It’s no secret that solo travel is increasingly trendy — just open Instagram to find millions, yes, millions, of jaw-dropping shots of influencers living out your globe-trotting travel fantasies. But it wasn’t always this way. Not so long ago, a single person traveling alone might invite questions, or even scorn. This was particularly true for women, who today make up the vast majority of solo travelers. Those situations may still arise here and there, but they’re increasingly rare.
We wondered: Does the popularity of solo travel reflect a shift in cultural attitudes toward singleness? Is the fact that more women are traveling abroad on their own helping to shift perceptions? Or perhaps it’s the other way around, and the visibility of independent, single women has helped make solo travel a more comfortable and common experience.
One thing is clear: Solo travel, already trendy, is continuing to grow in popularity. A 2017 study from Resonance Consultancy, which surveyed 1,548 U.S. millennial travelers, revealed that 25 percent of those polled plan to travel alone in the next two years. And a Google Trends analysis shows that interest in solo travel has doubled in the last two years alone, both in North America and worldwide. Searches for female solo travel were up over 50% between 2016 and 2017. Perhaps unsurprisingly, millennials make up the bulk of solo travelers. According to a Visa Global Travel study, 52 percent of solo travelers are between the ages of 18 and 35.
It’s possible that more women are traveling solo in order to ensure they get what they’re looking for on vacation. According to the aforementioned survey, women tend to be both more adventurous than men and more comfortable on their own. Vacationing alone means there’s no compromising on eating lots of street food or undertaking a challenging hike.
It helps that women are starting to receive less judgement abroad for solo travel. When Amber Blecker, manager of sales and product strategies for SmartCruiser.com and Palm Coast Travel, first began traveling alone 15 years ago, she often felt pitied by other travelers, who asked why she didn’t have a friend or boyfriend beside her as she traipsed through a variety of European destinations. Now, she rarely encounters these questions, even at destinations with very traditional cultures and gender roles.
And the stigma that once went along with being single — and thus traveling single — after age 25 seems to have lessened. Adam Tichauer, founder of Camp No Counselors, an all-inclusive sleepaway camp for adults, says that about 15 percent of his campers ages 25 to 35 show up solo. “I think that being single at older ages is becoming more of the norm,” says Tichauer, whose hunch is backed by data. “Millenials are OK with […] doing things by themselves, [and not] needing to constantly be wed to another person or even a group of people is almost thought of as strong and cool.”
That cool factor is directly tied to a shift in the antiquated perception that singleness and happiness — especially among women — can’t coexist. Cepee Tabibian, founder of She Hit Refresh, a travel community for women over 30, notes that the increase in solo female travelers signifies that more people are not defining their success, wellbeing, and happiness based on their relationship status. “It shows that they are comfortable choosing a seemingly unconventional path of exploration and vacation on their own,” says Tabibian. She believes that the uptick also indicates that our culture may be shedding the perception that the world is a dangerous place for women. Most importantly, this attitude shift demonstrates that more and more people see women as empowered and capable of taking care of themselves, she says.
It’s worth noting, of course, that solo travel doesn’t always go hand in hand with being single. In fact, one study found that 60 percent of solo travelers are married or partnered up. But the message is the same: Regardless of your relationship status, you don’t need a companion with you on your adventures to enjoy yourself.
Social media confirms this fact. Many of us look to Instagram for travel inspiration, and in some cases, to help plan specific sites to see, restaurants to eat at, and day trips to take. But it’s not only our close friends who are influencing our behavior — it’s the world at large. Instagrammers like The Blonde Abroad, Gloria Atanmo, Christine Kaaloa, and Brooke Saward promote solo travels on their feeds, and they make it look damn good. Instead of being judged for traveling alone, they’re gaining respect — and followers — for their determination to seek out adventure on their own terms.
“[Solo travel] forces someone to step outside their comfort zone and challenge themselves, says Stephanie Rodriguez, founder of JOZU for Women, a platform designed to help women traveling on their own do so easily and safely.
It’s the perfect combination for a life-changing adventure.