Solo travel might be good for the soul, but it can be hard on the pocket.
At a time when we’re already trying to find ways to save money on our holidays, going it alone – without anyone to split some of those major costs with – might seem like an expensive way to travel.
But it doesn’t have to be. We consulted the experts and got their top tips for saving money while traveling solo.
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Accommodation is a major expense of any trip, but it can eat into your budget even more when you’re footing the bill alone.
If you’re planning to be away for a while, one option is to look for opportunities where you’re offered lodging (and usually food) in exchange for a few hours of work, through platforms like WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) ), Workaway, and HelpX. You can also find house sitting and pet sitting opportunities.
That’s how Gina Cambridge did it, when she embarked on her first solo adventure at the age of 40 after a long-term relationship break-up. The Coromandel local has since holidayed and worked in more than 23 countries, and runs Wanderlust Solo Women’s Tours, hosting small groups both in New Zealand and abroad.
“You get that exchange of accommodation but also that exchange of an experience – it’s a great way to meet locals and get out to not-so-touristy spots.”
For shorter solo adventures, Cambridge will often stay in hostels. Some travelers may balk at the idea, without understanding what’s on offer. These days, there are plenty of options with private rooms and ensuites, which are pricier than a shared room, but still much cheaper than a hotel.
“Hostels are definitely not a write-off and there’s some very high-end ones. You don’t have to do the whole dorm thing anymore.”
Flight Center general manager marketing Jodie Burnard agreed hostels were a great option as they usually had cooking facilities, or solo travelers could look for studio units with kitchenettes, as she found was handy on a recent trip to Hawaii.
“I was quite happy just to grab some fruit and yogurt and have that for breakfast and save money for going out and having nice dinners and cocktails.”
It was also important to choose the location of your accommodation carefully, as both Burnard and Cambridge recommended using public transport as much as possible.
“A lot of people book a place that looks really cool but it’s miles out of town or not on a transport route, so then they’re spending way more money getting taxis or Ubers to get into town,” said Cambridge.
“I always make sure I’m walking distance from a train station or metro so I’m not spending extra trying to get from A to B.”
She also recommends scouting out for free walking tours in a city. “They’re the best thing ever,” she said.
“I try and do them most places I go because they’re a great way of getting an orientation of the city you’re in and they show you little spots you probably wouldn’t know. And you always meet other solo travelers on them.”
Burnard is a big fan of hop-on-hop-off bus tours. “You might think they may be a little touristy but they’re a great way to get your bearings from the city,” she said.
“And then you’ve already paid for that transport so you can use it to go for dinner or go back to a neighbor – you can get a lot of value out of it.”
Going in a group
There was a time when many cruise lines and tour operators penalised solo travelers by charging a single supplement—a surcharge to reflect the fact they were occupying a room designed for two.
But as demand for solo travel has risen, many companies now offer deals where they reduce the single supplement or even waive it altogether.
“They’ll also look to match you up with someone of the same gender if you want to share a room so you don’t necessarily need to pay the single supplement,” said Burnard.
Some cruise lines, such as Norwegian and Oceania, even have special cabins designed and priced for solo travellers.
Intrepid Travel managing director for Australia and New Zealand Brett Mitchell said more than half of those on their tours were solo travellers.
For this group, there was the option to share with another traveler of the same gender, as well as a single supplement for those who wanted their own room.
“We’ve found more and more people are starting to pay the single supplement,” he said.
“They love the idea of being in a small group but they want some freedom and to enjoy some of their own time. It’s a trip that has the best of both worlds.”
Even with the single supplement, overall traveling as part of a group would likely work out cheaper than trying to do the same trip yourself, he said.
“If you go with a well-respected tour operator, you get access to much cheaper wholesale rates for accommodation, and transport’s the other big one – you’re sharing transport. When we go to restaurants, you’re sharing food – all these things help in the end.”
Know what you value
When it comes to travel, cheaper isn’t always better. Sure, you could do everything for the lowest possible price – but if you don’t end up having a good time, was that really money well spent?
Burnard from Flight Center said their travel experts would often have that conversation with solo travelers to work out what the most meant to them.
“As a solo traveler, it’s about being really clear what you’re comfortable with and not so comfortable with – for example, ‘I’m comfortable with sharing a dorm with someone’, or ‘no, I probably need a studio unit, I’m happy to pay more for accommodation but I’ll save money on some of my meals and using public transport’.”
Cambridge said offering as much value as possible at an accessible budget was something she was conscious of when designing her own tours.
“As someone who doesn’t have a lot of money to travel I know finance is a huge barrier – for women even more so because we tend to put ourselves last,” she said.
She liked to book her trips well in advance, making the most of “book now, pay later” deals and diligently setting aside money until it was paid off.
“You might have an account for your flights where you put aside $10 a week… you’ve just got to allow yourself the time to do that.”
Still, there were some aspects of travel Cambridge allowed herself to splurge on. She didn’t mind paying a bit more for a respected airline and a more direct route to ensure she was comfortable.
Paying $49 for access to an airport lounge during a seven-hour transit recently had also been “worth every cent”, offering free wi-fi, unlimited food and drinks and a place to escape the crowds.
“You don’t want to come home shattered and feel like you need another vacation.”
What are your tips for saving money as a solo traveller? Let us know in the comments.