Travel for solo travellers is on the rise, especially among those in their 50s and 60s, say tour operators that focus on guided and specialist tours. Cox & Kings, which runs small group tours worldwide, says 40 per cent of its sales this year have been to older people travelling on their own.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that one in three Britons aged 60-plus who go on holiday do so alone, either because they are single or because their partners cannot – or will not – join them.
After spending so much of our lives surrounded by family, friends or work colleagues, it can be a real eye-opener to spend time untethered. You often discover that you are stronger and more outgoing than you thought you were, and happier in your own company than you ever imagined.
According to singles specialist, Friendship Travel, the solo holidaymaker’s biggest fears are eating alone, staying safe and not having company for sightseeing. As someone who has travelled the world solo I can sympathise with the first two of these fears.
Even after all these years I dislike dining alone. To avoid the stares, and feeling like Sally-no-mates, I always try to find an outside table with a view. Security is an issue, though in my experience it lessens as you get older. Even so, I try not to walk alone in strange places after dark, never leave my room key number on show, and dress conservatively.
As for sightseeing alone? What a pleasure. There’s nobody to say, “I’m bored, can we go soon,” and you have a much better chance of engaging with local people who often go out of their way to help someone on their own.
I do recognise that taking a first solo holiday is a leap into the unknown. So I would advise starting with something structured like a city break with included meals and group sightseeing, either with a solo travel specialist or a tour operator running small group tours led by an expert guide.
Confidence gained, I can thoroughly recommend travelling independently. Some of my most memorable holidays have been solo: staying in family-run heritage hotels in Rajasthan and enjoying campfire drinks with my hosts; being welcomed into homes and art galleries in Jeddah by Saudis proud of their heritage and, last Christmas, exploring Cairo on foot with female guides I had found online who taught me more about life in the city than I would ever have learnt on an escorted tour.
Solo travel opens up a world of possibility, of adventure and of new encounters that could change your life and will buoy your self-confidence. Here are 20 amazing trips that will make you want to take the leap.
Ease yourself in
A bolthole for one
A break in the traditional fishing town of Brixham is ideal for easing yourself into solo travel: accessible by public transport, Brixham offers boat trips, coast walks, art galleries and a lively harbour, with lots of cafés and people-watching potential. Little Domain, which specialises in small self-catering retreats, recommends Fruits de Mer, a neat apartment overlooking the marina: view the action from the privacy of your bright open-plan lounge/kitchen or walk out into it directly from your doorstep. You can bring your dog, too.
Book it: Three nights at Fruits de Mer (01237 426726; thelittledomain.com) costs from £366 for three nights.
Walk an icon alone
Macs Adventure has noted a rise in solo travel since 2018; largely on its pilgrimages and long-distance UK trails. For a short taster – to see if you like this kind of self-guided walking on your own – try Macs’ Hadrian’s Wall short break. You still have the satisfaction of following an iconic, well-marked route, tracing the highlights of the 1,900-year-old Roman barricade over hills and moors, but are only away for five days.
Book it: A four-night Hadrian’s Wall self-guided break (0141 530 5452; macsadventure.com) costs from £515pp including breakfast and baggage transfers.
Isle of Wight
With hundreds of rooms with no single supplement and on-site entertainments, Warner Leisure Hotels are a good choice for a first lone, adult-only escape. The Bembridge Coast resort is right by the sea; follow self-guided walks, laze in the spa or try out the indoor pool. Alternatively, get chatting to others over archery, above, aqua aerobics, quizzes and cabaret.
Book it: A four-night Bembridge Coast break (0330 100 9774; warnerleisurehotels.co.uk) costs from £129pp including breakfast; from £229pp half-board.
Find new friends
Coastal coach adventure
Do a world-class road trip without having to drive at all. Just Go! Holidays’ Wild Atlantic Way coach tour covers all transport – including pick-up points across England and Wales – removing pre-trip travel panic. It’s designed for solos, with no single supplements and plenty of shared craic as you explore Ireland’s coast from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher, via lively Limerick and the windswept Burren, with time in Dublin too.
