Should I join a group tour alone?
Everyone told me not to travel alone during a pandemic.
Especially not to learn snowboarding, a sport that not all travel insurance covers. It didn’t help that he wanted to visit a country where I don’t speak the language.
Administrative issues – such as Covid tests, vaccination certificates, and health claims – would be painful for a single traveler, I’m told. I could also catch Covid or get injured while snowboarding abroad.
It made sense, but I didn’t know anyone who could come with me. So I joined a Singapore tour group in South Korea.
I didn’t know this when I booked my trip, but I was part of a trend of solo female travelers joining group tours as tourism finds its feet.
The Singapore-based agency I traveled with, EU Holidays, said that many more solo travelers have joined his travels since he resumed international tours in September.
The numbers are small, but there has been a notable increase, according to Wong Yew Hoong, director of EU Holidays.
Before the pandemic, he said, solo travelers rarely joined their tours “because they normally plan and travel on their own,” he told CNBC Travel. Now they are, and most solo travelers are women, she said.
In other parts of the world, this trend started before the pandemic.
Canadian travel agency G Adventures said solo travelers made up 51% of its bookings this year and 70% of them are women, up slightly from 2019.
The solo travel trend has grown exponentially over the past four years, according to Melissa DaSilva, North American president of The Travel Corporation’s tour division, TTC Tour Brands. TTC owns travel agencies such as Trafalgar and Contiki.
“The pandemic has certainly spurred interest further,” he told CNBC, adding that TTC Tour Brands has made more single rooms available and reduced or waived additional costs for solo travelers in response to travel demand alone.
The SoFe Traveler Network, which organizes tours for women traveling alone, said bookings have reached about 60% of pre-pandemic levels.
Even married people travel alone because they have different interests than their spouses, said Bruce Poon Tip, owner of Just You, a solo traveler specialist who organizes adult-only tours.
The pandemic made people more determined to tick off their “wish list” destinations, said Tip, who also founded G Adventures.
“[But] couples don’t necessarily have the same lists, so they travel separately, “he told CNBC.
According to The Just You websitewomen usually make up about three-quarters of the travelers in a solo travel group.
Solo travel is typically associated with flexibility, and group tours are considered rigid. So why do women who travel alone sign up for this style of travel?
In my case, I wasn’t just by choice or because I wanted more freedom. I spent weeks trying to find friends who would agree to come with me.
G Adventures’ tip said people who travel are now “early adopters,” but their friends may not have the same risk tolerance. This was my case: many of my friends said they were still worried about Covid.
But it was also difficult to find someone whose goals and agenda matched mine. I realized that even if Covid subsided in the next year, I could still end up without travel companions, so now was as good a time as any.
DaSilva of TTC Tour Brands described it as the “don’t wait” attitude that many lone tourists have, which he said the pandemic has strengthened.
“Don’t wait for a travel companion to want to go to the same destination at the same time. Don’t wait to tick off your ‘wish list’. Don’t wait, nothing is promised,” he said.
I didn’t want to wait, but I also didn’t want to travel alone because of the pandemic. So I joined a tour.
CNBC’s Abigail Ng (6th from left) joined a small group tour from Singapore to South Korea in March 2022.
Courtesy of Shawn Koh
Border regulations, Covid testing and flight cancellations have made it difficult for solo travelers to plan their trips, said Megan Arzbaecher, tour manager at SoFe Travel.
“Trust in travel has dropped dramatically, and until it has recovered, joining a solo group tour takes away all the mystery and worry, because we’re on top of all the ever-changing restrictions,” he said.
Singaporean Nicole Lim will set off on her first solo group tour in May and said safety is a big consideration.
She wanted to go hiking, but felt it could be dangerous to do it alone.
“Having been in Singapore for so long, I haven’t done many hiking and camping. I think it’s best for me to find a guide and join a group so that we can all help each other,” he said.
Before the pandemic, she said she would probably ask friends to join her. But after two years without traveling, she didn’t want his plans to be determined by her having someone to go with.
“If so, I’ll delay my travels and plan on someone else’s schedule rather than my own,” he told CNBC.
After more than two years of living during the pandemic, some travelers go it alone because they don’t want to depend on other people’s schedules.
Michele Duva | stones | Getty Images
Covid also adds another dimension to security concerns, as travelers may need medical attention or be stranded overseas.
“The travel agency can take care of you, how to help you change [flight] tickets and make arrangements for you, ”said Wong of EU Holidays.
Most women who travel independently still want a social experience, said DaSilva of TTC Tours.
Alison Allaire, a New Yorker who works in an education company, first joined a group tour on her own about 10 years ago, when no one was available to travel with her.
“I think it’s a great social experience, you can literally meet people from all over the world,” he told CNBC.
She also traveled with a friend she first met on a guided tour. “By being on these trips, I have made friends who will be [my] friends for the rest of my life, “he said.
New Yorker Alison Allaire said she prefers tour groups because it’s easier to make friends than traveling alone.
Courtesy of Alison Allaire
However, it can be daunting to join a tour group on your own. Before leaving for my trip to South Korea, I was wondering if I would make friends and was ready to eat alone.
After all, traveling with people you’ve just met isn’t the same as traveling with family or friends.
“There’s a bit of a fear of the type, if I don’t know anyone there personally, then there’s no one to really take care of me,” said Lim, the Singaporean who signed up to hike to Bali in May.
But between two options – staying at home or being alone in Bali without help if she needed it – Lim said she would choose the latter.
“I’d rather not have anyone,” he said.