Solo-Friendly Travel Companies

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OAT, with whom a number of ITN readers have travelled, recently announced a policy that will apparently severely reduce the number of single rooms available on its tours. A thread was started on its forum requesting suggestions for alternative companies, although some people feel uncomfortable and reluctant to discuss other companies on OAT's forum. As I thought the ITN Message Board would be a good place to have such a discussion, I am writing this message to ask for recommendations of tour companies that are friendly to solo travelers, that is, companies which have no single supplements or have very low single supplements and which do not strictly limit the number of singles on its tours, i.e., which are willing to add extra single rooms or convert doubles to singles after any set singles quota has been met.

I am a solo traveler who enjoys fairly frequent international trips. I started traveling internationally in 1968, two years after graduating from college.

I took my first tour with GCT/OAT in 2010, and have taken a total of 9 tours to date.
OAT: Southeast Asia, Vietnam & Bali, Israel, Central America;
GCT: Argentina & Chile; South Africa; Central Europe; Mexico (Colonial & Pre-Hispanic); Spain's Cultural Cities.
I have enjoyed excellent experiences that were based on interesting itineraries and skilled tour leaders. Their free single supplement was an additional enticement. And, honestly, I never had difficulty booking a single accommodation on the date of my choice. However, the company has stated that they will be strictly enforcing their standing policies concerning a ceiling on the number of singles available on each trip. In the past, the company has been flexible about allowing adjustments to this ceiling. Strict enforcement will effectively limit the number of solo spots available in the future.

In any event, all the time I was traveling with GCT/OAT and before, my varied travel interests have led me to use a large number of different providers. When I first started traveling, I was satisfied with the broad itineraries offered by commonly used companies including Globus, Trafalgar, and Insight.

As my travel experience and maturity increased, I needed to look for more specialized companies. I have never had difficulty booking a single accommodation, and I have not found the single supplements to be burdensome or unfair. Besides GCT/OAT, I have been completely satisfied with the tours that I took from the following providers. I found the tour leaders to be engaging, knowledgeable, helpful, and flexible. I found that the accommodations were usually centrally located, 3-star (sometimes 4-star) establishments similar or identical to those used by OAT/GCT. Other than breakfasts, there were few included lunches or dinners. Lunch was usually "on the road" or in a town where the tour leader made several recommendations and then led those who were interested to a favorite spot. Similarly, although dinners were at your own expense, tour leaders often escorted interested participants to a favorite restaurant. The exceptions are Collette, Insight, and Globus, and GCT/OAT whose tours generally included several special meals. For most of the companies, virtually all the tours mentioned in the itineraries were included as opposed to optional. Gate 1 and GCT/OAT are exceptions because several of their tours were optional.
Collette Tours: China, Peru, Ecuador, Australia/New Zealand;
Globus: Egypt;
Insight: Morocco, Southern Italy/Sicily, Ireland/Scotland, Southern Spain;
Gate 1: Israel/Jordan, Northern India;
Peregrine Adventures: Jordan/Syria, Bolivia, Nepal;
Explore: Ukraine/Moldova, Silk Road, Baltic States, Former Yugoslavia;
East-West Tours: Russia;
Insight Cuba: Cuba;
Discover Brazil: Brazil;
Awaze Tours (Local: Addis Ababa): Ethiopia;
Arara Tours (Local: Yerevan) (Upcoming): Armenia/Georgia.

I have also found that it was convenient and enjoyable for me to organize independent travel to the following regions:
Northern Europe (Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, France, Luxembourg);
Eastern Canada (Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City);
Central Mexico (San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato);
Colombia (Cartagena, Bogota);
Nicaragua (Granada, Leon, Managua);
Arabian Peninsula (UAE, Oman);
Malta & San Marino.

I used Kayak, Expedia, Viator, and similar sources to make the arrangements. My independent tours to Columbia and to the Arabian Peninsula were inspired by Gate 1 itineraries. But, while doing researching, I found that I could organize very similar trips independently and at a lower cost. My tour to Malta was similarly inspired by an itinerary offered by Explore.

Explore, a UK company often mentioned on this forum, has announced a no-single supplement offer on 23 of its trips. Bookings need to be done by the end of July.

I'm glad they have caught on to how powerful an incentive this can be! www.exploreworldwide.com

Thanks, Pinky, for posting this news.

Of course, no single supplement is best, but I would also like to alert people to the following info:

Even without that deal, Explore's single supplements are usually not very high and when combined with the basic trip costs, the total amounts are generally cheaper than tours such as OAT tours. Although tipping amounts are of course a personal decision, money spent on tips on Explore tours, even including a tip kitty for persons other than the tour leader, tends to be much less than with OAT because the extremely high American tipping standards are generally not used.

