Skip to main content

Getty Images/iStockphoto

When you travel alone, you can have apricot and rosemary-infused gin cocktails at 1 p.m. with impunity. You can shop for miniature soaps and jelly sandals without anyone hurrying you along, questioning your poor financial choices. You can take an architecture walking tour with a septuagenarian guide at 8 a.m. without anyone whining about the time or the kitsch factor (high). Or wolf down lemon scallops at a restaurant and gawk at the couples around you, who are invariably sulking or ignoring each other behind their iPhones.

Two can be lonelier than one, I discovered this summer in Miami, where I took my first solo trip at the tender age of 35. Why had I waited so long? Travelling alone lets you do what you want, when you want, without compromise. Without sulking.

I'm not alone in my discovery: A recent study from Visa found that the number of first-time solo travellers leaped from 16 per cent in 2013 to 37 per cent in 2015. One in five people travelled alone on their most recent leisure trip, and many women are choosing to go solo (somewhat cringingly, Visa dubbed them "Wander Women").

Aria Bendix mined the rise of people going it alone in a fascinating CityLab piece this week. She cites recent figures from the reservation service OpenTable on a massive 62 per cent spike in reservations for tables for one. The stigma around this previously unthinkable social act appears to be lifting. Restaurants are starting to cater to solo diners who want to treat themselves, and that's evident in everything from waiters who no longer bellow, "Just one?!" to the architecture: communal tables and counter seating, OpenTable's Caroline Potter noted in a press release.

Why the solo surge? Critical mass: We're delaying marriage and living single for longer periods of time.

"As the number of singles increases and as you see people travelling and dining alone, it's disinhibiting. If I were reluctant to go out to dinner alone but I see that there are other people doing it, it becomes less intimidating. I might feel emboldened,"says Bella DePaulo, a social scientist and author of the new book How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century.

DePaulo has long crusaded against "singlism": That's the gross judgy vibe we send single people, but also the discrimination that this subset can face in the workplace, where some singles are tacitly expected to work longer hours than their parenting counterparts.

Some stigma remains. Bendix cited a recent Journal of Consumer Research study, "Inhibited from Bowling Alone," that found people overestimate how fun things are if you do them with others, versus alone. Despite the heartening travel and dining numbers, many people remain fearful of doing things alone because they feel others are watching, judging and assuming they have no friends.

"People used to expect that if you go out by yourself others are going to be looking at you, wondering what's wrong with you: Don't you have any friends, you poor thing?" said DePaulo.

All the worrying may be for naught. For one of her studies, DePaulo showed respondents photographs of people eating with others and eating alone. Ultimately, the reactions weren't strikingly different: Some people said negative things about the solo diners and others about the marrieds. And others actually had plenty of positive things to say about the singles, like, "Enjoying a few good peaceful moments" and "He is secure."

DePaulo and other researchers believe that couples are generally less enmeshed in "intensive coupling" than they used to be. Now, even if you're dating, you may want to take a trip solo to Miami.

The authors of "Inhibited from Bowling Alone," both marketing professors, are encouraging people to "shed the chains of social inhibition" and asking restaurateurs, theatre conglomerates, museums and other destinations to step up.

"Marketers should stress the provable pleasures of solitary cultural consumption," the profs wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed this spring. "Having fun on your own isn't an anomaly – it's an underappreciated source of happiness."