The art of solo travel
with Colin Cloud

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Solo travel is on the rise. Some 13% of us holidayed alone in the year to August 2016, says ABTA – while 17% worldwide are planning a first holiday on their own, says TripAdvisor, rising to 25% amongst millennials worldwide. Yet ABTA found that over 65s are the most likely age group in the UK to travel alone at 18%. And travel firm 101 Holidays reports that 58% of its solo holidaymakers are women.

But what’s the secret of solo travel? Perhaps it’s a state of mind: a willingness to empathise with other cultures but also being able to build rapport with people wherever you go. Here’s our guide to travelling solo, including our favourite forensic mind reader, Colin Cloud, who gives us some tips on how to get in tune with anyone.

How to get the best from a trip

Research, research, research

As a solo traveller, you may enjoy the research as much as the trip. Post questions on travel forums, ask questions of solo travel bloggers, go to travel meet-ups and pick up scraps of language in advance. And when you arrive, feel free to throw your plans out of the window and do something else.

Research
Suitcase

Travel light

It’s often said that to avoid awkward encounters, you need to look confident and focused. But how can you convey confidence when you’re carrying a backpack twice your bodyweight? With solo travel, the old advice to “pack half the luggage and twice the money” holds truer. The less you carry, the faster you move.

Plan for the worst case

What would you do if a thief stole your bags, bank cards, phone or passport when you’re alone? Answer: get out the €50 note that’s under the sole of your shoe – and unpeel the hidden freezer bag with the spare SIM, insurance details, emergency numbers, passport photocopies and that snap of your cat. Then call your insurance provider to explain the situation to get more support. Phew!

Be culturally aware

It takes a mix of confidence and caution to be a solo traveller – especially as a woman. Part of the confidence comes from cultural awareness. Research cultural norms, from the clothing you pack to interactions with strangers – and, as a woman or man, take care after dark.

Tell people where you’re headed

When travelling alone, it’s a good idea to keep someone updated about where you’re going next. It could just be a matter of sending a daily text.

tell people
record

Keep a record

When travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor walked solo across Europe in the 1930s, he wasn’t entirely alone – he had his travel diaries for company. Unfortunately, he later lost some of them. You might be better off keeping a blog…

Best destinations for solo travellers

Go Greek island-hopping

Island-hopping in Greece is a classic solo holiday. All those ferry rides offer plenty of chance for a chat, while domatia (rooms) are cheap off-season. In the Cyclades, choose from party islands or hideaways as your heart desires.

Greece

Be solo in Tokyo

Boasting high numbers of one-person households, Japan is well suited to solo travel. Stay in a capsule hotel (some have women-only floors); eat lunch on the run at a standing-only sushi bar; tour temples at your own pace; and try “hitori karaoke” –karaoke for one.

New Zealand

Enjoy a South Island adventure

New Zealand’s South Island is great for the less linguistically confident traveller – and it’s home to Queenstown, the adventure tourism destination par excellence. Go
heli-biking in the back country or kayaking in the fiords – without a travelling companion to hold you back.

Go InterRailing

InterRailing is made for solo travel. A rail pass means you can go where the mood takes you. Grab a copy of Graham Greene’s Stamboul Train and head to Istanbul, stopping off at Cologne, Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade; or head to Stockholm via Amsterdam, taking in Eenmaal, a Dutch pop-up restaurant for solo diners – and Copenhagen.

Chill out in Chile

Friendly and blessed with natural beauty, Chile is a great choice for the solo traveller. Get your bearings in Santiago, take a tour of the wine country, and fly to the cooler south to go hiking in the majesty of the Torres del Paine national park.

Chile

Walk the Camino

With solo travel, you can find adventure while ticking off your bucket list – and the Camino trail across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela fits both. You won’t find pure solitude, as 250,000 people a year now make the pilgrimage: but there’ll always be someone to talk to and, with cheap albergues (hostels) en route, somewhere to stay.

Planning is key

When you’re planning a solo holiday, there’s a lot to do in advance. Tempting as it is to fly into the sunset with a wave and a one-way ticket, the preparation you do can be the difference between disaster and success.

Travel insurance, of course, is part of that planning. If you’re looking to get backpacking and jet off into the sunset, it’s a good idea to secure the right cover before you go (one thing less to worry about) so you can get on with having the time of your life.

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