Solo travel is rising post-COVID, with women taking the lead

Women in their forties and up are keen to see the world.

Women in their forties and up are keen to see the world. Photo: Getty

Middle-aged women are leading the charge among Australia’s post-COVID-19 surge of solo travellers happy to globetrot alone.

Webjet data shows flight bookings by solo travellers for all destinations around the world soared 78 per cent between April 2022 and March 2023 compared with the same period in the previous year.

Much of this jump is likely down to the loosening of pandemic border restrictions, but solo travel has been rising in popularity every year for more than a decade, said Michelle Ashcroft, from Phil Hoffmann Travel.

Singles aren’t the only ones interested in a solo trip, she said.

Many people may have a partner who doesn’t want to travel; they might be going overseas to visit family; or they could be looking to build new friendships.

About 80 per cent of the travel agency’s solo traveller club are women,  and most are “younger than you might expect”.

“What we had thought about in the past for solo travellers was they were mainly elderly widows, basically. It’s not like that any more,” Ms Ashcroft said.

She said the women eager for solo travel are usually in their 40s and up, and range from empty nesters, to divorcees, to people who are keen to travel after years of focusing on a career.

Popular destinations

Europe was the most popular destination for solo travellers, with people keen to visit the UK, France, Spain and Italy.

Asian countries, especially Vietnam and Cambodia, have also proved popular, and many are venturing to the ‘Five Stans’ (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) for an immersive cultural experience.

“[Solo travellers] want to discover things. They want to feel alive. They want to be part of a local culture,” Ms Ashcroft said.

“So we’re not talking about sitting in a bus and passing sites. We’re talking about getting off, staying local with families, all of that kind of thing.”

David Beirman, senior lecturer in tourism at the University of Technology Sydney, said while he doesn’t think there has been a recent uptick in solo travel, the trend is still popular among Australians.

He said countries closer to Australia, such as New Zealand and Indonesia, are also particularly popular with solo tourists, as is any location that offers cheap airfares and travel infrastructure geared towards English-speaking travellers.

Solo travel tips

Before heading off on your solo adventure, Ms Ashcroft suggested joining a solo travel club to meet like-minded people, and potentially friends to meet up with along your journey.

Some travel agencies offer these sort of clubs, but similarly focused groups on social media platforms like Facebook can also come in handy for exchanging tips and tricks for the independent adventurer.

Dr Beirman said if you’re looking to escape the dreaded ‘single surcharge’ (where a single person is asked to pay the same, if not more, than the price of two people sharing a room or travel package), some hotels will offer deals where you can share a room with another solo traveller to save money.

He said it’s also a good idea to plan ahead for your travels, particularly your arrival at your destination country.

“I think it’s always a good idea … to at least pre-arrange arrival arrangements, transfers and accommodation, especially on the first night at least because that’s when people are more vulnerable,” he said.

Although your first day should come with some planning, the general advice for solo travel is to be flexible and open to change so you can take advantage of whatever unexpected opportunities or experiences pop up.

But don’t leave yourself open to harm; research local scams to try and avoid playing the part of the gullible tourist and keep yourself, your belongings and your money safe.

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