Moreover, Explore has a loyalty discount of 5% when you book your fifth to ninth Explore group trip and a 10% discount when you book your 10th and all subsequent group trips (excluding the single supplement); one doesn't have to book the trip months in advance to receive the discount.

Additionally, in my experience, Explore has been able to make more singles available after the original allotment has been filled.

One more way Explore is very traveler-friendly is that it has guaranteed trips. One of my tours had only 4 people and it still went.

Ponant Cruises, which has five expedition ships has announced no single supplement on several of their cruises. I did their Siberia/Aleutian Islands itinerary last year and will sail with them in Australia and Indonesia this year. They are excellent.

www.ponant.com (then click on "Special Offers")

I usually book thru ExpeditionTrips based in Seattle. Jennifer, one of their agents, knows my travel schedule keeps an eye out for no-single-supplement offers I might be interested in. I've booked both Ponant and Zeagrahm with her. She is a good person to know: jennifer@expeditiontrips.com

I've travelled with Adventures Abroad to Syria & Jordan; Morocco; Central Europe; Malta and Southern Italy; and Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. While there is a single supplement, on all trips there were many "singletons," some of which booked single rooms and others who opted for a matched "share."

I have traveled with OAT twice and have a trip coming up later this year. I haven’t chosen their trips based on the lack of a single supplement, in fact, I would prefer to be able to book whatever trip I want, rather than being forced to fit in with their schedule of available singles. For the past 10 years, the majority of my trips have been with ElderTreks, I like their itineraries. It seems that their trips have been filled with singles recently. I know back in 2010, when I took their Bhutan trip there were 3 couples and 2 singles. Last year, both trips had 1 couple and 5 or 6 singles. ET does charge a single supplement, but will pair people up if they wish and as far as I understand, do not charge the single supplement if they don’t have someone to put with you. One downside is they sometimes stay in smaller lodgings and will require singles to share for a few nights.

My husband and I have taken 8 trips with Eldertreks and only once (that I can think of) in southern Ethiopia did the singles have to share if they hadn't signed up to do so and that was only for 1 or 2 nights.

Hi Marian, singles had to share a room on the Stans trip for at least 2 nights, counting the overnight train. Off the top of my head, I also shared a room in Mongolia, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, and Tribes and Temples of India. ElderTreks has changed some itineraries or removed one of those tours, but sharing has happened, which I haven’t encountered in any other companies. So while I obviously enjoy the tours offered by ElderTreks and would recommend them for singles, I wanted to warn about the possibility of sharing, which they normally do mention at the time of booking.

Point well-taken. I had forgotten about the Stans. I was so sick on that trip (particularly the train ride) that I was oblivious to what was going on elsewhere.

Thank you, Karyn, for starting this discussion. I have been a loyal customer of OAT and have recommended them to many folks. I was disheartened to hear of their new policy and am now finding it hard to book with them, having to give them a $350 deposit to have an early chance at a trip more than a year away. I'm annoyed, as you can tell. So I'm glad to have the info about Explore, Pinky, thanks.

Many replies to this thread dealt with OAT trips. As a couple, we booked many trips with OAT because we always believed we got best value for the money. Being good consumers, even though we were fully satisfied with OAT, we still did comparison shopping to validate our 'best value for the money' thought. Recently, we have noticed that OAT trips of recent years, have not been giving us the 'best value for the money.' We found that OAT adds an increasing amount of 'free time,' at the expense of taking clients to things that should be seen, as other companies do, and then charging for those 'optional items.' OAT always had optional items, but not to the extent of making optional things that other companies included. When I( or rather my wife ) added up the cost of optionals, in many instances, the OAT trip was more expensive. Another reason for this is the free time. Many other tour companies have fewer days for their trip, thereby reducing the cost per day, while still taking you to see what you should see. Obviously, this costs money to extend the number of days. If we wanted 'free time' to explore on our own, we'd book independently. But I believe a tour should include everything, and not tell you to see it on your own. We did notice however, that many other companies we researched had a single supplement to varying degrees. I would guess that in comparison to OAT's 'no single supplement policy,' you get what you pay for. And my wife and I have double digit trips with Grand Circle/OAT with one more booked. so that should be taken in context with these remarks.

I travel solo with OAT too, and have 4 trips booked...plus a deposit on a trip for April 2020 ! I’m taking a Road Scholar trip this summer, and found the single supplement tolerable. I’ve enjoyed the comments here and am looking into Explore and possibly Eldertreks.

I just made a deposit on an OAT’s Egyot trip in 2020, 2018 and 2019 being booked already, for the privilege of being given early notice when the trip opens for reservations. The deposit is now $500, refundable, but a hefty interest-free loan in the interim.