12 Oct 2010

What’s the best way to travel on your own?

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About a third of adults in the UK now live on their own and, although they don’t necessarily always go on holiday without a partner, or friends, the number of solo travellers is on the increase too.

Gap years, career breaks (at all age stages) and growth in activity and less conventional holidays have all contributed to this increase.  But, despite this, travelling on your own is not always easy and many people, particularly women, continue to be daunted by the prospect.

It’s expensive (see Directory: Finding Accommodation), it can be lonely and you can feel very conspicuous and, overall, it is usually better to go for a drink, or meal, in company rather than sitting on your own, perhaps hidden away in a corner.

Given the choice, most people would probably prefer to travel with others, but  in reality, the option is often: go on your own or not at all.  So, what is the best way to enjoy a solo holiday?

Here are some pointers:

i) talk to other people and share their experiences – you might be surprised at how many people do travel on their own, even if only for work.

ii) decide if you do  want to completely go it alone, or if you would be happier joining a group holiday.  If the latter, then consider carefully the raison d’être of the trip – is it to pursue some shared activity or interest, where there could be variety of singles, couples, families, groups, or is the objective to bring together single people and to provide a variety of activities geared to helping them get to know each other?

iii) if you decide to go it alone, it really is essential to do your homework on locality and accommodation facilities, using questions like:

  • is it safe?
  • do I want as much solitude as possible, or would I prefer to stay in a city/town/village within easy reach of bars and restaurants?

Often, a village inn with in-house restaurant is a good bet, as you don’t have to walk or cycle to eat in the evening and access to the bar/lounge increases your chances of meeting other guests.

iv) if you are walking/cycling on your own, you do need to have an emergency plan in place so, should you suffer an accident, someone knows where you are and you have some means of retrieving your bike or equipment, if immobilised or hospitalised.

In addition:

  • always carry a fully-charged mobile, but also have a contingency plan should it get damaged, or if there is no signal
  • make sure someone else knows your route and the approximate arrival time at your destination
  • have a first aid kit, basic tools (for bike), torch, spare laces

This may whiff of big brother, particularly as one of the key points of independent travel is to get away from it all, but there is a fine line between being independent and unnecessarily irresponsible, especially if you are travelling on your own.

That said, walking and cycling are ideal for solo travellers of any age and sex, as you tend to meet plenty of other people on your route, you are usually on the move, your trek/ride is often a useful conversation starting point and  people tend to be genuinely interested in your trip and are generous with their advice and local knowledge.

Compared to other types of solo holidays, there are few disadvantages and many advantages of walking and cycling on your own.

Personal Footnotes:

  1. I didn’t follow any of the guidelines advised and, although on a pleasant, undemanding cycle ride on a beautiful day, only a few miles from a city centre, suffered a broken wrist following a freak accident.  A passing cyclist stopped to help me replace my chain and realising I was injured, helped wheel the bike to a nearby cycle shop that kindly agreed to store it temporarily, then made sure I reached the city safely.  Thereafter, my guest house proprietor took me to A&E, before collecting and storing my bike.  A tale of some stupidity on my part, but also one of kindness and concern by several complete strangers: the rule, not the exception, in my experience of solo travelling.
  2. My favourite tour company is www.colletts.co.uk mountain activity specialists in the Dolomites and Pyrenees.  Their holidays attract couples, families, groups, families and many solos and they offer different types of mountain walking, via ferratas, snowshoeing, skiing, painting, wild flower appreciation and more.  You’re with others on the activities so meet people quickly and, in Collett’s hosted chalets and pensions, dinner is traditionally eaten round a big, circular table – ideal for anyone on their own.
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