Justine Waddington is the founder and director of Encounter Travel, a company that creates holiday groups exclusively for solo travellers. As a solo traveller with 60 countries under her belt and 14 years of leading travel groups, Justine is in the unique position of being able to offer tips and advice from the perspective of an experienced solo traveller and also that of a travel agent.
Solo Travel Birthday 13
It’s a big day for solo travel. Since 2006 we’ve created solo travel tours, and 24 August 2019 celebrates our 13th birthday. And, for the last thirteen years we’ve played a big part in the lives of 100’s and 100’s of solo travellers.
Looking back to the early days, solo travel companies, or tour companies taking care of solo travellers were few and far between. Nowadays, some mainstream travel companies are creating some groups just for solo travellers, but there’s still very few solo travel companies around the world that exclusively create packages for solo travellers.
When I first started Encounter Travel, I had to explain (far too many times), the concept of solo travel tours. Solo travel for us is about leaving home alone (but not wanting to travel alone). We deliver a way for single travellers to find their place in the world of travel, where usually they are faced with the options of joining other touring companies dominated by couples travelling together. And, when you talk about solo travel for over 40’s, or solo travel for over 50’s, it’s even a greater challenge with more travellers paired up as couples, travelling together.
Birthday’s are the perfect time to standstill and reflect on where you’ve come from and where you are now. Each year on our birthday I always remember the beginning, and why I started a travel company for solo travellers. This birthday I decided to share it, with my thirteen takeaways – one for each birthday year.
1. SOLO TRAVEL IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL
For an experienced solo traveller it feels normal to take off alone but for many of our solo travellers it’s their first time; maybe after the heartache of a broken relationship, or the grief of losing a partner, or just never taking the plunge sooner. Taking off solo for the first time is good for the soul – it nurtures your confidence, can be healing steps if mending some wounds, may ease the heartache of grief, and for everyone it’s escapism from the daily grind.
2. ‘SOLO’ IS NOT THE SAME AS ‘ALONE’
To travel alone is one thing. To travel solo, but not alone is something else. There are plenty of travellers content with being alone on their travels. But being alone is not the same as travelling solo when you join a group for solo travellers. You start out on your own, going with the peace of mind that you’re joining an organised group, and better still, it’s just for solo travellers.
3. TRAVELLER TESTIMONIALS
We send a survey via email after your trip. It’s optional but most travellers complete it, and I read them all! It’s where we get ideas for new tours, enhancements and some fabulous suggestions. It’s also how we can connect with how our travellers feel, after joining on of our tours.
Below are a few reminders that are the epitome of how so many of our travellers feel after returning home.
“Encounter Travel has introduced me to solo travel and now I’m hooked after my first tour - Discover Greece and the Islands” - Lea, 64, ACT
“This has been my third trip with Encounter and once again it has been a highlight, always well organised & informative and love the fact that you cater for the solo traveller.” - George, 57, NSW
“Encounter Travel offered me the perfect way to enjoy travel with a small group of people of a similar age. A highly recommended way to travel for solos!” - Lindy, 66, VIC.
“Touring China with Encounter was the best experience ever. Travelling with solo people in my age group made all the difference to me. Everything Encounter organised was spot on. One of the best holidays ever.” - Jenny, 61, QLD
“Thoroughly enjoyed this holiday with like-minded people in a beautiful developing country (Vietnam).” - Steve, 69, WA
4. NOT ALL SOLO TRAVELLERS ARE THE SAME
When we first started out it was resort breaks and a select number of tours – Vietnam was our first international tour (and it’s still on offer today). Summed up, it was a four star touring offer and four or five star resort breaks. Then, along came our walking tours for single travellers, and back in 2011 our cruise groups for solos where added to the line up. And just this year, we’ve extended our offer. Firstly, with our announcement of our Under 39’s touring, ideally suited for singles over 30, but under 40. And secondly our essentials touring product - tour packages that are mindful on the budget but not scrimping on value.
It was over time, that I came to appreciate that not all solo travellers are the same, and it’s why we now feature six travel styles. I’d say we’ve got most of the bases covered, except for extreme adventure touring…. but never say never.
5. THE BIG GAP – HOLIDAYS FOR SINGLES OVER 45
You may not know, but our first ever solo travel group was a resort break on Daydream Island, Far North Queensland, Australia in 2006. It was a 30s travel group and some 40 somethings. As time went on, the glaring gap for solo travellers was holidays for singles over 45. Contiki touring ends at 35 and is popular with single travellers, but still today, there’s not enough for solo travellers over 45 or solo travellers over 40 when you compare it to the myriad of tours dominated by couples over 40. This is where we focus on making a difference. Closing the gap, with more and more solo travel tours every year for single travellers over 40.
6. SMALL GROUPS. SOLOS ONLY.
We’ve always been focused on small group tours, but we’ve dabbled with some larger tour groups. It was last year that we drew a line in the sand, and now exclusively feature small group tours for solos only. (aside from our cruising and resort groups, not in the class of touring). We knew it’s what we did well, and we also know from our traveller feedback, this is a highlight – experiencing destinations in more intimate groups, more personal contact with their group tour director and the tight connections among travellers that small group touring lends itself to.
