The Surprising Ways Solo Travelers Are Discriminated Against

Many solo travelers feel discriminated against by the travel industry at large

Illustration of solo traveler looking for a table

TripSavvy / Alison Czinkota

We’re celebrating the joy of solo travel. Let us inspire your next adventure with features about why 2021 is the ultimate year for a solo trip and how traveling alone can actually come with amazing perks. Then, read personal features from writers who have traversed the globe alone, from hiking the Appalachian Trail, to riding rollercoasters, and finding themselves while discovering new places. Whether you’ve taken a solo trip or you’re considering it, learn why a trip for one should be on your bucket list.

Few things in life rival the pleasure of solo travel: the freedom of creating your own custom itinerary, making transport arrangements on the fly, and meeting other solo travelers along the way. It’s all fun and games until you get the bill and find it far higher than expected.

Because most price rates for accommodations, transportation, and tours assume double occupancy for each booking, solo travelers often have to pay a single supplement that can inflate their out-of-pocket costs significantly. The single supplement price can be up to 100 percent of the original rate, and if you're traveling alone on a cruise or group tour, that can mean unexpectedly spending upwards of $1,000.

With such steep surcharges being commonplace, it's unsurprising that many solo travelers feel discriminated against by the travel industry at large. A 2015 study on solo travelers found high dissatisfaction factors associated with such double-tiered practices like “the extra cost due to the single supplement required [and] the lack of dining service for individual travelers,” among others.

“Having to pay for stuff that really you’re not benefiting from, that’s a real bugger for me,” one of the study’s respondents complained. “It’s outrageously expensive, you know it’s like almost one and a half times the cost, particularly with accommodation.”

 Frustrated solo traveler at airport check-in counter

Eye Candy Images/Getty Images

Types of Discrimination Solo Travelers Face

While there are definitely strong advantages to traveling alone, the numerous complaints about double standards for solo travelers have a basis in fact, and the impact is not just monetary. From difficulty finding a table at a restaurant to those dreaded single surcharges, these are just a few examples of the discrimination these travelers face:

More Expensive Accommodations

A casual study conducted in 2020 by Overseas Adventure Travel found that 47 percent of their clients registered as solo travelers, with female travelers making up 85 percent of this group. Despite a clear rise in solo travel, many hotels have not yet caught up with the times, sticking to an outdated travel model that prioritizes couples.

The price you see listed on most hotel booking platforms assumes double occupancy, and when just one person occupies that room, the provider stands to lose money if they don't charge extra.

“[Single supplement] fees are simply the reality of what happens when the cost of hotel rooms are not split across two people,” explained Greg Geronemus, co-chief executive of New York tour operator SmarTours. “Think about when you’ve reserved a hotel room for just yourself—you incur the full cost of that room as opposed to splitting it with someone else.”

Even supposed “solo-friendly” room rates may not bear a closer look, says Friendly Planet Travel founder Peggy Goldman: "Some companies mask the fee for singles by inflating prices across the board to create an appearance of free or reduced single supplements.”

Getting the Worst Rooms

If the more expensive rooms weren't enough, some solo travelers report that hotels tend to give them the least favorable rooms, despite not being fully booked at the time.

“I’ve hardly ever booked a room in a hotel with full occupancy, but the story is always the same,” said Dave S., an American solo traveler. “Last time, I was given a room next to the elevator, with an intolerable noise level. Other times I’ve been booked for rooms facing a blank wall or with windows opening to a construction site.”

Even for those less-than-choice rooms, solo travelers can’t help but avoid paying a premium as well. “It’s a bit ironic—once I booked a room with only a single bed,” reported Gina A., a German solo traveler. “Even then, I was still charged the single supplement!”

Awkward Restaurant Experiences

Certain destinations have an ingrained cultural bias against people dining alone—often the only option for solo travelers—to the point of refusing service altogether.

"When I was solo traveling in Copenhagen, I wanted to book at the famous restaurant Noma," recalled Katherine Goh, managing editor of lifestyle publication Asia 361. "I saw on the website that I can only be put on the waitlist. There was no option for one person. Basically, it's just two persons and above. Nevertheless, I just put myself on the waitlist for two persons online.

“Seats were freed up eventually, and Noma called me,” Katherine told TripSavvy. “I had to tell them it's for one person because the online system has no option for one. So in the end, they turned me down.”

The cultural context in other places may leave solo diners feeling vulnerable, as with Clare Gallagher’s experience in Malaysia. “I found Kuala Lumpur terrible for dining alone,” she told Flash Pack. “The waiters wouldn’t leave me alone asking why I was by myself, do I want a date, etc.”

Some Travel Companies Are Changing With the Times

With the undeniable rise of solo travel as a market segment, travel companies are beginning to reconsider their policies. More are pairing singles or offering discounts on single supplements or waiving them entirely for solo travelers.

Roommate-Matching Tours

Many companies selling conventional tours offer options for solo travelers who agree to be matched with other solo travelers, negating the single supplement and allowing both travelers to split their expenses. There is a downside though, the booking agency often gives you a limited choice on your room match.

Discounted or Waived Single Supplements

More tour companies and cruise lines are saying goodbye to the single supplement altogether, though usually there’s a catch—they’re often meant to fill unsold slots or cabins (which can mean you're getting an undesirable room) and generally aren’t available as last-minute choices.

  • Norwegian Cruise Line offers cabins specifically designed for solo travelers; their Solo Staterooms measure about 100 square feet and include entry to the keycard-access-only Studio Lounge.
  • Avalon Waterways will waive its single supplement charges on select cruises. Try booking far in advance to secure these discounts.
  • Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) offers free or low-cost single supplements on all small-ship trips, adventures, and trip extensions, with 30,000 single spaces available for 2022 bookings. OAT also offers a matching roommate program.
  • Tauck offers solo travel discounts for their category 1 cabins and waived single supplements on all European river cruises. Select river cruises also offer savings of up to $1,000 for solo travelers; restrictions apply.

How to Get Around Solo Traveler Hurdles

The solo traveler gospel is getting around the industry, but not every hotel or tour agency has heard the call. In the meantime, try one of these tips or tricks to feel less like a travel pariah on the solo trail.

  • Share a room: When sharing a room you get the added benefit of splitting costs and perhaps gaining a friend in the process.
  • Travel on the off-season: Travelers who visit an area during the low season enjoy greater negotiating power. Many hotels and tour agencies are happy to waive single supplements for solo travelers during these lean times to fill rooms. They have a greater incentive to get your patronage at a lower price, rather than none at all.
  • Avoid packaged tours: Solo travelers who arrange their own tours or talk to a small bespoke tour operator instead of joining an impersonal packaged tour curated by a big company may have greater sway in finding accommodations or services that will gladly lower the cost.
  • Ask for a waiver: Whatever the circumstance, it doesn’t hurt to ask, and your travel service provider may have an incentive to lower their costs for you, even if it doesn’t look too obvious at the time.
  • Eat at casual-dining outlets: Some sit-down restaurants may look down their nose at solo travelers, but those standards simply don’t apply at casual dining places. Casual outlets tend to be frequented by solo patrons, so you won’t be out of place at that cafe, food truck, or that restaurant with a communal table.