Patricia Schultz, who wrote the travel bestseller 1000 Places To See Before You Die, has a simple message for anyone with an incurable case of wanderlust but is without a companion. “If you can’t find anyone to travel with then go solo,’’ she says.
“Travel is a gift and travelling solo is simple because you don’t need to compromise, you can follow your heart and do the things that interest you, you can stay somewhere longer or not go there at all, you don’t need to keep pace with anyone else, and serendipity finds you.
“When you travel with a family member you bring a little bit of home with you, and exist within a bubble under the guise of companionship or security, but when you remove yourself from that comfort zone you’re guaranteed a different experience.’’
For some solos it means packing a bag and going with nothing more than a return ticket and wish list crammed with things to see. But others seek safety in numbers by joining an escorted group, and the good news is an industry built on the Noah’s ark principle that travellers come in twos is finally evolving to meet the needs of every single.
HOW IS SOLO TRAVEL CHANGING?
The biggest change is choice. Single travellers are now offered ways to avoid single supplements, discounts for booking early, to go where they please from deepest Africa to Antarctica, and in the style that suits their comfort zone and bank account.
There are now also more travel businesses serving singles — some agencies expert in making plans and bookings, others launched to lead trips.
Ken Morgan established Two’s A Crowd in 2012 to help solos access the same experiences as people able to journey in a duo.
“We used to run a suburban travel agency and many of our clients were solo, it was hard finding great deals and tours for those clients because the industry was set around twin share, so we decided to do something about it,’’ he says.
“We started with a couple of group tours but now go all over the world with more than 20 small-group trips every year and while Vietnam and Canada/Alaska are most popular we’re introducing places like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Borneo and even Iran.
“While our small-group tours continue to be popular an area in demand is cruising — it’s hard for solos to get deals due to high single supplements and clients tell us its daunting boarding a ship alone — so we’ve made it our mission over the past year to give clients access to deals and travel with other solos.’’
Small group tours are helping solo travellers see the world.
ARE MORE WOMEN TRAVELLING SOLO?
Women seem more comfortable than men to hit the road — independently or in a group — with Butterfield & Robinson sales manager Caitlin Ryan reporting the number of ladies booking with the company has jumped by 50 per cent since 2012.
“Women tend to be more adventurous than men when it comes to joining group trips alone and choosing destinations like Portugal, Italy and Spain where they can become immersed in new culture, community and cuisine,’’ she says.
“The feedback we receive from guests is that an active holiday with daily hiking and cycling excursions is less isolating than a fly-and-flop trip at an all-inclusive resort and participating in outdoor activities immediately binds travellers in a way laying by a pool cannot.’’
Women are more independent travellers than men.
DOES SOLO MEAN SINGLE, AND LONELY?
Annette Porter, who owns Travel With Me which is a travel agency with thriving solo traveller club, says it’s never correct to assume solo equals single with many of those choosing to go away without a companion leaving a spouse at home.
“Our club is for solo travellers but that doesn’t mean single — many have partners who don’t like to travel, or they want to visit different destinations to their spouse — and while most prefer a single room they like to travel with other solos for company,’’ she says.
“I often hear complaints from solos who book tours to find they’re the only solo in a group filled with couples and friends travelling together, which makes them feel alone, so we get a small group to travel on an existing tour so they know they’re not alone.’’
SO WHAT IS A SINGLE SUPPLEMENT?
Insight Vacations managing director Alex O’Connor says imposing a single supplement allows tour companies to “offer a room normally occupied by two people to someone who prefers to enjoy the comfort of their own room’’.
Hotels and ships do the sums assuming rooms or cabins will be occupied by two people, so sole travellers are charged more — sometimes as little as 10 per cent, but often up to 100 per cent of the standard twin tariff — to cover costs.
Hotels set a room rate rather than per-person fee, ships often charge one person double to occupy a twin room but eliminate taxes and gratuities on the second fare, and tour operators will add an amount that’s a percentage of the standard charge so those going alone can occupy private accommodations.
A single cabin on a cruise ship.
HOW CAN I AVOID IT?
According to Fiona Dalton, managing director of Uniworld River Cruises, the most obvious way to avoid the single supplement is to find hosts that “value their solo-traveller community’’ by offering discounts or waive the charge completely.
