Everyone told me not to travel alone during a pandemic.
Especially not to learn snowboarding, a sport that not all travel insurance covers. It didn’t help that I wanted to visit a country whose language I don’t speak.
Administrative matters – such as Covid tests, vaccination certificates and health declarations – would be burdensome for a solo traveler, I was told. I could also catch Covid or injure myself while snowboarding abroad.
It made sense, but I didn’t know anyone who could accompany me. So I joined a tour group from Singapore to South Korea.
I didn’t know it when I booked my trip, but I was part of a trend of solo female travelers joining group travel as tourism regains its footing.
The Singapore-based agency I traveled with, EU Holidays, said many more solo travelers had joined its trips since international tours restarted in September.
The numbers are low, but there has been a noticeable increase, according to Wong Yew Hoong, director of EU Holidays.
Before the pandemic, he said, solo travelers rarely joined their tours “because they normally plan and travel on their own,” he told CNBC Travel. Now they are, and most solo travelers are women, he said.
In other parts of the world, this trend started before the pandemic.
Canadian travel agency G Adventures said solo travelers made up 51% of its bookings this year – and 70% of them are women, up slightly from 2019.
The solo travel trend has grown exponentially over the past four years, according to Melissa DaSilva, North American president of The Travel Corporation’s travel division, TTC Tour Brands. TTC owns travel agencies such as Trafalgar and Contiki.
“The pandemic has certainly spurred interest even more,” she told CNBC, adding that TTC Tour Brands has made more single rooms available and reduced or waived extra fees for solo travelers in response to the demand for solo travel.
The SoFe Traveler Network, which organizes tours for women traveling alone, said bookings had reached about 60% of pre-pandemic levels.
Even married people travel alone because they have different interests than their spouses, said Bruce Poon Tip, owner of Just You, a solo travel specialist that runs adult-only tours.
The pandemic has made people more determined to tick off their “bucket list” destinations, said Tip, who also founded G Adventures.
“[But] couples don’t necessarily have the same rosters, and so they travel separately,” he told CNBC.
According to the Just You website, women typically make up about three-quarters of travelers in a solo travel party.
“Don’t wait” attitude
Solo trips are generally associated with flexibility and group tours are considered rigid. So why do women traveling alone sign up for this style of travel?
In my case, I was not alone by choice or because I wanted more freedom. I spent weeks trying to find friends who would agree to come with me.
The G Adventures board said the people currently traveling are “early adopters”, but their friends may not have the same appetite for risk. This was the case for me – many of my friends said they were still concerned about Covid.
But it was also difficult to find someone whose goals and schedule matched mine. I realized that even if Covid eases in the coming year, I could still find myself without travel companions, so now was as good a time as any.
DaSilva of TTC Tour Brands described this as the “don’t wait” attitude of many solo tourists, which she says has been reinforced by the pandemic.
“Don’t wait for a fellow traveler to want to go to the same destination, at the same time. Don’t wait to check off your ‘bucket list’. Don’t wait, nothing is promised,” he said. she declared.
I didn’t want to wait, but neither did I want to navigate pandemic travel alone. So I joined a tour.
CNBC’s Abigail Ng (6th from left) joined a small group tour from Singapore to South Korea in March 2022.
Courtesy of Shawn Koh
Border regulations, Covid testing and flight cancellations have made it difficult for solo travelers to plan their own trips, said Megan Arzbaecher, tour manager at SoFe Travel.
“Confidence in travel has dropped dramatically, and until it rebounds, joining a solo band tour takes all the mystery and worry away, as we are above all changing restrictions” , she said.
Safety in numbers
Singaporean Nicole Lim will embark on her first group tour as a solo traveler in May. She said safety was an important consideration.
She wanted to go hiking, but thought it might be dangerous to do it alone.
“Being in Singapore for so long, I haven’t done much hiking and camping. I think it’s best for me to go get a guide and join a group, so we can all help each other” , she said. .
Before the pandemic, she said she probably would have asked friends to join her. But after two years without travelling, she didn’t want her plans to be determined by the fact that she had someone to go with.
“If that’s the case, I’ll delay my trips and plan around someone else’s schedule instead of my own,” she told CNBC.
After more than two years living through the pandemic, some travelers leave alone because they don’t want to depend on other people’s schedules.
Michael Duva | Stone | Getty Images
Covid also adds another dimension to security concerns, as travelers might need medical attention or be stranded abroad.
“The travel agency can take care of you, like helping you change [flight] tickets and make arrangements for you,” said Wong of EU Holidays.
Meet people, make friends
The majority of women who travel independently still want a social experience, said DaSilva of TTC Tours.
Alison Allaire, a New Yorker who works in the operations of an education company, first joined a group tour as a solo traveler about 10 years ago when no one was available to travel with her.
“I think it’s a great social experience, you meet people from all over the world,” she told CNBC.
She even traveled with a friend she first met on a guided tour. “During these trips, I made friends who will be [my] friends for the rest of my life,” she said.
New Yorker Alison Allaire said she prefers tour groups because it’s easier to make friends than traveling alone.
Courtesy of Alison Allaire
Still, it can be daunting to join a tour group on your own. Before leaving for my trip to South Korea, I wondered if I was going to make friends and I was ready to have meals alone.
After all, traveling with people you just met is not the same as traveling with family or friends.
“There’s a bit of fear that if I don’t know anyone there personally, then there’s no one to really look out for me,” said Lim, the Singaporean who signed up to hike. in Bali in May.
But between two options – staying home or being alone in Bali without help, if she needed it – Lim said she would choose the latter.
“I’d rather have no one,” she said.