ARE YOU LOOKING FOR THE BEST TRAVEL GROUPS FOR SINGLES OVER 50?
Then you’ve come to the right place. With lots of first-hand experience of singles trips, I can help you find the group travel company that is the best fit for you.
More often than not I travel independently. However, over the past two decades, I have joined singles travel groups close on 20 occasions.
For the most part, these group tours have been excellent experiences, allowing me to gain a deeper understanding of local culture and history and to make lasting friendships with fellow travellers.
As well as being a relatively hassle-free way of travelling, small group tours are a superb way for a first-time solo traveller to get their feet wet before striking out independently.
But is group travel right for you and, if so, which are the best single travel groups? And what should you look for when choosing a group tour company, especially as a solo traveller over 50?
Group travel companies cater to a range of travel styles and budgets. As with most life choices, ultimately the deciding factors will depend on your personal preferences and priorities.
But wouldn’t it be better if you could make that choice armed with some more information?
This is where I can help you.
In this article, I will identify the best group travel companies for singles, with a focus on midlife solo travellers. I’ll also tell you why you should consider an organised tour and what to look for in a group travel company.
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Which are the Best Companies for Singles Trips?
I’m going to nail my flag to the mast from the outset.
These two group tour operators offer the following:
- Small group sizes
- Good value for money
- Older age demographic
- Different styles of travel to suit all solo travellers
- Flexible booking conditions
However, Intrepid and G Adventures are also worth considering
- Small group sizes
- Adventure tour focus
- Range of travel styles to suit all single travellers
More about all of these companies later.
Why You Should Book a Small Group Tour as a Single Traveller?
It’s not difficult to see why group travel is booming in popularity.
Firstly, it’s super easy. Someone else takes the pain out of organising your trip. You merely rock up at the airport for your flight.
And as your itinerary will be put together by someone in the know you can be confident that you will cover the ‘must-see’ sights.
Tour leaders are a mine of information and there’s an excellent chance that you will gain more cultural and historical insight from group travel than if you are left to your own devices.
But for me, the main benefits of organised group travel are its time efficiency and the opportunity to meet like-minded people.
If you are a working person, the efficient use of time is the greatest advantage of group travel.
As your land arrangements are taken care of, you can hit the ground running. And as group tour itineraries are smart about how they structure their time, you can cover larger distances and see more things in a shorter space of time.
This is an enormous boon for working people trying to shoehorn as much into their previous annual leave as possible.
In my experience, bonds form quickly and often more intensively than in ‘real life’. Sometimes, sometimes parting from the group at the end of the tour can be a wrench, contributing to post-travel blues when you get home.
However, an added bonus is that some of these relationships persist once back on home soil.
There’s safety in numbers and if you are anxious about your personal safety when travelling alone, the security of a group tour may be the answer for you.
Finally, the last two years have shown us that travel can be a precarious pastime.
The coronavirus pandemic forced me to curtail a solo trip travelling across Japan by rail. With my return flight cancelled and few alternative options available, finding a way home resulted in a few more grey hairs, whilst teaching me some valuable travel lessons!
Contrast this with a small tour group I chatted with as I was boarding my plane home.
Yes; they also had to curtail their holiday. However, Wendy Wu Tours, their group travel company, took care of all of the arrangements for them.
I confess that I was more than a little bit envious.
READ THIS NEXT: Solo Travel vs Group Travel: What Is The Right Choice for YOU?
My Experiences of Group Travel
It all began in New Zealand on a short Contiki bus tour of the South Island.
This was party bus central. Although this was huge fun as a thirty-something, I wouldn’t want to repeat it in my 50s. My liver couldn’t take it.
My next group travel experience could not have been more different.
The place was India, the group tour operator was Bales Worldwide (subsequently acquired by Virgin Holidays), the style was affordable luxury. Not exactly getting down and dirty with local people, comfortable air-conditioned coaches whisked us from one 5-star hotel to the next.
How to Choose a Group Travel Company for Singles
Group travel is a thriving market with multiple operators offering an enormous and evolving range of group tours that singles can book.
Although my favourite group travel companies are Explore and Exodus, I wouldn’t automatically restrict my choice to these two companies.
More about that later.
Before you click on that ‘Book Now’ button there are important questions you need to first ask yourself.
What is your budget?
How much do you want to spend? There are group travel companies to accommodate all budgets but it’s important to work out what your total costs will be before committing to a booking.
Try to figure out if the group tour represents good value for money. You don’t want to pay over the odds for the company’s overheads, so ask yourself if the price of the group tour reflects the standard of accommodation for example.
