Can you afford to travel alone?

Certain aspects of singles travel is a constant bugbear for those of us not travelling with a partner. Discover how to save money and have a fantastic trip!

You asked and we listened! Pamela wrote to WYZA to ask for a travel article specifically for singles. She said she wanted to find out about “Travel options for single but fit and enthusiastic baby boomers (like me!)” Robin also wrote to WYZA to ask about travelling alone and asked “Where do I find advantages for singles?” Our travel editor David investigated. Let us know what you think and what you want to read more about, email us at admin@wyza.com.au.

Michael Palin, 72, and David Attenborough, 89, regularly entertain us with their television travels and Birutė Galdikas, 69, and Jane Goodall, 81, inspire nature lovers. Yet, it annoys us that there are still some cringe-worthy stereotyping of travellers over the age of 50. And no one ever asks those stars why they are travelling alone.

Indeed, it has been suggested that we will never again see a demographic as cashed up and time rich as current baby boomers (and beyond). And many of us travel alone. So it makes sense for the travel industry to cater for us.

If you fall into the subset of being an adventurous spirit who travels alone, the once-dire situation is improving. The dreaded single supplement, meals alone yet in public and the sense that you are an unwanted single in a couples’ world have been enduring issues for solo travellers.

Inevitably, affluence has created ingenuity so solo senior travellers can feel liberated rather than oppressed. Here are some tips for planning.

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It’s time for the travel industry to aim to treat adult single travellers seriously

Group or individual travel?

It’s likely that you’ll have strong views on whether you prefer to travel as part of a group or as an individual traveller. Both have advantages.

The big advantage of a group tour is also the drawback – you have other people around, to help with luggage, to dine with and to share in experiences. But that means you won’t have as much privacy as you may like and you can’t pick your travelling companions.

The advantage of individual travel is that you can do what you like, whenever you like. You have the liberation of having no one to answer to. The drawback is that there’s no one to fall back on if anything goes wrong – and it can be lonely at times.

The dreaded single supplement

For the solo traveller on a budget the planning death knell can be the term “single supplement”. In most cases, the fine print in travel offers is “*pp twin share” meaning the price is per person in a shared double or twin room.

If you want a room or cabin alone then expect to pay more – up to double in some cases (even so some cruise companies still see the overcharged solo passenger as an inconvenience because he or she won’t run up the same level of extra costs as a couple will).

Advance planning helps

As a solo traveller, there are steps you can take to avoid problems on the road.

  • Pack light: If you can’t comfortably carry all you luggage by yourself there’s a strong possibility that there will be circumstances when you find yourself stuck. And just because the bags have wheels doesn’t ensure you can pack more – stairs, grids, gravel and cobblestones can end the benefit of wheeled luggage.
  • Take out adequate travel insurance: Make sure the insurance details are always with you to ensure that if you are incapacitated overseas, there’s someone to look after your interests and get you better or back home.
  • Keep emergency contacts on hand: Carry the contact details for a reliable family member or friend who can step up if you need help on the road.

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Get used to dining alone in public places so that you can feel comfortable when travelling solo

  • Always have the essentials with you: If you can’t read without glasses, pack a spare pair – and your prescription. Likewise for any essential medication.
  • Trust your instincts: Someone travelling alone can be a target for scam artists so you need to have heightened awareness. That doesn’t mean don’t trust anyone - but don’t trust everyone.
  • Dine alone: Go out for a few meals alone before you leave – you’ll find it soon becomes comfortable. It’s worth taking a book (or newspaper or Tablet) to the restaurant so you have something to retreat into. If it’s a travel guide it won’t even attract attention. And don’t be fobbed off with a dud table in a corner.
  • Embrace the experience: Feel like sleeping in? Do it. Want to waste a day looking for a scene you saw in a movie? Why not?!

How to save money when travelling alone

Here are some easy ways to save:

  • Shared rooms or cabins
    Some tour companies (particularly smaller ones and adventure companies) and cruise lines offer you the chance to be “paired off” with another single passenger of the same sex so you don’t have to pay any supplement. In my experience, this works well about 80 per cent of the time. If you have doubts, try to book a departure that isn’t full so there’s a spare room if it all goes wrong. If you are very lucky, the company will split you up anyway if there’s a spare cabin. Many Antarctic cruise companies offer you the option of a shared cabin – find them on the IAATO site
  • Single room or cabin
    Some ships or hotels have cabins specifically for solo travellers. Typically B&Bs or 2 or 3 star hotels are more likely to offer these than 5 star establishments.
  • Check tour operator deals
    Enlightened tour operators may not charge a single surcharge or, more commonly, offer a discount on the single supplement on selected tours. So Trafalgar Tours offers up to 100% off the single supplement for tours across Europe.
  • Studio rooms
    The rapidly-growing cruise industry is responding faster than other parts of the travel industry to the needs of solo and senior travellers. This ranges from single (often called “studio”) cabins to hosts and hostesses as companions for those travelling alone.


Margaret from Sixty and Me shares her tips for travelling solo

What are you biggest frustrations about single travel? Join the conversation!