The image of the sorry looking solo holidaymaker of old has been largely consigned to the bin – and the number of people travelling alone continues to rise.
The reasons people now choose to holiday alone has shifted from one of necessity to situations dictated by personal preferences, interests and circumstances.
The travel sector still has a long way to go in fully embracing the solo traveler but the reality has forced many companies to rethink the way in which they cater for this ever-growing demographic. And you can see why.
The number of people living on their own increased by 16% between 1997 and 2017, to 7.7 million, according to the Official for National Statistics, which predicted 10.7 million people could be living alone in 20 years’ time. It also found those living on their own spend an average 92% of their disposable income compared with two-adult households who spend 83%.
A rise in those in a relationship choosing to travel on their own is fuelling the sector. Conflicting careers, differing interests, greater acceptance of the globetrotting singleton and the sheer choice of ideas have all helped create what has become a burgeoning market.
Charlie Hopkinson is business development director for Dragoman – an overland travel and adventure specialist. He says: “We have a good proportion of people, both male and female, travelling singly with friends and it’s definitely more common than you would imagine.
“Often it will be a couple of female friends, either because their partner doesn’t have time to go with them or the inclination. On one of our trips we had an Australian man in his 60s who did a Polar trip with his wife. She then flew off to a ski holiday with girlfriends in Japan and he went on to do a 10-week trip with us from Ushuaia in Argentina to Lima in Peru.”
Solo travel has been a big trend over the recent years and continues to grow, says Hannah Methven, worldwide programme manager for Explore, who says nearly half its bookings are from “single” people.
“Interestingly, we’ve found many of our solo customers are married or in relationships – which goes to show you certainly don’t have to be single to go on a solo adventure.
“People in relationships can choose to travel solo for any number of reasons – it may be that they’re interested in a certain destination or activity their partner is not, or their partner might have a different work schedule or existing travel plans.”
The World’s Your Oyster
Jules Verne (vjv.com) has been something of a trailblazer when it comes to no single supplements on its group tours and departures exclusively designed for solo travellers. It cites Spain as the favourite destination of single clients followed by India, the USA, New Zealand and Italy.
It says the most common reason given for heading off alone was to visit places or take part in activities in which a partner or spouse had no interest, showing people are keen not to miss out on opportunities that may pass them by unless they go alone.
Jules Verne’s extensive worldwide programme spans a grand hotel on Lake Como to travelling the ancient Silk Road; the Lost World of the Incas to India’s Golden Triangle, and Botswana’s unique wildlife to a short break in Rome staying in the home of the Sisters of the Order of St Joseph of the Apparition overlooking the Vatican.
All at Sea
While it may not be for everyone, the communal atmosphere that comes with cruising makes it appealing for many solo travellers.
“With more Google searches for ‘solo travel’ than ever before, the popularity of travelling alone has undoubtedly risen over recent years,” says Andy Harmer, UK and Ireland director of the Cruise Lines International Association.
“The same can be said for cruise holidays, as the number of people choosing to set sail on their own continues to grow. Offering both space for solitude and opportunities for social interaction, cruise holidays are a fantastic option for solo travellers as they take away the stress that can come with travelling alone on a land-based trip. And many travellers decide to cruise alone to connect with like-minded people,” adds Harmer.
Cruises come in all shapes and sizes and deciding which one is right for you can be a challenge. The website cruisecritic.co.uk has a useful “cruise finder” section giving you the expert lowdown on ships, destinations and durations.
Kirkerholidays.com has no single supplements on several of its cultural tours and music holidays. The programme includes Austria’s Grafenegg Music Festival and the beautiful gardens maturing within the romantic landscape of south east Ireland.
Retreat to Creativity
The Watermill at Posara (watermill.net) is a complex of beautifully-restored 17th century buildings surrounded by elegant Tuscan gardens. Throughout week-long holidays, guests enjoy expert tuition in subjects ranging from painting and knitting to creative writing and Italian language.
Inspa-retreats.com runs health, fitness and detox retreats in Tuscany, southern France and Marrakech. Prices start from £1350pp (£1895pp single room) on an all-inclusive basis excluding flights. Or, to channel your inner chakra, check-out yogafitretreats.com
Ecotraining.co.za offers seven- and 14-day courses in remote wilderness areas of Botswana and South Africa. Its ‘EcoTracker’ programme will introduce you to all aspects of tracking wild animals including identification, trailing and the survival techniques of wildlife. Contact the company for prices and upcoming departures.
Friendshiptravel.com runs singles holidays that aren’t about matching people up or being forced to be in each other’s company 24/7. Its programme is worldwide and spans beaches, culture, cruising, walking and skiing.
Overland to Adventure
Dragoman.com runs overland tours lasting from eight to an epic 211 days in purpose-built trucks across Africa, Asia and the Americas. Passengers tend to be a mix of ages and nationalities and include plenty travelling solo. A 23-day trip through Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil costs from £1260pp and the 21-day Gorillas, Chimps and the Maasai Mara in Uganda and Kenya from £1290pp.
Explore Jordan’s highlights on a nine-day trip with explore.co.uk. Float in the salty waters of the Dead Sea, explore the ancient ‘lost’ city of Petra, visit the Ancient Roman city of Jerash and stay overnight in a traditional camp in Wadi Rum. Prices start from £1699pp including flights.
It can be an understandably daunting prospect heading off on a first solo adventure. Here are some tips.
- Start with a long weekend. And maybe coincide it with a sporting fixture, concert or event so you have a focal point.
- How about a hobby holiday? It’s the perfect way to ease-in with like-minded people.
- Small group tours (of which there are plenty) are sociable without being intimidating.
- Speak to companies that specialise in solo travel; they’re a great source of advice and ideas.
- Copy all travel documents to a friend or family member at home and send to an email account or scan to your phone.
- Books, iPads and e-readers are great for “escaping” what is often the most challenging part of travelling alone – eating solo.