Some people see visions of total inner peace and joy when they contemplate a journey by themselves. Others have never really thought about it too seriously because they see it as an impossible dream or an avoidable nightmare. But traveling alone goes back a long way, and is coming back with a bang: it is attracting more and more enthusiasts, for a wide variety of reasons.
A New York Times article last year said that Google searches for “solo travel ideas” were up by more than 50% year-on-year. Tours Operators are seeing a similar trend: Abercrombie & Kent reported a 30% jump in single bookings in 2012 over 2011. The number of people living alone – 35% of households in developing countries – explains some of this trend, but solo travel is an experience anyone can enjoy, and more and more people are doing precisely that!
The first tourists were indeed solitary explorers. The word “tourism” comes from the term “Grand Tour”, a rite of passage that took many moneyed European youths to the Mediterranean’s shores, to round off their education while basking in the vestiges of the Roman and Greek civilizations. Later, Romantic artists ventured eastward lured by the exotic atmosphere and seeking inspiration. One of them, French writer François-René de Chateaubriand, reported on his journey in his book Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem (1811).
Today, the Internet has an abundance of travel blogs where solo travelers share their adventures. Juno, a Korean woman, for instance, writes on runawayjuno.com. And then there is the appositely named Adventurous Kate, a young 26-year-old young lady from Boston with many an amazing story to tell, including the time when she was woken at 6.45 am in her hotel room in Liechtenstein by a stark naked man she did not know knocking on her door. She has also eaten insects in Bangkok and survived a shipwreck in Indonesia.
These two examples of solo women travelers are revealing: as a matter of fact, most solo travelers are women. Most solo travelers, however, are also older than Juno and Kate: they are often 55 and older.
Traveling alone beats not traveling at all!
Others feel uneasy about leaving by themselves. A Huffington Post article, however, says that doing so eases stress. How so? Because traveling alone is a great way of thinking about nothing but the present moment, and caring about nothing but yourself. And that alone is worth the trip!
A Travel Guard Worldwide survey says that being your own boss to follow your own holiday schedule tops the list of reasons why travelers go solo (17% of travel agents agree here). Others have no choice, because they can’t take time off when their family or friends can, but see no reason to stay home because of that. Lastly, 4% of travel agents mention that their clients travel to “reconnect with themselves”. Women, more specifically, travel alone to revel in their independence (55%).
There may be as many reasons for traveling solo as there are solo travelers. Some people travel abroad alone on humanitarian missions: Nicolas, a 19-year-old French blogger at the time, decided to study in Poland after getting to know that country during his European voluntary service there.
Others combine travel and work so niftily that they turn traveling into work! That is what Chris, a 25-year-old British digital nomad who defines himself as a backpacker-surfer-photographer on his blog backpackerbanter.com, has done: he works freelance practically anywhere in the world for a number of magazines and a few brands.
Lastly, traveling solo and traveling alone do not necessarily mean the same thing: many solo and single travelers hope their trip will turn into a trek for two at some point. Certain travel agents and other social networks have got the message and are attempting to pair up lone holidaymakers. That way, we can be unaccompanied and accompanied at the same time: when it comes to adventure, fellow travelers prefer human, romantic or friendly experiences.
What solo travelers should keep in mind
To ease as much of the stress as possible, start preparing your solo travel early. Always find out everything you can about your destination. There are places you had best avoid, especially after dark, in every city. Traveling alone is an adventure in itself, so there’s no point taking senseless risks! Also, avoid the looks that shout out “I’m a tourist” (souvenir T-shirts, foldout maps and the like). And there are some places where you don’t want to parade any flashy jewelry or luxury brands, to avoid attracting attention.
“Out of sight, not out of touch!” could well be the solo traveler’s motto. It could make sense to let someone know where you are going and when, and show signs of life often. If you want more practical advice, your best shot is to ask people who have already traveled alone, and read travel blogs. If something goes wrong, it can help to know that others have been there before, and how they coped! So, basically, there’s no point getting all stressed out before leaving, but don’t lose sight of the risks.
If you’re traveling far away, to a country where you don’t speak the language, it can be nice to stay at a few international chain hotels, such as Accor Group ones, to enjoy the friendly staff who will be delighted to give you any advice or help you need, and to relax and enjoy a comfy home away from home for a night or longer.
Then, all you need to do is enjoy the time by yourself: the whole idea is of course to go out more than you stay in, do don’t skip the opportunity to relish an amazing meal in a restaurant because you’ve got nobody to go with! Actually, a good book is always great company!
Here’s one last tip for the road: getting to know a place – a bar, for instance, where there are plenty of foreigners and at least one of them who speaks the same language as you – can help to meet fun people and feel at home in your new neighborhood!