IF YOU travel solo, you’re not alone. The number of solitary explorers is rising faster than a SYD-LAX takeoff. Backpackers, professionals, divorcees and widows are among the one-person wanderers who have realised they don’t need, or even want, a companion.
That’s not to say all solo travellers are single – some have partners who are too busy working or are not interested in the same style of holiday. These couples come to agree that each other’s dreams don’t always have to be shared to be achieved.
So, let’s make it official: there’s no stigma attached to travelling unattached. You’re not a lonely weirdo, you’re an independent adventurer. Or perhaps you just feel like getting away, to take some “me time”, without planning around anybody else.
According to a survey commissioned by Booking.com, females are leading the way in this growing trend. The Solo Travel Report, conducted across five countries (including 1000 Australian respondents aged 25-45), found almost two-thirds of Aussie women had discovered the freedom of “flying unaccompanied”.
For both sexes, domestic destinations were the most popular choices for a solo trip. About 45 per cent of surveyed women and 37 per cent of men nominated Australia or New Zealand, followed by Europe and the US. However, women opted most often for a spa or retreat, while the men equally ranked beaches and big cities.
Free your mind
It’s not surprising that women like a little luxury alone. A week of wellness and beauty treatments requires nobody to hold your hand, unless it’s for a manicure.
Brisbane travel blogger Christine Retschlag, who writes under the deliciously self-governing persona of The Global Goddess, last month returned from a six-day yoga retreat in Bali, where most guests were single women.
“One of the highlights was the 24 hours of silence in which we had to simply sit with ourselves, observe our monkey minds and learn to love ourselves that little bit more. I walked away from holidaying …with a new sense of confidence and a different, more open perspective on the world around me,” she said.
Lisa D’Amico, managing partner at an advertising agency, also found travelling on her own brought personal rewards.
“Not only does it give you the time and space to explore a new location and culture, it frees your mind to rest and restore, which is something I don’t think you can do as well when you travel with friends or family,” she said.
Men go solo
It would be trite to suggest that only women travel to recharge or learn about themselves, because many men enjoy a similar experience. One of my male friends, Yuri, told me he was “humbled” by a recent overseas trip in a way that would not have been possible “with the boys” or a girlfriend.
“I wanted time to relax and try something new, to step out of the norm. When you walk out of the airport into a city you’ve never been to, it’s like being a newborn. It is somewhat intimidating yet exciting,” he said.
“I guess, when I travelled alone, I experienced a lot of feelings in a short period of time, and I became more aware of the global community we live in.”
As the cliche goes, some people travel to “find themselves” – but it certainly helps to already have a healthy dose of self-confidence.
After several months of globetrotting alone, my friend Damon said: “I think travelling solo is definitely suited to more independent people. If you’re socially outgoing but can deal with having days where you may barely speak to another person, you’ll get by. You have to be comfortable in your own skin.”
Solo travel has undergone some major changes over the past decade. The urge to “switch off” – to the point of leaving behind everyone you know – has been partly motivated by our tendency to frequently “switch on” to the internet. But at the same time, the internet has simplified travelling solo.
Online accommodation providers, innovations in technology and greater Wi-Fi access have made it much easier for travellers to plan trips as well as stay connected to home.
Booking.com chief marketing officer Paul Hennessy said social media has made the most difference, particularly for women, in the space of five years.
“Our Solo Travel Report confirms that social media is an important factor in giving Australian women more confidence to enjoy a solo travel experience, with 66 per cent confirming that it makes them feel safer while away,” he said.
The survey found 71 per cent of females (compared to 54 per cent of males) used platforms such as Facebook to keep in touch, while both sexes used websites to research tourist attractions (50 per cent of females, 47 per cent of males).
Radio 2UE travel segment presenter Amanda Woods agreed the digital era has made travelling easier. She shares a familiar story about a trip to Italy in the 1990s, arriving without any accommodation or a word of Italian, and wasting hours trying to find a hotel late at night, when all the properties in her Lonely Planet were full.
Find yourself by yourself
As part of her blog Adventures All Around, Woods is happily ticking off her bucket list without feeling forced to bond every moment with a special someone. To celebrate the big 4-0 last year, she issued an open invitation to friends to accompany her to see the Northern Lights in Norway, but when she had no takers, she jumped on the plane anyway.
“As lovely as it would have been to share it with a friend, it was all the more special for the fact that I was travelling alone. It was just me, the Arctic wind in my face, the lights dancing above me,” she recalled.
“One of the joys of solo travel is that you can be social if you feel like it, or just enjoy ‘alone time’ far from home with your thoughts. That, to me, is a special kind of bliss.”