As far as travel is concerned, we probably have preconceptions about the types of people who travel alone – backpackers, hitch-hikers and the like – but our survey has found that these perceptions are largely wrong; a growing number of over-50s are spreading their wings to see the world.
With that in mind, let's get on with the survey!
It's an image that's quite well ingrained in the British psyche when it comes to singles holidays – the boatload of “singles” (many of whom are nothing of the kind) comprising a few women grossly outnumbered by men who are inevitably trying their luck between furtive swigs from their hip flasks.
But now we can consign the image to the Carry On films whence it came. Because by Solitair's own statistics, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the balance is tipped in the complete opposite direction: 72% of respondents are female, leaving 28% males. And as we'll find out later, sex is that last thing on most people's minds; companionship and being around kindred spirits is far more important.
This statistic could be down to a number of factors. Women were historically tied to the kitchen and the hearth, but radical social changes in the post-war period mean that women have more of their own money and more control over their lives. The generation that's now retiring was the original “baby boomer” generation who embraced rock 'n' roll and free love before voting in the first female PM. Is there any wonder they're choosing to holiday alone if they want to? After spending their working years earning a living and bringing up families, they're letting their hair down and having the time of their lives.
It would be ignoring the elephant in the room not to mention that women's life expectancy is still higher than men's, so more of them are living longer to enjoy their retirement. This can partly explain the gender difference.
Another popular image of the solo traveller is the student on his or her gap year (an alien concept to anyone born before 1980) back-packing across Asia or South America, perhaps mixing the life experience with some charitable work. Because the gap year away-trip is all about “finding yourself”, it's usual to go alone, otherwise you end up simply “finding” your travelling companion (and probably “finding” them insufferable).
But if you're the type of person who reads headings, you'll know that this isn't the case. The respondents who took our holidays identified themselves as belonging to the following age groups:
So three quarters of all solo travellers are between 51 and 70 years old. Before you assume we're a 50s+ travel company, as a company we don't market directly at any particular age group – this a self-selecting range.
Equally telling is the age these travellers said they were at when they first travelled alone.
That means that 82% of respondents had not travelled alone before the age of 41, and only 18% had. Since 4% of respondents still are in that age group, only 14% of travellers born before 1974 started their solo travelling before in their teens, twenties or thirties. From these statistics we can ascertain that travelling solo has become popular relatively recently, and that it is those either approaching retirement or having retired who are doing it.
We're sure that if we perform the same survey in a decade or two, the statistics will be different. The boom in gap year travel, plus the rise in phenomena such as travel agencies specialising in solo travel and the Lonely Planet guides will mean that younger people travelling alone will seem more normal. The “When did you first travel alone?” question will have its centre of gravity shifted towards the younger groups.
We asked in our survey why people choose to go on singles holidays. The responses we got really just prove that singles have more or less the same desires as those who choose to go with friends, families and spouses. Respondents could tick as many boxes as they liked, so we built up a picture of the top reasons people went without excluding lesser reasons.
A significant 60% said they liked the adventure and excitement of new places. Sure, this is probably the same for group travellers, but as we've already mentioned, single travellers can do what they want without having to please partners. The rise of the "bucket list" seems partly responsible for this urge. As people get older they will try to have as many life experiences as possible … and many of them involve travel.
With 76% of respondents agreeing, “meeting new people” topped the poll. Single holidaymakers aren't loners or socially awkward people. They are simply people who by choice or by circumstance take holidays alone. Travelling with a group of singles, taking the same day trips and staying in the same hotels, it's inevitable that they'll gravitate to certain people, and many will form friendships – and maybe more – that last long after they return home.
Other significant reasons were "independence" (34%) and “self-confidence” (24%), factors that might point towards the feeling of freedom that retirement and financial security can bring – but also towards casting off the compliance and routine of the working life (and maybe even marriage). Finally, 47% wanted to "have fun" – so good luck if you're sharing a table with one of the other 53%.
Just like the solo cinemagoer, once a person has tried a singles holiday, they often wonder why they had put it off for so long. But something has to spark that initial decision – to be excited enough about the potential of a singles holiday to break out and actually book one.
Relationships back home – or their ending – play a notable part, but it's probably notable more for its lowness. Only 19% had recently separated from a long-term partner, which busts another myth about singles holidays being booked on the rebound after a divorce. And only 14% of people hoped to meet someone new to become close with.
Interestingly, 41% of those surveyed were divorced (although not necessarily recently). For comparison, 42% of marriages in England Wales end in divorce (according to the ONS). That means singles holidays actually underrepresent the divorced population. (Let's assume they're not going on the same holidays, which could get awkward.)
It seems that even happily married couples can be incompatible when it comes to wanderlust. We found that 2.5% of Solitair's customers were married to partners who refused to travel. While this might sound quite sad, when you tot up all the hours certain halves of marriage spend in their potting sheds or sitting under fishing umbrellas, a fortnight in Greece probably amounts to a couple of months' worth of normal separation. It shouldn't be a surprise really, though. We know the effect absence has on the heart. And let's face it, if a couple is strong enough to allow one partner to jet off the sun, they are the ones who should be doling out relationship advice.
We asked respondents to list their dream destinations. Again, they could nominate more than one if they wanted to. It seems inhabitants of these wet and blowy islands have one thing on their minds when they plunge into the world of fantasy – the sun – although they overwhelmingly liked to stay within five hours' flight.
Here's the top ten:
There are no real surprises in the destinations singles want to travel to – places full of history, beauty, fine cuisine and sunlight. The only surprise is how only two long-haul destinations – Cuba and India – were in the top ten. Australia, New Zealand, North and South America and the Far East hardly featured. We apparently don't have much of a taste for heading north, either, despite the wonders of the fjords that form a spectacular backdrop to many a cruise.
We've already seen how 76% of single travellers would like to “meet new people”, but how many of them are looking for love?
On the face of it, taking two weeks out might seem like quite an inefficient way of looking for a match compared with the ability to swipe aside dozens of would-be mates in a minute on a dating app. So we asked respondents to tell us how they had used online dating services.
Of the respondents, just 15% are currently using an online matchmaking service to find a partner, and 36% have used one in the past. The largest proportion to give an answer was the 42% who said they had never used an online dating service.
Perhaps the demographic is at play here. The generation that grew up with the internet thinks nothing of using it for its banking, entertainment, news, and yes, dating. But those currently in their 60s and beyond typically display a wariness to using the technology for such pursuits, and by extension will prefer the "traditional" methods of meeting partners. This will no doubt change as the older generation become more used to the technology, and today's younger generation will become tomorrow's older singles. But for now, it seems a holiday in the sun remains an alluring way to find love – for those who are seeking it.
We hope these findings have built up more of a founded picture of the typical traveller on a singles holiday. Some of the results have been surprising even to us. We'll be bringing you more findings from our survey over the coming months. And we've got some very interesting ones!