Who’s going, how much it costs, and the best places to go solo

Sam Keem Smith has traveled to 63 countries.

Keim Smith | @limitlesssecrets

Shakima Smith has visited more countries — alone — than most people visit in a lifetime.

She has visited 63 countries alone, she said, and now teaches others how to do it themselves.

Smith, who goes by the name Keim, said she started traveling alone after a misunderstanding with a friend left her alone on holiday in Amsterdam.

“From there, I was like … I don’t have any other friends to travel with who either have the financial means to travel or don’t have family obligations that prevent them from traveling,” she told CNBC by phone.

Smith, who is from East Orange, New Jersey, decided to plan a solo vacation to Paris, a place that was high on her bucket list. She began by writing a list of everything that could go wrong — and how she could best prepare by looking up the locations of hospitals and the U.S. Embassy, ​​as well as researching the city’s subway transit system.

“I picked a country that I was so excited to go to so it would … reduce the anxiety about being alone,” she said. Once she got to Paris, she felt the preparation was worth it. “I was walking like the cat in its pajamas down the Champs Elysees because I kept feeling like I was here. I did,” she said.

Since posting travelogues from her Paris vacation on social media, Smith said people have messaged her asking for tips on vacationing alone. She created a nine-week online course through the Teachable platform called Travel Like a Bawse and has trained 10,000 women in the art of solo travel, she said.

A Teachable representative told CNBC that enrollment in solo travel courses grew 31 times faster than other types of courses on the platform between summer 2020 and 2022.

Smith also runs private coaching sessions that include itineraries, tours and contact details for drivers and photographers – she recommends hiring someone to take your pictures. Her training also includes daily FaceTime calls for passengers’ first solo trips.

Smith advises choosing a well-known destination, such as Paris, for a first solo vacation.

“When you go to these touristy places … there are so many other people who aren’t from there either, so you don’t stand out as much as you think you do,” she said.

You don’t want your happiness to be tied to someone else.

Shakima Smith

She also recommended Antigua and Barbuda, the Maldives and Bora Bora as safe destinations for solo travel. “I know a lot of women say, oh, I want to wait until I have a husband to go to Bora Bora or the Maldives, and I’m like, so you’re going to wait for a man to see the Indian Ocean?”

“You don’t want your happiness to be tied to someone else,” she said.

Solo travel is something that Angelee Rathor, managing director of luxury vacation company SevenTravel, expects to be popular this year.

After a surge in inquiries — many from women 45 and older — Rathore said her team created several itineraries such as a “solo stay” to South Africa and a “me, myself and Iceland” vacation in the Scandinavian country.

After the Covid-era shutdown, it’s been “well documented that couples and families want to … have those blast trips, but really solo travelers also want to make up for lost time and feel more confident exploring new places,” Rathore said.

A Me Myself and Iceland tour with SevenTravel can include viewing the night sky phenomenon known as the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights.

Ingolfur Bjargmundsson Moment | Getty Images

The company specializes in luxury custom travel. An 11-night solo trip to South Africa, which includes Cape Town for culinary experiences, the Winelands towns of Pearl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and a couple of nights in two safari lodges with spa treatments, costs from £15,495 ($19,067), excluding flights.

The Rathor team designs vacations that balance activity and relaxation. Self-guided experiences in Iceland might include a guided tour of its capital Reykjavik, wine tasting under the Northern Lights, and a day at the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. The company provides 24-hour customer service on WhatsApp, which is an added reassurance for those traveling alone.

She said people enjoy solo travel because they don’t have to consider the interests of others.

“They do on that trip — 100 percent of the time — what they want,” she said. “When the wellness element forms more than 40% of the trip, people come back and say … ‘I feel like a different person.'”

Group tours are another popular option for solo travelers.

Florida-based Judy Hoffman is a retired history teacher who has completed teaching programs in Nigeria, Japan, and the United Kingdom during her career.

She said she has always loved to travel, even as a young child.

“Ever since I put pennies in my bank to ‘travel the world’ as a kid [I] I knew it was something I aspired to do in life,” she told CNBC.

Hoffman has taken 10 vacations with small group operator Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), visiting places like Nepal, Peru, Central America and East Africa, on trips that aim to help people get off the beaten path. OAT was co-founded by Alan E. Lewis “to take Americans to places Americans don’t go,” according to the company’s website.

Solo traveler Judy Hoffman in Lake Darwin in the Galapagos Islands. She swam with sea lions and penguins during her trip to the Ecuadorian archipelago.

Judy Hoffman

That seems to be true for Hoffman, who said she most enjoyed “waking up to sunrise in the mountains of Nepal, floating at night on the Amazon looking at the stars, and swimming with sea lions and penguins in the Galapagos.”

“Watching people travel from the countryside to school in Tanzania, then stand in long lines to vote in elections, moved me more than I can say,” she added.

OAT’s website says it has 42,000 bookings for solo travelers in 2023 and wants to encourage more people to travel alone. Added more single occupancy staterooms without the one-time supplement, which are additional fees sometimes charged to solo travelers to stay alone in a room.

A company representative told CNBC that popular cruises include its 15-day trip from Lisbon to Barcelona, ​​which starts at about $9,000, including airfare.

Hoffman offered advice for people traveling alone.

“If you’re outgoing, which I’m not, you’ll fit right in,” she said. Otherwise, she suggested offering photos to fellow travelers as a way to start conversations.

She has another piece of advice: “I always keep a journal while I’m on the road, and I always have a book for any free time.”

Trondheim is a small city of about 200,000 people and is known for its waterways, Gothic cathedral and bicycle lift that helps cyclists navigate a steep hill.

Everste | Istock | Getty Images

Torun Tronsvang, founder of Norwegian travel specialist Up Norway, advises solo travelers to keep an open mind.

“Don’t be afraid to say yes, get out of your comfort zone, show interest in interacting with the locals,” she told CNBC.

Like Rathore, Tronsvang has seen an increase in demand for solo travel, and her company has created private itineraries accordingly.

One of the most popular is Give Me More, a 10-day trip that starts in Oslo and includes travel by train, bus and ferry to Trondheim. It’s a journey that includes nature, outdoor adventure, Norwegian culture and self-reflection, she said. It costs about $3,500 per person for accommodation, transportation, guided tours and some meals, but not flights.

She said solo travelers are “well-educated” and range in age from early 30s to 60s.

“They tend to be people with flexible jobs like writers, photographers or people in between jobs,” she said. “We’ve also seen a trend of people wanting a different type of break from their busy lives and people looking for meaning in their travels.”

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