Solo travel is surging in popularity postpandemic — especially among women.
by Krisha Chachra
It is cool to travel again — and even more cool to do it alone. Data from booking.com shows that prepandemic, only 17% of travelers were going solo. By mid-2021, that number jumped to 30%. Last year, searches for single-person flights in 2023 were up 36% over the previous year, kayak.com reported in December. And multiple reports show a majority of solo travelers are women — 84%, according to passport-photo.online.com.
What could be driving this trend? For one thing, more people who live on their own and work remotely have gotten used to solitude, which in healthy amounts, can promote self-awareness. Being aware of your personal needs and desires can result in the self-confidence required to solo travel when others can’t join you.
Another appealing reason to explore alone is the overdose of family time during the pandemic. Rather than being a selfish response, the desire for “me” time is a completely normal reaction after prioritizing the health, safety and needs of our families for months or years on end.
As a travel writer and consultant for more than 20 years, I hear people say that the best thing about solo travel is the freedom to make decisions without consulting anyone. Eat without worrying if the food is too spicy for your kids. Stay out exploring without hearing complaints of others being tired or bored. Making your own decisions when traveling feels like a dream come true.
Achint Patel, a medical doctor in Charlotte, started solo traveling in 2019. “I kept telling myself I’d travel when I was with someone special. Then I realized, I am someone special,” he says.
Still, he keeps certain things to experience with loved ones. Patel has been to Paris at least five times but has never been to the top of the Eiffel Tower. “I want someone to witness my expression when I first see the view,” he says. He’s seen more than 20 countries solo, including Egypt, Portugal, Japan, Jordan and most of western Europe. “Traveling solo has given me a better understanding of who I am,” he says. “I prefer it and plan my trips spontaneously.”
For unseasoned travelers, solo travel without planning and intention can result in high stress. Here are some important insights that’ll ease your fears and help get you out there — on your own.
Traveling solo does not mean traveling alone. In fact, nine out of 10 solo travelers prefer to take tours during their journey, according to SoloTravelWorld.com. There are all types of tours that cater to solo travelers — some are based on budget, others on activity level or shared interests. The tour you choose is the tour other people with the same travel goals are picking, too, so you’ll meet people with something in common. If you want culture, pick a museum or historic neighborhood tour. Is food and drink your thing? Book a tour of the local cuisine or a mixology class. If you don’t want company, skip organized touring and explore on your own. Also, find tours that offer rates at single occupancy for rooms and excursions. Explore and Exodus Travel are good options for the Gen X or millennial single traveler.
Meet new people, and make new friends. Traveling with friends and family is always fun, but when you’re with people you know, you don’t branch out from your cozy conversation bubble. When you’re solo traveling, you’re more approachable than you are in a group. On his solo travel trips, Patel meets and makes friends along the way — and keeps in touch over WhatsApp. “There are two human superpowers to make a connection with someone,” Patel says. “A deep, sincere smile, and saying ‘hello’.” Patel frequently hires tour guides to observe how they get around. “You meet the best of humanity when you travel,” he says. In France, he met a traveler in his hotel, and the two of them expanded their group touring the country together. Two other solo travelers randomly joined them, met and fell in love, and now they are getting married. “I plan to be at their wedding,” he says.
Pick a place that honors your headspace. You don’t need a fancy destination to discover more of who you are — you just need a place that fits your state of mind. Choose places where you can achieve your goals. Nervous about traveling solo overseas? Pick a country where English is spoken. If you’re yearning to make life changes, pick somewhere serene. Nesha Pai, motivational speaker, author, and owner of Pai CPA in Charlotte, takes a solo trip every year. “I call it a ‘founder retreat’ — where I’m the founder — and pick a five-star, safe, tropical location,” she says. Pai takes time to reset her personal and career goals and selects beach resorts in Mexico to help boost her creativity. “The bottom line is that my dreams are greater than my fear of traveling solo,” Pai says. Quiet places like beaches or remote countries like Iceland offer the solitude needed for clarity and reflection, but other travelers may seek action or adventure. If that’s the case, head to Europe where you can take trains from city to city, meeting other travelers along the way. Or if you prefer staying in the U.S., tour the monuments in D.C. — then treat yourself to dinner. Depending on where you are in the moment, picking the right destination is key to a positive solo travel experience.
Budget your time and your money. This is your adventure. You can choose to spend more on things you value. With kids, comfort and convenience are paramount. But on a solo trip, you can skip the cushy resorts with all the amenities and opt for a five-star meal. Take a bus or rickshaw like the locals instead of a pricey, air-conditioned cab. Immerse yourself in things that you couldn’t enjoy with your regular travel companions in tow. Think about what you always want to do on vacation but never get a chance to. Need a spa treatment? Take the whole day and pamper yourself. Traveling solo unlocks your financial psychology — you truly discover what kind of spending brings you joy.
Stretch yourself and reflect. Use the experience to try something you’ve always wanted. There is a beauty in anonymity — no one knows you and no one expects anything. Romanticized dancing in the streets but were too embarrassed to try? Time to show off your moves! Maybe you’ve never tried paddleboarding because you were afraid you’d fall and look foolish — now do it! Parasail. Hike the waterfall. Go on a wine tasting. Meet other travelers and explore a new part of the city, then find a group of loud locals and join them for a drink. Be safe, but be daring. When you get home, you’ll feel like a new person — or maybe you’ll feel more like yourself.
Traveling can teach you so much about the world and the people in it. But traveling solo can teach you more about you. Experiencing some beautiful place, just for you, is an act of self-love. It also unlocks what you like and what you value. It can give you the clarity to refocus your career or uncover your true desires. Don’t let fear get in the way of giving yourself the time to discover the world — and yourself. SP
Krisha Chachra is a Charlotte-based travel writer. Contact her at krishachachra.com or on social media at @destinationsanddelish and @krishachachra.