During my 17-year career as a travel journalist, I’ve been the third wheel in the safari vehicle on other people’s honeymoons in Africa more times than you might imagine. I’ve had romantic dinners for one by candlelight in Paris. I’ve traipsed sola through the Costa Rican jungle and walked along sun-kissed secluded beaches in Southern California by myself. Traveling the world solo has become such a familiar state of mind that I don’t think twice when I buy a ticket for one for my next adventure.
It doesn’t mean I don’t like traveling with others. I adore visiting places with people I care about who can share experiences alongside me. (In Tokyo, for one, my mother is and always will be my top travel companion.) I also understand that the realities of traveling solo—especially as a woman—can bring up questions of safety (though a growing number of groups are helping people navigate that). But my lack of a travel companion simply isn’t something I feel I need to put my adventures on hold for.
I’m one of a fast-growing number of people who are vacationing solo—even if they’re paired up with a significant other back home. Outfitters like luxury custom travel company Black Tomato saw a 42 percent increase in overall solo travel in 2022 compared to the previous year, noting an uptick in destinations like French Polynesia that usually cater to honeymooners or couples. The paradox is that, in an age where loneliness is so rampant that experts say it’s a health risk that rivals obesity and smoking, I believe that solo travel is one way to combat the epidemic of loneliness—and here’s why.
You’re more present—and more approachable.
Again—I love taking trips with other people. But there are realities to traveling with a companion or group that tend to require more bandwidth that could be spent getting to know new people on the ground. Take dinner: Conversations often center on your travel companions, and they’re usually in your common language. When I dine alone in a new place, I’m more likely to try out the local language with strangers and find common ground with them, and I’m generally easier to approach as a party of one. I’ve struck up conversations with bartenders, train commuters, and airplane seatmates, some of whom I’m still in touch with. As a solo traveler, it’s a lot easier to join things last minute—like that time I explored the Nairobi contemporary art scene through a single connection at the Hemingways Eden in Nairobi, and reemerged from a marathon gallery crawl with several incredible new artist and art enthusiast friends. (Read more about how two fellow AFAR solo travelers make friends on the road).
You’re more likely to connect with new people over passions.
More than ever, hotels and outfitters are creating opportunities for others to meet through their offerings. In Ibiza, luxury resort Six Senses Ibiza’s annual Alma festival brings together people around wellness—a perfect way for a solo traveler to dive right in with others who share their values. In 2022, my friend Geetika Agrawal, the founder of Vacation With an Artist, took up surfing at a group camp at the Lapoint camp in El Salvador and met people who were also looking to commune more closely with the ocean by riding the waves. (Check out her company, which pairs travelers with local artisans—a perfect way to connect with creative types when traveling.)
Black Tomato’s Get Lost series of trips, the majority of them geared toward people traveling alone, feature remote destinations one might not think of for solo travel, including Mongolia, Chilean Patagonia, and Namibia. The trips have seen a 78 percent increase in bookings in 2022 compared to 2021. Depending on the wants of the solo traveler, the company can arrange shared culinary experiences or pair them with a less formal guide who can double as a travel companion.
You might fall in love.
I’m not just referring to romantic love (though if you’re looking, don’t rule it out!). I’m talking about a fiery hot affair—perhaps a lifelong one—with a place or a new activity you can engage with fully and follow where it leads you—no need to check on whether a travel partner is having fun or not. One of my great loves, the continent of Africa, hooked me in as I explored its wild places, cultures, music, and languages all on my own, fully available to meet with like-minded people who share my passion for these things—some of them are now my closest friends. There’s the Pacific Northwest, whose ancient temperate rain forests I fell so hard for that Greater Seattle is now my part-time home. And who knew I’d ever get into paper cutting, but after spending a recent snowy January afternoon with artist Regina Martin of Scherenschnitt Atelier in her centuries-old home in Gstaad, Switzerland, I’m now hoping to continue practicing the meditative art back home.
Take a solo trip this year, and you won’t look back and wonder why you waited for someone else to take that next big adventure. And if you travel alone with an open heart, chances are you’ll meet new people and engage with places so wholeheartedly that it will make you feel more connected to our planet than ever before—flying solo, but never alone.