Wherever You Will Go

Solo travel is on the rise. Unpack why solo traveling is gaining popularity year after year and how traveling alone can be an enriching experience.

Wherever You Will Go
Photo by Fabio Comparelli / Unsplash

As we slide into the end of the first month of the new year (I hope you’re no longer saying “Happy New Year”), and it’s freezing cold all across America, all you can think about is when the next time you will travel. I know I am. As of this writing, I have a few destinations in mind this year, but there might be another NASCAR weekend this year, and I might be traveling more for work (perhaps a workation can sneak in at some point?). The great news is, you’re not alone. Other people are thinking about traveling solo as well, and many are finally doing it. So many in fact, the industry is taking notice, and is beginning to accommodate. I know why I love solo traveling. I love the freedom and independence, I love exploring new places and I can go at my own pace. But why do other people love solo traveling? What are the driving forces behind this increasing trend?

When Did This Event Actually Start?

Solo traveling began to increase in the mid-2010’s, almost a decade ago. It was a minimal amount of travelers in 2017, and now has grown to over 50% of the market. According to an interview in Forbes by Christopher Elliot (who also produces the fantastic Elliot Confidential newsletter on Substack), the trend began to increase dramatically since 2017:

The solo trend started more than a decade ago and has continued to gain steam. Back in 2017, 27% of our travelers were solos. In 2019, it was 39%, and 47% in 2021. Today, it’s 50%.
Post-pandemic, many travelers didn’t want to waste any time. They decided if no one wanted to travel with them, they’d go alone. That’s continuing to have a big impact.

And that 50% might be even larger. According to that very same article, the number could be as high as 68%!

A new survey by tour operator Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) and Solo Traveler suggests 68% of participants identify themselves as independent travelers. It's remarkable a shift from the past, when single supplements — which routinely doubled the price of a cruise or tour — made a solo trip too expensive for most travelers.

Other interesting statistics come from an article in National Geographic, and also highlights how the cruise industry might be driving this trend:

Skyscanner reports that more than half of its users (54%) this year were considering travelling alone, while similar research by rival travel search engine Kayak shows 36% more searches for solo flights in 2023 compared with 2022. And when it comes to cruising, independent cruise agency Planet Cruise recently released data to show a 36% increase in solo cruises in 2023 — with more than half of those people seeking adventure.

Even if you were to use the 50% number, that’s at least half of the travel market going to people like you and me. That’s just the numbers….but why?

The Driving Forces

Solo travelers are not just single people. Some are middle aged, like me. Some are older. Some are widows and widowers. Some are happily married. Some are younger. Anyone embarking on a solo trip has their reason for doing so. According to the BBC, younger people are fueling this trend, with solo travel searches up double from five years ago, and TikTok searches on #solotravel increasing by 10 times in the past 3 years. The Allianz Vacation Confidence Index (yes there is such a thing!) survey in July of 2023 confirmed 42% of younger Americans 18-34 will be solo traveling in the next year. Some are doing it for “self-love”, others are doing it to boost their confidence. Men and women also travel differently, the article in National Geographic points out:

Men and women travel for different reasons, according to search engine Opodo, with men wanting to meet new people and women on a voyage of self-discovery, as well as wanting to explore.

I also think shared experiences play a huge role. Many solo travelers, believe it or not, actually like being around other people! You may not know the person next to you, but like going to a movie in the movie theatre, or seeing a concert, or Broadway show, you are having the same experience. During my recent trip to Charleston, SC, I was wearing my Green Bay Packers hat and sitting at a bar to have dinner and drinks, and this couple traveling from Kansas City was seated nearby. They happened to recognize me from the group tour I was on earlier in the day, we all chatted about the tour and how much we enjoyed it, but also talked football. That communal experience happens on solo trips, and it happens when you least expect it. During my other travels, I've had delightful, extensive discussions while sitting at bars with the bartender and fellow customers. It's usually others who initiate the conversation with me.


Final Thoughts

Given the upward trend in solo traveling, it's evident that this form of exploration will continue to rise, although it will eventually reach a plateau. From the data, it is clear that solo travelers like you and me are not alone in our endeavors. In fact, being a solo traveler has become easier than ever before. With the prevalence of smartphones such as iPhones and Androids, we have the luxury of staying connected with our loved ones for safety and companionship. Moreover, the convenience of booking flights, hotels, accommodations, rental cars, and transportation has significantly improved. Whether you choose to work with a travel agent or create your own personalized package, the options are endless. You can even tailor your trip to fit your specific budget. Solo traveling is not limited to any particular demographic; it encompasses people from all walks of life, regardless of age, marital status, or background. So, the next time you come across a fellow solo traveler during your journey, take the opportunity to ask them about their motivations. You might be surprised by their answer.