(Photo credit: Blake Lisk via Unsplash.)
Solo travel is more popular than ever, for all demographics and travel types.
A Visa Global Travel Intentions Study found that 24 percent of all travel is solo leisure travel – and it’s not just singles that are traveling by themselves. The latest Portrait of the American Traveler, compiled by MMGY Global, found that “10 percent of American travelers who have both significant others and children take vacations during the year without their families present.”
That number grows as you climb the age ladder; AARP reports that about 53 percent of Americans 45 and older who travel alone are married. A majority of these travelers are women.
Women traveling alone is a particularly big thing. A TripAdvisor survey of 9,000 women found that 41 percent had traveled alone, and 74 percent said they planned to travel solo.
Why are female solo travelers’ numbers booming? Why not? Solo travel is empowering and enlightening. If you keep an open mind, you can make new friends around the world and discover hidden secrets in places you might have been to before but never really appreciated. Better yet, new communication technology lets solo travelers meet virtually online and get to know their tripmates prior to departure.
The reasons for traveling solo are almost endless. Single Boomers want to take advantage of their singlehood. Same with single Millennials. Some couples just can’t find the time to travel together, or have different interests when they go abroad. Workaholics want to combine business and pleasure, working from their “virtual office” on the road while they (hopefully) discover the joys of travel all over again.
Anything where you can learn a new skill, like art cruises, diving trips and more, is a great option for solo travelers of either gender. And solo adventure travel is increasingly popular, to destinations like the Amazon, Antarctica, Galapagos, New Zealand, Greenland, Iceland, and Africa. Adventure trips give travelers daily experiences to bond over, and they invariably create lasting friendships.
Cruise lines and tour operators have always catered to solo travelers. Here are a few recommendations to get you started.
Cunard and Silversea Cruises offer gentlemen hosts on selected itineraries (usually identified by a bow tie on the cruise listings). These hosts are geared towards women traveling alone and serve as dance partners, escorts to walk you to dinner, and more. If you prefer four-legged company, Cunard lets your dog cruise with you.
Tour operators like G Adventures offer room-shares for solo travelers. This lets you avoid the upcharge for a single room, and you'll be paired up with another single traveler of the same gender and similar age. It’s a great way to make new friends and keep down costs. Plus, if you agree to a room-share and there’s nobody on the tour to partner with, you’ll receive your own room at no extra cost.
Gutsy Women Travel offers itineraries specifically designed for women traveling solo. They’re a hoot! Itineraries are designed around women’s interests and focus on making friends and learning new skills while exploring the world.
River-cruise lines like Uniworld don’t charge singles extra on specific itineraries. AMAWaterways offers two cabins on each ship without a single supplement, and many single-room specials that eliminate the single-supplement upcharge. There’s no set seating for meal times and the itineraries are open enough to do your own thing. The result is an easy-going atmosphere where single travelers – especially solo female travelers – can easily make new connections. Cruise managers usually create a meet-up for solo travelers, making these cruises even more appealing.
African Travel and Abercrombie & Kent offer Africa-safari itineraries with a reduced upcharge or no upcharge for singles; many other companies follow their lead. These itineraries are usually for small-group trips where solo travelers can mix in with other likeminded explorers.
Alternately, you can get the single upcharge reduced on private tours, which are just so special. Imagine crashing through the African bush, just you, your guide and a tracker, and as you hurtle around a corner, you come upon a few rhinos with their babies. It’s like you’re the only person in the bush. Nobody else is taking pictures, nobody is talking. Just you and nature: It doesn’t get much better than that!
Also, group trips are always fun. Look for a trip or tour with a healthy mix of couples and solo travelers, ideally one that holds a pre-departure get-together; that way, solo travelers can feel comfortable with their group before they leave.
Being part of a small group when discovering a new destination takes the fear out of travel, gives solo travelers some immediate connections and reduces their anxiety level. This is especially helpful for first-time solo travelers.
