From finding travel companions online to blending in with the locals, here’s Saga’s guide to surviving the rigours of solo travel…
In the summer of 1995, recent divorcée Cheryl Strayed strapped on a backpack and embarked upon a 1,100-mile, three-month trek along America’s Pacific Crest Trail. Spanning nine mountain ranges and encountering bears, rattlesnakes and ferocious Texas longhorn bulls along the way, she hoped for a character-changing experience that would “make me into the woman I knew I could become”.
You don’t have to be imbued with the same intrepid wanderlust that compelled Strayed (whose adventures were later recounted in last year’s Reece Witherspoon-starring film “Wild”) to begin her hermetic odyssey to realise the virtues of solo travel – a sense of self-discovery, a fuller immersion in your destination and no annoying partner nagging in your ear.
More solo travellers than ever before
It also seems more of us are embracing solitary travel than ever before too. More than a third (38 per cent) of Britons currently holiday alone, with the most popular destination being Greece. Solo holidaymakers are also getting older too, with research last year revealing the average age of single travellers is 54. It isn’t just singletons, divorcées or widowers embarking upon companionless trips - according to a 2014 study, 27 per cent of Britons ditch their partners to escape for some ‘me time’.
But for all its life-enriching qualities, independent travel can sometimes be accompanied by feelings of loneliness and fear. Indeed, despite the surge in female solo travellers (58 per cent of single holidaymakers are female), research last year revealed many women refuse to travel abroad alone due to concerns over personal safety, loneliness and vulnerability.
Here, Saga has provided some simple tips to hopefully allay such fears…
Related: Discover Saga's range of solo traveller holidays
Solo travel: before you go
Want a travel buddy? Head online
The internet doesn’t just enable you to book flights and hotels: you can also search for travel companions and friendly local guides too. At Travbuddy , you could find a potential sojourn sidekick from 643,000 members, who can be whittled down by gender or age. As its moniker suggests, Thelma and Louise enables women to connect with other female travellers, while meetup.com lists global get-togethers for specialist interests ranging from ‘woodland witches’ to badminton.
Should you want an expert to show you their city, then Leap Local puts travellers in touch with recommended local guides, while Couchsurfing.com isn’t just about flopping on strangers’ shabby sofas – you can also meet hosts for a drink or meal. Elsewhere, look out for local events such as Jim Haynes’ weekly dinner parties, which have been held in his Paris home for the last 35 years. Before toddling off to meet your new internet pal, just bear in mind a few ground rules.
Don’t give contact details (or any other personal information) unless you’ve talked a few times first. Always meet the stranger in a public place, letting somebody else know where you’re going. And should anything make you feel ill-at-ease about the person (either online or face-to-face), cancel the meeting.
Consider group trips
To cater for the demand in solo travel, many travel companies now offer group trips where many of the holidaymakers will be alone. Saga’s Solo Traveller Collection can place you on trips in groups ranging from five to 50. Whether it’s bespoke weekend jaunts to Spain or its epic five-country ‘Ultimate Africa’ expedition, the service offers scores of exclusive getaways for single people.
Saga even has expertly-trained ‘Solo Hosts’ on hand to help foster a more sociable atmosphere at events such as the ‘singles’ cocktail parties held on many cruises. Prefer to be left alone? That’s no problem – the Solo Hosts will allow you to retreat into Garbo-esque solitude by leaving you alone.
Saga will also remove some of the hassles of solo travel, such as taking care of visas and attempting to remove the dreaded single supplement. It’s such services which have probably nudged Saga towards winning the ‘Best Large Singles Holiday Company’ at the British Travel Awards for the last three years running.
Related: A once in a lifetime adventure awaits on Saga’s Ultimate Africa holiday
Choosing your hotel
If you’re craving companionship during your trip, embrace your inner backpacker. Hostels, with their communal areas and daily event/excursions are much better places to meet fellow travellers than chi-chi hotels.
If the thought of dingy dorms and shared bathrooms makes you shudder, then some hotels (such as the excellent boutique chain Kimpton in the US) has a nightly wine-hour for guests to socialise.
The website Single Planet rates hotels in terms of their suitability for solo travellers. Some hotels are either female-only or have female-only floors (see Zurich’s Lady’s First, London’s Dukes hotel and Hong Kong’s Fleming hotel). For extra reassurance, consider buying a door security device for your hotel room such as a DoorJammer or an EasyLock
Research your hotel and make sure it’s in a safe area, rather than a drugs-infested, crime-ridden enclave. If you’re planning on visiting a number of destinations, pin them on Google Maps, maybe printing these maps before you go.
In some countries, where taxi assaults occur, try to arrange an airport pick-up through a reputable provider (such as your hotel).
Related: Find out how Saga travellers have rated their holiday and why 96% would recommend Saga Holidays
Make scans of important documents, such as your passport. Then, store these scans safely online in a cloud storage device such as Dropbox or by emailing them to yourself. It will save you untold hassle if your passport gets stolen.
Solo travel: During your trip
If travelling in developing countries, don’t drape yourself in expensive carat-studded jewellery and if possible, carry items (money, camera etc) in plastic bags rather than a handbag. Thieves are much less likely to loot something which could be a bag-full of carrots from the local grocery.
Keep some rolled up notes of local currency in a safe place, such as under the insole of your shoe or old suntan lotion bottle, in case your wallet/purse is stolen.
Related: Why woman should not be afraid to travel alone
Stride with purpose. Always look as if you know where you’re going, even if you don’t. To fend off aggressive touts, learn the words “no, thank you” in the local language. They’re also much likely to pester you if they make eye contact, so try wearing sunglasses.
Don’t look like a tourist
Nothing suggests “I’m a lost vulnerable tourist” to potential pickpockets than unfurling a map out in the middle of a busy road. Try to memorise your routes or plot your itinerary using Google Maps/the GPS in your phone (everybody will assume you’re texting rather than checking your map).
Never get into a car with leery touts who offer their services outside streets or airport terminals. If you do flag down a cab, make a note of the registration and driver documentation.
However, using official, licensed cabs that operate a meter (or Uber, if it’s available in the city) add an increased degree of security.
Before leaving your hotel, take a card containing its address, especially if it’s in a country that uses a foreign alphabet. Agree the fare with the taxi driver first – solo travellers are much more likely to be (pun alert) taken for a ride by duplicitous drivers.
In the UK, the road-worthiness of public transport or the driver’s sobriety aren’t usually concerns. However, in some countries, you should check the state of the coach and whether the driver is inebriated.
If everything’s okay but some of your fellow passengers seem unruly, sit at the front near the driver. Some cities, such as Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Cairo, have female-only carriages on their metro systems have female-only carriages. If on an overnight train journey, upper berths have more privacy, for those worried about theft or potential gropers.
Visiting bars and restaurants alone
Being the lonesome ‘saddo’ in the corner clutching his/her pint-glass could make even the most extroverted traveller feel self-conscious. To shirk off such feelings, avoid trendy cocktail joints in favour of homely pubs where you can pull up a stool at the bar. Take a book, laptop or tablet and try to stay relatively sober – drunken tourists are like camera-carrying catnip to petty criminals.
Related: Tips for solo female travellers
Talking to strangers
If you do get gabbling away to strangers, don’t divulge too many details about where you’re staying or your travel plans – no matter how friendly they seem. And if something adverse (such as an assault) does happen, create an agitated fuss by shouting out loud and waving your hands to shame whoever is harassing you.
Saga offers a range of holidays and cruises for solo travellers. Find out more today.