One is no longer loneliest number for travelers
Sure, traveling alone can be an extremely freeing experience, with no one else to slow you down or bicker with over which sights to see along the way. But it can also be a drag. When you're hauling your bags around on your own, or when the only other single on your hiking tour is the guide, or after your third sunset dinner on the hotel's veranda - alone - traveling by yourself can lose its allure.
Until recently, travel options for singles were largely limited to trips of the package-tour variety, with everyone thrown into one enormous group or just one step removed from a dating service. Now that's beginning to change.
As travel companies look for new ways to expand business, they are increasingly courting solo travelers. Roughly one in 10 leisure travelers hit the road alone, according to the most recent data from the Travel Industry Association, and more travel companies, from specialty tour operators to individual resorts, are creating packages that cater to those customers.
Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com), which specializes in small, off-the-beaten-path tours, just introduced four singles-only trips to places like Peru and Nepal. Travelers willing to share a room don't have to pay the usual single-supplement fee that helps to make up for the difference in price charged to two travelers sharing a room.
In January, Absolute Travel (absolutetravel.com), a Manhattan travel agency specializing in customized luxury trips, began a service pairing compatible travelers who would rather not go it alone.
Even individual spas and resorts are creating packages for solo travelers. The Westin St. John Resort and Villas is offering a three-night, $2,550 "solo-cation," which includes a villa with a private pool, a private Jeep tour, and a poolside cabana with butler (call 888-627-7206 and ask for the Solovac rate).
This summer, the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica (fairmont.com/santamonica) rolled out a Single and the City package, which encourages guests to explore the city on their own.
The new options can help solo travelers assert their independence while feeling less like loners. When Sue Blough retired in 2000, she started traveling with Adventure Women (adventurewomen.com), which caters to single female travelers. "When I retired, I hadn't traveled much," said Blough, who lives in South Florida and is an avid hiker. The group was comfortable, she said, not just because she wasn't scaling mountains all alone, but also because she wasn't surrounded by "mostly couples."
While she still travels with Adventure Women, she said she also likes Country Walkers (countrywalkers.com), which introduced its own program for female travelers in 2005. And she's noticed more singles showing up, even on regular tours.
"Since I've been doing this, I'm seeing more and more, especially women," she said. "A lot of them are married, with husbands that have traveled all their lives for business and absolutely hate traveling."
For singles who would like some company while visiting somewhere new, but would rather not go on a group tour, Absolute Travel will search for a like-minded companion, facilitate an introduction by e-mail, and develop a travel itinerary both might enjoy. While the company stresses that it is not a romantic matchmaking service, it asks interested individuals to fill out a questionnaire to help find a suitable travel partner, detailing where they want to go, how long they want to stay, and even whether or not they smoke.
Such services are a far cry from what used to be available to singles just a few years ago.
"It used to be basically your sun-and-sand holiday," said Diane Redfern, founder of Connecting: Solo Travel Network (cstn.org), who has been tracking solo vacation alternatives since 1990 through a bimonthly newsletter. "If someone did put together a trip for singles, it was just at some beach resort. Now they're going to Antarctica and doing everything."
Despite the greater range of choices, solo travelers are still largely plagued by single-supplement charges, unless they're willing to share a room with a total stranger. Travelers who want the company of a group by day but privacy at night may be able to get around this by booking early.
Norwalk, Conn.-based Tauck World Discovery (tauck.com) is offering significantly reduced prices for singles on dozens of cruise and tour departures in the United States, Europe, and Canada.
British tour operators like Solos Holidays (solosholidays.co.uk) and HF Holidays (hfholidays.co.uk) tend to be better than their North American counterparts about not penalizing solo travelers with extra fees, said Redfern of Connecting: Solo Travel Network.
In some cases, there is an advantage to being the only single person on a trip.
Backroads (backroads.com), the active-travel company in Berkeley, Calif., for instance, offers Singles & Solos trips for adults traveling on their own or with single friends. Singles who sign up more than 30 days before departure may request a roommate to avoid a single-room charge. If no other loners show up, you get your own room at no extra charge.