Eat Pray Love, the book (and 2010 movie of the same name), literally moved people to try solo travel, a trend that continues to grow. The memoir-cum-travelogue follows Elizabeth Gilbert, who, after a tough divorce, visits Italy, India, and Indonesia to nourish her stomach, soul, and heart.
The global hit clearly struck a chord, and not just with women. In 2014, Google searches for ‘solo travel’ were up almost a third compared with the prior year. One in five US adults will be traveling alone this year, a doubling from 2012, says a recent American Express survey.
Demographic shifts partly explain the trend. Last year a majority of American adults were single. That was the first time more Americans were single, divorced, separated or widowed than were married since the figure began to be tracked in 1976 by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The stereotype of solo travelers being twenty-something backpackers isn’t true. An AARP survey of 1,202 US travelers published in December 2014 found that 37% of adults aged 45 and older had taken a trip alone in the past two years.
Solo travel also is not an exclusively Western phenomenon. In February, a survey of 431 female travelers in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand found 48% of them saying they have traveled alone before, a notable jump from 36% saying that in 2014. There was a similar jump in India, 41% of 1,300 female respondents said they have travelled alone, up somewhat from 37% in 2014.
In response, new services are popping up. In January, 101 Holidays, a British-based, travel-inspiration website, launched 101singlesholidays.com, which has a list of dozens of solo travel ideas.
One problem facing solo travelers who want to go on organized tours is the “single supplement,” or the additional charge that tour companies typically charge for persons who aren’t traveling as part of a couple.
Tour companies that avoid such charges and welcome singles include G Adventures and Intrepid Travel. In March, the UK-based tour operator, Solos Holidays expanded its supplement-free tours to a new US site to appeal to American travelers.