Adventures: Liz Hoggard says there is something wonderfully liberating about travelling alone
There’s something wonderfully liberating about travelling alone. No partners, tricky friends or well-meaning extended family to keep happy — you only have yourself to please.
And solo travel is one of the fastest growing areas in the leisure industry. According to Abta’s latest annual Holiday Habits survey, one in nine holidaymakers reported that they took a holiday on their own in the previous 12 months — double the number compared with the six previous years.
Which is why it’s puzzling that solo travellers so often get ripped off — paying twice as much for hotel rooms and cruise cabins as those who are part of a couple.
It’s dubbed ‘the single tax’ and it’s something MoneyMail has regularly campaigned about. The travel industry says the so-called ‘single supplement’ is necessary because one less person will be spending money on extras such as food and drinks.
This sounds bonkers when you consider that solo travellers are cost-effective. After all, the company is paying for one less seat on a plane, one fewer person on a transfer, and half the amount of food and drink on an all-inclusive trip.
So singletons certainly shouldn’t be paying double. Many solo travellers also have to take holidays during off-peak periods when travel companies are able to secure rooms for sole occupancy. Or stay in the less desirable rooms.
Clearly these companies are missing a trick when we’re the future. There’s been a 143 per cent increase in ‘solo travel’ searches over the past three years. From my experience, even those who are in a relationship sometimes like the idea of taking a holiday on their own, without their partners. Some space from time to time is no bad thing.
Which is why we need to seize the upper hand. If you are booking at a time when the hotel is unlikely to be sold out or is offering special deals, phone and ask the tour operator to waive the supplement. You also need to decide if you’re a long or short-haul trip person. And what level of comfort you need. I love hearing about solo travellers backpacking across India. But my gut feeling is you don’t need to rough it. If you’re lovelorn or need to recharge your batteries, I’d recommend a city break, a retreat or a tour for people travelling alone.
According to Abta’s latest annual Holiday Habits survey, one in nine holidaymakers reported that they took a holiday on their own in the previous 12 months
Two friends of mine run a boutique B&B, Casa Rosada, in Portugal’s Castro Marim on the easternmost point of the Algarve. We call it the ‘healing house’. I booked in after a particularly bruising romantic break-up, and spent a week reading in their terraced garden, with its orange and lemon trees and secret seating areas.
Evenings were spent at candlelit suppers with the boys (as they and other guests tactfully ignored my tears). After five days, I emerged whole again. Small group holidays are also a gift. I’ve done reading weeks, Pilates holidays and cookery schools. There’s company at dinner if you want it, but you’re not joined at the hip. And because you’re sharing trips and guides, they are much cheaper for singles.
A friend books an opera holiday in Ravenna, Italy, each summer — she spends the day exploring solo, then sees an opera each night with the group. Walking holidays are my drug of choice. You’re outdoors, burning calories, seeing a new landscape.
I went to one walking training camp in La Manga, Spain, and expected to be in bed, nun-like, by 9pm each night. But the ultra-fit young women who wiped the floor with us going up hills certainly knew how to party. I couldn’t do that every night, but it was rather fabulous. Some destinations are friendlier than others. Sometimes you may need to psyche yourself up to be as mentally strong as possible.
Many solo travellers also have to take holidays during off-peak periods when travel companies are able to secure rooms for sole occupancy
I’ll never forget staying in a hostel on a barge in Oslo. Having walked down a dingy track from the station, dodging drug dealers and discarded syringes, I was shown to my tiny cabin. To my horror it was high bunk beds — without a ladder. At 1am, I was covered in bruises attempting to vault to my allocated top bunk.
But there are many ways to make your trip less daunting. Research your accommodation carefully, in terms of safety and location. Make sure there’s a garden or nearby park, and that it’s a city for pedestrians (which rules out LA for me!).
Then decide if you want an adults-only resort. If your hotel is too family-friendly, meal times may leave you feeling isolated.
And if it’s a new city, I’d go for a hotel with a 24-hour manned reception over Airbnb. Trust me, it’s no fun standing in a dark doorway in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen at 11.45pm, waiting for the host.
I’ve learned the hard way that no one over 45 needs to share a room. Once, in Thailand, I discreetly switched off a noisy fan at 2am, and the 50-plus woman I was sharing a room with woke up with a start, and punched open a window, still fast asleep. ‘I need air-con,’ she howled.
But if the retreat is in an historic listed building, and you have to share with a stranger, pack ear-plugs and a Mute anti-snoring device.
If you’re going away with a small tour group, it’s good to book a few excursions in advance. But don’t fill out your dance card completely. You don’t know who you’re going to meet, or how lazy you want to be.
In the past, the idea of women going on solo adventures was considered ‘brave’ or ‘eccentric’. That’s all changed now.
But even for budding Freya Starks, when it comes to nightlife, it can be easier for men. I usually wear myself out visiting museums, then retire early — when really I’m gagging for a Martini.
In Ecuador I met a couple who’d had supper with Meg Ryan when she was filming there. Meg was dining solo but she breezed over to their table and said: ‘Mind if I join you? It’s always more fun to have supper with other people.’ If Meg can do it, we all can.
TOP TIPS FOR HOLIDAYING ALONE
Be brave! It can feel like a giant leap travelling on your own, but you’re unlikely to regret it.
Take heart that there are many like-minded people feeling exactly the same way.
Chat before you go. On a group trip, a friendly hello via a forum or email with other people helps to break the ice.
Don’t expect romance. Most single travellers want to fall in love with a destination, not a person. Focus on friendship instead.
Make the most of your guide. They’re there to ensure you have the best time; don’t feel afraid to ask for advice.
Have fun. It’s your well-earned break, so do as you please. Holiday companies will never pressurise you into taking on things you don’t feel comfortable with.
Remember that one in four British adults has never married, or is divorced or widowed.
Act relaxed — even if you’re not quite feeling it. Couples who say: ‘On your own? How brave,’ often have absolutely nothing to say to each other over dinner.
Instead of feeling like Jenny no-mates, ask strangers to take photos of you at famous landmarks so you can send them to friends back home.