“Be flexible. Discounts may not be offered at the exact time you hoped to travel but there may be alternate dates or itineraries which offer the same program with a saving — and when you see an itinerary you like don’t hesitate to lock it in because single-traveller offers are capacity controlled like any other promotion,’’ she says.
“Look for waivers on popular itineraries or selected dates and Uniworld’s Tulips & Windmills, Castles along the Rhine, Remarkable Rhine, European Jewels, Paris & Normandy, Burgundy & Provence, and Bordeaux already have offers in place for 2018 sailings.’’
Pandaw wipes the supplement completely on many of its Asian river journeys while Captain Cook Cruises now caps the surcharge at 30 per cent for all Murray Princess three, four and seven-night voyages letting solos cruise from $1200.
SHOULD I SHARE WITH A STRANGER?
Another way to avoid the single supplement is booking with a tour company that matches guests to share hotel rooms — a technique that’s almost always successful with firm friendships quickly forged — and Trafalgar Australia’s managing director Matthew Cameron-Smith explains solos can save hundreds by embracing this option.
“Guests are partnered based on sex and it’s generally successful when strangers are matched to share,’’ he says.
“Those open to being paired with another guest tend to have an approachable nature and bond easily — we see it all the time, strangers become friends for life within days — and it’s always nice to have a familiar face at breakfast and dinner when travelling solo.
“Depending on the trip length the savings can range from $500 to $1200 and if you opt to be paired with another guest, but there’s no other solo of the same gender, you stay in a single room at no extra cost so it’s win-win.’’
Butterfield & Robinson tours include cycling in Vietnam and Laos. Picture: supplied
ARE THERE OTHER OPTIONS?
Cabins built for one, money-saving offers, and on-board security make cruising an attractive alternate for solos with Beyond Travel’s general manager Bryce Crampton recommending small ship coastal cruising and river cruising as top options because compact vessels “foster a friendly atmosphere’’.
“There’s a relaxed vibe on board so striking up a conversation and developing friendships is easier as you’re not just another face in the crowd but part of a small group of travellers enjoying a shared experience,’’ he says.
“The best single deals get snapped up quickly, so singles after a deal should register their interest and be prepared to book as soon as they can, but if a departure is not selling well there may be some last-minute deals.’’
Volunteering and exploring a destination by rail rather than road are great options while staying in an apartment with kitchen — either from Air B & B, or belonging to an accommodation chain such as Adina or Adagio — will allow for a self-catering stay eliminating the need to sit alone in restaurants at mealtime.
Tour groups are looking after solo travellers.
So, you want to travel solo? Here are a few companies working hard to show you the world without penalties for not being part of a pair.
* More than 30 per cent of Cosmos passengers adventure alone. The coach-tour company promotes “guarantee share’’ reservations that link travellers of the same gender to share a room, eliminating the single supplement, or get their own room should there not be a suitable match. cosmostours.com.au
* Intrepid Travel offers the sharing option on every trip and has launched dedicated departures for solos on popular India, Morocco, Bali and Vietnam expeditions. intrepidtravel.com
* On The Go Tours boasts “no single supplement/no sharing’’, which guarantees no hidden costs for those going it alone, and include a transfer from airport to hotel at the start of the trip promising a hassle-free arrival for solos setting foot in a new country. onthegotours.com
* Two’s A Crowd guided getaways are just for solos with the average group size set at 15 people, everyone gets their own room, and itineraries include a mix of sightseeing and downtime. twosacrowd.com.au
* Maeve O’Meara’s Gourmet Safaris to destinations in Australia and overseas are solo friendly with activities organised that suit both singles and couples while the Gorgeous Safaris to Vietnam — there’s a new itinerary coming in 2018 — promise every person a private room. gourmetsafaris.com.au
* Holland America Line has a Single Partners Program, matching solos of the same sex to share a stateroom and hosting events to connect those cruising alone. The line’s newest vessel the MS Koningsdam also features one-person staterooms. hollandamerica.com
* Travel With Me is a travel agency with a solo traveller club that promotes “no single supplement tour options’’, advertises last-minute deals with little or no solo supplements, introduce members seeking similar holidays, and hosts fully-escorted excursions for solos to destinations from Barcelona to Borneo. travelwithme.com.au
* Trafalgar offers solo-rooming rates when each brochure is released giving guests the chance to save between 25 and 100 per cent on standard supplements. trafalgar.com