Are you considering sailing solo? Relax, you’re in good company. More of us than ever are going it alone and it’s the best thing Rebecca Martin, Editor of Into The Blue, has ever done.
Travelling the world solo
I have felt the wind in my hair on a RIB ride through the Norwegian Fjords and I’ve risked it all on red at the Casino de Monte Carlo. I’ve visited the Grasse perfumeries, florals in the rolling hills around them solely responsible for the Chanel No. 5 my mum has worn for as long as I can remember. I’ve toured the gritty underbelly of Rome’s Colosseum and I’ve walked the same red-carpeted steps as Julia Roberts in Cannes, albeit in a Topshop sundress as opposed to a floor-sweeping frock worth thousands. I’ve hacked through the New Forest on an unruly horse called Nina and I’ve slipped into a full-length scarlet number to sip champagne in the family castle of a Scottish laird. So what, I hear you say, quit the bragging. My love for travel has gifted me some amazing experiences for which I will be eternally grateful but the crucial point to note is that I did all of the above alone. Always solo, sometimes when single, other times when not. For work and for play, all the while fuelled by a desire to see the world that doesn’t always align with the schedules of friends and family.
I’m no brave adventurer, hell I don’t even own a backpack. I like the home comforts of a nice hotel or ship and I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as arriving at the airport too early, especially if it means starting my holiday with avocado and eggs on toast at a table for one, the first few pages of a holiday read my only company. My trusty navy Converse have walked more miles than I care to admit, though their battered appearance might well give the game away. I always forget to pack a hairdryer, a lack of travel companions serving as my saving grace when the humidity of a summer’s day on the French Riviera creates a halo of frizz Monica Gellar would admire. I almost always get lost and I can never quite remember whether I should pay the bill in the local currency or my hard-earned British pounds when the waiter hands me the card machine.
Most of my friends think I’m incredibly brave, my parents think I’m incredibly foolish. I think they’re all right. But one thing I know is that I wouldn’t have had half the experiences I have done had I been too scared to go it alone. Travelling solo hurls you from your comfort zone and forces you to be braver and more resourceful. You figure things out, whether that means chatting to the locals to find out which harbourside spot serves the best seafood or studying a metro map with painstaking concentration to make sure you’re headed to your hotel and not back to the same airport you just came from (based on a true story). It is terrifying and thrilling in equal measure and it leaves you feeling like you could probably take on the world. Or, at least, a little bit of it for somewhere between seven to 14 days.
Solo traveller cruises
While it might seem it at times, solo travel isn’t as unusual as you might think. According to ABTA, 12% of the UK population holidayed alone last year and 18% of over-65s have travelled alone in the last 12 months. In fact, the average solo traveller is 57; throwing caution to the wind and embarking on an adventure for one is no longer the reserve of the gap year kids. The growing trend for going it alone shows no sign of slowing, with searches for ‘solo travel’ tripling in the last decade according to Google. More of us than ever are taking to the seas solo too and the cruise lines are taking notice. Around 20% of Saga Cruises passengers travel alone and the cruise line caters for them well, with 100 solo cabins set to feature on their new ship, Spirit of Discovery. Norwegian Cruise Line has offered Studio cabins on all of its most recent ships, grouped together to encourage solo travellers to meet and with a dedicated lounge area in which they can mingle. More single cabins have been integrated into the Cunard and P&O Cruises fleets as part of recent refurbishment works, while Hebridean Island Cruises sets a sizeable 20% of its tiny 50-passenger capacity aside for single travellers.
Of course, the elephant in the rooms of resorts on land and the cabins of ships at sea is the single supplement. While the term still strikes fear into the hearts of solo travellers everywhere, myself included, cruise lines are becoming fairer with their fares. Fred Olsen, AmaWaterways and Hebridean Island Cruises regularly offer selected sailings with no single supplement, while Crystal Cruises charge a single supplement of 50%, rather than the usual double fare. Saga Cruises offer single rooms at no extra cost on selected sailings throughout the year, their chauffer service and dedicated solo travel experts making them one of the most enticing options for anyone planning to take those first tentative steps into holidaying alone.
Once you do make it on board, there is something so liberating about deciding what you will do with your days, without anyone else to take into account. Wake at the crack of dawn and relocate to the pool without tiptoeing around a sleeping spouse or sleep in and order room service to your cabin, something that feels all the more indulgent after a night of star fishing. Duck out of the evening entertainment to sit and watch the sea from your balcony instead, leaving the curtains open when you go to bed because you want to see tomorrow’s port of call come into view and there is nobody to complain that the morning sun streams in too brightly. Dining at the same restaurant three nights in a row doesn’t matter when your appetite alone is the only decider. In fact, the way they get to know your name and that you’ll be needing a table for one without even asking tends to be a welcome familiarity boost. When you venture ashore, it’s up to you whether you climb that mountain or decide that the only thing getting any exercise today is your credit card.
When you travel alone, you no longer tune out the hubbub around you, as you tend to when you’re with friends or family. Instead, those conversations overheard at dinner become your entertainment. Those random interactions give you the head’s up on the really hidden gems that wouldn’t ever have been on your radar were it not for a chatty local intrigued by the lone traveller in a sea of couples and families. Travelling solo encourages you to take everything in and with no distractions, it becomes the perfect time to put those niggling worries that have been whirling around in your head to bed. Because what better place to think things through than on a ship in the middle of the ocean, your Wi-Fi sporadic and time all yours to do with what you may.
So, next time you see the woman at a table for one on the harbourside, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in one hand and a book in the other, rest assured that she isn’t lonely. She’s having the time of her life, all by herself.
Looking for further reading? Here’s why Antartica should be top of your solo cruise list.