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Travelling Solo but Not Alone

Updated: Oct 21, 2023

Solo travel doesn't have to mean travelling alone. Friends and family might not be available but that doesn't mean you need to stay home. There are plenty of great ways to travel solo but not alone.

There are few things that can stir up an internet travel forum than a discussion regarding the definition of the label "solo travel". The predictable pattern of such a conversation will start off fairly benignly, with the majority of respondents offering inclusive definitions. However, it doesn't take too long before someone comes in to declare a definition so narrow that would require parachuting into a remote area from a self-piloted plane, with a home-made backpack stuffed full of preserves and pemmican. This blog takes a more inclusive view, with a nod to understanding the power of positive labels. Labels can be helpful as a short-hand way to generalize and provide context. The label "solo traveller" conveys connotations of strength and bad-assery that I aspire to emulate and present to the world. Many of us have been conditioned to embrace and find comfort in positive labels. However, the only time that the label gives me any tangible benefit is as part of the google keywords for this blog. So I have to admit that I find the adamance of some folks in defining "solo" narrowly is a bit of a mystery.

Cartoon image of a tour leader and group.

What is Solo Travel?

For me, "Solo Travel" is any travel I do without having a previously-known companion along. It might include being part of a group for a day or a month; it may mean that I am making all arrangements and moving around completely alone. It might be travelling on a coach or driving a rental car. It might include camping at a Provincial Park or boondocking on Crown/BLM land. Solo Travel may be a combination of being alone, making independent decisions and travel amongst a group of strangers. The reason we are travelling without companions is as varied as we are. Some of us enjoy being alone whereas others are fed up of waiting for friends/family to commit. Some of us have greater time or funds to travel than our travel buddies. Some of us are extending a business trip. Whatever the reason, the travel industry has recognized that there is a growing demand for travel experiences for mature solo travellers. Solo travel includes many options for having independence without being alone. Setting off alone to explore on an overnight shopping trip from the family cottage is travelling solo. Travelling solo might include choosing lodgings, experiences, or transportation based upon opportunities to temporarily interact with others. Solo travellers may join a group for a day or for an entire trip because of safety concerns, social reasons, or because making the arrangements and decisions from home seems overwhelming.

rear view shot of author sitting on a rock in front of a lake. Author has arms raised above head.

Ways to Travel Solo but Not Alone

Work and Family Solo Travel

Responsibilities and familial duty are very real parts of human life. Those duties and responsibilities can shape our travel arrangements. Some people have jobs that require travel and have the opportunity to add additional days to a business trip. For many with distant family, at least a portion of travel is often devoted to visiting and maintaining family connections. Solo explorations in the area are still solo, even if you do return to the family cottage or company apartment for dinner and a place to sleep.

Guided Solo Travel

There are places and activities that are not possible to access without being part of a group tour. There are times when practical transportation or lodgings arrangements require more brainpower than one is willing to devote. Some destinations may feel less safe to be alone. Some travellers are less-experienced, more timid, or are seeking greater opportunities for social activities and interactions. There are many good reasons to join a group tour and there's usually many tours to compare.

Blue inflatable boat  with tourists on a jungle river

There are many different options and levels of services available on group tours, from luxurious cruises and resorts with fully-scheduled itineraries to basic shuttle transportation. There is a tour group for everyone. Beyond the destination, guided tours and cruises often have a specific activity focus (environmental, wellness, animal welfare, adrenaline junkie, historical, whiskey distilleries, divers, etc). There are also groups and resorts that cater to specific demographics (seniors, under 20s, LGBTQ+, athletes, foodies, women, families, etc). Some tour groups help single travellers reduce costs through room-sharing. Most will organize additional optional excursions and encourage socialization between travellers. I try to find a tour that isn't highly scheduled, but has suggested excursions. I want a company that is run by and/or employs locals, and has excellent online reviews. I have been particularly impressed with Amazon Wildlife Perú for a 6-day trip along a tributary of the Amazon River and G-Adventures Explore Costa Rica tour. Read reviews on other websites and forums before selecting a tour operator.

Independent Travel

Independent travel is my choice for destinations where I feel comfortable. My level of comfort would be based upon the familiarity of the destination or type of community, my ability to communicate, my perception of safety, and my ability to move around the area. I choose my lodging type depending upon whether I have a need for solitude or companionship. I often choose hostels because I enjoy the social interactions but book the occasional BnB or guesthouse.

Independent travel tends to include much more alone time. Conversations and social interactions can be challenging to initiate. I'm a fan of private rooms in hostels and casual boutique hotels for the opportunities to interact with other travellers. That is often a bigger draw for me than the price. I'm an extroverted introvert. I am not at all interested in shared dorms but I do enjoy the shared lounges, kitchens, and conversation areas that are often the heart of these lodgings. Having my private room allows me to retreat when I've had enough.

rear shot of author sitting overlooking a rocky mountain valley

Independent travel means everything is in the traveller's hands. This can allow for greater control of schedules and activities. Independently, you may be able to locate better prices or excursions better suited to your interests but you miss out on group discounts, too. Independent travel requires research and/or familiarity. If you want photos of yourself in marvellous places, you'll have to learn how to take a selfie. I have yet to master the cell phone selfie but I have learned how to use the timer function on my camera. I am in awe of those of you who can take a mobile phone selfie... truly. It doesn't matter what label we wish to attach, or not attach, to our personal travel style but it does matter that we embrace the positives. Solo travel can suggest a sense of strength, self-determination and confidence. Travelling solo doesn't have to mean bravely travelling as a lone wolf unless that is what we choose. How do you define solo travel? How do you feel about solo travel? Are you a fan or do you try to ensure you always have a companion or ATB? Is the label important? What ideas and strategies do you have for travelling solo without being alone? Share your thoughts in the comments and let's learn from each other.


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