7. WE CAN’T BE FOR EVERYONE
We’re challenged on the idea of ‘solo travel’ in groups from time to time. And that’s fine, as we know there’s intrepid solo travellers, not looking to seek out organised group travel. But, there’s a lot of solo travellers that leave home alone, but don’t want to face the prospect of travel alone. We’re not a fit for the intrepid independent solo traveller, but we’re the perfect match for solo travellers leaving home alone but looking to share their travels.
8. SOLO TRAVEL IS NOT ALWAYS SINGLES TRAVEL
Some years ago we settled on moving way from ‘singles’ travel to ‘solo travel’. We used to talk about holidays for singles, but then came to the understanding that there’s solo travellers, that aren’t single. ‘Solo travel’ is all encompassing. For us, it means leaving home alone, whether you’re single or partnered, to fulfil your travel dreams.
9. SINGLE FEMALE TRAVEL TOURS
We’re definitely a top pick for single females seeking out solo travel, but we’re not a single female travel tours company. There are some amazing women only tour companies, but for us, we know our solo travellers enjoy the group dynamic of solo travel tours with men and women.
We’re often asked about the ratio of men to women/women to men in our solo travel tours, and as a sweeping statement, we say there’s more women than men in our groups. But where we see more men joining us, it would for our solo traveller resort, or cruise groups. But then again, each tour group is different, and we’ve even had the anomaly from time to time of more men in a group tour than women.
If you’re seeking out single female travel tours, you’re still going to come across amazing women in our travel groups, but it’s with the added bonus of a the group dynamic of mixed gender touring.
10. THERE’S LOTS OF GREAT ROOMMATES
There’s a lot of solo travellers that make perfect roommates, but that said, most of our solo traveller take their own rooms. We let solo travellers make their own choice. You can take your own room, or share and save when you opt for roommate matching. Anyone thinking about sharing, we encourage you to chat with us about what to expect, and be aware of the implications of sharing. Our first question is ‘do you snore?’, and if you snore, don’t ask to share. There’s lots of wonderful roommate sharing stories, but it’s not for everyone. Visit our roommate blog to read more tips and solo traveller roommate matching.
It’s not uncommon that solo travellers tell us they have friends they could travel but opt to join without a friend. In a nutshell, their sentiment is the freedom enjoyed when you make plans on your own (it’s a preference not to take on the incumbent needs and wants of their friends, as much as they love their friends).
When you join a group of strangers, it’s not long, maybe only minutes before you feel you’ve got new friends in tow....but without the expectations, that perhaps come along with travelling with a friend from home. It’s amazing to share a trip with a friend, but there’s a new experience to be had when you take off alone. Self-discovery, new friendships, unknown encounters.
12. SINGLE SUPPLEMENT WOES
The dreaded single supplement, and the never-ending mission to seek out no single supplement travel deals. We step in and ease the burden. From time to time we’ve got amazing no single supplement travel deals, and for the most, our tours offer low single supplements.
A big takeaway for anyone looking to travel solo about the single supplement. We pay for a hotel room, not per person. The travel industry has done no favours to solo travellers, advertising prices based on sharing… .it’s created the idea that the hotel room price is based on a price per person. The reality is, we pay for a hotel room, and if you share you split the cost.
We advertise prices for your own room up front, then let you know the saving if you’re happy to share, but for the most, solo travellers over 40 that book with us, overwhelming are represented by travellers that want their own room. If you want to share, there’s still the option.
13. LIFE IS SHORT, JUST DO IT!
If you’re thinking about solo travel, but not yet taken the plunge, then just do it. I’ve heard too many comments after a first-ever solo trip along the lines off, ‘I can’t believe I waited so long, ‘ or ‘this has been life changing, I feel like I was missing out before’. Read the blog, Take the Plunge.
As I look back on the last thirteen years my happy place is the reminder(s) of why I started in the first place. I meet our solo travellers, either in our solo travel tour groups, on our resort breaks, in our cruise groups, and also at our solo traveller events that we hold in some cities around Australia. First hand, our solo travellers are the best reminder of why I do what I do when they share with me their solo travel stories and joys.
On a global scale, there’s been a shift to solo travel and more and more singles are seeking out travel, but not alone. We’ve come a long way since our beginnings, as one of the few singles holiday companies advocating for solo travel.
Please spread the word, help us celebrate, and share our blog post.
SOMETHING TO SHARE?
Have you got a story to share? Send us your solo travel story, for inclusion on our blog page. Know anyone that could find some encouraging words from my story? Please share and be a voice for travelling solo.
Visit our Contact Us page on our website.
Travelling with us,or thinking about it, or just curious? Join our Facebook Tribe of solo travellers.
Solos Only Tour Groups
For a full list of small group tours.
You can avoid dining solo when you join a Cruise Circle for Solos for group, with cruises departing from Australia, orjoin the Facebook group.
Getting Started For The First Time?
Check out my book, How To Travel Solo But Not Alone
We've already racked up 13 years of experience creating and delivering the best ever holidays for solo travellers. As a boutique tour operator, we delight in detail, delivering personal service and finding your next best memory.
100% Australian; we 'get' the Australian travel style. And, better still, our arms are open to welcome our friends from other countries around the world, who'd like to travel with friendly Aussies.
Our Solos Only trips are age-matched - it's more likely you will travel with other like-minded single
travellers. Popular age groups include 40 to 59 years and 45 years & over.