Check if there are fees that you will need to pay on arrival. Is everything that you want to do included in the baseline tour price or are these subject to an additional fee?
A group tour that appears cheap may not be such a bargain once you factor in everything.
Is a single room important to you?
If you have ever travelled alone, see if this seems familiar.
You arrive at your hotel and, as a solo traveller, you grudgingly hand over a sizeable single supplement for the privilege of having a room to yourself. Inevitably, this is one of the worst rooms in the place; a poky space not much bigger than a broom cupboard overlooking the rubbish bins in the dank alley alongside the hotel.
But you take it on the chin, accepting that this is the unfair price you pay to reap the benefits of solo travel.
Tour operators and hotels justify this extra charge on the grounds that the fixed cost of servicing a room – bed linen, cleaning, utilities, maintenance and so on – is the same, regardless of how many people are occupying it.
On a group tour, to avoid paying a single supplement you can opt to share a room with a fellow traveller of the same sex.
I have always opted for a room to myself but that’s just me. A close friend, who has been on multiple group tours, always takes a chance on it and has never had a bad experience.
However, on a group tour of Guatemala, a fellow traveller had the roomie from Hell. Caveat emptor.
If you choose to share a room and there’s no one available on the group tour with whom to share, you get a single room without having to pay a supplement
Place your bets now.
If you crave privacy, check that the group travel company will allow you to have a single room (some of the budget to mid-range operators mandate room sharing).
If you want a room for yourself, how much are you prepared to pay for a single supplement?
As there is a wide variation between operators, it is tricky to generalise. Typically, the single supplements run between 20 and 30% of the base cost.
The high-end operators have been the most responsive at waiving the single supplement. However, the baseline cost of these group tours is more.
Although the majority of mid-range group travel companies charge a single supplement for sole occupancy, in many cases this is quite modest and it won’t break the bank to pay extra for a room to yourself.
Keep an eye out for offers and flash sales. Sign up to travel companies’ newsletters to be in the know.
How many other people do you want to be travelling with?
Group size is a huge consideration for me.
Ideally, I look for a group size of between 8 and 16.
If there are fewer than eight, the impact of any difficult people in the group is magnified.
Once the group size starts to exceed 20, it’s more difficult to get to know people and the tour leader opts for more touristy restaurants purely to accommodate the size of the group.
Smaller groups also tend to be much more mindful of the impact on the environment.
Do you mind how old your fellow travellers are?
The demographics of your fellow travellers is an important consideration.
Is the tour geared toward gap-yearers in their 20s or young professionals? Families or retirees?
As a traveller in her 50s, this is another important criterion for me. My ideal group travel experience is not ending up on a Contiki tour bus – other group travel companies are available) -rammed with partying Generation Z’ers.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Contiki or Gen Zers. Far from it.
When I used Contiki for a few days in New Zealand and they were absolutely fine. But that was 25 years ago when I was much younger and wanted a different group travel experience.
But group travel preferences go a little deeper than simply a desire for a quieter holiday. Ensuring that the group demographics reflect your own gives you more of a fighting chance of finding common ground with your fellow travellers.
There are a few quick ways that you can check if the group travel company will be a good match for you.
Check out the “About” page on the tour companies’ website which usually list their guest demographic. Images from their tours are also a good indicator.
Another clue is to look at the accommodation.
If the tour uses budget accommodation – hostels or guesthouses – it is likely to be geared towards younger backpackers. Tours featuring fancy hotels are more likely to attract older travellers and families.
If all else fails and you are nervous about who your fellow travellers might be, pick up the phone and call the tour company. I’ve done this in the past, and they were able to provide basic demographic information without falling foul of data protection issues.
How important is the standard of accommodation to you?
As fancy-schmancy hotels push up the price of group travel, these are more commonly offered by high-end operators. At the opposite end of the spectrum, low-budget group travel companies use dorms, guesthouses, or tents?
Mid-range companies in my experience tend to use a mixture of accommodation styles. For example, I went on an excellent group tour of Sri Lanka in 2017 which housed us mostly in luxurious hotels but threw in a very basic hotel midway through the tour.
Does the group tour company use local guides?
Your tour guide can make or break a trip.
For example; Roshan, my guide in Sri Lanka was excellent. Not only did he have exemplary organisational skills and explained everything clearly, but he was also committed to giving back to his local community.
However, I’ve been on other group tours where the guide was disinterested (Cuba) or nursing a crashing hangover from celebrating Chinese New Year whilst showing us around the temples of Angkor in Cambodia.
