Would you travel alone? The answer for more and more of us is a very definite yes. But despite the growing popularity of solo travel, there’s still a stigma linked to it, believes Miriam Zendle, who’s racked up more than a dozen trips alone since her first aged 19.
“I know plenty of people who have never been away alone, who always travel with friends or a partner and wouldn’t consider getting away solo, which is a shame,” says the 32-year-old. “A holiday by yourself is a very different experience to being with others.”
But with more and more people setting off to see the world solo, these long-held attitudes are starting to shift. And the growing trend is particularly popular with female travellers – research by 101 Singles Holidays found that over 58 per cent of single holidaymakers are women, and with the average age at 54, it’s certainly not just for gap year students.
Tour operators are also reacting to the growing demand, many more offering singles-only tours or scrapping single supplements, with more than a third of those on group tours travelling solo. Flight comparison website Cheapflights also reported an 18 per cent rise among flights searches for solo travellers earlier this year.
While Miriam’s own family and friends are very supportive, that’s not always the case – despite the benefits she’s found. “It has made me self-sufficient, far braver, ready to try new things, open to opportunity and adventure,” she explains. “Although I’m no better a map-reader than I was 14 years ago, sadly.”
Things have changed dramatically since her own first solo trip to Florence too. “It is so much easier to stay in contact these days, the advent of smartphones changed everything,” she says.
“People can track you if they’re really worried, roaming data means you’re less likely to get lost as you can figure things out in remote spots, and all of this contributes to people feeling more secure.”
There’s enough variety for anyone to find a solo holiday to suit them as well. “I studied Italian at Scuola Leonardo da Vinci and shared a flat with two other girls,” Miriam says of her first trip.
“I made a couple of great friends, one of whom I’m still in touch with 14 years on, and spent the summer eating lots of gelato, watching ballet at the Palazzo Pitti and exploring the beautiful Tuscan countryside. I remember feeling so happy and relaxed.”
Since then, as well as solo city breaks, she’s joined group swimming holidays in Turkey and Greece as well as three months exploring America and Canada, plus a beach break in Corfu.
“If I had to wait for a friend to join me on a SwimTrek holiday, I would still be sitting at home now. The only bit I don’t particularly enjoy is eating dinner alone – I’d rather have a friend for that. But I get through it with a glass of wine and a good book!”
And while it’s normal to be nervous, especially before a first solo trip, don’t let that hold you back, she insists. “Just do it. Don’t wait for someone else to allow you to experience life. You are capable of more than you think!”
So if you’re considering your first solo travel trip, these are our top tips before you go.
1. Stay safe
One of the joys of solo travel is the freedom and flexibility to do what you want, when you want – but it’s always worth making a few plans before you set off, whether that’s choosing flights to avoid late-night arrivals, or ensuring your transfer or first night’s accommodation is booked. Keep copies of your passport and other paperwork stored electronically as well as having a spare credit card or hidden cash, just in case.
Take the same safety precautions you’d follow at home in an unfamiliar situation as well as getting advice from locals or travel forums on any specific local issues. Always listen to your instincts: if you feel unsafe, get out of the situation as fast as possible.
2. Make the most of technology
From keeping in touch with people back home to finding fellow travellers along the way, the internet is every solo traveller’s friend. There are tips galore, including specialist solo travel websites, along with peer-to-peer sites if you’d like to meet locals for a different view of your destination.
And if you’re looking for group tours, whether they’re day trips or longer itineraries, solo travellers are spoiled for choice, not to mention making life easier when it comes to meeting people along the way. It’s also the perfect way to research your options, with different companies catering to different age ranges and budgets.
3. Think about your own travel style
If you’re an introvert or extrovert at home, factor that in to your trip – for some people, the buzz of new people is half the excitement, for others the peace of your own company is one of the highlights of solo travel.
Plan your trip around your own personal preferences, but try to push yourself out of your comfort zone along the way too.
4. Avoid the supplements
With more companies and hotels cutting single supplements, there’s no reason you should be hit with extra charges these days – even if you’re joining a group tour, there are singles-only options as well as others where you can share a room.
Other companies, such as Mercury Holidays, specialise in hotels with no single supplements, while university rooms or housesitting are a great bargain alternative to hostels.
5. Don’t fear eating alone
It’s one of the biggest worries for solo travellers – and one that’s often less alarming than people fear. Many resorts are starting to add communal tables as an option for single guests, while cruise ships have long catered to those travelling alone.
Alternatively, street food and markets are an easy way to eat solo, along with more casual restaurants such as noodle bars. And with a phone or book, as well as some people-watching, it’s easier than ever to entertain yourself.