Scroll through your Instagram or Facebook feed and it would be hard to miss the trend – a friend standing with arms stretched wide among the ruins of Machu Picchu, a relative taking a selfie while traversing the delightful maze of Vietnam’s famous Bên Thành Market, or a colleague beaming on the white sand of the Whitsunday Islands after snorkelling to see the world’s greatest underwater natural wonder.
What these images have in common is that the subject of each one is alone. Something that would have seemed somewhat strange a few decades ago is now perfectly common. Indeed, with each passing year, more and more people are choosing to travel solo. This inclination to go it alone was one of the biggest travel trends of 2017 – and as industry insiders predict, it’s set to continue into this year and long after too.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the trend is that women are its biggest drivers. This is thanks to a blossoming sense of female empowerment, a multitude of tools that promote safety and a growing global community that provides inspiration and support.
Me, myself and I
As indicated by various travel companies, the numbers speak for themselves. “Over 50 percent of Intrepid Travel travellers are travelling solo,” said Tom Smith, Marketing Director EMEA at Intrepid Travel, a tour operator that specialises in small group adventure trips. “We have also seen a 30 percent increase in engagement for solo travel content on our blog compared with last year. These articles have been trending again, highlighting this desire for people to at least start thinking about a solo trip.”
These days, travellers would prefer to go it alone and do it at their own pace, choosing different travel buddies along the way
More men and women are taking the plunge to travel alone, one reason being that they no longer have to wait on someone else to have the time, money and corresponding schedule to take a trip. And this waiting around on others wouldn’t come to a halt once a trip was booked either – it would continue for the duration of a holiday.
“[People] would then be tied to their timetable, which is difficult as some travellers are early-risers, some are party-goers and so on. These days, travellers would prefer to go it alone and do it at their own pace, choosing different travel buddies along the way,” said Troy Elmes, founder of the app SoloTraveller.
This desire can be seen as part of a wider social shift in terms of independence and personal freedom – we have just one life to live, and it’s too short to not spend it doing what makes us happy. “When you travel alone, the adventure is yours. The challenges are yours, the victories are yours, and knowing that you can have those things on your own is incredibly empowering,” said Anna Claire Eddington, Creative Director and Guide at Adventures in Good Company, a female-only adventure travel company.
“The best part was the sense of freedom, adventure, being able to do new and often incredible things, and meet people from all over the world,” said Dr Chantell Douglas, a London-based professional who left her job to embark on a solo trip across Asia and South America in 2016. “It sounds cliché, but it really can allow time to think about what really matters, offer a change in perspective and be an opportunity to breathe and reflect, which can be hard with the routines of daily life.”
Technology has played a big role in enabling more people to travel solo; sophisticated smartphones allow people to feel comfortable, safe and connected anywhere on the planet. The idea of being completely alone in a foreign place can be daunting, but knowing that you can message and video call loved ones at any time, while also staying up to date with their comings and goings through social media, can help dispel the feeling of isolation that once put many off the idea of solo travel.
Solo women’s travel isn’t just a fad of the moment. It’s an outgrowth of a larger cultural awareness that women can succeed on their own
What’s more, people sharing their pictures and experiences online shows just how feasible it is to go on an adventure alone, inspiring others to follow suit. “Social media has played a large role in this [trend], showcasing the world’s most beautiful destinations [and] encouraging people to explore,” said Smith.
This online phenomenon is only growing stronger as time passes, with a rising number of websites, blogs and apps dedicated to helping solo travellers to embark on the trip of a lifetime. “New technology makes it as simple as setting up a profile within [an] app and searching for nearby like-minded travellers in real time via geolocation services,” Elmes told Business Destinations.
“SoloTraveller, for example, enables individuals to connect with other explorers at the touch of a button.” According to Elmes, the Care to Share feature is the most popular section on his app, as it allows users to broadcast the experiences they would like to share with fellow travellers – whether it’s a train journey, evening meal or sightseeing tour.
Here come the girls
What’s striking about the trend is the prominence of women. To cater for this surging demand, there are now more female-only tours and travel companies than ever before, from Journey of Discovery, which specialises in travel to Peru and the Galápagos, to Explorations in Travel, aimed at women aged over 40, and Mariah Wilderness Expeditions, which offers white water rafting for female thrill-seekers. There is now a tour to suit every type of female traveller seeking new experiences without the comfort of their family and friends.
Increase in hits of solo travel content on Intrepid Travel’s blog since 2016
Of Intrepid Travel’s customers are travelling solo
of the women who travel with Adventures in Good Company come alone
Certainly, a growing sense of female empowerment is in part responsible for this trend. Women are now more financially independent, better educated and more autonomous than they were even just a few decades ago. Consequently, they have more freedom to pursue their own dreams and passions.
Happily, this trend appears to be spurring itself on. As more travel blogs are being written by women, and female travellers are gaining a louder voice overall thanks to the ubiquitous nature of social media, more individuals are being encouraged to do something they may not have even considered before.
