Solo travel on organised tours

Gap year backpackers and empty nesters; office workers in search of calm and retirees wishing to learn a new skill – solo travellers don’t fit a single mould. Some are fearless serial adventurers; others are venturing out alone for the first time. They may be on a mission to spot wildlife, to get fit, to cycle across a country or simply switch off from busy lives back home. But happily, for every single one of these people, from teens to octogenarians, there is a holiday to fit.
We know that not everyone will be comfortable heading off on a solo expedition. Figuring out public transport is complicated, the language barrier can be scary, and the prospect of dining alone for two weeks may make you feel a little sad. And what if you get ill, or something goes wrong?
This is where small group holidays come in. They bridge the gap between fully independent travel and traditional, organised tours. They’re not about coach trips and umbrellas; they’re about bringing together a diverse group of likeminded people to explore a new destination, many of whom will be travelling solo.

The benefits of solo travel on organised tours

Small group tours offer many of the benefits of true solo travel. You don’t have the tricky job of syncing up calendars with your friends, trying desperately to find time when you’re all free. You can go whenever and wherever you like, and can pick an theme – salsa dancing, scuba diving, bird watching – that suits you, even if your friends or partner have no interest in this at all. You’ll also get to cut all ties with home life and immerse yourself fully in a new country or activity, the ultimate mental break.

But these trips have other advantages, too. All the planning, logistics and bookings are taken care of so you can switch off more fully when away, and not have to worry about things going wrong; there is always someone on hand to make sure you’re ok. You’ll be around people who share similar interests, or a fondness for the same parts of the world, and making new friends is virtually guaranteed. You can share sociable meals, and hit the town in your own little gang in the evening, if you wish. And you can reach off the beaten track places that would be either too difficult or far too expensive to reach on your own, using pricey taxis, boats or rental cars.

Will I be the odd one out?

More and more people are discovering the joys of solo travel, and it is certainly not seen as something unusual any more. In fact, many holidaymakers say their friends envy them for their solo adventures, and the new sense of adventure and confidence that they come back home with.
Small group tours attract people of all ages, at all stages of their lives, and it’s likely there will be more than one other individual on your tour. In fact, some types of trip tend to particularly attract solos, such as yoga and wellness retreats or learning holidays where you can pick up skills from photography to Spanish. The more niche, the more lone travellers there are likely to be, as interests are not always shared with friends or partners. Learning and wellbeing holidays also offer participants a sense of purpose, which takes the edge off any concerns about being alone.
Your tour operator may be able to give you some details about the makeup of particular groups before you book. Perhaps one has more couples, while another already has a few solo travellers booked onto it – and they can recommend, therefore, which departure might suit you best.

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Small group travel:
2019: 4 Feb
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Who else will be in my tour group?

These holidays can span six decades in a single tour group. Some people are frequent travellers; others may have saved up for years to take the trip of a lifetime. Needless to say, the more niche your trip (snow leopard tracking, Greek archeology, Thai cooking), the more likely you are to find yourself surrounded by fellow aficionados. But even general interest holidays will put you together will a bunch of curious travellers, all looking for a similar adventure; finding yourself chatting around a campfire in the middle of the savannah with a group of strangers from all walks of life may just turn out to be one of the highlights of your trip.

One group of people you aren’t likely to be around though is children. Most small group tours have a minimum age, usually around 16 – and operators tend to have departures specifically for family groups.

Will I be with the group all the time?

One of the joys of solo travel is the sense of independence. On a small group tour you will be following a set itinerary – you won’t quite have that sense of freedom, of waking and wondering ‘where should I go today?’ However, that is more than made up for by the fact that you don’t need to plan, book, or worry about anything going wrong – this is the perfect opportunity to relax.
Although these holidays follow fixed routes, most also have free time built in, allowing for solo exploration, snooze time or optional extra activities. Do read your itinerary carefully to find out how many activities are included, how many are optional, and also how many meals are included in the tour price; this will give you a good idea of group time vs. solo time. Many people find that they enjoy hanging out with their fellow travellers; you may want to spend an afternoon browsing a market alone, but regroup in the evening to share tales of your exploits.
Free time and optional meals will depend very much on the nature of the trip. If you’re hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro, you can’t very well wander off to a local restaurant for lunch. Small ship cruises, too, involve much more group time, as do trips which take you deep into the wilderness, whether that’s jungles, deserts or polar regions. So do take this into consideration if you crave your own space and independence.

Do I pay more if I travel alone?

No! This is a huge advantage of small group tours, as solo travellers are often hit with higher prices, from hotel rooms to taxis. On these trips you’ll typically be sharing a room (or tent, or cabin) with another traveller of the same sex. If you’d like your own space, then this is usually available for a supplement. However, given the growing popularity of solo travel, some operators will give you your own private room at no extra cost – find out more in our guide to no single supplement holidays.
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: iStock] [Solo traveller: KaLisa Veer] [Japanese cooking: martinho Smart]
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