Solo travel is in the ascendancy.
But don’t just take my word for it. According to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) 2018 annual report, solo travel has increased threefold in the preceding seven years. Furthermore, one in six of those responding to ABTA’s survey had travelled alone in the past year. In the same year, British Airways conducted its own global solo travel survey, revealing that almost half of all women are choosing to travel on their own.
But is solo travel is for you? Could you venture to distant lands, reliant on no-one but yourself?
There are clear cut advantages of travelling alone.
Solo travel has the ability to transform your life. It is empowering, you have the opportunity to meet great new people and have total freedom to do what you want when you want to do it. By stepping outside of your comfort zone you get to learn more about yourself and your abilities, particularly in the face of adversity.
However, for every yin there is a yang.
Whilst potentially exhilarating and transformational, there are disadvantages of travelling alone. Not least of these is added cost, personal safety concerns and loneliness.
However, armed with a few tools and strategies, you can largely overcome the disadvantages of solo travel. Here’s how to do it, especially if you are a first-time solo traveller.
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The disadvantages of travelling alone
1. Solo travel is more expensive
When travelling alone you do not have economies of scale. Therefore, some elements of your trip will be more expensive.
Key amongst these is accommodation with the dreaded solo supplement. However, you can partially avoid this unfair singles tax by opting to share a room on a small group tour.
Cruises are a big bone of contention amongst solo travellers with many companies charging a steep supplement for single occupancy of a cruise cabin. This is ridiculously unfair; for instance, one person will not eat as much as two.
With no one to share the cost, private tours and taxis can be prohibitively expensive.
2. You have to consider personal safety more carefully
Let me start by saying that solo travel is not inherently unsafe. But, equally, travel does involve risk, and this should always be mitigated, regardless of whether you are a solo traveller or not.
One of the disadvantages of travelling alone is that there is no one there to watch your back.
When you are travelling with other people, there is safety in numbers. You can walk back to the hotel late at night with them; you can look after each other’s belongings; you can be vigilant for scams together.
Read more: 17 Top Safety Tips for Travelling Alone
3. You will become lonely travelling alone
I doubt that there is any solo traveller out there who has not experienced loneliness when travelling alone. But you don’t have to be travelling alone to feel lonely.
The loneliest I ever felt in many years of travelling was on a two-week trip around Central America with an unsuitable companion. By the end of those two weeks, I was longing to be alone.
So if you get an attack of the travel blues, how can you beat them?
Firstly, and most importantly, is to accept that this is absolutely normal, it will pass and you will move on to have a terrific time. It’s also important to have even the loosest of plans to prevent aimless moping around. And be kind to yourself, treat yourself.
Meeting other people and making new friends on the road will mean that you don’t have to be alone so much.
I have found that day tours are a great way to meet other people whilst retaining your independence.
On many trips, I have used Get Your Guide to identify and book excursions. For peace of mind, you can cancel day tours up to 24 hours before your activity starts for a full refund.
Where else can you strike up conversations with others?
An obvious solution is to stay at a hostel, which, by its nature, is a social experience. However, if, like me, as a midlife solo traveller you have put your hostelling days behind you, why not consider smaller, boutique hotels or B&Bs. These tend to be friendlier than larger luxury hotels.
As well as offering free wi-fi, coffee shops are good venues to talk to people as are bars. Sit up at the bar rather than at a table.
4. You won’t be able to share the moment
For me, this is probably the biggest disadvantage of solo travel.
There you are, awestruck by a perfect panorama or a sensational sunset and there’s no one to turn to and discuss just how wonderful it is. Instead, you gaze in wonder, take a few images and then leave.
This is a tricky one.
Sharing your experience on social media or with friends on your return ticks that box to a certain extent, but it’s not quite the same as being in the moment. It often is a case of “you had to be there.”
5. Travelling alone means eating alone
This is something that I am not crazy about either.
Firstly, there’s your slightly apologetic request for a table for one. Then as you sit down, the waiter theatrically removes the place settings for your invisible dining companion.
Eating alone does get easier the more you do it. Bringing a book to read or writing your journal notes at the table, accompanied by a good glass of local wine, makes the experience far more palatable (pun intended).
6. It is difficult to take photos of yourself when travelling alone
As I am not particularly photogenic and generally hate photos of myself, this is not an issue for me. However, there have been times when I have wanted to capture those magic moments that include me in the frame.
Selfies are OK and can be fun, but I am not an enthusiast. I am also not a fan of selfie sticks but a few years ago I had tremendous fun doing a selfie-stick tour of Rome with two friends.
I tend to ask someone else to take a photo of me. You have to judge how trustworthy the person looks before handing over your smartphone or camera, but I have found that it is a reciprocal process. I take one of you; you take one of me.
Another approach is to invest in a tripod. I have a Manfrotto tripod which is excellent but is too heavy-duty to cart around whilst travelling. Instead, I clip my compact camera or smartphone onto the JOBY GorillaPod Magnetic, a lightweight and versatile tripod.
7. Coping with negativity from other people
Even after many years of solo travel, and all the advantages that it has brought me, I am still slightly surprised by other people’s reaction to travelling alone. This negativity is usually rooted in fear which, to a large extent, is propagated by the media.
I have travelled extensively around the Middle East and when I visited Syria in 2008, my parents believed I was in Turkey. When I last went to Israel & The Palestinian Territories, I told my father that I was in Greece. Luckily he didn’t ask to see my pictures of the Acropolis.
The point is that I knew that no matter how hard I tried to persuade them that I could stay reasonably safe in these destinations, they would be worried sick for the entire duration of my trip. I could not do that to them and, instead, went down the little white lie route.
The disadvantages of travelling alone: final thoughts
In conclusion, my view is that the disadvantages of travelling alone are eclipsed by the advantages.
But perhaps you are thinking of taking your first solo trip and have niggling doubts? So how about some baby steps? Eat alone in your own town or city. Plan a day trip or a short trip in your own country. Talk to strangers, take a selfie.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
What have you struggled with when travelling alone? Do you have any top tips to help those who are taking their first solo travel adventure? I’d love to hear your thoughts below. And if you are after actionable steps to travelling alone, check out this guide to solo travel.