“I think more women are choosing to travel alone largely because they know that they can do it successfully. There is so much evidence of women succeeding in solo travel; seeing a woman on top of a mountain, hopping on a train in Europe or building a campfire has empowered so many women to say, ‘I can do that too’,” Eddington told Business Destinations.
The lure of freedom is certainly a fundamental part of the rise of solo female travellers; too often we’re bogged down by the wants of others, often putting aside our own desires. Fortunately, this no longer has to be the case; many women can now put themselves first and use their time as they wish.
While many will associate the trend with carefree, gap-year Millennials, the demographic of women now travelling alone is actually far broader. “We see women from every kind of background, but it’s especially invigorating to see women in their 50s, 60s and 70s trying – and succeeding – at something brand new.
It’s not just about seeing a new place; it’s about travelling independently. That just hasn’t been very common historically,” Eddington told Business Destinations. Douglas believes this is a reflection of social change: “Today, women are making independent life choices about their careers and travel, choosing to take career breaks or doing something they’ve always wanted, and having the income to support independent travel.”
Alone, but together
The sense of community that is created through group travel is another factor inspiring more people, particularly women, to join a tour on their own. According to Eddington: “75 percent of the women who travel with us come without a friend or family member.
They arrive alone and leave as part of a community.” This is often the case for adventure holidays, which see individuals take on challenging tasks – be it hiking a mountain or jumping a gorge. Attempting such feats with a group can engender bonding and spark new friendships, more so than, say, meeting over drinks or going on a museum tour.
Men and women alike see travelling alone as an invaluable way of making new friends. “When you’re younger, it’s easy to find friends within hostels; however, when you’re not staying there, it can be a little difficult to connect,” said Elmes.
Smith added: “People on our tours are like-minded travellers, keen to explore, looking to get under the skin of the destination and do things the local way. As so many of our travellers are travelling alone, many often find themselves on tours with others who have decided to go solo, meaning that they’re likely to make new friends, of all ages, from across the globe.”
In the online age, in which it can be difficult to make real personal connections with new people, having an opportunity to develop meaningful relationships and share memorable experiences is priceless. “Travelling is like a community – you might have started the journey alone but you’ll meet so many people who will walk alongside you for big parts of it,” said Douglas.
For many, this aspect of their trip is the highlight. When asking Douglas about the best parts of her solo trip, forming friends was one of them; the friendships she made are still going strong, long after her trip came to an end.
Eddington shared the sentiment: “When women choose to travel with a company like ours, they’re getting more than a vacation. They’re being welcomed into a community that supports them as they experience this incredible new adventure. Ours is a group of women who are actively seeking to reconnect with nature and their adventurous selves, with the added benefit of being surrounded by other curious women seeking something very similar.” Having an adventure thus becomes all the more valuable for introducing this feeling of mutual support and camaraderie.
Tips for solo female travellers
Research, research, research
Taking the time to properly research a destination before setting off is essential. From restaurants to accommodation, checking out reviews on the likes of TripAdvisor can make the difference between a meal of a lifetime and trip-wrecking stomach bugs; knowing what you’re going into reduces the risk of an unsavoury experience.
It’s easy to take on a carefree attitude when so far from everyday life, but personal safety must never be forgotten. Simple things like only withdrawing cash during the day, not wandering around at night and staying alert can help keep you safe at all times. Some women wear a fake wedding ring to keep unwanted attention at bay, and many avoid wearing headphones when out and about as an additional security measure.
Stay on the beaten track
“Following well-trodden paths at first has the benefit of you being more likely to meet other solo or groups of travellers who you may want to join for part of your trip. You’ll also hear about lesser-known treks and things to see from other travellers as you go along,” Douglas advised. “Signing up for tours for parts of the journey is another great way of being part of a group.”
Keeping in touch with family and friends will not only stop them from worrying about your wellbeing, it will also stave off feelings of loneliness. There are a multitude of apps designed to help you meet like-minded travellers, which will add an extra sense of security.
It’s only natural
Solo travel is also linked with the desire to really connect with a place. It falls in line with a growing desire among people from developed economies for authenticity and unspoilt nature. Eddington confirmed this link: “Our most popular domestic trips are the ones where women can really connect with the outside world. I think the trips that we offer in national parks are so popular because they offer a way to get away from it all, to reconnect with yourself and nature and to rejuvenate in a way that is harder to do in a densely populated location,” she told Business Destinations.
With so much on offer, this is one travel trend that isn’t going to die down any time soon – especially among women. “Solo women’s travel isn’t just a fad of the moment. It’s an outgrowth of a larger cultural awareness that women can succeed on their own, that they can travel to every corner of the globe and enrich their lives through those experiences,” said Eddington.
“We live in an ever-globalising world and every day it gets easier to find out about a hidden gem, a secret destination, a new experience to add to your bucket list. Independent travellers have more resources at their fingertips than ever before. Young women in particular have been raised in an age of ever-present technology. They are acutely aware of where they want to go, what they want to experience and exactly how to do it.”
Never before has the wider world been as accessible, navigable and traversable as it is today. Thanks to technology, social media and the inspiring individuals that pave the way, more of us are inclined to embark on a life-changing adventure by ourselves – not just in 2018, but well into the future too.