Solo travel is certainly not a new concept.
Humans have been travelling to the furthest reaches of the world alone for hundreds of years.
- The anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski travelled to the largely unexplored Papua New Guinea in the early 19th century. For the vast duration of the expedition, he was alone.
- Evans-Pritchard lived alone for years with the Zande people in Northwest Africa.
- Franz Boas, another anthropologist, launched one of many lonely Pacific expeditions as early as 1886.
- Lady Hester Stanhope was famous for her solo travel in the 18th century; she had to dress as a man to travel to some countries!
Many solo travellers and writers travelled alone because solo travel is a powerful experience, one where you’re accountable only to yourself and the culture, society and landscape that surrounds you.
Some might feel like your solo travel experience will exist only in your head and that it's somehow unconnected with others, but this is not the case.
Here is why solo travel is certainly not weird!
How popular is solo travel?
Solo travel, according to Klook, was one of 2019’s key travel trends.
In addition, Condor Ferries found:
- An increase of 131% in Google searches from 2016 - 19 for ‘solo travel.’
- 25% of millennials are planning a solo trip in the next year.
There are over 5.2 million posts tagged #solotravel on Instagram.
It’s safe to say that solo travel is really popular right now, especially amongst younger demographics. But what about older people?
How popular is solo travel for the over 50s?
Do you think younger generations drive most of the demand for solo travel? Does ‘solo travel’ conjure images of armies of backpackers marching off on their gap years?
Lonely Planet found that the average age of solo travellers was 57 in 2017, up from 54 in 2014. Solo holiday bookings also rose by 14% in 2017. Women solo travellers outnumbered men by 2-to-1.
Why is solo travel becoming more popular for the over 50s?
In a sense, the world is just becoming smaller, thanks to cheaper, more easily accessible travel, and more people want to get out there and see it all.
Cheaper, quicker travel, more tourist activity, generally higher safety regulations, and lower crime rates in many destinations have encouraged solo travellers to go and explore by themselves.
If exploring the world means travelling alone, then who cares that you're alone?
A survey by Solo Travel World echoes these sentiments, with the primary motive for solo travel being “I want to see the world but have no one to go with” and second being “I want to do what I want when I want”.
The former, “I want to see the world but have no one to go with,” might seem like quite a lonely motivation, but really, this just a side-effect of 21st-century life. Travel often requires significant planning and dedication, and those are things we usually do best when we’re on our own.
Resultantly, solo travel is now considered the norm; "The stigma surrounding singles holidays has largely disappeared," says Cathy Winston, editor of 101 Singles Holidays.
For all these reasons, solo travel is skyrocketing in popularity. If you’re considering it, then now is an excellent time to get planning!
What is it like to travel alone?
Travelling alone might seem like an introvertive experience - like your experiences are confined to your head. Some feel like they won’t be able to connect their experience to others.
But that's really not the case.
Travelling involves the exploration of cultures and societies as well as physical landscapes and geographies. It’s both a reflective and extrospective experience, regardless of whether you’re travelling with someone or not.
In reality, it’s tough to travel genuinely alone. Depending on where you go, you’ll always be close to other humans. If you want to travel alone but socially, that’s easily possible with tours for solo travellers.
There are even apps that help solo travellers contact each other on their travels and numerous Facebook groups for every demographic of solo traveller across all age groups.
There are also usually tons of locations to meet with other single travellers, especially in tourist hotspots.
If you do want to travel truly alone - and revel in the clarity of your independent mind - then that’s also absolutely fine.
The main thing is that you’re accountable for yourself and what you want to do. You might reveal a new side to your personality or fall in love with a new crazy activity like surfing or paragliding.
Alternatively, you might consolidate upon other aspects of your personality, your planning skills, your ability to communicate with others, or communicate with yourself, perhaps reflecting upon life in a more existential sense.
It’s not a stereotype - people do travel alone to find themselves, and that’s what it’s all about!
You don’t need to paint your face and go wild at a Thailand Full Moon Party to find yourself, nor do you need to seal yourself away in the Himalayas for months. Quiet, valuable moments with oneself like sitting on the beach with a book and listening to the waves or watching the city skyline from your hotel room at night can be some of the most memorable of all.
Where should you travel alone?
Many countries considered unsafe for solo travellers some 10 to 20 years ago are now much safer, but you should still exercise caution.
Interestingly, a 2017 Lonely Planet survey found that India was the fastest-growing solo travel destination, followed by Italy and Sri Lanka. Overall, the most popular destination was Italy, followed by Greece and Spain.
They also found solo travellers were more likely to travel further afield, with India and Sri Lanka, alongside Peru, rating as popular.
It depends on how safety conscious you are and how much authentic solo ad-hoc or off-piste travel you’re doing.
The safest solo travel destinations
If you want to stay safe at all costs, then you’re hardly stuck for options.
New Zealand and Australia are two wonderful and very safe solo travel destinations. Canada and the United States are also extremely safe throughout and easy to travel around.
Singapore and Japan are two exceptionally safe Asian countries. Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia are considered safe for solo travellers with some caveats in some cities, districts or regions.