In my experience, local guides are the best. Many companies now use local guides but if you are unsure call the customer service line to check.
Does the group travel company have a refund guarantee?
One thing that the coronavirus has taught us is the need to introduce as much flexibility into our travel arrangements as possible.
When booking a group tour, check their cancellation policy carefully. Any group travel company worth its salt will allow you to cancel or transfer to another trip free of charge for any reason. It goes without saying that if they are the ones that cancel your trip, they should issue a refund.
This checklist should put you in a better position to decide the best group travel company for you as a mature solo traveller.
Broadly speaking, there are three categories of group travel for singles:
- Small group tours
- Bus tours
- Overlanding experiences
Let’s take a look at each of these and consider the best options for over 50 singles travel.
Types of group tours for single travellers over 50
Small group tours
For me, this is the number one choice for group travel for over 50 singles.
With small group tours, you will be travelling in a group of 8 – 18 people, sometimes fewer, very occasionally more.
On a trip to Thailand and Cambodia with Explore Worldwide, there were just six of us. But on another trip to Morocco, we numbered 20.
You never can tell.
This involves mostly private transport, with a few local options thrown in.
Many small-group tour operators will offer different tiers of trips, the cost of which is largely determined by the quality of digs. Both mid-range price tours and the more comfortable options are suitable for travellers over 50 singles.
Whilst the more expensive trips may attract older travellers, this is not always the case. The group tour to Sri Lanka was one of Exodus Travels’ Premium trips and the age of my fellow travellers ranged from those in their 30s right up to their early 70s.
Equally, it’s not a given that the mid-range price tours will be exclusively filled by younger travellers.
In my experience, the mid-range price small group tours attract a wide range of age groups from millennials up to retirees. Accommodation tends to be clean and comfortable and, if you are lucky, you will be treated to a luxury stay for a few nights.
My favourite small group tour companies: Explore Worldwide & Exodus Travels
That suggests that there is not a lot to differentiate between these two operators.
Both companies offer well-balanced itineraries across the globe. Broadly speaking Explore and Exodus Travels cater to the same market and some of their itineraries are strikingly similar.
The baseline price for Explore trips tends to be less but check for optional activities that will attract additional fees.
EXPLORE WORLDWIDE: HEADLINE FACTS
- Established in 1981
- Group size: 6 – 20 people. Average group size is 11.
- Proportion of solo travellers: 60% of those on Explore group tours are single.
- Tour groups usually comprise a good mix of solos, couples, and friends travelling together
- Age demographics: Explore’s group tours attract travellers of all ages. On those that I have joined, ages ranged from 30s to those in their 60s.
- Local guide on all tours
- Commitment to sustainable travel and having a positive impact on local communities. The company’s main focus is climate change.
- Trips are classified by pace: full-on, moderate, relaxed
- Accommodation graded as simple, comfortable or premium
- Frequent traveller loyalty scheme – 5% discount after two trips; 7% discount after four trips; 10% discount after nine trips. They promise to reward loyalty to previous tour group companies.
- Flexible booking conditions
>>> CHECK EXPLORE’S CANCELLATION POLICY HERE
EXODUS TRAVELS: HEADLINE FACTS
- Established in 1974
- Group size: 6 – 20 people
- Proportion of solo travellers: 50% of those on Exodus group tours are single. Tour groups usually comprise a good mix of solos, couples, and friends travelling together
- Age demographics: Exodus’s group tours attract travellers of all ages. On those that I have joined, ages ranged from 30s to those in their 60s.
- Local guide on all tours
- Commitment to sustainable travel and having a positive impact on local communities
- Premium holidays allow you to discover the world from a more comfortable base each evening
- Excellent frequent traveller loyalty scheme – 5% discount after two trips; 10% after seven trips. In addition to these discounts, the higher-tier loyalty scheme includes greater booking flexibility.
- Online departure lounge forum to get to know fellow travellers before leaving home
- Flexible booking conditions
>>> CHECK EXODUS’S CANCELLATION POLICY HERE
My favourite small group tours that I can recommend
Choosing my favourite small group tour is a little like choosing your favourite child. But if I was pushed to make the choice, these would be my top choices.
MOROCCO WITH EXPLORE
This was one of my first group travel experiences and one of the most memorable. The itinerary was fast-paced – I needed a rest when I arrived back home! – but unbeatable in terms of sheer variety and fun. It’s also inexpensive.
