It takes guts to go on holiday solo for the first time. Many singles worry about appearing a Sally-no-mates, the pitying looks of smug couples in French bistros, or experiencing an overwhelming loneliness. Recognising this, travel companies are working much harder to ensure solo travellers feel relaxed and happy, from hosted house-party style beach holidays to tours that include convivial dinners each night.
You don’t have to be outgoing or socially skilled to get on with new people. The travel experiences you share will automatically bring you closer to other members of the group. What’s important is to book the right holiday in the first place, one where you have the greatest chance of meeting people with shared interests and a similar outlook on life. To this end it can be helpful to book later rather than sooner, when the tour operator knows the age and sex of the other participants.
Join a house party
To avoid that Shirley Valentine feeling, Friendship Travel (0871 200 2035; friendshiptravel.com) offers sociable weeks for singles – most aged 40-60 – at a selection of small, friendly, family-owned beach hotels in the Mediterranean.
New this summer is the four-star Skiathos Palace Hotel in Greece which has panoramic sea views. Friendship’s experienced hosts organise welcome cocktails, a boat trip and sightseeing excursions as well as group dining. A half-board week costs from £995 per person including flights, transfers and wine at dinner.
Walk in style
There’s something life-affirming about walking through a beautiful landscape – especially in the right company. For those who enjoy a good walk but want a comfortable bed, good food and wine at the day’s end, ATG-Oxford (01865 315678; atg-oxford.co.uk) fits the bill perfectly. Its meticulously researched walks, most in Europe, are escorted by a British tour leader and tour manager. Their lunchtime picnics are legendary.
Fellow walkers will be mostly over 55; professional, educated and well-travelled. Particularly convivial are hosted weeks based at medieval Pieve a Castello near Siena which ATG has restored; from £2,345 including all meals and wine, escorted day walks and transfer from Pisa Airport.
For more adventurous walking in a group of 12 (average age 30-55) and suppers with local hosts, Wild Frontiers (020 8741 7390; wildfrontierstravel.com) still has space on summer walks in the highlands of Romania, Georgia, Kashmir and Kyrgyzstan.
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Aimed squarely at solo travellers looking to explore a new corner of the world, Just You (0800 1123311; justyou.co.uk) offers over 50 destinations from Norway to New Zealand. All tours are led by the company’s own experienced tour managers. The more active tours, which include an Ultimate Ranch Experience for riders in Arizona, tend to attract a younger 40-55 age group.
The company’s North America programme is its bestseller, appealing to a wide age range. There’s still space on its New England in the Fall tours in September and October; 12 days from £3,325 including flights and most dinners.
For top-end tours led by engaging lecturers supported by tour managers, Martin Randall Travel (020 8742 3355; martinrandall.com) takes special care of solo travellers to make sure they don’t feel left out and offers a choice of over 250 cultural tours and music festivals.
On two wheels
As more of us take to the saddle to improve our fitness, cycling holidays are booming. Newcastle-based Saddle Skedaddle (0191 265 1110; skedaddle.co.uk) has a programme of carefully researched escorted rides worldwide. It offers an impressive choice of rides, both on and off road, catering for both beginners (La Via Claudia in Austria is recommended) and experienced mountain bikers.
For next winter there are exciting new rides through Myanmar, Laos and India including a 12-day Palaces and Lakes of Rajasthan ride staying in luxury hotels; from £2,195 excluding flights.
In the city
A city break is a good way to find your feet as a solo traveller. One Traveller (01760 722011; onetraveller.co.uk) reckons it has created the ideal introduction: a five-night holiday at a four-star hotel in Prague. The breaks are aimed at the over 50s, many of whom are newly divorced or widowed.
Group size is 18-28 and the itinerary is nicely structured with hosted dinners (there are two tour managers), lunch on a private cruise boat on the Vltava river, and leisurely sightseeing (a walk through the old city, visits to the spa town of Karlovy Vary, and pretty Karlstejn) as well as opportunities to wander on your own. Space remains on departures in September and October: £990 including most meals and flights.
On the ocean
Affordable cabins for single travellers on cruise ships are a rarity. Solos Holidays (0844 815 0005; solosholidays.co.uk) is working with four cruise lines – Fred Olsen, Thomson, Cruise & Maritime and Voyages to Antiquity – to secure single cabins and good discounts on sole use of twin cabins.
There’s a new programme aboard Cruise & Maritime’s Columbus including short breaks to Holland, cruises around Britain and to the Canary Islands. A Solos Tour Leader accompanies the group.
An overland adventure
If you are short on time and money but want a big adventure, consider an overland journey with Suffolk-based Dragoman (01728 861133; dragoman.com) in one of its robust, well-equipped expedition trucks. The trips are led by two British-trained Dragoman crew; group size is limited to 22 and most will be travelling solo. Its South America tours appeal to a younger under 40 crowd (silver gappers prefer Asia).
All itineraries have plenty of community engagement along the way. A particular favourite is its 22-day Lima to La Paz run, which includes the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Regular departures: from £1,950 including all accommodation, meals and activities; flight extra.
For the love of wine
Convivial company and the chance to learn more about your favourite tipple, entices many solo travellers to join Arblaster & Clarke (01730 263111; winetours.co.uk). Its wine tours combine vineyard tastings and hosted dinners on top wine estates with guided sightseeing and a chance to wander on your own. On evenings when no meal is included, the tour manager is always available to dine with single guests. Destinations include France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa.
- See also 10 of the world’s greatest wine tours
Find inner peace
Many more of us are seeking a holiday to calm our mind and exercise our body. Some of the best retreats for yoga, meditation and fitness boosting holidays are featured by Wellbeing Escapes (020 3735 7555; wellbeingescapes.com).
Shanti-Som in the hills above Malaga is a big favourite and features a choice of yoga, fitness, detox and weight loss breaks from £1,770 for a week including meals. Costa Rica is another popular destination: The Retreat offers a yoga and detox week from £1,067 excluding flights.
If you are on budget, Basunti (basunti-yoga-india.co.uk) is a beautiful yoga retreat beside a lake near Amritsar. Built and run by a British husband and wife team, a week costs around £800 including daily classes from visiting European and American teachers and delicious meals.
Give a helping hand
For the ultimate in altruistic working holidays, join a scientific research expedition run by Earthwatch (01865 318838; earthwatch.org) which brings together people from all walks of life and world-class scientists. There are 51 projects taking place in fascinating corners of the world: unearthing ancient history in Tuscany, monitoring climate change in the Canadian Arctic, and tracking sea turtles in the Bahamas.
There’s a great sense of camaraderie and many of the paying volunteers are successful professionals – European and American – looking for a different kind of holiday.