Thinking about travelling alone? Well, you’re not on your own. Growing numbers of Australians aren’t waiting for a mid-life crises or relationship meltdown to discover the pleasures of travelling solo. Youthful backpackers have traditionally been setting this trend but now, whether single, divorced or widowed, older Aussies are celebrating their freedom and leading the shift to holidaying alone. Recently released Roy Morgan research shows that of the 12,642,000 Aussies who holidayed in the 12 months to March 2014, 16% went by themselves, up from 12% a decade ago. So apart from enjoying the independence, flexibility and chance to set their own agenda, what on earth are they doing?
Special events and festivals rate highly as do artistic, culinary and cultural activities while visiting family and friends is the most popular holiday pursuit with the majority of solo travellers within Australia. As Roy Morgan’s Jane Ianniello acknowledges, the solo traveller is the only segment that has grown in the last decade and shows no sign of declining any time soon.
Most travel agencies are sensitive to an individual’s needs but it can be tricky finding the right resort, tour or cruise if you want to go it alone. Encounter Travel specialises in going solo carefully integrating individuals into small select groups while Melbourne-founded, Mumbai-based India Unbound makes tackling one of the world’s most overwhelmingly fascinating places a soda for solos. Organisations like Peregrine Adventures have been successfully slotting single adventurers into their carefully curated itineraries for years while Abercrombie & Kent report a definite increase in female solo travellers who feel safe and cared for.
Emotional Baggage. Be self-sufficient and pack light. I’ve flown with people who’ve checked in what looks like a small fridge in one bag and its contents in another. Travelling with two smaller bags is often easier to handle rather than one monster suitcase. Better yet, travel with just a carry-on bag with clip-on backpack. Not having to wait and arm-wrestle luggage off carousels can add hours to your sightseeing time.
Flight Plan. Avoid flying at peak times such as school holidays and book an aisle seat to avoid clambering over total strangers to stretch your legs. Neutralise unwanted conversation by slapping on an eye mask and earphones.
Forward Thinking. Don’t get taken for a ride by unscrupulous taxi drivers. Have a rough idea of how much the ride should cost and confirm it with the driver before getting in.
Book It. Choose a hotel in the centre of town or in a residential area. Pre-book your accommodation for at least one night on an upper floor so there’s no risk of arriving alone and jetlagged in a strange place. If arriving late, make sure the front desk is open.
Card Carrying. Always carry the hotel’s business card, particularly if you don’t speak the language and if the street signs are in an unfamiliar script.
Table for One. Ask the concierge the best place to dine alone, perhaps a restaurant where you can watch the chef at work or where there’s a communal dining table. If you don’t want to be social, read a book and never accept drinks sent over by a stranger no matter how attractive!
Personal Protection. Stash your passport, tickets and extra cash in the hotel safe. Carry small amounts of cash in separate pockets or a money belt under clothes and be extra careful at cash dispensers. Avoid big crowds particularly on public holidays when pick-pocketing becomes a competitive sport and in case of theft, photocopy your passport and credit cards and store them in your luggage with another copy accessible at home. Never reveal too much personal information and trust your instincts – they’re probably right.
Don’t Advertise. Travelling solo lets you blend in but can also get you noticed depending on where you are. Keep to open, well-lit spaces at night, check with the concierge for any no-go zones and don’t walk around with a map, it’s like having “tourist” tattoo’d on your forehead ! Check your map and transport schedules (and jot down notes) before leaving your hotel.
Safety Net. One of the worst things when travelling alone is illness or injury. If on regular medication, bring more than sufficient for the trip and have a letter from your doctor confirming your medication. Ensure you have the right vaccinations, especially if travelling to Third World countries, and pack a basic medical kit. Always carry identification and don’t even consider giving travel insurance a miss!
Stay Connected. Ensure that family and friends know your itinerary and stay in touch.
What are your tips for solo travellers?