Safe solo travel destinations in South America
Some parts of South America are most likely to be associated with danger for solo travellers, particularly female solo travellers. There are parts of Colombia, Guatemala, Venezuela, El Salvador and Bolivia that are not suitable for some solo travellers without considerable experience and/or pre-booked guides. But even then, prime tourist spots have become increasingly safe over the last few decades.
The safest countries in South America include Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Peru and Ecuador.
Safe solo travel destinations in Asia
There are so many safe solo travel destinations in Asia, with Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and India heading up the safest destinations. The vast majority of the continent is safe, though, and south-east Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, have long been among the most popular solo travel destinations.
Don’t forget South Korea, Taiwan, China and Nepal, or even Mongolia, too!
Solo travel in Europe
Though it’s always tempting to start the search further afield, Europe is a glorious continent for any solo traveller. In fact, Solo Traveller World readers overwhelmingly voted Europe at the top of their solo travel priorities.
Not only is Europe overwhelmingly safe throughout, but it’s exceptionally well-linked by rail, and budget flights are also cheap. Getting to and from the UK is simple and easy, and you’re never too far away if you need to get home quickly.
If you want to drive around, that’s also generally cost-effective, and you can visit many countries in the space of just a few weeks or months.
Once you approach Eastern Europe, the continent’s hidden gems only seem to proliferate - there’s enough for the truest adventurer to enjoy in the Caucuses, Carpathians, Pyrenees and Alps.
Solo travel guide for the over-50s: 8 reasons to travel alone
Regardless of your familial or marital status, solo travel means freedom. If you’ve spent many years living with various responsibilities, then this will feel highly liberating, perhaps almost overwhelmingly so. Be ready to break free from your routine!
Solo travel might seem like a challenge, which puts some people off. But when you step off the plane, coach or boat, you’ll be surprised at how well you deal with your newfound situation. Solo travel enhances our confidence by urging us to adapt to a new way of living in new surroundings.
3. Reconnect to your youth
Solo travel will help you reconnect to your youth. A combination of freedom and less responsibility will take you back to a time before ‘life’ really happened!
4. Explore new things
Solo travel is the perfect opportunity for exploration, whether that’s cultural or otherwise. Feel up for a challenge? Then set yourself one. Want to relax and chill (maybe for the first time in years?), then that’s fine. Remember, you make the rules!
5. Enjoy the perception of others
Being an older solo traveller might pique the interest of others in a positive way. It’s a cool thing to do, right? Cross-generational conversations and experiences with others can be fun, and you’ll likely experience plenty of kindness and sensitivity.
6. Experience cultural attitudes to age
Age in the UK is perhaps not so well-respected as it is in much of the world. From India to much of Africa, Asia and South America, and other European countries, older people are highly respected. Older travellers often report being treated very well indeed. Enjoy the care and courtesy that you deserve!
7. Enjoy being intellectual
Solo travel can be an intellectual experience, which is why so many writers, philosophers and anthropologists travelled alone. Enjoy your own thoughts, your perceptions, awareness and opinions. Digest everything around you and compare it to your own life’s experiences. Solo travellers learn a lot.
8. Reshuffle your life
Travelling solo to “find yourself” is one of the most popular travel concepts of the 21st century. Whilst we might stereotypically associate this with student backpackers, many over 50s also find themselves in need of some soul searching. Solo travel provides anyone with a powerful backdrop for self-reflection. It could prove pivotal for shaking up your life or making a significant change in direction.
Top 5 safety considerations for solo travellers
1. Travel insurance is essential
Get good quality travel insurance and make sure that you’re well-covered for everything you want to do. If you get basic coverage but end up white water rafting and injuring yourself, you might come unstuck!
2. Sort your medication and vaccines in advance
Ensure you have enough medication for the whole trip with some backup. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure of what to do. Vaccines need to be sorted well in advance of your trip. Make sure all your medication is clearly labelled in the original packaging, just in case you end up requiring treatment and need to show a clinician your medicines.
3. Travel lightly
Keep your possessions focussed and minimal. Small numbers of high-quality clothing are better than lots of lower quality clothing. Make sure you’re as comfortable as you can be when carrying your gear! Footwear is essential - sort it out in advance and make sure you wear any new shoes before travelling.
4. Plan in advance
Knowing where you’re going at all times is vital for your safety. Of course, there will be times where you’re based in a hotel or hostel, and then you can let your hair down a bit. But when you’re moving from A to B, make sure you have a plan.
5. Invest in personal safety equipment
Personal safety alarms are cheap, effective and legal anywhere. Doorstop alarms can secure weak doors with poor locks in hostels or hotels. Whistles are another safety essential, as is a high-quality torch. Always pack a basic first-aid kit and standard medication like painkillers, antihistamines and indigestion tablets.
Is it weird to travel alone?
No, there’s nothing weird about solo travel at all! It has to rate as one of life’s most important opportunities. Don’t let it pass you by.
Clearly, solo travel, like all travel, has been interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition to all guidance within this article, keeping thoroughly up-to-date with the latest travel information regarding coronavirus is absolutely essential, both at home and around your destinations.