“Solo Tours: How Do I Begin?” you ask. Yay for you! They are a great way to learn how to travel by your independent self. They’re also swell for experienced travelers to see the world without hassles or headaches. A really good tour is a beautiful thing.
Caveat: You must choose solo tours wisely. Here’s how to start.
You want to visit Peru, New Zealand, or Iceland. Maybe all three! But time is ticking by and you’re tired of waiting for a suitable travel companion. (There are a million reasons for this. Trust me, I know.) Finally, you take a deep breath and decide it’s better to go alone than not go at all. Yay for you! You’ve already taken the first–and maybe most important–step.
What does “solo tours” mean?
One thing: When I say “solo tours,” I don’t mean trips comprised of only people traveling alone. I’m talking about a tour that you join as a single person. There are also couples and sometimes, a group of friends on the tour.
Women seem to have the hardest time setting off by themselves. About 20% of females need encouragement to take a solo trip, compared to 7% of males. But once they do, women are unstoppable and ultimately, more comfortable traveling alone. (See my infographic for some facts.)
Let’s get started!
A tour can be the best way to start a “career” as a solo traveler. You can learn basic skills and check places off your bucket list at the same time. The best tour companies do three things:
- Treat you like the smart grown-up that you are
- Allow plenty of free time to explore on your own
- Limit the number of participants
Consider these questions as you begin your search for a solo tour:
- Think about what interests you: history? museums? art? food? hikes? adventure?
- What about the destination: domestic? international? warm weather? near water?
- Should the trip visit several places? Or would you prefer to settle in one spot?
- Cities? Small villages? Modern? Rustic? Popular? Remote?
- How much can you spend? How important is luxury?
It’s important to do your homework before deciding
Take your time to investigate tour companies. There are excellent options for every interest and budget. There are also some mediocre organizations that herd people around in giant buses, pausing at landmarks for quick photo-ops, then heading to stores that give the guides kickbacks, and restaurants that serve “tourist” food to large groups. I’m pretty sure you don’t want that to be your experience.
What’s important is to match your travel style with the company’s philosophy. This is easy to do:
- Read the “About Us” page of the website or catalogue. What’s the Mission Statement? Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) offers a really good example of a Vision Statement: “We help change people’s lives.” They go on to explain, “We will strive to be the world leader in international travel, adventure and discovery for American Travelers over 50—providing impactful and intercultural experience that significantly improve the quality of their lives.” That is appealing to me. I’d definitely be interested in finding out more!
- Check the itineraries of places you’d like to visit. If it’s your first solo trip, you may not want to commit to 15 days…or maybe you do. How is the tour planned? How often do you check in and out of hotels? Are there overnights on trains? Homestays? If the itinerary seems ambitious, look at another tour company. Likewise if it seems to move at a snail’s pace. Compare these two similar (sort of) trips to Eastern Europe and Croatia, both without airfare:
- What’s included? For Americans, often breakfast is included. Some places add in some lunches or dinners with the group. Others include nearly all meals, especially if restaurants aren’t available. Consider this when calculating the cost. Are entrance fees to important sites part of the package? Are local guides hired to show you important sites? Is tipping expected? Everything should be clear, right from the start. RoadScholar offers an 11-day small-ship excursion to the Galápagos that includes 28 meals. The tour is led by a doctorate-level anthropologist. Considering this, maybe the $5,000 fee doesn’t seem so steep.
- Finally, look at the company’s policy for solo travelers. Some companies welcome singles, and say it proudly. The best have no single supplement fee or charge a modest amount. Others are not so welcoming and may simply state that solos will paired by gender. You can find the best itinerary and price in the world, but if you’re not treated well because you don’t have a roommate, then step away.
In the future, I’ll list some of the tour companies and resources to help you get started. For now, start clicking around the Internet. Order some catalogues and brochures. Decide what YOU want first!
Want to learn more? Here are other TravelSmart Woman posts about solo travel: