Solo travel is becoming increasingly popular. Only 30.4 percent of Americans say they have never traveled alone, and experts predict the number of solo travelers will surge as tourists make up for time lost during the pandemic.
The most powerful motivator is wanting to see the world without waiting for others, according to a survey by the website Solo Traveler. But fans also praise the flexibility, independence, personal growth and joys of meeting new people.
Karla Zimmerman has written Lonely Planet guidebooks for 20 years and has traveled alone extensively for both business and pleasure. People often ask whether she is fearful or misses having companions. “Maybe a little,” she concedes, “but the tradeoff is huge: the freedom to experience a place how I want, when I want. Like, blow off the vaunted art museum to drink beer in a pub? No problem, I just do it. Visit the famous church or the world’s largest ketchup bottle? No judgment or compromises when I choose the latter. Plus, when I’m by myself, I meet more people and pay more attention to what’s around me. The feeling of self-reliance of doing it all solo is pretty cool, too.”
Your time, your way
Solo travelers relish the ability to determine their own schedules — from the timing of trips overall to navigating airports, meals, excursions and even rest. “I love letting my body fall into its natural sleep patterns,” says Auburn Scallon, a lifelong night owl and Moon Guides author. “The freedom to set my own schedule means I can plan activities around my energy levels and not have to trudge through an overly chipper early-morning tour wishing I’d had enough sleep to actually enjoy it.”
Find flexibility in booking
Going it alone can open up opportunities. “Utilize your advantage,” suggests travel writer Marie Javins, author of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik: One Woman’s Solo Misadventures Across Africa. “There are often single seats left, sometimes even with discounts. It’s much easier to get that last seat on a bus, on a rafting trip, on that small plane to see polar bears when you’re only booking for one.”
Embark on a personal journey
Solo travel can be deeply transformative. Javins relishes focusing on her own experiences, rather than chewing things over with a companion. “I experience the world best when I’m only responsible for my own reactions,” she says. “And I enjoy escaping from work where I am responsible for many others as well as myself.”
Add to your skill set
A framework can often help solo travelers, whether that’s a dude ranch, culinary boot camp, knitting cruise, photography workshop, Ph.D.-led tour from Context or a NOLS expedition to build wilderness skills. Or dive even deeper into learning with Road Scholar, which offers unaccredited courses for travelers over 60.
Scour for special options — or ask
Traditionally, cruises and tours have based their fees on double occupancy and added surcharges, known as the single supplement, for private accommodations — anywhere from 10 to 100 percent the usual rate. But a decade ago, some companies started reducing these costs and even waiving them, as demand rose for solo travel.
Others began securing more single rooms and increasing options for unaccompanied guests, notes Sarah Reid, commissioning editor and lead author of Lonely Planet’s The Solo Travel Handbook. She recommends Intrepid, G Adventures, Exodus Travels, and Wild Women Adventures. Other standouts include Avalon Waterways, Travel Divas and Overseas Adventure Travel, specializing in trips for travelers 50 and above.
Brands sometimes offer seasonal or last-minute deals that include scrapping single supplements. Not finding the right package for your budget? It never hurts to ask the operator about options or to see if a travel agent can negotiate.
Experience unique destinations
Tourism operators have begun creating more bespoke options. Notably, they have the run of entire ships on some Riviera European river cruises. As the company’s site says, “You can book that Diamond Deck Suite you’ve always imagined without the roommate and the single price tag.”
Singles Cruises and Tours also caters to folks who would like to vacation solo — but not alone. Its trips range from Guatemala’s Mayan temples to penguin viewing in Antarctica. Don’t be fooled by the name: These expeditions don’t resemble speed dating with suitcases. The goal is, instead, allowing unaccompanied people to access the discounts of group travel without a forced single supplement.
Eager to hear lions roar or gorillas drum their chests in Africa? Extraordinary Journeys offers departures for solo travelers. Or design a custom trip anchored by camps that don’t penalize singles with advisers like The Wild Source and Yellow Zebra.
Scott Cundy, cofounder and marketing director of Wildland Trekking, recommends guided small-group tours, which increasingly attract companionless adventurers. “With a higher level of safety and a professional guide leading the tour, solo travelers are able to relax more and focus on enjoyment,” he notes. And, of course, there’s the social component: “Traveling with others is simply more fun.”
Match with a like-minded roomie
Accommodation can be limited in remote areas, so tour operators turn to the buddy system, pairing same-gender solo travelers to share digs. Backroads and Rick Steves’ Europe helped pioneer this trend. Don’t feel like planning much? Tag along on a like-minded traveler’s journey via an app like Join My Trip.
Lean on the expertise of professionals
Welcome to the consulting renaissance, as vacationers increasingly return to expert help. Professional planners offer more than just ease. They often have relationships that can inspire extra TLC for solo travelers, such as rooms in well-lit areas. Terika L. Haynes, CEO and founder of Dynamite Travel, points out that they can also serve as vital contacts. “They will have knowledge of the entire itinerary in case of an emergency.”
Travel clubs have also grown lately, attracting members beyond the glitterati. Companies like Fora, Indagare, MyLifeWell and Prior can customize itineraries and open the door to sweet perks.
Find the right travel insurance
A safety net can reassure solo travelers who may face extra expenses if they get ill, such as delivery costs for food and medication. Top travel insurance policies include Allianz, IMG and, for adventurous types, World Nomads.
Insurance can soften the impact of life’s curveballs too, as Janice Waugh experienced. Her mother, who had dementia, suffered a health crisis right before Waugh’s departure for Lima, Peru. “The relief of staying and having travel insurance refund my $1,100 flight was enormous,” she says. Look for policies with “cancel for any reason” clauses for similar protection.
Many jobs have become untethered to brick-and-mortar premises, encouraging solo “techpats” to relocate abroad and slow-travel through multiple destinations, spending a few months in each. Nearly 50 countries now offer digital nomad visas to ease these transitions. Look to services like Nomad Stays, RemoteDream and Kayak’s Work From Wherever Guide. Or take it a step further and study as you go. Sojrn’s monthlong courses — such as Fashion in Paris and Biodiversity in Cape Town — center on educational themes while supplying apartments, workspaces and excursions.
Work for room and board
Stretch your budget by moonlighting while you’re away from home. Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms invites guests to experience sustainable agriculture with activities such as crafting cheese in Mexico, growing mushrooms in France and tending Hawaiian orchards. Workaway also fosters opportunities for travelers to labor around 25 hours a week in exchange for grub and spots to sleep. Services like this even exist on the high seas: Check out Crewseekers, which pairs vacationers with yacht owners.
Not a joiner? Look to pet- and house-sitting sites to maintain a solo groove. Fan favorites include MindMyHouse, Rover and Trusted Housesitters. Sample the scene with a few local gigs. Good reviews will help open doors around the world.
Stretch your accommodation budget
The classic hack — hostels — isn’t just for hard-partying young backpackers willing to share baths and dormlike sleeping quarters. America’s largest network, the nonprofit Hostelling International USA, reports that more than half its guests have celebrated their 30th birthdays already. Often, more mature visitors go for private en suite rooms while still enjoying amenities like rental bikes, discounted outings and communal kitchens. Hostelworld and Hostelz remain great sources for exploring these options. Appreciate flexibility and spontaneity on the road? Consider apps that release last-minute deals, including HotelTonight, Jetsetter and LivingSocial.
Find more intimate spaces
Solo travelers often gravitate to smaller properties that offer more connection with communities, according to a JourneyWoman publications study. “At a big hotel, you can be somewhat faceless and nameless,” notes CEO Carolyn Ray. That can increase the appeal of bed and breakfasts, small boutique hotels and homestays organized through sites such as Airbnb, Booking.com, Couchsurfing and Vrbo. Travelers have traded digs for decades, but this option has grown more popular since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, as people seek to minimize exposure risks. Look to sites like Home Exchange, Home Link and Love Home Swap, which allow members to simultaneously switch places or accrue points by hosting and “spend” them staying elsewhere at their convenience.
Cellphone carriers offer fuss-free plans that work in over 200 countries. But apps like Rebtel, Viber and WhatsApp can also help travelers avoid scary roaming charges or the hassle of buying local SIM chips. Slim phone chargers can also come in handy when you need to revive a flagging phone. Consider the AquaVault ChargeCard, the Clutch V3 iPhone charger, Apple MagSafe Battery Pack or a mophie Snap+ Juice Pack Mini.
Speaking of technology, be careful where you use devices like smartphones, whose cost could exceed the global median income of $850 per year. Sometimes it’s safer to jot down key phrases, addresses and directions in a paper notebook than to rely solely on map and translation apps. Conscientious travelers also leave itineraries with friends and in cloud-storage services, such as Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive, alongside scans of key documents (passport, health insurance card, prescription details, etc.).
Solo travel with an impairment or disability can add complications — and possibly some luggage weight for assistive devices. AccessibleGO offers advice and deals, alongside a travel club. Wheel the World remains another standout, providing comprehensive guides and a catalog of tours with guaranteed accessibility. Agencies such as Sage Traveling also specialize in booking trips like this, while Autism Travel and the AutisticTravelGoddess offer inspiration and options for neurodivergent people.
Stay safe far from home
“Think with the safety mindset,” JourneyWoman’s Ray advises. “Not just ‘Where are you going?’ but ‘How are you getting there?’ and ‘Where are you going to stay?’” She always carries a door stopper, adding another cheap and compact layer of in-room security. Ray also packs a headlamp, even in urban settings, since power outages and natural disasters can happen anywhere.
Whistles, hidden money pouches and pickpocket-safe luggage can also offer reassurance when you don’t have a pal to watch your back. Likewise, products can discreetly detect knockout drugs, which can be slipped into beverages. These include bracelets, coasters and test strips. Always seek help if you’re worried you’ve been roofied as part of a potential theft or sexual assault. Experts recommend going to the emergency room, so doctors can ensure the drug isn’t reacting poorly with your body or other medications.
