Love Travelling Solo? You're Not Alone
Earlier this year, I took my first overseas solo trip in two decades -- and it was a revelation. During my trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, I was struck each day by the freedom to make decisions without considering the preferences of family or friends. I met new people as an individual, not "a mom" or "a wife." And I relished my downtime, reading, sleeping and just enjoying my own company.
The experience made me want to take more solo trips. And I'm not alone: In 2018 alone, Pinterest saw an incredible 600% increase in searches for "solo travel." Solotravelerworld.com reported that searches for "solo female travel" grew by 52% over the course of a year -- and this doesn't just involve backpackers fresh out of college or university, jetting off for a spot of self-discovery. Solotravelerworld.com's statistics also show that a staggering 86% of independent travellers are aged over 35, and that 86% of solo jetsetters are female.
In Travelzoo's first-ever Female Solo Travel Report, nearly half of all female respondents in Canada indicated that they’re taking trips on their own, and 70% of female respondents reported that they’re at least somewhat likely to take a trip alone in the future.
We also asked what might be keeping would-be solo travellers from striking out on their own. Unsurprisingly, more than half of all Canadian women surveyed (56%) said that “fear for personal safety” is a top solo travel concern -- more than double the number of men who feel the same (26%). Fear of loneliness -- in particular, eating alone -- and cost also ranked high as barriers.
While these concerns need to be taken into account, they shouldn't stop you from exploring the world on your own. Put your mind at ease by following these tips for safe and enjoyable solo travel.
Let people know where you’re going
Of course you’ll want to give all the details to a few close friends, but consider registering your itinerary with the Canadian embassy as well at travel.gc.ca. Depending on your destination, you may want to let someone in your vicinity know your plans – whether it’s another member of your tour group, the hotel front desk, or even ensuring you cross in front of security cameras in hotels, stores and restaurants to increase your trackability. At a bare minimum, email yourself all the crucial details -- from scans of your passport and documents to important phone numbers, like the local embassy and your health insurance hotline. Plan ahead by downloading the app TripWhistle Global, which allows you to get in touch with authorities should you need to -- without the hassle of memorizing local emergency numbers. And, in certain U.S. cities, you can plan your driving routes to avoid high-crime areas by using the app RedZone Map.
Pack for safety
Buy a slash-proof bag (one of our favourite brands is Pacsafe), wear a money belt and stash your cash in a few different pockets rather than carrying it all in your purse. There’s a whole industry dedicated to travel clothes; Tilley is one Canadian brand famous for its products’ hidden pockets as well as their durability. Avoid standing out by selecting bags and luggage with muted colours -- brightly coloured bags can often be a tip-off to pickpockets that you are not local. For added security, look for a pouch or bag that is RFID-shielding to protect your cards and passport from being scanned by identity thieves.
If the prospect of sitting opposite an empty chair doesn’t thrill you, check out restaurant review sites to find places known for serving great meals at the bar. Communal dining tables are trendy, too. Or, take a local food tour or cooking class with other travellers so you never dine alone. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out new and emerging social dining apps such as EatWith, which connect you with native hosts who are more than willing to welcome you into their home and cook up local fare in exchange for a reasonable fee and good conversation. But we’d encourage you to put aside any self-consciousness about eating alone. With so many women travelling for business and pleasure, a solo diner is no longer an unusual sight. Make it more fun by bringing some compelling reading material, like the memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" (and pack an e-reader with a built-in light -- it comes in handy in dimly lit locales!).
Link up with a stranger
No, we’re not talking about the kind you can meet at the hotel bar or on Tinder. If you’re joining a tour group, ask the organizer for names of fellow travellers in advance, so you can touch base. If you’re heading out on your own, check out Facebook and Meetup groups dedicated to connecting solo travellers abroad. Journeywoman.com is also an essential resource, with everything from tour guide and restaurant suggestions to first-person accounts of visiting specific parts of the world.
Trust your instincts
We’re told to trust our instincts, especially when travelling, but for a lot of women, it’s easier said than done. Before you leave on a solo trip, commit to listening to that voice in your head that tells you whether something (or someone) is risky. Keep an open mind to new opportunities, but don’t worry about offending people -- even your hosts -- by saying “no” to anything that raises your hackles. The Oprah Winfrey-recommended book “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker is a fast, worthwhile read that can help with assertiveness; it’s a great reminder that “being nice” is not as essential as being safe. Watch for subtle physiological signs that often indicate that someone is lying, such as a dilating of the pupils, darting eyes and fidgeting.
Plan your arrival and departure times carefully
One of the lonelier hours I’ve spent as a solo traveller came when I arrived in Prague by train at dawn, when it seemed that absolutely nothing was open -- not even a coffee shop. On the flip side, it’s no fun to arrive late in the evening, when you won’t have a chance to scout out the area around your hotel and may not feel comfortable venturing out alone. Departing late at night isn’t ideal either, especially if you’re leaving from a bus or train station. Not only might you feel unsafe, but if your flight or train gets cancelled, you could find yourself with nowhere to spend the night. Book midday travel whenever possible.
Avoid the dreaded “Single Supplement”
Planning to head to a resort or take a cruise? The “single supplement” can be a sneaky hidden cost that can significantly increase the cost of your trip. Look for deals or destinations that waive this fee. In fact, you’ll find a curated collection of deals that waive the single supplement -- or never had one in the first place -- at www.travelzoo.com/ca/collection/solo-travel.