Traveling solo within a group may seem contrary, but this segment of the industry is growing in popularity. After much pent-up demand for travel during the pandemic, many travelers are eager to explore the world again, whether they have a travel companion or not. And that’s where solo group travel really shines—offering independence and flexibility, built-in safety and security, expert itinerary planning, and a ready-made group of like-minded explorers.
“They’re going by themselves, but they’re not alone,” explains Matt Berna, president of the Americas at Intrepid Travel, the world’s largest B-Corp-certified adventure travel company, offering over 1,000 small-group itineraries in over 100 countries. Berna shares that Intrepid is no stranger to the solo traveler.
“I’m happy to say that since day one, Intrepid has been really popular with solo travelers,” he says. Today, nearly half of the company’s U.S. travelers are going solo on its trips, and so far this year, Intrepid has seen approximately 2,300 more solo passengers booked in North America than last year, and about 9,000 more globally. Berna says he foresees this growth to continue in years to come.
“We like to talk to solo travelers, particularly because generally when they join a group, they can be a lot more outgoing and open to meeting other people,” Berna says. “We try to stay away from the term ‘single traveler,’ too, because traveling solo doesn’t necessarily mean they’re single. They might have partners back home who couldn’t travel due to work schedules or even just differing interests. Our tours make for a really safe environment for people to go as a sole traveler.”
Berna says destinations like Southeast Asia, Turkey, India, and Nepal tend to attract more solo travelers, as do more active and strenuous trips. “I also think people picked up and perused more personal interests in the pandemic,” he adds, “so what we’re seeing now with our trips, particularly with solo travelers, is they’re not just looking for a region. They’re searching our website for activities first before the destination, and that’s a big switch for consumers.”
For Intrepid Travel, its North American solo travelers are 75% women, and generally skew toward more mature customers, with 64% over the age of 40. But while demographics play a role, Berna says Intrepid finds more value in looking at traveler personas. “Our travelers are considered curious, they’re culturally aware, they consider themselves global citizens, and they are there to listen and learn,” he explains. “I think the solo travel profile very much fits into that, too.”
Traveling solo with a group allows for alone time plus socialization with the group, which could mean the best of both worlds for tour customers. “I think you’re more free to be yourself when you travel solo—and not just to be who you are as a person, but you also have less concerns about your traveling companion,” Berna says. “There’s a real freedom in traveling by yourself in that sense. But with the group organization, of course, you have the security, the safety, and the camaraderie of the group as well.”
On Intrepid tours, flexibility is a key component of itineraries, with free time built in to allow travelers to explore as they wish—whether that’s alone or with newfound tour companions. “I think the biggest misconception is that you’ll be by yourself the whole time, which is absolutely not the case,” Berna says.
When creating itineraries, he adds that Intrepid always has the solo traveler top-of-mind. For example, rooming requirements are an important consideration—making sure there are enough beds for solo travelers. Intrepid doesn’t have a forced single supplement (an added cost for one individual to stay in a hotel room meant for two) but instead matches solo travelers of the same sex to share a room (if all parties consent). “In America, most hotels are double doubles, but a lot of places we stay abroad include home stays and small ships, and we have to consider every configuration so we can provide beds for solo travelers,” Berna says. “We also pay close attention to all the activities and how we cater to those travelers.”
Berna says that beyond the cost-savings to customers and all the logistical perks of joining a group, solo travel is really all about the friendships made along the way. “You might go in alone, but most likely won’t come out as a solo traveler in terms of having those new friendships,” he says. “It is a great environment to meet and interact with other travelers. And just by being open to those encounters and conversations with the right attitude, you’ll have a fantastic time.”
Main Image: Tour in Egypt; Credit: Intrepid Travel