When was the last time you went out for dinner alone? No, we don't mean grabbing a sandwich in Pret, but actually sitting down for a full slap-up meal. What about the last time you went on a relaxing spa weekend by yourself? It's not something that happens very often, I'm guessing. And yet, more of us than ever are taking the plunge and heading off on solo travel adventures, whether that's a yoga retreat or a six-month backpacking trip.
According to research from the Association of British Travel Agents, 15% of us now choose to travel alone – a figure that sat at just 6% as recently as 2011. Between language translation tools and the growth of social media, it's easier than ever to build a trip that suits you, and three-quarters of respondents said that their motivation for travelling alone laid in having the opportunity to pursue their own interests.
Nonetheless, for many, the idea of flying solo can still be offputting, with fears around lonliness and safety both commonly cited as reasons to put it in the 'no' pile. So, what steps can you take to make travelling solo easier? Here’s our top 10 tips…
Talk to people
In reality, travelling solo absolutely doesn’t have to mean being alone; in fact, with a small amount of effort you’ll probably find that you’re with people more of the time than not. The golden rule is simple: talk to people – in bars, in restaurants, on buses and trains. Anywhere.
Be reassured that many of the people you will meet will be in a similar situation and open to meeting new people. Although those travelling by themselves are the obvious open goal, don’t be put off speaking to groups or couples either - you’ll probably find that after three months of relentlessly making conversation with only each other they’re desperate to chat to someone, anyone, else.
If you’re still not sure about all of this, consider signing up to a website such as Thelma & Louise, an online community for women seeking female travel buddies. You can choose your desired destination, your budget and your age group, and arrange to meet others heading your way.
Read the reviews
Pay attention to customer reviews of hostels, hotels and tourist attractions, and use them to inform your decisions. Travellers are - in general - a thoughtful bunch so you’ll often find that other reviewers will mention how sociable an accomodation is, how safe it is for solo travellers and what the area is like.
Always have a back up
No matter how much you do talk to people, there will always be times when you are alone. For some people, this will be totally fine, while others may need more distraction. Pop something to keep you occupied in your everyday bag – a book, a diary, a magazine – so that you can dive into it when feel the need. A diary is a particularly good choice – not only is journaling a powerful way to clear your mind, it will also make for an awesome memento of your trip.
Don’t be shy about getting stuck in
With your smartphone at your fingertips, finding new ways to get stuck into a city should be a breeze. As a challenge, commit to doing one group activity in every city that you visit, be it joining a free walking tour, a cooking class or signing up to go kayaking through the coutryside.
Don’t turn your nose up at staying in a dorm room every now and then either, especially if it’s been a while since you've met anyone new – as we said before, just read the reviews first.
Don't let your routine slip
Hotel and hostel gyms can be a bit hit and miss, so if you fancy something more structured then checking out the local group class options can be a great way to learn about life in that city and meet to new people.
Many top boutique studios are also now expanding globally; Barry's Bootcamp have studios all over the world, including in Mexico, Australia and Singapore, while Soul Cycle have branches across the US and Canada. Alternatively, keep yourself motivated by signing up to an epic fitness event somewhere exotic.
Learn some lingo
Even if you’re not travelling solo, learning a few important words – hello, thank you, sorry – can be a game changer. If you are alone, it could be the key to getting you out of a sticky situation.
Respect Your Budget
There are certain things that you're going to need to accept if you're travelling solo, and one of them is that sometimes you’re going to end up paying more for things than you otherwise would, whether that’s because of not having someone to split the cost of a room with or having to take the slightly pricier transport option because it’ll be safer. Factor this into your trip planning before you go! Not only will it mean you’re hit with less surprises, but on a practical level, it will also mean you don’t have to make cutbacks later in your trip.
Your Secret Weapon: A Sleeping Bag Liner
If there's one thing not to travel without, it's a sleeping bag liner. Basically, a super light, foldable sleeping bag, it's the most versatile weapon in any traveller's arsenal. Turn up at a hotel at 3am to find it's dirtier than you'd like? Here's your silky soft shield. Wanting to avoid prying eyes on that long-distance bus and keep your valuables safe at the same time? Hide your stuff – and yourself – inside of it. End up sleeping in a chilly mountainside hut? You’ll be glad for the extra layer.
When you’re travelling solo, you need to apply some common sense: keep in touch with someone back home, know your limits when it comes to alcohol and don't go wondering off down dark alleys alone. That said, balance this with letting your guard down a little – just trust your intuition.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember to force out your self doubt and back yourself, no matter what your brain might be telling you. The minute you give yourself some credit you'll be amazed at what you can achieve.