While more and more women are travelling solo, it seems men are less and less inclined to take the plunge. We asked some men to find out why…
Men: we’re letting the side down.
According to a 2015 study in the US, 58.3 per cent of solo travellers were female. In September of this year, a UK report picked up by Condé Nast Traveller claimed that females were seeking out more solo adventure trips than ever, all but confirming what you already knew deep down. Women are crushing it when it comes to travel.
Women who trot the globe alone routinely find themselves more at risk than men would be in the same situation, yet they do it again and again, leaving their male counterparts lagging behind while they go off and uncover the sort of experiences that only come around once in a lifetime. I’m not lying. Look around your office – who’s taken a sabbatical lately? Or how about that couple you know who split up recently – which one went to find themselves somewhere tropical while the other stayed at home playing FIFA, staring into an abyss of empty Domino’s boxes? Chances are it wasn’t a man. There are of course hundreds of thousands of men who travel alone for pleasure , that’s a given – but when you weigh up the stats, not to mention the mental boost travelling on your own gives you, it’s a travesty more of us aren’t slinging a backpack over our shoulders and going to find out to the world armed with Tic Tacs and wanderlust. So, just why aren’t we keeping up with the Bridget Joneses?
A fear of going it alone?
To get some answers (look at me, going all Louis Theroux) I spoke to men between the ages of 24 and 38, hoping it would shed some light on why solo travel is generally seen as a largely female pursuit. “Of those people you know who’ve ever travelled on a big foreign trip by themselves,” I asked, “how many have been women?”
80%” came one reply. “65-70%” estimated another. “A lot” said somebody who wasn’t keen to get numerical. “They have all been female!” laughed another.
Skewed demographics aside, another common thread which arose during the chats with the men was that of friendship group, and that women tended to have more social circles than men, but, importantly, smaller ones, granting them more freedom to navigate around these dynamics with less of the social pressures men would face: “I think males have a stronger and closer group of friends compared to females, and therefore if they go travelling then they’re more likely to go with friends,” says Bob, 24. “Females generally have a larger group of friends, but less genuine close friends who they would go travelling with, and because they’re used to jumping around different friend groups, finding a new one abroad is not a daunting task, whereas it might be for males.”
It can be daunting all right, as Graham, 31, attests. After fretting over whether to travel alone and work at a summer camp in the US during his university days, he took the plunge and didn’t look back: “The thought of going alone was initially scary, but I found it relaxing and freeing in comparison to stressful family holidays and fighting with siblings during flight delays. Solo adventures make you a lot more independent and confident.”
Making friends and alienating people
Deep down all men want to make friends, whenever, wherever, a new mate, someone to go for a pint with when there’s not much else to do. From the playground to the pub, you never lose that yearning for friendship’s warm, tender, Simpsons gag-referencing embrace, even if society’s parameters don’t always let us show it. Because that’s the deal: for all our gregarious ideals we remain slightly hesitant at striking first contact, of making that first move, as though asking another grown man for a beer and following it up over a text message might just not somehow look cool. The sort of mindset that could well muddle the thoughts of someone wondering if they could bond with strangers halfway around the world…
“Men probably don’t want to be viewed as loners or uncool when they travel alone,” says Graham. “We are generally more comfortable in groups. I think it takes time for some men to build up friendships and trust people enough to be themselves. We tend to wait to be invited and if it isn’t forthcoming can drift apart. I have lost friends because I didn’t ask lads at school to be invited somewhere.”
Chris, 32, agrees: “I can see why a lone male could find it harder to make friends and join other travelling groups. I think it’s definitely easier for females to make new friends for a number of reasons and to be accepted quicker.” Then there are the day to day events of leaving one’s social comfort zone when travelling alone, as Graham explains: “There are certain activities people are embarrassed about doing alone, and they could be as straightforward as going to a restaurant. Eating is a basic human need and in reality – nobody would look twice at someone dining alone and assume they are strange, but you can see why people would think it.”
The rise of the foreign stag do
Continuing to obliterate bank balances as swiftly as they are livers, the rise of the foreign stag do may be another reason for men being less inclined for solo adventures of late. A recent study of over 2,000 people found that Britons now shell out a whopping £350 on the average stag party compared to just £90 a decade ago, with foreign ones costing north of £500. Book a few of these per year and suddenly that ‘low-cost airline and unlimited torrent of watered down foreign beer’ your mate promised you doesn’t feel so light on the wallet, does it?
What’s more, unlike hen dos, stag dos arguably stand apart in that men can feel pressurised to attend them. When researchers from the University of Salford and University of Madrid came together this year to test the waters in Manchester and the Spanish capital, they found that not only do men not enjoy the chaotic, frenzied nature of stag dos, but feel pressurised to participate as well. Speaking to The Telegraph, former Loaded editor Martin Daubney said: “Most men loathe stag dos, but they are afraid to admit it,” he said: “If you don’t participate you are viewed as a traitor to masculinity.
“For a big group of male friends between the ages of 25-35, say, it’s not uncommon to be invited on several stag dos a year. It is likely that half of these may be abroad, expensive and take up annual leave allocation,” says Graham.
Making up for lost time
And lastly, what of male bonding itself? As we grow older, and our domains of hyper-localised and close friendship become largely restricted to WhatsApp groups and sporadic post-work pints as commitments arise, family gets in the way and you’re suddenly talking about how time flies and drifting apart in a sea of occasional texts, travel remains a good way of ensuring a proper catch-up. I myself have on occasions visited countries specifically as a way of properly catch-up with friends, combating the fear of growing apart from childhood friends who didn’t move down to the capital as I did with the bonus of soaking up a bit of culture and getting a nice tan. Two birds, one stone and all that.
Which isn’t all that far away from the thoughts of Chris (“I think travel and friendship each other very well and enhance the overall experience you have”) and Bob (“I like to share experiences with those people who I’m closest to, and I think the experience will be enhanced by sharing it with those people”).
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In fact, this keenness for a shared experience with friends may also pinpoint a fundamental difference between why we travel. In a recent study into millennial behaviour, it was claimed men travel the world looking for love, while women look for independence. Which certainly rings true among both sexes, with women using travel experiences to better themselves mentally, and men, well, just happy to bond, be it romantically or with a pal. And who knows, perhaps many men still don’t know how easy it can be to meet new friends, like minded individuals, in travel environments and how sweet the rewards can be.
Well, the good news is that the tide may be turning. Flash Pack has reported it’s had more men signing up for their group trips than ever, which may go some way to help tip the scales of solo travel back in the favour of menfolk. And if anything’s going to help men to break out of their comfort zones, it’s solo adventure and meeting new people.
Do you think Shackleton would have settled for an all-inclusive break in Tenerife? No, I didn’t think so.