>>> CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS MOROCCO TOUR
SRI LANKA WITH EXODUS
This Premium group tour allowed us to appreciate the diversity and culture of Sri Lanka in considerable comfort. We weren’t lucky enough to spot leopards in Yala but you can’t have it all!
>>> CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS SRI LANKA TOUR
GUATEMALA & HONDURAS WITH EXPLORE
Visiting Guatemala with a few days in Honduras, this trip combined visits to indigenous communities in the highlands around beautiful Lake Atitlan with those to the early Maya cities of Tikal, Quirigua and Copan (Honduras). The best of Central America in a nutshell.
>>> CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS GUATEMALA & HONDURAS TOUR
CHINA WITH EXPLORE
This 15-day tour of China was fast-paced but ticked off many of the country’s highlights, including the Great Wall and Xian’s Terracotta Army. To break the pace, it included a relaxing cruise along the Yangtze.
>>> CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS CHINA TOUR
Other small group travel companies for singles over 50: Intrepid and G Adventures
In the interests of transparency, I confess that I have not yet travelled with G Adventures or Intrepid. However, I know people who have used both companies and would travel with them again.
The main reason that I have given them a wide berth is that their portfolio has been geared towards the 18-30 crowd.
Until now, that is.
In the last few years, both companies have expanded the breadth of their offerings to attract older customers, with a higher comfort level and premium accommodation. Because of this shift in focus, Intrepid and G Adventures are now credible group travel options for singles over 50.
Cost-wise they are very comparable
INTREPID: HEADLINE FACTS
- Established in 1989
- Group size: An average of 10 people on a group tour
- Age demographics: The average age of Intrepid’s travellers is 44
- Local guide on all tours
- Adventure travel focus
- 4 grades of trips: Basix, Original, Comfort and Premium
- Flexible booking conditions
>>> TAKE A LOOK AT CURRENT DEALS FROM INTREPID HERE
G ADVENTURES: HEADLINE FACTS
- Established in 1990
- Group size: Up to 15 people per tour but the average is 10 people
- Age demographics: The average age of travellers across all of G Adventure products is 44. On its National Geographic style trips, this rises to 59.
- “Locally-based” guide on all tours (it’s not clear if this is the same as a local guide)
- Adventure travel focus
- Offer tours in a range of travel styles
- Flexible booking conditions
>>> TAKE A LOOK AT CURRENT DEALS FROM G ADVENTURES HERE
Finally, let’s take a brief look at two other types of group travel for singles: overlanding and bus tours.
Overlanding group travel for singles
Don’t expect 5-star hotels on overlanding group tours.
By day, you are likely to be travelling in a converted truck. By night, you’ll be sleeping under canvas or in budget hotels.
Group participation is the norm on overlanding group travel and you will be expected to roll up your sleeves, from cooking to pitching your own tent.
However, if you don’t mind more basic conditions and getting stuck in, overlanding is an effective way of covering a lot of ground on a modest budget, especially across vast swathes of Africa, Asia and South America.
And as all meals are usually included, budgeting is easier.
Overlanding is not for me – I’m not keen on their larger group sizes – but may be an option for those seeking more adventurous travel.
33% of travellers with Dragoman, the most well-known overlanding group travel company, were 25 – 44 and 42.5% were between 45 to 64 years old. (AITO data 2018).
Bus tour group travel for singles
At the budget end of the market, bus tour group travel has much in common with overlanding trips.
Group sizes tend to be large and lively. Accommodation is basic which is reflected in their price. The guides are not always locals.
Again, group sizes can be large, but the group tours offered by these companies have more of a focus on cultural immersion than partying and include more upscale accommodation.
Group Travel for Single Travellers: Final Thoughts
Sadly, group travel has become synonymous with coachloads of camera-wielding tourists on a mission ‘to do’ a country in a few weeks. This is not necessarily the case.
Yes; there will be some large coach tours that stick to this traditional model of group travel. Equally, there will always be travellers who want to tick off tourist destinations en masse and be taken to restaurants serving familiar food.
I’m not passing judgement on this.
What I am saying is that small group travel offers an alternative to travelling in a coach with 40 other travellers. They aim to offer more authentic travel experiences, use local guides and have better eco-credentials.
If you are contemplating travelling alone for the first time, joining a small group tour is an excellent way of doing this in a safe and supported way. Just make sure that you do your homework before handing over any of your hard-earned cash.
Even though I am a seasoned independent mature solo traveller, I would have no hesitation in booking another small group tour. Based on my experiences, as a solo traveller in my 50s, I would look at Explore or Exodus Travels in the first instance, followed by Intrepid and G Adventures.