The rise of adventure travel: How millennials are reinventing solo travel

Are group trips the answer to loneliness? WeRoad travellers on a trip to Nepal.
Are group trips the answer to loneliness? WeRoad travellers on a trip to Nepal.   -   Copyright  WeRoad
By Giulia Carbonaro

There’s a meme going around which says that Jesus’s real miracle was to have 12 close friends in his 30s. It’s a joke that makes millennials equally chuckle and sigh, as most feel that their circle of friends gets smaller by the year.

Millennials’ tend to feel their loneliness most keenly when it comes to planning travel. Doing any solo activities is still viewed with a certain scorn, or even pity, making it hard to go on the road trip of your dreams without a friend or partner.

This is why adventure travel companies have become particularly popular with millennials. They cater to young solo travellers who want to join a group of like-minded people to explore dream destinations. Many create long-lasting friendships along the way.

What are group adventure holidays?

Erika De Santi,decided to start her adventure travel company WeRoad when she realised there were no companies for millennials wanting to travel in a group and make friends.

“There was no group travel for our generation, nobody was catering to our needs,” says De Santi. “Back in 2017, my two co-founders went on a group trip with international competitors. They really enjoyed it, but the social part was missing, a community spirit was missing.”

WeRoadoffers small group trips for solo travellers and focus on the group dynamics and human component of the journey. Groups are either aged 25-35 or 35-49.

“With my co-founders, we always say that we fight loneliness with our job more than anything else,” says De Santi.

“Our generation is a generation that is happy to be single - it's not a social stigma being single, but rather it’s a way to say ‘I own my independence, I own my freedom, I own my flexibility.’ But at the same time, it is becoming more and more complex to find the time, the space, and the location to find new friends or build long-lasting relationships, because the last time we spent a lot of time with a big group of people was in high school.”

WeRoad
Group trips can be particularly good for solo female travellers.WeRoad

Adventure travel is perfect for solo female travellers

That’s why the focus of adventure travel groups is on the social experience as much as on the travel part.

“People are attracted to the small-group style of travel because it’s a perfect balance of having a ready-made group of friends to explore with and independent time to do your own thing,” says Zina Bencheikh, Managing Director EMEA at Intrepid Travel, another adventure travel company.

“There’s also the added safety net through a local guide who travellers can turn to for insider tips and assistance if they need it.”

Especially for women, the possibility of backpacking with a group as a solo traveller is particularly empowering, as being a solo female traveller comes with its own set of concerns and risks that solo male travellers mostly don’t have to consider.

Are group trips a good way to make friends?

Filippo is a bit of a veteran when it comes to WeRoad trips. He has recently been on his second WeRoad trip - a two-week journey across Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula - after having previously gone to Jordan with the company. He said that making friends is easier the longer the tour is.

“It was extremely easy to make friends with anyone in the group in Mexico, it was really a close group - more than in Jordan, because we spent two full weeks together,” Filippo said. He has never met anyone from the Jordan group again after the trip in 2021, but said this won’t be the case with the group who shared the journey through Mexico.

“We have plans to meet up again during the Christmas holidays. Maybe not everyone will be there, because we live far apart and everyone has their own lives, but that’s the plan.”

Normally Filippo prefers to travel solo, or at best with only one or two people. But he said that for certain destinations it is better not to go rogue travelling on your own.

WeRoad
Erika De Santi, Co-Founder and International Expansion Director, WeRoadWeRoad

Is group adventure travel only for millennials?

Absolutely not.

Unlike WeRoad, Intrepid caters to all ages, from their 18- to 29-year-old trips to their Premium range which offers higher-end sustainable travel..

Bencheikh says that many of Intrepid’s customers are over 40, and even had a 78-year-old traveller complete an Everest base camp trip with them earlier this year. “It goes to show that ‘adventure travel’ is for all ages and it doesn’t have to just mean getting active outdoors. It can also mean travelling to a new destination and diving into its culture and history. You are never too old to get a little outside of your comfort zone.

The friendship part remains a core part of Intrepid’s mission, just like WeRoad.

“We hear lots of stories of people who meet new friends on our trips - and then keeping in touch and travelling with them again,” Bencheikh says.

Is group adventure travel sustainable?

Intrepid was the first tour operator to become carbon neutral back in 2010, and the first global tour operator to have verified science-based carbon reduction targets in 2020, according to Bencheikh.

“Our trips are designed to be low impact, so we stay in locally-owned accommodation where possible and eat at locally owned eateries where food has been locally sourced. All of this helps to avoid the use of long, carbon-intensive supply chains. We are also removing short-haul flights under 90 minutes from our top 50 itineraries this year and, where possible, using alternative transport like trains and buses instead,” says Bencheikh.

“Overall, the travel industry needs to focus on decarbonising our businesses because if we don’t take urgent action, there will be no world to show our customers.”

De Santi agrees that operators need to come up with a plan to minimise their impact on the countries they travel to. “We are very, very conscious about the impact that we are having and we're monitoring it constantly to understand how to minimise it, but we’re also trying to understand how to maximise the social impact that we have,” she says.

“For example, a normal tour operator that moves more or less our volumes could rely on, I would say, 200 tour guides to hold the tours - instead we have 1,100 people. The social impact that we can have on the local communities and economies by picking the right destinations and the right local experience is massive.”

The only flaw of adventure group holidays, compared to solo independent travel, is the cost, according to Filippo.

“I really loved it, everyone was really nice and the groups were great,” he says of hisWeRoad trip. “The only flaw, maybe, was the cost. It’s quite expensive, and some of the facilities we used in Mexico, for example, were not quite up to what we paid for.”