Tuesday 16 October 2018

Solo Travel: Why are so many of us now choosing to travel alone?

Women are much more likely to travel alone than men, tour operators say

Solo travellers are a new normal, not an inconvenience. Photo: Getty Images
Solo travellers are a new normal, not an inconvenience. Photo: Getty Images
Costa Rica
Solo travel is changing for the better...

Annabel Fenwick Elliott

The world was once, for many of us, a huge and daunting labyrinth; a difficult, expensive challenge to navigate, and a path best travelled with friends in tow.

You had to be good at map-reading, for one, with the ability to overcome language barriers. Getting around was simply harder.

That’s changed considerably, and an ever-increasing number of us are these days setting off on adventures alone. Is it just that Google can now steer even the most directionally challenged among us to our next location, or translate words from any dialect back and forth?

Is it that more of us are single, and staying single, than ever before? Are we now by nature too impatient to wait for a suitable companion to show up?

I spoke to a variety of tour operators to examine the rising trend of going it alone, to see how it is impacting everything from hotel bookings and Airbnbs, to cruises and cottage breaks.

According to UK travel association Abta's latest annual Holiday Habits survey, one in nine holidaymakers reported that they took a holiday on their own in the previous 12 months - double the number compared to six years previous.

Hitwise, the online behavioural research tool, said that from analysing searches made by 3 million consumers in the UK, across all search engines, there was a 143 per cent increase in "solo travel" searches over the past three years.

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Costa Rica

In the past four weeks, incidentally, the most popular destinations driving solo travel searches have been Costa Rica (above), South East Asia and New Zealand.

If we’re not doing it, we’re certainly dreaming about doing it. According to inspiration sharing site Pinterest, recent numbers are even higher - with searches for “solo travel” up by nearly 600 per cent this year.

Hotel booking sites have reported similar trends.

Hotelscan.com has noticed a 170 per cent increase in the last 12 months for those looking to book a room by themselves, the most popular destinations for this being Thailand, Peru, Sydney, Portugal and Vietnam respectively.

LateRooms.com said that between April 2017 and April 2018, they’ve seen their share of solo travelers increase by a more modest 14 per cent. Hostelworld has seen a 42 per cent rise in the number of solo bookings made between 2015 and 2017, a more dramatic spike than in any other sector for the site.

Airbnb, too, has been seeing an increase in lone bookings.

Its fastest-growing spots for solo guests include Cancun (a 170 per cent increase), Ho Chi Minh City (146 per cent), Cologne (, below142 per cent), Playa del Carmen (141 per cent) and Johannesburg (135 per cent).

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Cologne Christmas Market

And people aren’t always hopping on a plane to get away by themselves. They’re checking into their own holiday cottages too.

A spokesperson for one directory, Unique Home Stays, said: “We’ve been established for 17 years and have noticed a significant increase in solo travel over the last few years: with a 48 per cent spike since 2015.”

Even cruise operators have had to adjust their offerings to cater for higher numbers of passengers traveling alone. Norwegian Cruise Line spied the trend all the way back in 2010, when it first launched studio rooms designed especially for single travellers.

This year, Riviera Travel introduced solo cabins with no single supplements across their river cruise programme and due to demand – 18 per cent of their customers are now travelling alone – this year introduced two new dedicated river cruise itineraries specifically for this sector.

What sort of travellers are going solo?

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Solo travel is changing for the better...

It’s a mixed bag, now more than ever.

As far as younger travellers go, according to data from the Abta, almost one in eight 18-24 year olds reported going on a holiday by themselves in 2017. In 2011, this question was asked to 15-24 year olds and the figure was just 4.5 per cent.

According to Hostelworld, the number of solo bookings made by Britons has increased 60 per cent over the past three years, the highest rise globally.

Singles holiday operator Just You says the age of their clientele ranges from 21 to 90, but averages out at the 55+ age group.

What does appear to be consistent, however, is that women are much more likely to travel alone than men, and that’s only rising.

Hitwise says that since January, the audiences driving searches for solo travel have been women (55 per cent of them) aged between 25-34 years old and living in London.

According to Hostelworld, the number of solo bookings made by Britons has increased 60 per cent over the past three years, the highest rise globally.

Singles holiday operator Just You says the age of their clientele ranges from 21 to 90, but averages out at the 55+ age group.

What does appear to be consistent, however, is that women are much more likely to travel alone than men, and that’s only rising.

Hitwise says that since January, the audiences driving searches for solo travel have been women (55 per cent of them) aged between 25-34 years old and living in London.

Solo by choice, or by circumstance?

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Machu Picchu, Peru. Photo: Deposit Photos

If you’re roaming the world alone, you’ll fall into one of two categories: someone who simply doesn’t have a companion to join them on their travels, or someone who actively chooses not to bring along friends or a spouse.

