Famously a time for family, friends and the ones dear to us, a Christmas holiday usually follows a familiar pattern, routine and tradition, for most. Invites to parties come months in advance, we know who's cooking Christmas lunch and which in-laws we'll be spending the season of goodwill with. Recent trends for solo travel, though, indicate that Christmas might just be a great time to get away from it all, forget the familial obligations, unavoidable festive fights and tired routine in exchange for quality time alone.
"Sometimes when you need healing, you want to be with loved ones, and other times you want to go off on an adventure alone," says Ben Crosky, co-founder of Yogascapes, as I begin to pick his brains on what my options are for Christmas and New Year, solo. This year, for the first time ever, I have nothing at all pencilled into the diary over the Christmas period, and like many in my position, I'm anxiously weighing up my options. Travelling by myself (much to the consternation of my mother) is one of them.
Merging a break away from the norm to exotic, far-flung destinations with yoga, Yogascapes is just one of the many companies making a success of delivering tours, packages and a rewarding time away for the solo traveller. Around half of those attending a "Yogascape" are solo travellers, Crosky tells me, which backs up many recent travel reports finding that actually, more of us are preferring to go it alone.
For those considering a solo break this Christmas, the stats on those choosing to get away from it all on their own may well put your mind at rest and ease you into the idea. Worldwide searches for "solo travel" on Google have risen significantly between January 1, 2016 and December this year, with popular related searches also including "best places to travel alone as a female." Yougov's Solo Travel Trends 2018 survey for online travel agent, Agoda, also found that relaxation and time to unwind is the number one motivator for solo leisure travel globally (61%), which compares to 48% when travelling with friends. Solo travellers surveyed also ranked getting away from routine (52%) and exploring new cultures (45%) as key reasons.
Why do it alone at Christmas, though, aside from finally having some time off work? "Often it's hard to find people who have similar values and who want to move their lives in a similar, purposeful direction," says Crosky. "A lot of people and things in our lives hold us back, so travelling solo is a way of breaking free from the cultural mould and forging your own path." Another good reason is to allow yourself a period of reflection and distance from what can be a time of high-anxiety thanks to family bickering and get-togethers no one really wants to get together at.
If you're opting out of a traditional Christmas celebration this year, there are plenty of options for where to go and what to do, many of them now solo traveller-friendly.
Look to Fixers, the ultimate trip aggregating platform for finding holidays tailored exactly to you. "We have loads of customers booking solo trips, especially wellness and fitness retreats where you can meet like-minded people doing something you love," says its co-founder, Lisa Simpson, recommending its Blue House yoga retreat in the mountains of Chamonix in France.
Sign up, choose your favourite activities from a gallery, input the amount you'd like to spend and the duration you'd like to go away for. The website then sends you a bespoke trip list, from festivals and adventure holidays to chilled yoga retreats in exotic destinations. "Life is so busy and full that we all need time to be alone, and going on a trip like a yoga retreat gives you that space to be alone and also the support of a community," says Crosky, on how well-suited a yoga retreat is to solo travel.
Fancy a Christmas day brunch on a rooftop terrace in Marrakech and a dinner complete with a belly dance performance? Book yourself for the Dar Jaguar bespoke wellbeing and culture retreat for daily yoga as well as cultural immersion in Morocco. Or opt for yoga on the grounds of a villa situated atop a pine-covered mountain in Ibiza (this one in particular by Soul Seed Media is a women's-only retreat). Another option is sun-drenched Kerala for four days of intensive Ayurveda treatments and a New Year detox that begins early, hosted at the gloriously light-filled 36 Palms Boutique Retreat in Ernakulam, by the Arabian Sea.
I've narrowed it down to those three, but the options over Christmas, when it comes to yoga retreats, really are limitless – with India and Mexico offering the most options. Another alternative is a cooking retreat, with feast-filled days in a dreamy location, minus the pressure to cook for family. Cook In Umbria is hosting a Christmas cooking vacation this season, with tours through Perugia in central Italy and Umbria, near Tuscany, and lessons in how to rustle up the best Italian dishes with the finest produce. Learn to rustle up four courses a day, devour them with drinks from the region and get a flavour of Christmas, Italian style. You can also head to the cooking course at Hotel Pierre in Florence for seven days of panettone, pasta, pizza and the leaning tower of Pisa.
A little less indulgent, I've also jotted "volunteering" on to the Christmas trip list. Refugee 4 Refugees in Lesvos, Greece, is looking for volunteers during December and January to support refugees as they cross from Turkey into Europe, and if you can speak Greek, Arabic, Farsi, French or Kurdish, it's an added bonus. While in South America, International Volunteer HQ's volunteering programmes across Peru and Colombia focus on holiday-related projects and offer an insight into what Christmas is like in those destinations.
“I actually love being anonymous in a big city and have spent Christmas solo on quite a few occasions,” says Emirates cabin crew Tania Gough. “My job means I’m in a lot of faraway destinations, sometimes at awkward times of the year, so I’ve learnt to get the most out of being alone at Christmas and I actually do love it.” She recommends bustling cities like Bangkok and New York as options for Christmas Day, where you can always find something going on. “If you’re a bit nervous about looking lonely, it’s good to go to somewhere like Asia, where perhaps you won’t feel so left out in a restaurant of families tucking into a traditional Christmas dinner,” she advises.
Meanwhile, recent Airbnb data suggests Toronto, Oslo and Buenos Aires as top city destinations for solo travellers, with up to 27 per cent of bookings for these cities made by those flying solo. Lonely this Christmas by Mud doesn't sound like too bad a song choice to listen to as I consider my options.