Book it: A six-day Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way coach trip (0333 234 2010; justgoholidays.com) costs from £659pp including transport, accommodation and most meals. Departs May 29, July 2, September 4 & 18.
Find cruise camaraderie
You’re guaranteed a smooth start to your solo adventuring with specialists Friendship Travel – they’re used to guiding first-timers, ranging from age 40 to 70-plus. Join a Nile cruise and you’ll have your own cabin for the timeless journey down this temple-flanked waterway; guides will reveal the history at classic sites such as Luxor, Karnak and Kom Ombo while a Friendship host will ensure the group bonds over afternoon teas and aperitifs on deck.
Book it: A nine-night Cairo & Nile Cruise (0289 446 2211; friendshiptravel.com) costs from £1,595pp including flights, accommodation and most meals. Departs September 24, November 5, December 24.
Go at your own pace
Ramblers Walking Holidays’ Bad Hofgastein break is good for uncertain solos. Based at a charming four-star hotel (with no single supplements charged), the trip has two leaders, meaning there’s a choice of walks each day – decide every morning between the leisurely or more challenging route, both of which utilise the area’s mountain railways. Alternatively, you can simply stay put in the traditional spa village and enjoy the vast complex of pools and dazzling views.
Book it: A seven-night Bad Hofgastein small-group trip (01707 331133; ramblersholidays.co.uk) costs from £1,399pp including flights and half-board accommodation. Departs July 9 & 23, August 6, September 10.
Dance the night away
With salsa clubs, mojito bars and music spilling onto the streets, spirited Cuba is an island best appreciated in company. Jules Verne’s Best of Cuba solo group trip ensures you have instant buddies with whom to share cocktails in El Floridita (Hemingway’s favourite hangout) as well as companions for exploring the handsome old towns of Havana and Trinidad, genning up on Che Guevara in Santa Clara, visiting cigar factories and sugar plantations, and chilling on the beaches of Cayo Santa Maria.
Book it: An eight-night Best of Cuba trip (020 3553 3722; vjv.com) costs from £1,845pp including flights, accommodation and most meals. Departs June 5.
Epic trips made for epic pals
Make your first foray alone a real bucket-list ticker. On Cox & Kings’ solo-specific Peru tour you’ll join a small bunch of like-minded travellers (group size averages just 12 people) to hit the country’s most lauded sights: foodie capital Lima, the indigenous and Spanish charms of Cuzco, the wealth of Inca ruins along the Sacred Valley, the mountain-tumbling terraces of Machu Picchu and ethereal Lake Titicaca. A trip this exciting can only lead to life-long bonds of friendship.
Book it: A nine-night Treasures of Peru guided solo tour (03330 603303; coxandkings.co.uk) costs from £2,595pp including flights, accommodation and most meals. Departs April 27, June 1, September 7, October 5.
Seek Deep South hospitality
Bon Voyage’s Heritage to Honky Tonk trip is an easy first step for solos who don’t want to join a group. Though you’re moving from Nashville to Memphis and New Orleans, there are no long, lonely drives – you’ll hop about by air, rail, private car and Mississippi steamer. Music will keep you company – notably at the Country Music Hall of Fame and on a VIP tour of Graceland. There’s no need to feel lonely – this is the Deep South, renowned for its hospitality.
Book it: An 11-day Heritage to Honky Tonk trip (0800 316 0194; bon-voyage.co.uk) costs from £3,495pp including flights and accommodation.
Go girl powered
Travelling first-time solo as a woman, you may feel more comfortable with a female guide – not to mention wanting to support local women in your destination. An increase in travellers requesting exactly this has led Wix Squared to create an All-female Cambodian Adventure. Staying in three luxe retreats, you’ll take tea with a Cambodian princess, meet female chefs, artists, writers and activists, tour Phnom Penh on a female-driven moto and explore Angkor with a top female guide.
