Everyone told me not to travel alone during the pandemic.
Especially for learning to snowboard, a sport not covered by all travel insurance policies. It didn’t help that I wanted to visit a country whose language I don’t speak.
I was told that administrative matters – such as Covid tests, vaccination certificates and health declarations – would be a pain for the single traveler. I could catch Covid or injure myself while snowboarding outside.
It made sense, but I didn’t know anyone who could go with me. So I joined a tour group in 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 tours as tourism is back on its feet again.
The Singapore-based agency EU Holidays, which it traveled with, said many single travelers have joined its flights since it resumed international flights in September.
The numbers are small, but there has been a marked increase, according to Wong Yu Huong, a manager at EU Holidays.
He told CNBC Travel that before the pandemic, solo travelers rarely joined their tours “because they usually plan and travel alone.” Now, he said, most of the solo travelers are women.
In other parts of the world, this trend started before the pandemic.
Canadian travel agency G Adventures said single travelers made up 51% of its bookings this year – and 70% of them are female, up slightly from 2019.
The solo travel trend has grown exponentially over the past four years, according to Melissa DaSilva, head of tour division at travel company, TTC Tour Brands in North America. TTC owns travel agencies such as Trafalgar and Contiki.
“The pandemic has definitely sparked more interest,” she told CNBC, adding that TTC Tour Brands has made more single rooms available and reduced or waived additional fees for single travelers in response to individual travel demand.
The SoFe Traveler Network, which organizes tours for solo female travelers, said bookings had reached about 60% of pre-pandemic levels.
Even married couples travel alone because they have different interests than their spouses, said Bruce Bon Tip, owner of Just You, a solo travel specialist who organizes tours for adults only.
Tip, who also founded G Adventures, said the pandemic has made people more insistent on ticking “wishlist” destinations.
“[But] Couples don’t necessarily have the same rolls, and so they travel separately.”
According to the Just You website, women typically make up about three-quarters of travelers in an individual travel group.
position “don’t wait”
Solo travel is usually associated with flexibility, and group tours are considered rigid. So why would solo female travelers sign up for this style of travel?
In my case, I wasn’t alone by my choice or because I wanted more freedom. I spent weeks trying to find friends who would agree to come with me.
G Adventures’ advice said that people who travel now are “early adopters,” but that 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 the covid virus subsided next year, I might end up without travel companions, so now was as good a time as any.
TTC Tour Brands’ DaSilva described it as the “don’t wait” attitude that many solo tourists follow, which she said has been reinforced by the pandemic.
“Don’t wait until a traveling companion wants to go to the same destination at the same time. Don’t wait to tick your ‘wish list.'” Don’t wait—we promised nothing,” she said.
I didn’t want to wait, but I also didn’t want to navigate epidemic travel on my own. So I joined a tour.
CNBC’s Abigail Ng (sixth from left) joined a small group tour from Singapore to South Korea in March 2022.
Courtesy of Shun Koh
Megan Arzbacher, director of trips at SoFe Travel, said border regulations, Covid testing and flight cancellations have made it difficult for single travelers to plan their trips.
“Confidence in travel has dropped dramatically, and until you recover, joining a solo group tour removes all mystery and anxiety, because we are on top of all the changing restrictions,” she said.
Safety in numbers
Singaporean Nicole Lim will be going on her first group tour as a solo traveler in May. She said safety was a big consideration.
She wanted to go hiking, but felt it might be dangerous to do so alone.
She said, “Being in Singapore for a long time, I haven’t done much hiking and camping. I think I’d better go and find a guide and join a group, so we can all help each other.” .
Before the pandemic, she said she may have asked her friends to join her. But after two years of not traveling, she didn’t want her plans to be determined by whether she had someone to go with.
“If that was the case, I would delay my trips and plan on someone else’s schedule instead of mine,” she told CNBC.
After more than two years of living through the pandemic, some travelers go it alone because they don’t want to rely on other people’s schedules.
Michael Duva | stone | Getty Images
Covid also adds another dimension to safety concerns, since travelers may need medical attention or be stranded abroad.
A travel agency can take care of you, like helping you change [flight] Wong said from the EU Holidays.
Meet people and make friends
DaSilva of TTC Tours said the majority of women who travel independently still want a social experience.
Alison Allaire, a New Yorker who works in operations for an education company, first joined a group tour as a solo traveler about 10 years ago when no one was available to fly with her.
“I think it’s a great social experience, where you can literally meet people from all over the world,” she told CNBC.
She even traveled with a friend she first met on a guided tour. “Being on these trips, I’ve made friends [my] Friends for the rest of my life.”
Alison Allaire of New York said she prefers tour groups because it’s easier to make friends than traveling alone.
Courtesy of Alison Allier
However, joining a tour group alone can be daunting. Before leaving on my trip to South Korea, I wondered if I would make friends and was ready to eat some meals on my own.
After all, traveling with people you just met isn’t the same as traveling with family or friends.
“There’s a little bit of fear, if I don’t know anyone there personally, nobody is really looking for me,” said Lim, a Singaporean who signed up for a walk in Bali in May.
But between two options — staying at home or staying alone in Bali without help, if she needs it — Lim said she would choose the latter.
“I’d rather not have one,” she said.