DW presenter Lukas Stege frequently travels for work and pleasure and appreciates the unique experience of taking a solo trip. In early 2017, he spent around 100 days traveling alone in Central and South America, from Costa Rica to Argentina.
"I love the independence! I decide where to go and when," he says. "I don't have to ask anyone, coordinate with anyone. That's great. Plus, you can meet people if it gets too boring alone — but you also don't have to." As luck would have it, Stege met his future wife on the trip. But although he is no longer single, he still loves to travel solo whenever possible, especially in South America.
Historically, there have always been travelers who set out alone to explore the world, but they were few and far between. These days, things have changed. In Germany in 2021, 2.41 million people traveled alone in 2021; 60.5% of them were men and 29.5% were women, according to data commissioned by DW at the Institute for Tourism Research in Kiel.
Popularizing solo travel
Those who travel alone today belong to an ever-growing group of like-minded people. It's possible that this form of travel gained momentum with the rise of YouTube and Instagram over the last two decades. Influencers have popularized the image of the solo traveler, showing off their gregarious personalities and desire to try new things while on the road. With such globetrotting lifestyles, they often depict themselves traveling alone in a way that looks glamorous yet attainable.
"Traveling without a partner is more associated with freedom and autonomy than with loneliness," psychologist Christina Miro told DW. She researches the effects of travel on people. "Unlike couples and families, solo travelers experience vacations more intensely. This is because they are on their own during their trip and are therefore more often confronted with feelings of insecurity and anxiety. Yet, travelers who have traveled alone report how enriching the experience was for them."
She also cites very practical reasons that have helped solo travel develop from niche product to a trend: "Traveling is a main part of people's leisure activities these days, and it has become cheaper and safer. More people can afford at least one trip a year, including young people. There are also many more offers for solo travelers than 20 years ago."
Tailor-made offers from the travel industry
Whether it's an active vacation on the Balearic Islands, an educational trip to Oman or a party vacation on the Greek island of Mykonos, the travel industry is wooing the solo travelers with a wealth of customized offers. Such offers target people who arrive at a destination alone but want to meet fellow solo travelers. They include planned itineraries, organized local transportation and group excursions. Joining group activities is always an option but never a must — travelers can still break away from the pack and go solo whenever they feel like it.
"Around one in 10 TUI vacationers travel alone," German travel industry leader TUI told DW. "Club vacations are particularly in demand because of the group concept and the relaxed atmosphere, in for example, Ibiza, Mykonos, Bodrum or Mallorca. Solo travelers can spend their vacation with like-minded people and connect with other guests during leisure activities."
Alone but not lonely
Traveling alone and being easy-going doesn't work for everyone. For those who find it difficult to make new acquaintances, TUI has the "Magic Angels." These are staff members who bring guests into contact with each other in a friendly way. They organize joint dinners, cocktail evenings and excursions.
While some single travelers may find romance, it's not the goal of many solo travel offerings. The outdoor travel specialist Wikinger Reisen knows about pitfalls of organizing a group trip for solo travelers that has been misunderstood as a dating service. It points out on its website that solo trips are meant to be regular vacations and not necessarily the place to find a mate. Similarly, Hamburg tour operator Sunwave, which has specialized for decades in solo trips, is also aware of the potential challenges of group dynamics. For each solo trip, the tour operator ensures there is a balanced gender ratio, and couples aren't allowed to join. Understandably, many solo travelers don't prefer to be around couples and families on their vacations — the dynamics are simply different.
While solo travelers may increasingly have their demands met, they often come with a price. Those traveling in pairs share the cost of a room, while those traveling alone usually have to cover it alone. But some tour operators offer other possibilities if one wants to save on a solo journey.
G Adventures, one of the world's largest adventure travel providers, for example, offers the option to find a roommate of the same gender and split the price. For those who don't mind sharing a room with a stranger, it's a welcome cost-cutting option. Otherwise, travelers can rent their own rooms, but should be prepared to pay more.
Long gone are the days when solo travelers were assigned the narrow, windowless room next to the elevator. Nowadays, it's not uncommon to have spacious apartments or double rooms dedicated entirely to solo travelers. Tour operators in Germany aim to please people traveling alone — after all, more and more singles are living in Germany. According to data compiled by Statista, there are around 22.7 million single people in Germany, and by 2030, half of the population could be living alone. Solo travel is certainly a market with a bright future.
This article was originally published in German.