Book it: A tailor-made 10-night All-female Cambodian Adventure (0203 8086 383; wixsquared.com) costs from £5,600pp including flights, breakfast and accommodation.
Safaris might seem tricky for solos at first glance, but Audley’s Africa specialists recommend Zambia for those on their own. Some lodge operators don’t charge single supplements and offer communal dining and shared activities, so you’ll easily meet other travellers. Spend time at Nkwali Camp and Tena Tena – both in superlative South Luangwa National Park – for excellent game-viewing, world-class walking safaris and sociable dining. Finish at friendly Waterberry Zambezi Lodge in Livingstone to view Victoria Falls, cruise the lake and laze in the pool.
Book it: A tailor-made 11-night Zambia trip (01993 838505; audleytravel.com) costs from £6,692pp including flights and full-board accommodation.
Full blown adventures
Around 70 per cent of Wild Frontiers travellers are solos so you won’t be the odd one out. Their small-group trips are low-faff ways to do more complex travel too, like a border-hopping Central America Odyssey. This easy-to-moderate-graded overlander combines the best of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala – from Mayan ruins to volcano hikes – with great group experiences thrown in. You can learn to make organic chocolate, pick coffee or bake your own stuffed pupusas.
Book it: A 21-day Central American Odyssey small-group trip (020 3468 1947; wildfrontierstravel.com) costs from £4,585pp including full-board twin-share accommodation. Excludes flights; departs November 20.
Become a mature mountaineer
Being older and alone with slightly creaky knees doesn’t mean missing out on the world’s greatest mountains. More than 50 per cent of World Expeditions’ travellers in the Himalaya go solo, and its Ultimate Annapurna Dhaulagiri Over 55s trip is designed for the more mature clientele. The trek – via high peaks, mountain villages, rhododendron forests and pilgrim trails – is taken at a slower pace, with more time to acclimatise; nights are spent at exclusive camps with big tents and proper beds.
Book it: An 18-day Ultimate Annapurna Dhaulagiri Over 55s small-group trek (020 8875 5060; worldexpeditions.com) costs from £1,790 including full-board twin-share accommodation. Excludes flights; departs October 10 & 31.
Find your crew
Pitching-in together in close quarters means camaraderie develops quickly on sailing trips, which is why VentureSail Holidays attract so many (midlife) solos. Its Svalbard voyage is once-in-a-lifetime stuff: circumnavigate the Arctic archipelago aboard the tall ship Noorderlicht via pristine fjords, icy glaciers, ghost towns, bird cliffs, whales and polar bears. No sailing experience is required; the ship is fully crewed but you can get as hands-on as you like.
Book it: A 16-day Svalbard sailing (01827 487288; venturesailholidays.com) costs from £4,610pp including full-board twin-share accommodation, excludes flights; private cabin £6,915pp; departs August 4.
Join the peloton
Incredibly, tour operator Explore has taken more single-traveller than multi-traveller bookings so far in 2022. Its small-group cycling trips certainly attract solos, and its Vietnam ride is particularly suited to adventurous first-timers. Though tracing the length of the country, from Hanoi to Saigon, the riding is easy (complete with support bus and e-bike option). There’s plenty of time for sightseeing too, from meeting artisans in Hoi An to cruising Halong Bay.
Book it: A 14-day Cycle Vietnam small-group trip (01252 240486; explore.co.uk) costs from £1,499pp inc twin-share accommodation and breakfast. Excludes flights; departs October.
Join like-minded souls
Hone your hobby
Indulge your creative passion, or learn something completely new, alongside similar souls at Gartmore House. From calligraphy to quilting, book binding to bird-watching, weaving to writing, there are 40-odd courses available at this beautiful 18th-century base in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. Home-cooked meals are included, after which you can retire to the lounge for a dram by the roaring fire with new friends. All craft holidays include free transfers to and from Stirling train station as well.
