity you get from having been able to post on here will be an added bonus.

    There are so many women, as you say, preferring to travel on their own without a reluctant partner, or living on their own (like my older sisters, for example – although the elder of the two is quite content with her own company, preferring to do her own thing.)

    My ex-mother-in-law wanted to visit her cousin in Australia about 20 years ago when she was 70, but her husband was one of those men who wants to go home as soon as he’d arrived anywhere. As she was quite a “strong woman” who was really the one in charge, my sister-in-law and I persuaded her to go on her own.

    She did! She had a fantastic time, stopped overnight in Singapore which she said was the cleanest place she’d ever seen, and didn’t regret it at all. Hubby was at home with a lot of frozen pre-cooked meals to see him through, and a tin opener and lots of soup and beans if he got desperate…

    But had she not had the sort of character that enabled her to travel alone, something like this would’ve been an excellent motivator.

    Btw, I resonated with this sentence, not as a tourist but as an “angry local” – “Who really wants to battle with crowds and angry locals while on holiday anyway?”

    I went to uni in Canterbury and lived there for a further three years when I started a family. Summer was a nightmare with hordes of disinterested French teenagers filling up the narrow streets while I was negotiating them with a buggy, or a pram and toddler. Aaargh!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. SisterStay says:

      Thanks Anglosvizerra. I love the sound of your ex-mother-in-law! We need more women like that.
      And I know what you mean about tourists in Canterbury as that’s where my mother-in-law lives. It’s always nice to find hidden gems away from the tourist hot-spots. SisterStay is good for that because you have access to all the best information from someone who lives there. Knowing, for instance, that it’s far more enjoyable to visit the cathedral (for free) at evensong than battling it out with the daytime crowds is quite valuable local knowledge!

      Liked by 2 people

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