Is it a contradiction—or a stroke of genius—to travel by yourself … but with a group?
I was part of a group that explored Utah’s five national parks with Southwest Adventure Tours this spring, and two members of our entourage were traveling solo: Erin Lekberg, an accountant from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Chris Bell, a native of England who works in Australia as a civil engineer.
I had a few questions for them, and their answers were enlightening. They were also reassuring, because even though I was on the job, I was also a solo traveler.
Why join a group tour?
Bell: I want to be with a guide who not only knows where to go, but what time of day to get there.
Lekberg: It’s much safer for a single woman, and it’s nice to have an itinerary planned out so you don’t have to do all the research.
What are the disadvantages?
Lekberg: Having to do things I don’t necessarily want to do.
Bell: The pace of the group can be different than your own. But there’s flexibility, too, and I did some extra hiking on my own.
What advice do you have for solo travelers?
Bell: Try to mix it up if the journey is long enough to allow it. After spending all day with the group for several days, you might want to do some things on your own.
Lekberg: Look for ratings and reviews on sites like TripAdvisor. And for this trip, I found that Utah has a list of reputable companies. Also, see if there’s a thorough itinerary so you’ll know what you’ll be doing.
Lekberg went on to offer suggestions for tour companies that want to be more solo-friendly: “Vehicles with bucket seats are great for single people, because you don’t have to sit right next to a stranger,” she said. “And be sure you’re considerate of people with gluten-free or other diet restrictions.”
(On our Southwest Adventure Tours program, the Sprinter van we traveled in did have individual seats, and all the restaurants on the itinerary accommodated special diets.)
Southwest’s regular rates assume double occupancy for hotel rooms, and the company charges a premium for solo travelers—reluctantly so, according to owner Jason Murray.
“We discount the single-traveler fee as much as we can, but we cannot get rid of it completely,” he said. “I have tried in the past to pair people up with other solo travelers, but it has been largely unsuccessful.”
Both of the solo travelers on our trip—make that all three of us—considered the experience successful.
“It’s more sociable,” Bell said. “You meet people and care about what’s going on with them.”
Photos by Bob Rouse