Book it: A five-night course at Gartmore House (01877 382991; gartmorehouse.com) costs from £849pp including full-board accommodation and tuition. Various dates and courses available.
Meet up in the meadows
Fly away with fellow flora fans on Brightwater Holidays’ Alpine Flowers of Wengen trip. There are few safer spots for a first-time solo trip than this spectacular Swiss mountain village facing the Jungfrau; there’s no single supplement to pay either. The adventure is led by Colin Crosbie, former Head Gardener to HM the Queen Mother at Windsor, so you’re in expert hands. Expect a bevy of botanical highlights, revealed on glorious gentle walks.
Book it: An eight-day Alpine Flowers of Wengen small-group trip (01334 657155; brightwaterholidays.com) costs from £2,495pp including flights and half-board accommodation; departs June 9 & 30.
Time travel together
Join an expert and a small group of fellow archaeology buffs on a deep dive into Ancient Rome. Andante Travels’ Pompeii, Herculaneum & Classical Campania trip includes a hike to Vesuvius, a look at the newly excavated House of Leda and exclusive access to areas such as the usually off-limits store rooms at the Paestum Museum and the Cave of Sejanus. As a bonus, on selected departures no single supplement is charged.
Book it: An eight-day Pompeii, Herculaneum & Classical Campania guided trip (01722 713800; andantetravels.co.uk) costs from £2,725pp including flights and full-board accommodation. No single supplement dates on September 12, 19 & 26 and October 10 & 24.
Drink and be merry
Glide through Bordeaux on Uniworld’s luxe SS Bon Voyage, on a no single supplement sailing, to raise a glass with like-minded, like-aged travellers (most are 60-plus). The standard river journey is pretty tasty – included are a Saint-Émilion tour, a cycle through Médoc’s vineyards and a visit to the Cité du Vin. Select a Connoisseur Collection departure to get gourmet extras such as cognac sipping at the Rémy Martin estate and a Bordeaux caviar tasting.
Book it: A seven-night Brilliant Bordeaux cruise (0808 168 9110; uniworld.com) from £1,499pp inc flights and full-board accommodation; Connoisseur Collection from £3,349pp. Solo savings on select dates.
Explore offbeat artisanal ways
Get to know a new area and new people on Mountain Kingdoms’ Gujarat Textiles trip. Artist Sue Lawty will help you explore the rich artisanal traditions of this offbeat state. Meet craftspeople in markets, museums and hands-on workshops, join in the Navratri festival celebrations and take a jeep safari to look for rare Asiatic wild asses on the Little Rann of Kutch. Singles can save by sharing with another solo.
Book it: A 14-day Gujarat Textiles small-group trip (01453 844400; mountainkingdoms.com) costs from £4,445pp including flights and full-board twin-share accommodation; departs September 18.
All prices for solo travellers, not based on two sharing. Where “twin-share” is mentioned, solos can opt to share with a stranger of the same sex in order to avoid a single supplement. Otherwise, “accommodation” means a private room for solo travellers is included.
Top tips for going it alone
Avoid the single supplement
The single supplement is traditionally the biggest gripe among solo travellers. The good news is that tour operators and cruise lines are waking up to the size of their solo cohort and many companies now offer no-supplement deals, though mostly on off-season departures.
Book a room for two
If a hotel offers no discount for single occupancy of a double room, book it for two people. That way you’ll be assigned a decent room. I just say my husband is planning to join me later.
Ask who has already booked
When considering joining a group tour, I like to find out some basic facts about who my likely companions will be. How many are single? Is there a group of friends who might dominate? Or will I be the solo in a group of couples? If the company won’t give you an idea of who’s going, don’t book.
Load up Google Translate
This phone app has revolutionised my chats with locals. Last year I learned all about mountain honey from a farmer in eastern Turkey using the app.
Don’t be boring
Nobody is really interested in your children or your health – two subjects that can dominate the dinner table conversation of older travellers. Avoid these and any controversial religious or political opinions. Be open, approachable and, above all, take time to listen to others.