AARP Eye Center
The need for community hasn’t gone away in the age of social distancing. And for many solo travelers who still want to enjoy the camaraderie, safety and convenience of traveling with others, the answer is group tours.
Annie Shurtleff, a 75-year-old from Tulsa, frequently travels solo with organized groups (36 trips and counting), most recently on a fall foliage tour of New England with the nonprofit educational tour company Road Scholar. “I have never let being a solo keep me from things,” says Shurtleff, who adds that one of the biggest benefits of joining a group is “the people I meet.”
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.
Most of the solo travelers signing up for these trips are women: About 65 percent of solo customers booking with the U.K.–based Exodus Travels are women, as are 70 percent of solo travelers with Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.).
And they aren’t necessarily single — some may have a spouse who is unable to travel or has different interests. “We never use the term single,” says Matt Berna, managing director of Intrepid Travel, which catered to some 350,000 travelers worldwide in 2019, about half of them solo.
Their attraction to group trips seems to be growing in the COVID-19 era: Road Scholar reports a 20 percent increase in solo travelers compared with pre-pandemic levels; Exodus Travels has seen a 9 percent increase, and EF Go Ahead Tours’ individual bookings have more than doubled.
Typically about a quarter of participants on Road Scholar’s trips are travelers signing up alone, but this year they make up nearly 29 percent of all participants, says director of public relations Kelsey Knoedler Perri. “Our solo traveler community has been on the rise over the past 10 years, but this is by far the largest leap.”
She surmises that the growth may be at least in part fueled by travelers eager to get out of town after spending nearly two years adventure-starved by the pandemic — so eager, they don’t care if they can’t find a friend or family member to join them. “We have people calling saying, ‘Where can I go now? I want to go next week!’ ” says Robin Brooks, director of marketing at Exodus Travels, whose customers’ average age is 65 and of whom 67 percent are traveling solo. The company’s trips to Italy, Portugal and Costa Rica are booking up particularly fast.
Brooks also points to the fact that tour companies will stay on top of the complicated COVID-19-related rules around the world, so their customers don’t have to — a big advantage for people who aren’t keen on trying to navigate evolving testing and vaccine requirements on their own. “Everyone wants a lot more hand-holding now,” she says.
Peggy Reynolds, 62, of Long Island agrees: She went alone on a group trip to Iceland in May with EF Go Ahead Tours, after getting vaccinated for COVID-19, because family members she would usually have traveled with were either not vaccinated or still hesitant to travel. She says it was the best travel experience she’s ever had — not only because she met some wonderful people, but “it was great having everything planned ... I could really sit back and enjoy myself.”