Who’s going, what it costs and top spots for going alone

Keem Smith has traveled to 63 countries alone.

Keem Smith | @limitlesssecrets

Shakeemah Smith has – alone – visited more countries than most people have visited in their lifetime.

She has traveled 63 countries alone, she said, and now coaches others on how to travel solo.

Smith – who goes by the name Keem – said she started traveling alone after a disagreement with a friend left her alone on holiday in Amsterdam.

“From then on I thought … I don’t have any other friends to travel with who either have the financial means to travel or don’t have family commitments 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 best to prepare by scouting hospital and US embassy locations and researching the city’s subway system.

“I chose a country that I was so excited to go to so that it would… lessen the fear of being alone,” she said. Arriving in Paris, she felt the preparation had paid off. “I walked around like I was the cat’s pajamas on the Champs Elysees because I’ve always felt like I was here. I did it,” she said.

Since posting travels from her Paris vacation on social media, Smith said people have messaged her to ask for solo vacation tips. She created a nine-week online course through teachable platform Travel Like a Bawse and taught 10,000 women the art of solo travel, she said.

A Teachable representative told CNBC that between the summers of 2020 and 2022, enrollments for solo traveler courses grew 31 times faster than other course types on the platform.

Smith also runs private coaching sessions that include itineraries, tours, and contact details for drivers and photographers — she recommends hiring someone to take photos for you. Her coaching also includes daily FaceTime calls for travelers’ first solo trips.

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Smith advises choosing a well-known destination like Paris for your first vacation alone.

“When you start out in places that are touristy … 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 to tie your happiness to someone else.

Shakeemah Smith

She also recommended Antigua and Barbuda, the Maldives and Bora Bora as safe destinations for solo travelers. “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 think so you’ll wait for a man to see the Indian Ocean ?”

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

Solo travel is something Angelee Rathor, chief executive of luxury vacation company SevenTravel, expects to be popular this year.

Following a spike in inquiries – many from women aged 45 and over – Rathor said her team had created several itineraries, including a “solo stay” to South Africa and a “me, me and Iceland” holiday to the Nordic country.

After the Covid-era closures, it was “well documented that couples and families … wanted to do these blowout trips, but truly solo travelers also want to make up for lost time and feel more confident exploring new places,” Rathor said.

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

Ingolfur Bjargmundsson | moment | Getty Images

The company specializes in upscale, bespoke travel. An 11-day solo trip to South Africa, which includes culinary experiences in Cape Town, the Winelands towns of Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, and several nights in two safari lodges with spa treatments, costs from £15,495 ($19,067), excluding flights.

Rathor’s team designs vacations that balance activity and relaxation. Solo experiences in Iceland can include a guided tour of the capital, Reykjavik, wine tasting under the Northern Lights, and a day at the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. The company offers 24-hour customer service on WhatsApp, which is an added reassurance for solo travelers.

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She said that people like to travel alone because they don’t have to consider other people’s interests.

“They’re doing what they want to do on this journey — 100% of the time,” she said. “When the wellness element is 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 degree programs in Nigeria, Japan and the UK during her career.

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

“Ever since I put pennies and dimes in my ‘Around the World’ bank as a kid [I] knew that was something I aspired to in life,” she told CNBC.

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

Solo traveler Judy Hoffman at Darwin Lake in the Galapagos Islands. On her trip to the Ecuadorian archipelago, she swam with sea lions and penguins.

Judy Hoffman

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

“To see rural people travel to a school in Tanzania and then stand in long lines to vote in an election touched me more than I can say,” she added.

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OAT’s website says it has 42,000 solo traveler reservations in 2023 and wants to encourage more people to travel alone. Added more single cabins with no single supplement, which are additional fees sometimes charged to solo travelers for staying alone in a room.

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

Hoffman shared tips for solo travelers.

“If you’re open-minded, which I’m not, you fit in right away,” she said. Otherwise, she suggested offering photos of fellow travelers to start a conversation.

She has another tip: “I always write in a diary when I travel and always have a book with me for my free time.”

A small city of around 200,000, Trondheim is known for its waterways, Gothic cathedral and bike lift that helps cyclists climb a steep hill.

Everste | Istock | Getty Images

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

“Don’t be afraid to say ‘yes,’ step out of your comfort zone, show interest in connecting with local people,” she told CNBC.

Like Rathor, Tronsvang has seen an increase in demand for solo travelers, 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 adventures, Norwegian culture and self-reflection, she said. It costs about $3,500 per person for lodging, transportation, guided tours, and some meals, but no flights.

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

“It’s usually people with flexible jobs like writers, photographers, or people between jobs,” she said. “We’ve also noticed a trend in people looking for a different kind of vacation in a busy life and people looking for meaning in travel.”

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