When I first started researching single life two decades ago, I collected some books that addressed the solo traveler. Most were horrifying. They were steeped in the presumption that when people travel solo, it is for one reason – to find a mate. Travel agencies boasted about their special efforts to help single people find romantic partners.
I am delighted to report that this is one domain where there has been plenty of progress. The best example of such progress that I have ever seen is a lengthy article about solo travel published at Travel Agent Central, the official website of the travel industry. For the article, the authors interviewed many travel professionals about catering to solo travelers, and addressed a whole array of issues that matter to solo travelers – and one of them was not finding a mate. What I liked best about it was its attitude: totally respectful toward solo travelers.
Of course, they should be respectful – they are trying to sell to the solo traveler demographic. But it hasn’t always been that way. Ironically, travel professionals were probably undermining their own bottom line when they used to address solos in narrow and patronizing ways.
The article includes sections on the characteristics of solo travelers, ways that the travel industry is now catering to solo travelers, trending destinations, solo adventure travel, traveling with pets, travel insurance, and safety tips. There is also a section on the “microsegment” of solo travelers comprised of people who are married with children but want to travel alone. At the end is a list of travel agencies offering special incentives and experiences for solos.
The ways in which some travel agencies try to cater to singles include:
- Waiving the single supplement, of course. A “Savings for Solos” program has no single supplement (the extra fee often charged to solos) and the price for the trips include “all meals, drinks, activities, and more.”
- Offering options for a room of your own or a room to share. Some offer a “share guarantee” – if a roommate cannot be found, you still pay the same low price that you would if a roommate had been found.
- Offering a message-board option before the start of the trip, so that solos who have been paired with other solos can get to know each other.
- I love this one: Lindbald Expeditions (National Geographic) includes an odd number of place settings at their tables for solo travelers.
- Providing common areas specifically for solo travelers, as well as “programs conducted in intimate groups to cultivate a bonding experience among guests.” (Yes, some of these kinds of programs would be of interest to single people who are interested in finding a romantic partner, but they are not just for those single people. Often when people bond with others during their solo travels, they are making new friends.)
- Offering rewards programs specifically for solo travelers.
- Offering high levels of service.
- Offering customized trips rather than just the standard group tours (apparently, solos are especially partial to customization) and offering different levels of intensity for travel adventurers.
Here are some fun facts from the article. They are based on interviews with individual travel professionals, rather than industry-wide surveys.
- Most solo travelers are women.
- Men traveling solo are especially inclined to request a room of their own; women are more open to sharing.
- Solo travelers are loyal to a brand. (Although not spelled out in the article, one implication may be that agencies will win in the long run by offering good prices to solo travelers; they will make less money on each booking but the number of bookings over time will more than compensate for that.)
- The number of solo travelers looking for adventure travel is growing.
- The destinations that are currently trending among solos are Iceland, London, and Barcelona.
Happy travels, solos!
[Note: Thanks to my brother Pete DePaulo for the heads-up about the article on solo travel.]