Finally, the app bSafe offers a “social safety network,” letting friends see your location and receive alerts if you don’t check in at an agreed-upon time. Other digital standouts include Sitata, which can flag travel disruptions and help you navigate them, and GeoSure, for evaluating risks (it includes information specific to women, and people from the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities).
Guard against online identity theft
Use a virtual private network (VPN), which encrypts your web traffic, making it less risky to bank or pay with credit cards online while connected to public Wi-Fi. It can also give access to sites like streaming and social media apps that are censored in some locations. Standouts include Mullvad, IVPN and TunnelBear, but you may already have one installed via antivirus software for your phone, tablet or laptop, such as Bitdefender. Scott Lieberman, founder of Touchdown Money, recommends ExpressVPN for its affordability and set-up ease. Rates range from $6.67 to $12.95 per month and cover up to five devices. “I can run my phone, tablet and computer all at the same time,” he says.
Learn to enjoy solitude
“Traveling solo, you’re not lonely. You’re alone by choice,” Ray notes. You decide when to connect with people and design your own experience. “It’s really powerful,” she adds.
That said, all sorts of emotions may surface, especially on a trip that pushes you out of your comfort zone. It’s natural to long for familiar comforts and faraway support networks. But try to stay in the moment. Put down your devices. Leave your room. Even if you don’t paint the town red, your mood may improve by simply reading a book in a convivial café or people-watching on a leisurely stroll.
researchers look beyond biggies like Facebook and Instagram, though. Experiment with platforms like Meetup, Tripr, SoloTraveller and Unsettled, a network for global professionals.
Hungry to get off-screen and let serendipity strike in the real world? Try volunteering, taking a class or going on a walking tour. Even offering to take a photo can ignite a conversation with fellow tourists, which could lead to insights and maybe even a little company, if that’s welcome.
The opportunity for romance
Singles tours can be a good way to strike up a spark — or just not feel like an extra wheel among couples and families. But almost a quarter of Americans met their spouses while traveling and a third have enjoyed romantic flings, according to a OnePoll study for Exodus Travels. The company has a wide range of solo-only trips, as do brands like Encounter Travel and Cox & Kings, not to mention the similarly named but distinct Solo Female Travelers and The Solo Female Traveler Network. And Norwegian Cruise Line pioneered staterooms and lounge areas specifically for singles.
Commune with locals
Reluctant to strike up conversations at a café counter or farmers market? You can still meet people through programs like Eatwith and BonAppetour, which pair travelers and home chefs. And then there’s LocalEats, which recommends independent restaurants in cities abroad. While tour companies like City Unscripted and Tours By Locals offer tours, the price tag can be hefty. The nonprofit International Greeter Association hosts free walks for individuals and groups of up to six people in over 130 destinations, including Algeria, Ghana, Japan and the United Kingdom. “I absolutely love free walking tours,” says Lieberman, who has traveled to 25 countries, mostly using miles and points. “It’s a fantastic way to explore with a trusted guide, learn history and culture and meet new people.” Often he suggests the group grab a bite after a tour concludes to kick things off.
Haynes’ tip for travelers of color: “See if there are any BIPOC expat groups, as they can serve as great contacts and guides.”
Without many hands to make light work, solo travel can be challenging at times. Be gentle with yourself, and leave space to recharge your batteries as needed. Javins adds: “When you’re solo and you’re always planning a step ahead, you get tired after a while. I always build in downtime, whether it’s on a week’s trip or a year's trip.” This allows her to relax and wander a bit, opening the door to unexpected adventures. “I’ve stumbled onto many priceless moments this way — fortune tellers in the park, shrines of ceramic zebras, comics stores featuring quirky performances, craftspeople hard at work in a public plaza, new cafes not even online yet,” she says.
Rest and recharge
Not every journey needs to be a whirlwind. Solo travel opens doors to the restorative self-care that many people crave now. The American Psychological Association reports that burnout and stress have hit all-time highs as the pandemic drags on. Small wonder that over 76 percent of travelers plan to spend more on travel to improve their well-being, according to an American Express report. Wellness offerings are trending, including spas, digital detoxes, animal-assisted therapeutic retreats and even sleep tourism, which consists of amenities and retreats to encourage sweet dreams. (Not ready for a dozing docent? It turns out that even listening to travel bedtime stories can be beneficial.)
Scallon has shifted more toward this introspective approach, after a youth full of “jumping onstage during hostel game nights or closing down the bar with strangers I’d never see again.” Now she prefers low-pressure group activities like walking tours and gasping along with theater crowds. “I tend to book solo trips without expecting a ton of interaction, though I am always thrilled if it happens naturally,” she says.
“The travel industry’s messaging around ‘must-sees’ and whirlwind itineraries, urging people to squeeze in as many sights and activities as possible, can make traveling feel like more of an obligation than the immense privilege it is,” says Scallon. “Are there things I’ll miss out on while embracing a more laid-back approach? Sure, but in a world with so much pressure on constant productivity and consumption, bringing leisure and rest back into travel can be a powerful reminder of how valuable they actually are.”
Amanda Castleman is a Seattle-based writer who specializes in travel. Her work has appeared in AFAR, Sierra, Bon Appétit, National Geographic Traveler and more.
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