Going Solo: The Growing Appeal of Travelling on Your Own
Travelling the world with your backpack as your sole companion has been a rising trend for several years now. Even before the pandemic, in 2018, the World Tourism Organization was already flagging “solo travels” as THE trend to follow that year. Just between 2016 and 2019, Google searches for solo travel increased by 131%. In 2019, 33% of bookings made on Lastminute.com were made by solo holidaymakers. Likewise, data from Expedia’s first Solo Travel Report in 2019 revealed that 60 percent of travellers were planning to take a solo trip within the next two years.
In parallel, the proportion of the population living alone has also increased: in France for example, 21% of the population aged 26 to 65 are single people, with men and women represented in the same proportions (according to an Ined study).
A trend accelerated by the pandemic
Accustomed to traveling in groups, couples or families, a lot of people have felt the need – after months of confinement – to be alone. Without knowing it, they were suffering from “aloneliness”, a very 2021 disease… The term was coined last year by the Canadian psychologist Robert J. Coplan. It describes the suffering felt when one cannot be alone, a suffering exacerbated by serial confinement. A suffering felt by many, just dreaming of roaming without any constraint, without kids to take care of or friends insisting on multiplying museum visits. And above all, without small talk to maintain, away from conversations about the weather, the vaccine, global warming, oil prices, etc.
As early as May 2020, after the first lockdown in France, a OnePoll study revealed that 42.8% of the French people surveyed dreamed of traveling alone. And the trend only grew from there. A Booking.com study conducted in 2021 noted that only 14% of travellers were planning a trip on their own, whilst nearly double (23%) now say they will be planning a solo trip in the future (according to the 22,000 people surveyed throughout Europe). In 2021, 14% of the Google travel queries in France included the terms “travelling alone”. This figure reaches 24% in Great Britain and 40% in the United States.
Many people are not waiting around for friends and family to be ready to hit the road and are now choosing instead to go on their own. According to new research from MMGY, one in four travellers plans to travel solo in the next six months, with Gen-Z and Millennials leading the way.
Not just a young person’s game
Solo travel is however not limited to younger age segments. While retirement travel is becoming more popular, mature solo travellers have been on the rise too. A study by Booking.com found that Baby Boomer solo travel was becoming a growing trend: in 2018 already, 40 percent of those aged between 55 and 64 had taken a solo trip.
While young adults on gap years have been the traditional solo travellers, today a new wave of intrepid wanderer is beginning to dominate the market – the over-50 female traveller.
A gendered phenomenon
Solo travellers are more and more women travellers. Blog, Facebook groups and other books on how and where to travel solo when you’re a woman have become very popular in recent years. Google searches would show a 230% increase in 2019 for the keywords “solo women travel”.
For a few years now, women have started to travel solo more than men. A trend without age limit and confirmed by the World Tourism Organization, which indicates that the number of women traveling solo has increased from 54 million in 2014 to 138 million in 2017.
The pandemic has made this even clearer. Women being overstretched, between remote working and still handling domestic duties, taking care and home schooling children, partly explains this increase.
Solos want time and unique experiences
What is the solo segment looking for when they travel? Special or memorable experiences for the most part. They can take different forms depending on the person: going on a hike, meditating during a spiritual retreat to confront oneself, surfing with strangers with whom you share a passion. Booking observed that 54% of solo travellers were targeting more outdoorsy, off-the-beaten-path experiences in lesser-known places or “incognito” destinations.
With no children, no spouse, and no buddies to follow, individual travellers have a natural inclination to take time to relax because they don’t have to manage the overall tempo of a family or couple. These free-spirited travellers are more flexible and responsive when it comes to changing their minds. Indeed, some of the main advantages put forward by “solos” include freedom, the possibility of deciding everything on their own, without consultation with others, an absence of pressure or constraints.
This strong emergence of solo travel goes hand in hand with greater digital connectivity. It is now easy to travel half-way across the world while still being connected to your friends or family with whom people can exchange via WhatsApp or Instagram. So they don’t need to bring their tribe with them anymore. On the ground, thanks to digital tools, solos can also find other travellers with the same profile as them or get in touch with “locals” more easily and “live like them” thanks to recommendations found on social media.
Travelling alone also means deciding to have company only when you want it. Meeting people at a youth hostel or at a local bar has always been a way to make friends, but there are nowadays apps that facilitate meetings between adventurers. Backpacker, for example, allows you to meet people who are going to the same destination before you leave. Nearify focuses more on events that take place in cities, whether it’s a cultural event or a class to take together. Eatwith matches travellers with locals to enjoy local dishes together, while Partywith finds you the best hosts and travellers to party with.
Catering to the solo traveller market
As Skift recently noted, although solo travellers have long been an important market for tour operators, they haven’t really developed specific strategies to boost sales within this segment. But the growing trend for solo travel is forcing the tourism industry to re-evaluate its tactics, including finding ways to make travelling alone less expensive.
Beyond the creation of new TOs or special packages directly aimed at solo travels, professionals are also increasingly launching special deals geared toward this segment and waiving (or at least decreasing) expensive single supplements – for cruises for example – to attract more guests. But more tourism actors – hotels, DMOs, DMCs, etc. – ought to take a closer look at solo travellers’ behaviours and specific needs in order to better understand and conquer this market, still growing after the pandemic.