There is something liberating about travelling by yourself.
Nobody else you need to consult if you want to do something, no compromising on where to have dinner, freedom to craft the journey exactly the way you want. Although I have often travelled with friends, most of the time I am on my own, perfectly happy with that.
Except for one thing – the dreaded single supplement.
There’s always an unofficial single supplement with any solo travel. You’re paying for the whole car hire or taxi for the airport, for example, rather than splitting it with someone. But I guess that’s the same as many aspects of life – from buying birthday presents to paying the mortgage. (Do some people just get into relationships to save money?)
But the official single supplements can be particularly galling. It gives your singledom a name and puts a price on it. You must pay more because you don’t have someone else to travel with. It can actually be quite hurtful for people who aren’t single by choice, who have lost their partner, for instance. There are many keen travellers who have stopped taking trips after their wife or husband died, not just because of the additional cost, but because of the emotional turmoil of being penalised for being alone.
From a tour operator’s perspective, you can see the economic logic. Normally they would sell their trips based on double occupancy – with two people sharing a room – and if you’re on your own, you need to pay the extra to make up the difference in the cost. While that could be just hundreds of dollars for a tour where the majority of the overheads is the daily activities (not the nightly accommodation), the single supplement for many ocean cruises can almost double the price of the fare, because it’s the room that is the main cost for the operator.
So, is there anything you can do about the single supplement? Or are you just destined to pay double the price as anyone who’s in one of those loved-up couples (or the loveless hook-ups that I assume exist just to save a few bucks)?
Many tour companies offer the option to waive the single supplement if you’re willing to share a room with another solo traveller. Small-group travel companies like Intrepid and G Adventures have advocated this approach for many years now and it’s the default for their tours. They also try to keep the cost to have your own room as low as possible, usually about 20 per cent on top of the standard tour price.
Solo travellers are paired up with someone of the same gender and, because of this, you’ll often find yourself with your own room anyway because there’s an odd number of people. Sharing a room with someone can sometimes be a fun part of a holiday anyway – it certainly gives you someone to talk to straight away, if the idea of a group of couples and friends feels intimidating.
In recent years, the number of solo travellers has increased, and some parts of the industry have reacted accordingly. The cruising sector is usually known for its exorbitant single supplements (to the extent that some avid single cruisers just book a double room outright when it’s on sale, because it turns out cheaper) has actually seen some companies start to incorporate amenities for singles into their new designs.
Norwegian Cruise Line was the first to build studio rooms for one person into their ships, as well as provide an exclusive lounge for these passengers so they could mingle in a more welcoming environment. Just this week, Oceania Cruises announced it’s taking the idea even further with its new ship Vista, launching in 2023, which will have luxury staterooms for one. (The reality is most single studios feel particularly pokey.)
There are still ways to be guaranteed your own (large) room on cruises and tours without the extra costs, and that’s with special sales when companies will waive the single supplement completely. These are often just for a limited number of fares, during the shoulder periods, and for rooms that they’re having trouble selling. But the good news is that there are quite a few great deals at the moment because of the pandemic, so this might be an opportune time to book that solo trip you’ve been hesitating about because of the cost.
If none of these options float your boat (excuse the cruise pun), then there are some tour companies that cater exclusively to the single market. A wonderful example is the Australian operator Two’s A Crowd, which only hosts solo travellers on its tours (so no couples whispering secrets to each other over dinner). As well as being amongst like-minded travellers, it’s nice to know you’re not being penalised for your single status. In 2022, Two’s A Crowd is running trips to places like the Warrumbungles, Norfolk Island, and New Zealand.
With the number of single travellers on the rise (recent estimates put it at about 18 per cent of the market), expect to see more tourism operators find ways to cater for this crowd.
You may still have to cover the whole fare of the taxi from the airport, but hopefully that’s where it ends.
See more on Michael Turtle’s Travel Australia Today website