Going it alone

Solo travel is more popular than ever, with one in four British adults keen to travel on their own in the next three years, reports Siobhan Grogan

At the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I gaze out over the city twinkling below me… then ask a complete stranger to take my picture. Climbing the world-famous structure was another bucket-list experience ticked off on my solo travels around Australia. I didn’t need to worry about anyone’s else’s budget, schedule or fear of heights, but booked the first available slot then buckled up to scale the 1,332 steps to the summit.

This freedom to do exactly as you please on holiday means that more people than ever before are considering escaping alone.

One survey by Skyscanner found that 54% of travellers were thinking about jetting off solo, with the majority citing different travel interests to friends and family as the reason.

It’s not just pre-university backpackers craving solo adventures any more either. Travelling alone appeals to empty-nesters, anyone craving new challenges and those who have more flexibility to work remotely following the pandemic, says Hazel McGuire, Intrepid’s UK and Ireland General Manager.

“At Intrepid, about half of our customers are solo travellers. The pandemic has spurred people on to get out and see the world. It’s often a misconception that solo travellers are single too. Some clients have partners with different interests and while one wants to relax by the beach, the other wants to trek up Mt Kilimanjaro.”

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Vietnam, G Adventures

No compromise

Travelling alone doesn’t need to mean youth hostels and solo sunbathing – unless that’s what your client wants.

Adventurous travellers now realise that being on their own means they can book a trip shaped entirely around their own needs. It’s essential to discover what your client really loves to do when they have free time to determine if their dream trip is a yoga retreat or walking holiday.
Solo travellers are often keen to think big, says Lee Thompson, co-founder and CMO of adventure travel company Flash Pack.

“Many solo travellers are pooling their annual leave for once-in-a-lifetime trips abroad. Pretty much the antithesis of two weeks on a beach, this trend points to an appetite for adventures packed with local, unique experiences such as ice-hiking a Patagonian glacier, or staying overnight in a giant tortoise reserve in the Galápagos.”

However, adventure travel company G Adventures has found that customers don’t necessarily want to compromise on comfort on their solo expeditions.

“Our newly-launched Geluxe Collection offers upgraded experiences that focus on being physically active and on community experiences,” says Brian Young, Managing Director EMEA at G Adventures. One top selling example is its 11-day Peru: Lima, the Sacred Valley & the Inca Trail that offers upgraded accommodation and meals at authentic community-run restaurants.

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Oaxaca, Mexico, G Adventures

Table for one

It’s crucial to choose a tour operator who prioritises the safety of your solo client and tailors itineraries and experiences specifically to their needs, rather than selling a holiday designed for couples or families. Watch for the dreaded single supplement too.

“Solo travellers are often looking for affordability when choosing a trip,” says Young. “Travelling with a company like G Adventures means there is no ‘single supplement’ as we can match travellers up with same-sex roommates – this can make a huge difference to travel budgets with the added benefit of potentially making friends for life. We’ve also had two single cabins built in our Reina Silvia Voyager vessel that takes guests on our Galápagos Islands Cruises, so that solo travellers can get a room to themselves at a reduced rate.”

It’s equally vital to use tour operators who have considerable experience on the ground so that they can ensure your client will be able make the most of their solo escape.

“We’ve developed a global community of like-minded professionals so we’re able to fill our adventures with activities that would be hard to do alone,” says Vyas.

“For example, admiring the Northern Lights from a private island in Finland; sharing lunch with a sumo wrestler in Japan; abseiling down South Africa’s Table Mountain; or wildlife-spotting in the Amazon from a remote Peruvian jungle lodge. These kinds of standout moments are the signature of our solo travel trips.”

Safety in numbers

Remind nervous clients that they don’t have to go it (entirely) alone. A number of tour operators now offer group trips for solo travellers, enabling them to explore destinations safely, without worrying about the finer details.

“Small group adventures are a great choice for clients who want to travel solo but are feeling hesitant about taking that first step,” explains McGuire. “At Intrepid solo travellers have the security of a local leader who can help with logistics and support when they need it, and a group of ready-made friends.”

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Flash pack group tour, Finland

Flying solo

Once-in-a-lifetime destinations, action-packed itineraries and cultural immersion are all major selling points for travellers looking to go it alone. Asian and South American destinations are especially popular with those booking through Flash Pack, with Japan currently the company’s best-selling solo trip for 2024.

Thompson also predicts a surge in bookings for South Korea, Sri Lanka and Bali “due to its adventurous repertoire including surfing, volcano trekking, private island boating on the Gili Islands and more.”

Above all, clients travelling on their own want to really see and understand a destination so it’s critical to think beyond a fly and flop.

Young explains: “Solo travellers are forced to interact more with the world around them to get by, which means that they are likely to experience their surroundings in greater depth and are more likely to make new friendships on the road.”

Subsequently, most will return with a new-found confidence, life-changing memories and a passion to travel even more.

As McGuire notes: “When customers return from their first solo travels they say how empowering it felt – and they can’t wait to do it again!”