More and more people are choosing to travel on their own these days. If you're thinking of going it alone for the first time, the United Kingdom is an excellent solo travel choice. Read on to find out why.
Don't confuse solo travel with singles travel. According to the U.S. Travel Association, 11 per cent of leisure travelers in 2009 (the most recent numbers available) - were also solo travelers. And they weren't all singles looking to hook up on a sun, sex and sangria holiday - or super fit adventurous young men and women out exploring the lesser known corners of the world. Travel guru Marybeth Bond, who blogs at The Gutsy Traveler, points out that the average adventure traveler these days is a 47 year old woman who wears a size 12 (also pretty average).
So Who Travels Solo?
Once you get past the obvious - the aforementioned young singles - there's a remarkably wide spectrum of people vacationing and traveling on their own. Sometimes it's because of life circumstances - divorce, separation, job relocations disrupting friendships. Sometimes it's just a practical choice - it may not be possible to link up with friends who can travel when you can, want to see what you want to see and can afford the same vacations that you can.
In the past, unattached adults would pass up an opportunity to travel or compromise on destinations while waiting for a traveling companion to become available. Today, they are more likely to go it alone than ever before. And with a little advanced planning, it is possible to travel completely independently without spending a fortune on single-supplements or feeling out of place in the midst of families and couples.
Why the UK is a Great Solo Travel Destination
Lots of factors make the UK a good choice for solo travelers - especially women traveling on their own.
- It's easy - English is an almost universal language. Even visitors coming from outside the so-called English-speaking world usually have enough English to cope with signs and ask questions. And, because of films and television, English culture is relatively familiar around the world.
- It's comparatively safe - No place in the world is absolutely, completely safe anymore. But as international destinations go, the UK is among the safest with the rule of law, decent police and public safety services and good fire and safety inspections and practices for hotels, train, roads and public buildings. And if you get in trouble, emergency medical care is free (but only emergency care).
- There's plenty to do without a partner - On a singles cruise, or in a resort you can find yourself the odd one out among loved-up couples or families. Whether you choose to explore castles and museums, go to the theater, enjoy some shopping or take in amazing scenery, once you start planning your UK vacation, you'll find a lot to do on your own.
- You don't have to worry about single-supplements - Rooms are charged on a per room per night (prpn) basis rather than by per person per night (pppn). In many situations, if a room is offered as bed & breakfast accommodations, you may actually save a little money since, if there's only one for breakfast, room rates can be reduced.
- The British are very cosmopolitan - People come to the UK from all over the world, for business and for pleasure. Local people are accustomed to visitors, proud of their communities and usually willing to be helpful if approached politely. (Of course, there are always exceptions, so use some common sense when approaching strangers.)
Some Tips About Traveling on Your Own in the UK
- Small is friendlier - Choose small hotels and b&bs with just a few rooms. The owners of such places often enjoy meeting their guests and chatting with them. If you are on your own, they'll want to ensure you feel comfortable. They'll also be good sources of local information - best things to see, best places to visit in the area - and can usually give you accurate up-to-date information on restaurant food and prices. When I stayed at the Avalon in Brighton the owners even invited me to join them at a local pub for a drink.
- Don't believe everything you've heard about pubs - Despite the best efforts of the British tourism authorities, most pubs are not the friendly welcoming places you might imagine. They don't call them "locals" for nothing. If you want a drink or an inexpensive meal on your own, a pub can be a great place for for a quick, cheap bite to eat. But if you are hoping to meet and talk with local people, you'll probably be disappointed unless the landlord is feeling talkative.
Read more about how to cope in a British Pub.
- Be open to encounters - Just because you are traveling on your own, doesn't mean you need to be alone all the time. If people make friendly overtures to you and your common sense tells you it's safe to respond (and you are in the mood) by all means do so. Once, while reviewing a very smart restaurant outside Edinburgh, I struck up a conversation with a group of businessmen from California while enjoying a drink in the restaurant's living room-style bar. A few minutes after we were seated at our separate tables in the dining room, the men sent word inviting me to join them for dinner. I did, had a really nice evening and they even paid the bill! I've met an Aussie backpacker in a B&B who shared her world tour adventures with me; a National Park Warden in a small town cafe who went home and then returned laden with helpful brochures. Once, when I was the only American who had visited a small Welsh town in years, one of the hotel owner's friends (who had worked in the USA) took me home to have tea with his Mum in a cottage by the River Usk.
- In restaurants:
- Don't accept a table hidden away in a dark corner, too close to the kitchen and the toilets. If they can't seat you comfortably, go somewhere else.
- Don't bury your nose in a book, a tablet or a laptop. Bring a notebook or journal and make the occasional note. It makes you look interesting and mysterious rather than lonely and pathetic.
- If you want to try a famous restaurant or Michelin-starred establishment but you're nervous about being on your own, either go early when there will be fewer romantic couples around, or try lunch there instead. Lunch is likely to be a bargain compared to dinner prices as well.
- If you're hungry for some company, join a group activity.
- Take a city walking tour - Try Joanna Moncrief at Westminster Walks. Her London walking tour groups are small, friendly and full of information. They usually end at a historic or particularly interesting pub. Wherever you are in the UK, the local tourist information office usually runs walking tours - often free - or can introduce you to local guides.
- Sign up for a one day course in cookery or some kind of craft. There's nothing like a bit of messy group work to get the cameraderie going. The National Trust often runs workshops and courses at its properties around the country. Just look under the events listing on the specific property website. In London, you can take cooking classes at Books for Cooks, Atelier des Chefs and The Billingsgate Seafood School at Billingsgate Market. In Birmingham, you can learn Michelin level skills at Saturday classes at Simpsons.
You could also sign up for a short break with cookery classes at a luxury country house hotel, or check out Nick Wyke's website Looking to Cook for loads more cooking classes.
- Know when it's safe to be alone and when it's not. A daytime walk around historic sites in a city center is fine to do alone. A pub crawl to historic and unusual pubs at night is best done with a group. Out in the countryside, walking or cycling on level routes and marked paths between villages and towns is usually safe enough. But if you're thinking of going off piste in the Highlands, the Peak District, the Lake District or Snowdonia, go with someone who knows the territory and the weather conditions.