Updated post: 07/02/19 | February 2019
Solo travel is in the ascendancy. But don’t just take my word for it. According to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) 2018 annual report, solo travel has increased threefold in the last seven years. Furthermore, one in six of those responding to ABTA’s survey had travelled alone in the past year. In the same year, British Airways conducted their own global solo travel survey, revealing that almost half of all women are choosing to travel on their own.
So are you asking if solo travel is for you? Could you venture to distant lands reliant on no-one but yourself?
Aside from the societal drivers for the rise in solo travel, and especially solo female travel, there are clear cut advantages of travelling alone. Solo travel has the ability to transform your life. It is empowering, you have the opportunity to meet great new people and have total freedom to do what you want when you want to do it. By stepping outside of your comfort zone you get to learn more about yourself and your abilities, particularly in the face of adversity.
However, for every yin there is a yang. Whilst potentially exhilarating and transformational, there are disadvantages of travelling alone. Not least of these is added cost, personal safety concerns and loneliness. But armed with a few tools and strategies, you can largely overcome them. Here’s how to go about this.
The disadvantages of travelling alone
Solo travel will be more expensive
With solo travel you do not have the economies of scale. Therefore, some elements of your trip will be more expensive. Key amongst these is accommodation with the dreaded solo supplement.
There are some strategies to reduce this financial hit. For hotels, it pays to shop around. Alternatively, cut out the middle man altogether and negotiate directly with the hotel. Prices are often lower in the off or shoulder season. Remember that there is usually a good reason for this, but you should also have the advantage of avoiding the crowds.
Cruises are a big bone of contention amongst solo travellers with many companies still charging full cabin price or single occupancy. This is ridiculously unfair; for instance, one person will not eat as much as two. The tide is slowly changing (no pun intended) and a few operators offer single cabins or a solo traveller discount (e.g. P&O, NCL). This is one area where you might consider consulting a specialist travel agent.
With no-one to share the cost, private tours and taxis can be prohibitively expensive. Why not find another solo traveller to buddy up with or find out if there are any group tours available?
You have to consider personal safety more carefully
Let me start by saying that solo travel is not inherently unsafe. But, equally, travel does involve risk, and this should always be mitigated, regardless of whether you are a solo traveller or not.
One of the disadvantages of travelling alone is that there is no-one there to watch your back. When you are travelling with other people, there is safety in numbers. You can walk back to the hotel late at night with them; you can look after each other’s belongings; you can be vigilant for scams together.
You learn how to take reasonable precautions to keep yourself safe. Do your research before you travel to identify less safe parts of town. Pick a hotel that is within easy and safe reach of restaurants. By all means, have a few drinks – you’re on holiday after all – but don’t overdo it.
Read more: 17 Top Safety tips for Travelling Alone
You will become lonely travelling alone
I doubt that there is any solo traveller out there who has not experienced loneliness at some point of their travels. But you don’t have to be travelling alone to feel lonely. The loneliest I ever felt in many years of travelling was on a two-week trip around Central America with an unsuitable companion. By the end of those two weeks, I was longing to be alone.
So if you get an attack of the travel blues, how can you beat them? Firstly, and most importantly, is to accept that this is absolutely normal, it will pass and you will move on to have a terrific time. It’s also important to have even the loosest of plans to prevent aimless moping around. And be kind to yourself, treat yourself.
Meeting other people and making new friends on the road will mean that you don’t have to be alone so much. If you are an introvert, talking to strangers can be a challenge, but you can do it. Look out for other solo travellers. Genuine curiosity is a good conversation opener.
Day tours are a great way to meet other people whilst retaining your independence. Or mix and match your itinerary, bookending an organised tour with independent travel. This is a strategy that has worked extremely well for me. For example, on a trip to Cuba, I ended up hanging out with a few girls who were on my organised tour once this had ended.
Where else can you strike up conversations with others? An obvious solution is to stay at a hostel, which, by its nature, is a social experience. However, if, like me, you have put your hostelling days behind you, why not consider smaller, boutique hotels or B&Bs. These tend to be friendlier than larger luxury hotels.
As well as offering free wi-fi, coffee shops are good venues to talk to people as are bars. Sit up at the bar rather than at a table.
You won’t be able to share the moment
For me, this is probably the biggest disadvantage to solo travel. There you are, awestruck by a perfect panorama or a sensational sunset and there’s no-one to turn to and discuss just how wonderful it is. Instead, you gaze in wonder, take a few images and then leave.
This is a tricky one. Sharing your experience on social media or with friends on your return ticks that box to a certain extent, but it’s not quite the same as being in the moment. It often is a case of “you had to be there.” However, I have struck up a conversation with other visitors at the sunset viewpoint/mountain summit. Usually, they are receptive, particularly if they are also a solo traveller. This might be more difficult if you are an introvert, but I am not exactly a screaming extrovert. Give it a go.
Travelling alone means eating alone
This is something that I am not crazy about either. Firstly, there’s your slightly apologetic request for a table for one. Then as you sit down, the waiter theatrically removes the place settings for your invisible dining companion.
But this does get easier the more you do it. Bringing a book to read or writing your journal notes at the table, accompanied by a good glass of local wine, makes the experience far more palatable (pun intended).
How do you take photos of yourself?
As I am not particularly photogenic and generally hate photos of myself, this is usually not an issue for me. However, there have been times when I have wanted to capture those magic moments that include me in the frame.
Selfies are OK and can be fun, but I am not a huge fan. Again, I am not a fan of selfie sticks but a few years back had tremendous fun doing a selfie-stick tour of Rome with two friends.
You can ask someone else to take a photo of you and this is what I tend to do. You have to judge how trustworthy the person looks before handing over your smartphone or camera, but I have found that it is a reciprocal process. I take one of you; you take one of me.
Another approach is to invest in a tripod. I have a Manfrotto tripod which is excellent but is too heavy-duty to cart around whilst travelling. Instead, I clip my compact camera or smartphone onto the JOBY GorillaPod Magnetic, a lightweight and versatile tripod.
Coping with negativity from other people
Even after many years of solo travel, and all the advantages that it has brought me, I still get slightly surprised by other people’s reaction to travelling alone. This negativity is usually rooted in fear which, to a large extent, is propagated by the media.
I have travelled extensively around the Middle East and when I visited Syria in 2008, my parents believed I was in Turkey. When I last went to Israel & The Palestinian Territories, I told my father that I was in Greece. Luckily he didn’t ask to see my pictures of the Acropolis. The point is that I knew that no matter how hard I tried to persuade them that I could stay reasonably safe in these destinations, they would be worried sick for the entire duration of my trip. I could not do that to them and, instead, went down the little white lie route.
To allay the fears of parents or loved ones, it is also important to keep in touch whilst on the road. Providing your itinerary in advance also helps their peace of mind and in some sense includes them in your adventures.
Solo travel: advantages vs disadvantages
In conclusion, my view is that the disadvantages of travelling alone are eclipsed by the advantages. But perhaps you are thinking of taking your first solo trip and have niggling doubts? So how about some baby steps? Eat alone in your own town or city. Plan a day trip or a short trip in your own country. Talk to strangers, take a selfie.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
What have you struggled with when travelling along? Do you have any top tips to help those who are taking their first solo travel adventure? Please do share your thoughts below. And if you want to learn about my five easy steps to solo travel, check out this post.