Tips For Traveling Alone
Now that you know some of the best travel options for solo travelers, here are some travel-safety tips especially for women traveling alone that will help ensure your solo jaunt is fun and memorable.
Watch your belongings. It’s a given you need to keep track of your stuff when you travel. For solo travelers, though, travel safety is more challenging because you don’t have someone to watch your back. No matter what I’m carrying, I make sure it has a long strap that can fit across my body. When you put down strapped gear, put it between your feet and step on the strap. Don’t hang it on the back of a chair. Don’t stand in line with a backpack filled with personal information and valuables.
Distribute your money, credit cards, travel documents and passport inside a few bags, including the one you use for daily sightseeing. If one gets lost or stolen, you’ll have a fallback.
Watch out for scams. Beware of pickpockets and thieves when you’re crossing a street. These are popular spots for grabbing tourist gear because of the rush of traffic.
Why not wear a fake wedding ring? It may help ward off thieves who see you as an easy, isolated mark.
Carry a well-worn wallet. I’ve found them at thrift stores and use them often on the road. When you’re paying for something in a public place, a wallet that looks like it’s on its last legs may send a signal you’re not flush with cash.
Tell people where you’re going. This is a safe-travel basic. Inform a friend or family member at home of your daily itinerary. Leave the same information with someone where you’re staying.
Blend in, don’t stand out. I could hardly believe my eyes when I sat in a cab in St. Petersburg next to an American woman dripping with jewelry. She was wearing necklaces of enormous Baltic amber nuggets. The golden amber dripped from her bracelets and rings, too. (Amber, in that part of the world, is found in many high-end shops and museum gift stores.) It was as if she had robbed a Russian jeweler but was too smug to stash the cache in her suitcase. This solo traveler was sending three messages: I have money, I’m a tourist, and I have no safety smarts.
Before you travel to another country, research local customs and dress codes. There may be religious restrictions at certain sites like St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where you’ll be turned away if you have bare shoulders or legs. That’s true for men and women.
Stay healthy. Pack extra prescription medicine and scripts. Make sure the drugs have a generic drug name. Having backup meds is especially important when traveling alone. You don’t have a group leader to help hunt things down for you.
Never give in to vacation mode and give up on travel safety. It’s easy to want to grab takeout from a street cart’s food vendor, but you’re probably better off avoiding the urge. In developing countries pasteurization, sanitization and cooking methods may not be what you expect.
Learn safety phrases in the local language. Some things like not drinking local water (that goes for brushing your teeth, too) are no-brainers for seasoned travelers. But if you’re going scuba diving, would you think to ask about the safety record of your dive operator? Or if your cab driver is driving so fast you’re gripping the seat in fear, would you tell him to slow down? I’ve done this in many countries, but always with the fear that the driver was going to ignore my request and make a point by driving faster. Asking these kinds of questions usually works for me, but I always memorize the words “slow down” (and a few others) in the local language where I’m traveling.
Try to stick with a group. This may sound incongruous in an article full of tips on traveling solo, but sometimes it makes sense to sign up for a day trip to a hard-to-get site, or strike up a conversation based on common denominators. Several years ago, when I was sitting by a pool at the magnificent Buccaneer Resort in St. Croix, I overheard two women talking about the HGTV show The Property Brothers. I was in the midst of a major remodel back home, so I introduced myself. As it turned out, we had all been through the horrors and rewards of home improvement. Over the next few days, we had a lot of fun as a result of our common interests.
Don’t broadcast. Don’t announce the fact that you’re traveling alone. Make up a story that your spouse is working while you’re sightseeing or that a friend is joining you later that day; anything so you won’t be seen as completely alone.
Stay aware of your surroundings. This sounds like a no-brainer, but if you’re watching a parade, poring over a menu at an outdoor café, or snapping pics of the Louvre, don’t let your guard down. Pickpockets may be watching the action, too.
