Going it alone

It’s happening more and more. All ages – baby boomers, millennials and especially women – are exploring distant places on their own. And should they wish for companionship, tour groups for singles are growing in number.

Throughout history, humans have set sail into the unknown. Many of us feel drawn – destined, even – to leave the familiar for encounters with strangers in distant lands. We have a built-in need for the promise a journey holds – to head into the unknown.

It’s trickier to find unmapped places now that we have shrunk the globe into the few days it takes to fly around it. But technology is the modern explorer’s best tool yet. Anyone with a smartphone can hold a miniaturized Earth in the palm of their hand and effortlessly navigate their way across it with or without a partner to read the map.

Information access is making us more autonomous; among the global movements of travelers, which, according to survey firm Statista, topped 1.3 billion in 2017, there is a growing segment of travelers that are finding their own unexplored corners of the planet with nobody but their own good selves as travel companions.

“Solo travel delivers a sense of freedom and feeds one’s self-confidence like no other kind of travel. It’s fulfilling,” says Janice Waugh, who runs the Solo Travel

There’s little doubt that traveling alone is becoming more popular, especially among women travelers. 
According to Solo Travel World data 85.7% of solo travelers are women.

The top five for solo travelers regardless of gender, according to data from Hostelworld.
1. US
2. England
3. Spain
4. Australia
5. Italy

72% of American women are now opting to travel solo. 

46% of the female members of the Solo Travel Society, part of Solo Travel World, say freedom, independence and the chance to do what they want, when they want, is the reason they travel solo.

Solo travelers are frequent travelers: 43% travel three or more times per year

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World website, which has 130,000 monthly visitors and a growing Facebook community of solo travelers exchanging tips and experiences. “Traveling solo gives me a chance to sink into a desti­nation in ways that I can’t with a partner. I get to meet more people, which gives me the opportunity to experience a destination in different ways,” the Toronto, Canada-­based Waugh continues.

She believes changing demographics are behind the growth in solo travel. “People are waiting longer to get married or partnered. People are having sequential relationships. And women, especially, are more independent than ever before. So, on a practical side, people go it alone because they don’t have a partner and don’t want to wait for friends to have the time and money to join them,” she says.

There’s evidence everywhere that solo travel is on the rise. Google searches for “solo travel” were up 55% in 2018 versus 2017. Single occupancy Airbnbs are soaring into double-digit growth in places such as Cancún and Ho Chi Minh City. US-based luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent reports more than a 60% increase in solo travel bookings between 2013 and 2017. 

Attuned to this trend, the tourism industry is becoming more accommodating to solo travelers. Some cruise lines now offer single cabins and even sell cruises specifically with solo travelers in mind. Capsule hotels, which first launched in Asian cities offering the lone traveler a snug pod to overnight in, are spreading globally. The online restaurant reservation site Open Table, which every month helps 26 million diners find and book restaurants around the world, now runs the Open Seat initiative that pairs diners who have never met before by indicating where there are free seats at bookable tables.

And tour operators are increasingly catering to solo travelers, tailoring trips to meet their specific needs and desires, which, most importantly, promise experiences out of the ordinary. Yoga retreats on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera, cultural week in Cuba, cycling in southern Iceland – the offers are endless, but all share the promise that the solo traveler is sure to meet other travelers with similar interests. 

Tourism reporter Daniel Peltier of the New York-based travel news media company Skift agrees that solo travel is poised to grow in the near future. “If you look at trends like co-working and co-living spaces, which are becoming more popular in some parts of the world, they both naturally lend themselves to those who want to travel or work remotely on their own,” he says. 

Peltier also thinks that innovations in industry and technology are transforming the way we now travel, with the likes of Airbnb connecting people from totally different walks of life and parts of the world. “There is more motivation to travel solo because you might have friends to reconnect with in a destination, even if only for coffee or a dinner. As other alternative accommodation platforms grow, and as social media continues to permeate our cultures, you will see more people comfortable with and excited about traveling alone.”

Women are driving the trend: one recent report suggests over 85% of solo travelers are female. Baby boomers make up the largest segment of those (30%), closely followed by millennials (29.3%). Waugh explains the phenomenon. 

“Boomer women came of age during second-­wave feminism. They are strong, independent women who raised girls to be strong, independent women, so you’ll see both on the road – solo.”

Women who travel solo are increasingly looking for outdoor adventure-type destinations that can lead to new and deeper connections with people and places than perhaps would be possible on trips that don’t involve sharing arduous experiences with fellow travelers. 

REI Adventures, part of the US outdoor gear company REI, now targets women travelers with mountain biking tours in the Grand Canyon or hiking through New Zealand’s Southern Alps. And inter­national cycling and adventure company DuVine Cycling + Adventure is seeing an increasing number of women joining their six-night cycling trips on which participants cycle up to 100km every day.

That more women are joining the ranks of solo travelers can perhaps also be attributed to the fact that many of the chosen destinations have become safer to travel to alone. By the same token, the locations that are now easier to get to, navigate and explore may have lost some of the mystique they held when they were still relatively unknown. 

Perhaps, then, the solo traveler is reclaiming the voyager within us and conjuring up that exhilarating sense of freedom that comes with making discoveries all by yourself.  

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