Better Off Alone | Solo Travel Can Reinvigorate Your Mind, Body, and Soul
Don't wait around for flaky friends or tour groups - head out on your own and open yourself to the world
There is an overwhelming movement towards solo travel happening right now. Tour operators and travel agents are reporting the trend: the reaction of millennials seeking unusual experiences rather than predictable holidays with friends or loved ones.
It’s firstly important to note that solo travelling doesn’t actually, necessarily, mean being alone. Instead, solo travelling – the concept – is about giving yourself the potential to expose yourself to different situations, places, and people you simply wouldn’t be able to when travelling with groups of people you already know.
“Solo travel gives you time to reflect on your life and where you want to go in the future”
As a lover of travel, I’ve made some of my closest friends over shared moments that began alone. When drunk at festivals, with no phone or idea where I am. Or being thrown into the company of others when nabbing the last place on an organised tour group. On other occasions, it is just the privilege of time that enables us to make connections, as conversations open up in coffee shops, on trains, or around hotel swimming pools.
Of course, some people also adore actually being alone. To act selfishly and lock yourself away for moments of valuable introspection, without being forced into daily rituals like breakfasts, lunches, or dinners with colleagues or friends, may seem challenging to make happen, but get it right and it’s sublime.
Generally speaking, solo travel allows the traveler to take liberties. Legendary British editor Diana Athill writes that “staring at things is never time wasted,” and this is best done when travelling. There is an unusual, greatly satisfying pleasure in taking time to stare extensively at everyday things, particularly when walking alone in cities.
Once, on a walking trip in Cornwall, I stopped to watch the full, extensive ritual of a sheep dog rounding up sheep. I gauged the dog’s meticulous choreographing, its nimble movements, and expressive, disciplined glances. I felt its determination and passion, and I felt the endearing simplicity of the sheep as they bumbled along submissively.
All these quaint solo experiences help us grow. “Solo travel gives you time to reflect on your life and where you want to go in the future,” Prof. Sir Cary Cooper told me.
“It gives you greater self confidence because you’re having to cope, particularly if you go to remote areas. You’re going to have to cope with things you normally wouldn’t cope with, so you’re pushing yourself to understand what your coping strategies are”.
The famous Russian playwright Anton Chekhov once said “any idiot can face a crisis,” and his famous line feels pertinent in the context of what Prof. Cooper has said. “The majority of people find they can ultimately cope with a range of things they never thought they could,” says Prof. Cooper, as being confronted with unusual situations while travelling solo forces us to face our fears and anxieties.
Prof. Cooper, the President of the CIPD (the professional body for experts in people at work) whose work on health and wellbeing in the workplace is world-renowned, said other benefits included being made “more resilient” and “raising self-confidence” levels as well as becoming “more adaptable as a person,” all of which is “good for your mental wellbeing”.
“Solo travelling builds a resistance: it gives you perspective on your current life, where you may want to go, and makes you think more than you normally would, because it gives you that space to do it,” he surmises.
If you’re apprehensive to try solo travel, this research by academic Bella DePaulo (author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After) subverts cliches of singledom, and may encourage you to take the leap.
DePaulo presents research showing that lone eaters in restaurants aren’t judged any differently to eaters sitting in large groups. “When I studied solo diners,” DePaulo told me, “I found that they were not judged any more harshly than other diners, such as couples or groups of friends. In fact, there were some very positive, maybe even envious comments made about solo diners: for example, that they seemed peaceful, thoughtful, and secure”.
Travelling alone no longer makes you stand out in public, and has numerous health benefits, but there is still one pitfall which persists: the cost. Unfortunately, ‘single supplement’ fees still deem solo travel an inexcusably expense pursuit, and feel drastically unfair.
Earlier this year, research undertaken by Good Housekeeping magazine pitted the cost of an average single person’s life to be a giant £2,049.30 more expensive per year than the average coupled person’s. And the greatest enabler of the cost discrepancy between single people and their coupled-up counterparts? Travel.
Travel agencies have traditionally charged huge supplements for single people who book hotel rooms. But all of this is slowly, but surely, changing. Travel agencies and deals websites are noticing the growing trend for solo travel and are stamping out costs. Travelzoo recently partnered with STA Travel, Saga Holidays, and Cox & Kings Travel, to offer travellers who booked during September a month of free travel to promote the plight of solo travellers.
“We are seeing more and more people take the plunge and travel solo,” Joel Brandon-Bravo, General Manager of Travelzoo UK, told me. “While Travelzoo never thought that we’d change the industry overnight, we had over 20 travel partners participating in our ‘Solo September’ campaign supporting lower costs for solo travel. It’s important that the travel industry does more to support those choosing to travel alone”.
Travelzoo aren’t alone. Riviera Travel, Crystal Cruises and Flash Pack offer lower single supplements, and in the over-50s market, Titan are working towards lower or eradicated solo traveler fees.
There are still leaps and bounds to be made before travelling solo is fairly priced for single people, whether they are romantically single or just travelling solo to try something new. But on the upside, the encouraging results of academic research by Prof. Cooper and Dr. DePaula gives wary solo travelers the encouragement they need to at least start saving for that dream trip.
Adam Bloodworth is a freelance writer, based in London. Keep up with him on Twitter.