|photo by Faungg's photos via Flickr|
Gill Charlton, The Daily Telegraph, June 16, 2015
This year one in three British travellers will set off on a singles holiday in search of life-changing experiences, adventure and the chance to meet new people.
Travelling solo is a huge opportunity to see the world on your own terms, to indulge a special interest, and to make friendships that may last a lifetime. It does take a certain amount of confidence to engage with strangers on an organised tour and find your own way, but the rewards far outweigh that initial angst.
Some of my most memorable holidays have been taken alone: outings followed by sociable campfire drinks at small heritage hotels in India ; days spent walking in China’s Yellow Mountains accompanied by a changing cast of engaging characters; unlocking the sights and nightlife of Argentina on an organised small-group adventure.
One in three Britons will set off on holiday alone this year. It’s not a surprising figure when a quarter of all adults have never married or are now divorced or widowed. Add to this number the many keen travellers whose partners either cannot – or will not – join them and that’s a potential singles market of more than six million people. It’s one for which tour operators and cruise lines are finally starting to cater. Specialist singles tour operators, in particular, are seeing a surge in demand for both short breaks in Europe and trip-of-a-lifetime destinations around the world. Many customers book late, making the decision just a few weeks ahead of the departure date, so there are plenty of opportunities left to book a holiday for this summer.
Recognising that taking a first solo holiday is something of a leap into the unknown, tour operators have set up online forums to help allay the fears of newcomers. Leading singles operator Just You now has an impressive online community of 30,000.
“Our past customers really do help us to persuade other people to take the plunge,” says marketing director Nicole Mason.
“It’s amazing how helpful and supportive people are of each other. It’s got to the stage where we’re even involving our online community in the design of some tours. Our new Bordeaux gourmet retreat, for example, came out of one such forum discussion.”
The advantage of going with a singles specialist is that there’s a dedicated host (usually British) to encourage people to mix. Daniel Adams from One Traveller recommends that solo first-timers choose a fairly structured city break with lots of included meals and group sightseeing. “It’s the host’s job to make sure nobody feels left out,” he says. “Gathering for a pre-dinner drink in the bar always helps loosen people up, and we have table seating plans so you don’t get stuck with the same people.”
It’s not just the specialists that are noticing a surge in solo travellers. Companies organising small-group adventure tours and escorted journeys report that as many as half of their customers now travel on their own. In small groups like this (usually 10-22 people), it’s important to know the sex and age of the participants. Never be shy about asking the tour operator these questions, or you could end up in a mismatched group.
Student Felix Hamer joined a Dragoman truck tour in Peru: “I got lucky with the bus as 15 of us – Americans, Australians, Brits and Scandinavians – were under 30. A Dragoman bus doing the journey in reverse was full of pensioners with just two 18-year-old Swedes.”
It’s also important to pick a travel company that requires a high minimum number to book before the tour runs. Fewer than eight can be problematic as you could be stuck with closed-off couples.
Choosing a holiday that reflects your interests is a good way of meeting like-minded people. Music-lover Julia McRae has been travelling with Martin Randall Travel for 15 years.
“Friendships were made from the very start,” she says, “and many have become close and lasting.
“The quality of lecturers adds so much to the tour, as they all have an engaging sense of fun as well as knowledge. Never for a moment have I felt lonely.”
Case study: Pauline Antonioni, 67
My late husband and I didn’t travel a lot. After he passed away I decided I would see more of the world. My worry was that I might feel left out or intimidated if I joined a normal tour booked by couples.
A friend recommended One Traveller and from the moment I phoned up to discuss a holiday in Austria, I felt I was being looked after. After meeting the tour manager and other group members at the airport check-in, I knew it would all be fine. There were about 20 of us, late 50s and older, and more women than men.
Most of the early conversations were about previous travels and other neutral subjects. One Traveller has a great system for dining. Each of us was given a number and the tour manager did a table placement each night which helped the group to mix. Drinks in the bar beforehand helped to break the ice too. I got particularly friendly with several other women and we’d meet up in our free time for a coffee.
Being part of a group gave me the confidence to go off on my own for a couple of hours.
This article was written by Gill Charlton from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.