We polled a Facebook group consisting of hundreds of female writers and heard from countless single women who travel alone. But we also spoke to several who were married or otherwise attached, and actively choose to leave their other-halves at home when travelling.

Writer Tash Nikolovski, 28, said of her six-month solo tour of Latin America: “It probably seems a little unconventional to travel without your partner for six months, but it was something that meant a lot to me," she says.

“I'd made a lot of sacrifices to make it happen - like saving for over a year, learning Spanish, mentally preparing to leave my job - so throwing the trip away because I'd met someone just wasn't an option, and he understood that.”

She was in good company, as it turned out. “What struck me the most was the amount of other females that I'd met travelling alone in the same boat - way more than guys - who all had boyfriends at home, and were taking trips on their own,” she remarks.

This works both ways, of course. Another writer, Claire Mason, said her husband went to India for five weeks after quitting a 30-year career in India in advertising, while she stayed home.

Voyaging alone: is it good for you?

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Girls jumping into lake from wooden dock

Psychotherapist Tony Ingham was one of the many we asked in his field who came back with a resounding yes. It provides a break from monotony, he explains, builds confidence and exposes you to people and places you’d otherwise never cross.

But most of us know this.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked downsides however, are the very real re-entry blues.

“Frequently I work with people who have had the most exceptional experience on their travels and find the return home disappointing,” he says.

Naturally, going solo can be difficult for the less-social travellers among us.

“More introverted people can become anxious, and retreat into their shells,” Ingham confirms. But should they go for it anyway? Arguably. A recent Booking.com survey found that a substantial 71 per cent of global travellers have had regrets over missed travel opportunities.

Generation Z (18-24 year olds) were found to be the most willing to face their travel anxieties head-on, with two thirds managing to overcome their concerns. For many, that means setting off alone even if you’d rather have a friend.

Working remotely

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Dojo, Bali

As technology continues to free up the way people work, more and more of us are finding it’s now possible to combine a job with travel by operating remotely. Gemma Thompson, founder of travel advice website Girls That Travel, says:

“Many travellers are doing well in a career, but they feel it doesn't fulfil them. But the way we work is changing. It’s more acceptable to take time out for yourself. In fact, we should all do it at least once in our lives. It gives us the gift of clear thinking time, and being in an environment like that builds self-confidence like nothing else.”

We spoke to PR executive Sarika Patel, who has just embarked on a solo expedition to Thailand, but isn’t taking time off to do so. “When you're single and in your thirties, the choice is usually 'travel alone' or 'don't travel' - so I choose travel,” she says.

“I’m off to Southeast Asia with no change to my work routine and 'minimal disruption' assured to my clients. I had to persuade them that I'd be just as effective from there.”

What are the pitfalls of travelling solo?

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Fancy a getaway?

When Lonely Planet quizzed more than 4,000 of its members this year, four out of five have either had or were planning a solo trip. Disappointingly, a third of them said they’d felt disadvantaged by choosing to travel alone. Half of them, for example, have had to pay a single person supplement as a result of going solo.

Telegraph Travel’s consumer expert Nick Trend explains:

“The argument goes like this. Holidays are usually priced per person based on two people sharing a twin or double room. When a single person books, many tour operators levy an extra charge. They argue that they have to charge extra because singles are a less attractive commercial proposition for them. Among other aspects, single travellers spend less money in the restaurant and bar than couples.”

A compromise?

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Early morning in Tuscany. Photo: Deposit

For those travelling solo by circumstance rather than choice, there is a middle way. Small group package tours made up of strangers are proving themselves popular.

Writer Mandy Appleyard explains: “I am single, intrepid and a lover of remote, long-haul exotic destinations. I don’t usually travel with close friends because, variously, they want to sleep on a sun lounger for a fortnight, won’t catch a flight longer than two hours or don’t want to travel where vaccinations are required.

“As I grow older and less compromising, I’ve found it suits me to do small group holidays: there’s company if I want it (at dinner, I always do), but also the opportunity to be separate without offending anyone. There’s a strong chance you’ll meet like-minded people, and for me the mix of the social and the solitary works well.”

Solo travel expert Gill Charlton agrees, noting:

“Some of the best holidays I’ve had have been those where I have set off on my own and travelled with strangers. Experience has shown me that I’ll find like-minded companions in any group.

"Statistics tell us that one in four British adults has never married or is divorced or widowed. Add to these singletons all those keen travellers whose partners either cannot or will not join them, and that’s a huge potential market.”

Read more:

A Group Tour in Tuscany: What's it like to join an escorted trip?

Telegraph.co.uk

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