I know nothing about solo travel. OK, I take that back. I do know experience is the best teacher, and I have a long way to go.
This became evident when I joined a Facebook group, The Solo Female Traveler Network, and my newsfeed ballooned with posts about places I’ve never been and, in some cases, places I’d never heard of.
My solo travel has been totally domestic: road trips around New York, Kentucky and Pennsylvania; a cross-country train trip; and business trips to D.C., Chicago, St. Louis and Phoenix.
That doesn’t make me a seasoned solo traveler, but I do have friends who are shocked when I mention going off alone.
Why travel solo? For some, it’s the absence of a ready travel companion; for others it’s the heightened adventure and the sense of independence. And, honestly, money comes into play; it’s often easier to save for one ticket than two, and it makes sense when a spouse’s must-see list doesn’t sync with yours. For instance, my husband travels with his Boy Scout troop. I suppose I could tag along, but do I want to? Not so much.
Stacey Roeseler of Lockport travels alone because, at 39, most of her friends have family obligations and less disposable income than she does.
“I also enjoy doing things that others may not,” she says. “So on my own, I can do whatever I want and not have to worry about making someone else happy.”
She began solo venturing when she couldn’t find anyone to do a Civil War tour with her. So, she drove to southern Virginia, then up through that state to Gettysburg, Pa. Roeseler’s first trip abroad came earlier this year after a second triumph over cancer. Her dream destination, Australia, is booked for 2018.
“I figured I needed to see the world,” Roeseler said.
A widely reported survey by Visa Global Travel shows the ranks of solo first-time travelers jumped from 16 percent in 2013 to 37 percent in 2015.
When I talked to Toni McConnaughey at Team Travel in Buffalo, she confirmed that solo travel has been on the rise, most often among retirees or those who have been widowed.
“I think a lot more people are comfortable with solo travel now, and a lot of our companies are offering special single rates.”
The most popular destinations in recent months, said McConnaughey, have been Europe and South America — for all travelers. For solo travelers, especially less-adventurous types, the “product” — a cruise or group tour, for instance — is what singles base a decision on.
“I think that destinations of interest change all the time, what’s hot and what’s not,” she said. “Solo travelers are choosing products they feel comfortable with.”
For the record, solo travel may be growing but it’s not new. Travel agent Sandy Berkman says her Williamsville firm, Koch Travel, has been booking solo trips for the same man for years.
McConnaughey also has a client — a teacher — who has always traveled alone. Not long ago, another regular client noticed that a trip to Vietnam was planned and joined in. “She’s 81. Age doesn’t matter,” said McConnaughey.
When McConnaughey gets a call from someone traveling alone for the first time and looking at group trips, she tends to recommend escorted trips over hosted trips. She said the latter offers more free time, and she’s come to realize that many who travel alone prefer a full schedule to having several hours alone.
Roeseler is the exact opposite. She appreciated having many details planned when she booked her European trip through Go Ahead Tours. But she also savored the freedom she had to roam on her own. In Paris, that meant touring the Palace of Versailles, which led to a memorable experience.
“I managed to get myself lost in the palace and couldn’t find the exit. The palace has massive crowds, so it’s hard to navigate, and you have to go with the flow of traffic,” she said. “Finally, I found the door...out into an enclosed courtyard, so I was still stuck. I finally found the exit and made it to my bus in time.”
If that’s too much of an adrenaline rush, AARP’s top solo travel recommendation is to try a group tour. Yes, an oxymoron: Alone in a group.
But, group trips really are different than traveling with a friend or spouse. That’s often the best part: Meeting new people to share the experience with. When my mother-in-law turned 60, she treated herself to a Grand Canyon rafting trip and used her first name (instead of her middle name, which she’s known by at home). She reasoned that it helped her shed her normal roles as she took on a new solo adventure.
For those who are truly on their own, AARP also recommends taking reading material or a puzzle book to feel less awkward eating alone in restaurants; and keeping your schedule simple, so you can get to know one or two places instead of dashing from one destination to another.
Once you pick a destination, be sure to look for tips specific to the locale.
Remember, there’s a great big world out there, and with enough preparation, there’s no reason not to see it on your own.
Tips for the solo traveler: Avoiding hidden fees
When you see the promoted price for a vacation package or tour, it’s almost always based on double occupancy — that two people will be traveling together and sharing a hotel room (or cabin).
So when you go to book a trip on your own, companies may charge you a “single supplement,” aka an added fee or adjusted trip price based on single occupancy, which can seriously spike the price.
Thanks to its growing popularity, you can now travel solo for no extra cost (or lower single rates than usual) with a number of companies, including:
- G Adventures
- Intrepid Travel
- Norwegian Cruise Live
- Overseas Adventure Travel
- Roads Scholar
Just be careful to check the fine print of each company’s policy: Some give you your own room, no strings attached, while others have you share with another solo traveler. And most only designate a certain number of solo slots per trip, so if you have your heart set on a destination or date, book early!