No holiday buddy this year? Worry not. Michelle McBride has the pros and cons of travelling solo
TRADITIONALLY holidays comprised of the ones you went on with your family, partner or friends. The ‘Solo’ holiday, however, is starting to hold its own in what it can offer those cashing in on their time off.
No longer cordoned off for those who want to find themselves with a tribe in India, the ‘solo’ holiday can be the preferred option when your annual holiday is the choice between solo travel alone or no travel.
Aoife Nash, from ‘One Foot Abroad’ travel agency, says there has been an increase in the number of people choosing to book the ‘Follow the Camino’ package as a solo traveller.
So far this year 19% of their clients have been solo travellers.
Jonathan Bridge, from ‘Trailfinders’, adds that solo holidays are quite popular especially amongst more adventurous travellers. “Tours we sell with the likes of G Adventures and Intrepid prove popular as they are small group adventures and solo travellers often make up half of a group of on average, 14 people.
“Around 10% of holidays booked are solo ones. Another popular solo holiday is to Saint Lucia, where the renowned Body Holiday Resort have theme months, one of which is ‘September Solos’.”
Maybe you have never travelled alone but have found that you’re beginning to cramp your parents’ style in that caravan in France and your friends are opting for couples’ holidays. Or perhaps you and your partner don’t see eye to when it comes to holidays and you’ve decided to go your own way — in the travel department.
Maybe it’s time for you to test drive a solo holiday. You might find it more relaxing than your previous holiday with the in-laws.
But before you book you may want to consider a few solo holiday features, along with the magic three – passport, tickets, money.
If you opt for an activity holiday the reality of the situation may be that the only ‘solo’ aspect of your holiday is the flight itself — along with the days pre- and post-activity. Once you can get through baggage claim, find your hotel and source a local eatery you’ll be just fine.
The majority of activity based ‘solo’ holidays are with a group so you needn’t fret — it won’t just be you and the guide for that seven day round trip up and down Kilimanjaro. And although, like your family, you can’t choose who’s in your group, people generally tend to be on their best behaviour when mountains are involved.
This is where the solo traveller can be king. Perhaps an initial a sense of self-consciousness may pervade but that will be drowned out by your tummy. The joy of travelling alone is that you can eat where you like — when you like. Many a couple have succumbed to the ‘h-anger’ whilst trying to agree on where to eat and inevitably find themselves going back to the first spot. A solo traveller will generally just go to the first spot and bypass the ‘h-anger’ entirely.
There is also a chance you will be confused for a restaurant critic (sure who else would dine alone?) and find yourself getting far more generous portions. Either that or the waiter feels sorry for you.
My solo stature has worked to my advantage when dining alone in Marrakech. A local family sitting near me shooed away the local haggler who was trying to flog his wares while I tackled my tagine. The trio of travellers sitting close by received no such intervention and had to buy a pot just to soften the vender’s cough.
The dreaded single supplement — it’s the hospitality industry’s way of hitting your singledom where it hurts. Right in the wallet. Declan O’Connell, of Lee Travel in Cork, says: “Most people who enquire about a solo holiday are put off [by] the high single supplement.” Jonathan in ‘Trailfinders’ adds: “A solo traveller is simply paired up to share a room with another solo traveller of the same sex and in doing so, do not have to pay any single supplement.”
It’s true you may have to pay a little extra for a room of your own but it does mean a night of sleep, uninterrupted by a potential snore fest.
If you are really craving some company you can book yourself into dorm accommodation. Chances are you’ll find yourself sharing your sleeping quarters with a room full of fellow solo and non-solos. That single supplement will seem like a distant dream and you will promise never to speak ill of it again as you search for those earplugs you were certain you’d packed.
Solo travelling has a tendency to push you out of your comfort zone — whether you like it or not. And you might not always see this push coming. Last year I climbed Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain. Once we got back to our lodge one of the group informed me that it was traditional for people to have a beer in a sauna at the end summit day. This sounded just delightful. Beer AND heat. I was, however, the only Irish person there and they don’t quite do saunas the way we do — avec towel and swimwear. There was nothing for it only to sit there naked, pretend I was comfortable and drink my warm beer.
You will really cut your teeth as a solo traveller in transit. For any journey of decent length a taxi is not an option (and at times just as daunting as the bus). And so, public transport must be used. Try and avoid the obvious — like sitting beside the person with the box of chickens or the bus with seats on the roof. All these may seem funny if you have someone to share the joke with, but travelling alone you’ll soon get sick of the joke when, nine hours in, one of the chickens has pecked its way onto your lap and the roof is resting on your head.
You also don’t have the luxury of a nudge from a friend when it’s your stop — so bring a good book or make a friend in the hostel.
Unfortunately, you must also accept that there are times when you will get ripped off as a direct result of your solo status. I made the same bus journey twice in Tanzania. On the first occasion I was travelling with two others. The journey was seven hours long. We had air con, a movie (albeit a bad one) and toilet breaks. The second time I made the journey I made it alone and it was a vastly different experience. It was four hours longer, involved my being sat on in 30-degree heat by a man dressed head to toe in leather and the toilet break gave ‘Trainspotting’ a run for its money. I knew before I got on that I was getting a raw deal but the more I argued my case the more attention I seemed to draw to myself. So like any good poker player I chose to fold before I was found out.
You may have opted for a solo holiday but don’t get too comfortable – you will inevitably encounter other human beings on your travels. If you have chosen a holiday of the Camino variety then your solo stature will arouse people’s curiosity — particularly if you are a woman. The choice is your’s. You can: a) tell them the truth — you’re just on holiday; b) fabricate a back story so they can say ‘I knew it’, or c) say nothing — the mystery will have some tripping over themselves to get it out of you. Either way you could find yourself with more company than you had when you and your siblings were squeezed into the back seat of the Toyota Corolla for the annual trip to Donegal.
Another benefit of a solo Camino is that if your new buddies start to grate on your ‘way’ then you can simply pick up the pace and leave them for dust. Those with partners are advised not to employ such evasive strategies — unless they like dust.
There are a multitude of holiday options for those who are considering the solo option. From metropolis to mountainous to maritime, self-guided to group, a ‘Solo’ holiday doesn’t have to mean you go it alone – unless you really want to.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved