‘Isn’t Valentine’s Day the best?’ – said no single person ever. Each February, the world becomes a two-person zone: restaurants whip out romantic candles and heart-shaped desserts, while hotels come with rose petals sprinkled on the bed. Ugh. Well, this February, we’re bucking the trend to celebrate the fabulousness of solo travel. And not just because we’re bitter. Travel companies across the board are reporting a boom in solo travellers, with women leading the vanguard: Google Trends reveals the search term ‘solo female travel’ has doubled in the past 12 months and Hostelworld reported a 45 per cent increase in solo female bookings between 2015 and 2017. Meanwhile Airbnb says solo travellers now account for up to 27 per cent of its bookings.
Travelling alone can seem daunting, but more of us are starting to embrace the benefits, such as an increased sense of confidence and unbridled freedom to do exactly what you want, when you want, without having to compromise for others.
For solo travel blogger Alice Teacake, who’s adventures have seen her performing burlesque in Shanghai and riding motorbikes across Bangladesh, travelling alone has been the ultimate source of personal development. ‘Before I travelled, I didn’t understand what I was fully capable of. Solo travel has allowed me to face my fears,’ she says. ‘If you repeatedly put yourself into situations that make you uncomfortable and force you to make decisions solo, you’ll transform into a very confident, flexible, self-loving and open-minded person.’
And with greater financial independence, smartphones, 24/7 communication and increasingly safe modes of transport and travelling, it’s never been easier to organise and take a trip alone, says Judi Wineland, co-owner of travel company Adventure Women.
We’re not just talking about the Eat, Pray, Love variety of spiritual yoga retreats or falling in love with handsome Italian strangers, either (though, neither of these things sound terrible). In 2019, we’re striking out alone to explore the wilderness, scale mountains and delve into new cultures. Here are five ‘me, myself and I’ adventures to embark on.
Sweeping the board in the 2018 Marco Polo Club Members’ Choice Awards, Japan is unquestionably one of the most popular places to visit. And for solo travellers, Tokyo has plenty of additional perks: capsule hotels (say goodbye to accommodation penalties), animal cafes (who needs a fellow traveller when you can cuddle a cat – or a hedgehog?) and karaoke booths built for one (live out your rockstar dreams with zero judgement). The respectful, welcoming culture is also a safe haven for women, and Tokyo takes female traveller safety to the next level with women-only carriages on the subway, women-only coach journeys and women-only floors in many hotels. Foodies flying solo will also find that dining alone is an awkward-free experience thanks to the city being well geared up for single diners: there are plenty of sushi, tempura and ramen joints with individual counters and set meals, while popular ramen chain Ichiran even has individual booths. Beyond the capital, Kyoto is a relaxed, cultural city full of tranquil zen gardens and Buddhist temples for you to practise some self-reflection. Numerous guesthouses are styled for individuals, while organised cycling tours and public onsen are popular ways to socialise if you’re craving a little company.
Cathay Pacific flies to Tokyo 56 times a week and Osaka, a short train ride away from Kyoto, 36 times a week
The tiny northern European country has been crowned the safest in the world for the 11th year in a row by Australian think tank the Institute for Economics and Peace – a reassuring bonus for solo travellers. But its otherworldly landscape of ice and fire offers a stunning wilderness to get lost in your thoughts. Hire a car to navigate the coastal ring road, stopping off at thundering waterfalls like Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss in the south and the Mývatn volcanic thermal baths in the north. Or grab your boots and set out on foot: the Laugavegur trek is a popular six-day summer trek in the Icelandic highlands that winds through rainbow-coloured rhyolite mountains, black lava fields, natural hot springs and vast glaciers. A three-hour drive or bus journey from the capital Reykjavik brings you to Landmannalaugar, a mountain from where you’ll hike to the Valley of Thor at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull – the unpronounceable glacier-capped volcano that grounded air travel for weeks when it erupted in 2010. Post-eruption, trekkers can visit Magni and Modi, the two new craters (named after the sons of Thor). Accommodation along the way is dormitory-style mountain huts – perfect for the intrepid solo traveller.
For some, the true spirit of adventure lies not just in stepping outside your comfort zone, but in pushing through gruelling physical challenges. Whoa Travel (Women High on Adventure) co-founders Danielle Thornton and Allison Fleece say: ‘Our most challenging experiences, like hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, Elbrus or to Everest Base Camp, are also our most popular. Whoa women are looking for big adventures that will push them physically and mentally because they know that’s where the biggest rewards lie.’ And what bigger challenge is there than Everest? Aside from the Himalayan scenery, this high-altitude adventure will see you visiting Buddhist monasteries, experiencing the hospitality of the local Sherpas and dining on traditional Nepalese cuisine to fuel you for the punishing climb. Thanks to a partnership with volunteer organisation Take on Nepal, this itinerary is also guided exclusively by female porters and guides, an occupation usually reserved for men. Reaching the top of the world is undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but according to Thornton and Fleece, this experience has another high point: ‘There’s a deep and profound connection that happens on these mountains. When you take on such a physical challenge together, as strangers, it can bond you with each other for a lifetime. It’s really amazing to see those friendships and bonds develop.’
Cathay Dragon flies to Kathmandu from Hong Kong five times a week
There’s a reason an Irish bar appears in every far-flung corner of the world: drinking with company is part of the national DNA, and a pub full of friendly Dubliners is ideal for the solo traveller. Instead of heading to touristy Temple Bar, though, you’ll find more authentic Irish charm at newly renovated art deco bar Café en Seine on Dawson Street; the recently expanded Drop Dead Twice taproom on Francis Street; or newly-opened The Lucky Duck neighbourhood bar on Aungier Street. Next month, of course, the whole city will be in full party mode to celebrate Ireland’s patron saint. The St Patrick’s Day Festival runs from 14-18 March, with parades, concerts and city landmarks doused in green. If more sedate cultural activities are more your style, the Emerald Isle’s capital is full of historical treasures to delve into. Head to the 13th century Dublin Castle or the Kilmainham Gaol, with self-guided audio tours to enjoy a gritty history lesson, while a visit to the stunning Trinity College Library is an absolute must for bibliophiles.
Increasingly, solo wellness-seekers are bravely venturing into the land dominated by canoodling honeymooners: the Maldives. ‘The Maldives has historically been seen as a honeymoon destination, but it’s also an ideal place to recharge and reconnect, with its isolated beaches, crystal-clear water and no noise pollution,’ says Pietro Addis, general manager, COMO Maalifushi. The luxury resort has launched a range of wellness programmes specifically tailored to solo travellers this year, including week-long yoga and pilates-focused retreats. For those nervous about committing to flying solo: the temptation of stunning overwater villas, unblemished white sand beaches, soothing massages and guaranteed rest and relaxation might just convince you to try your first solo adventure. And after all, why shouldn’t singles get to experience paradise on Earth, too?
Cathay Pacific flies to Dublin and the Maldives from Hong Kong four times a week