No matter where you travel, talk to local resources you trust – such as your hotel concierge – about safe travel. Ask them to highlight any local safety concerns or areas to avoid when you’re walking alone.
Drink alcohol wisely so you'll be able to keep your wits about you when walking back to your hotel or taking a cab by yourself.
When you’re using cash machines, withdraw cash during the day, not at night.
Don’t leave common sense at home. If you’re in a crowd, don't be distracted by someone who approaches you to buy something. When in doubt, don’t put yourself in a situation that requires you give full attention to a stranger. I have a rule that I never buy anything from an individual on a street unless I’m with a local who has a better sense of the seller’s trustworthiness than I do.
Have adequate travel insurance. When the subject is solo female travel, travel insurance can give you more than peace of mind. It can be an all-important lifeline when you need it most. Yes, there’s that one time when I was stuck in Croatia after breaking my kneecap and the travel-insurance folks helped me out around the clock. But there have been other times when life happened and I was able to get reimbursed for lost trip costs, trip cancellations and interruptions.
Just last week, a friend realized the expensive consequences of not having bought trip insurance for her two-week Alaskan adventure. Two days before departure her mother became seriously ill and my friend had to cancel the trip, a vacation that would’ve been covered in part if she had bought trip insurance.
“It’s not that I’ve never bought travel insurance," she said, “I have. But this time I forgot.”
Don’t make yourself an expensive lesson for someone else. Don’t just think about getting travel insurance; do it.
Travel-Safety Tips For Train Travel
Sooner or later when you travel, especially if you travel solo, you’re going to find yourself on a train in a foreign country. Here are some safety tips specifically for solo train travelers:
Get the right ticket. Getting the right ticket for your trip can be dizzying. Are you looking for first class (there’s more legroom), second class, senior, adult, or youth? Do you want flexible rail travel? That’s different than booking a ticket for a one-way or round-trip journey. Book your ticket or pass through distributors like Rail Europe, Railpass, Japan Rail Pass, and Eurail. Keep in mind that passes must be shipped to you before you leave the States.
What a reserved seat means. You usually have two options when you book your ticket: You can reserve your seats or just buy tickets. They're not the same thing. I prefer to reserve seats in advance for two reasons. First, when you get on the train, knowing you have a reserved seat doesn’t leave you frazzled trying to find an open seat. Wandering the aisles also draws attention – not a good option. And if you want to enjoy the scenery, reserving a window seat will guarantee it.
Get off at the right stop. It sounds so simple, but even seasoned travelers can get off at the wrong stop. The announcements more often than not are not in English and may be tough to understand. Plus, when the name of a stop is announced it may sound different than how you pronounce it, especially if you don’t speak the local language. When in doubt, ask or consult a map or train schedule before you head down the aisle.
Fit in. This is a safe-travel tip right out of Travel 101. Don’t – repeat, don’t – draw attention to yourself in ways that may attract thieves or con artists.
Use your “inside voice.” Many European trains have a pervasive hushed tone, a seemingly built-in respect for others. Don’t be the ugly American and scream with laughter, bellow into a cellphone or play videos or music so loud that people around you need to wear earplugs. Incidentally, because of experiences like these, I pack earplugs wherever I travel.
Carry change for the country you’re in. It may seem obvious, but I’ve run across Americans stranded because a taxi won’t take a credit card, U.S. money or Euros in non-EU countries like Switzerland. Want to buy something on the train? Local currency – the currency of your departure country – is usually your best option.
Don’t leave luggage unguarded at the station or on the train. If need to protect valuables when you’re napping, walking to another car, or on a sleeping train, keep them in a money belt, secure larger items to a luggage rack with a small bicycle lock, or store them in a secure locker at your departing station.
So if you’re a solo female (or male) traveler looking for tips for traveling solo, or are concerned about travel safety and want safe-travel and travel-safety tips, we hope this article has helped provide you the necessary inspiration.
Now, get out there and travel!
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