Claire Sweeney is perhaps best known for her role on Brookside, or for appearing in the West End for such iconic musicals as Chicago, where she played Roxie Hart, or Guys & Dolls, appearing opposite the 80s sex symbol, Patrick Swayze. She started out in cruising which, at the ATAS Conference in September, she admitted that this gave her a ‘hunger for travel.’ Earlier this year, the solo travel specialists Just You announced that Claire would be their Travel Ambassador, with Just You’s Managing Director Alastair Campbell announcing ‘just like our customers, she has a passion for travel, a real sense of adventure and while she enjoys being a solo traveller, Claire also loves sharing experiences on holiday with other people.’
For many solo travellers, the hassle of organising a trip can be daunting. Research from the London-based firm Mintel found that solo travellers’ top priorities were rooms with no single supplement, advice on safe places to go, and 24-hour contact with a travel company. Solo travellers want a seamless experience from start to end, whilst maximising their enjoyment, and they certainly don’t want to be penalised by a room supplement! Claire certainly found that Just you ensure that all these boxes are ticked, particularly ensuring that all hassles are removed. ‘I have always organised the family and made sure everything is in place at home before I head off to work, so on this holiday I was able to relinquish control of my life. It was amazing to be told what to do for a whole two weeks, in the nicest possible way. Everything was planned for us, we did not even have to worry about our suitcases, they were there when we turned up at each hotel. It was so relaxing. Going through the airports was no hassle at all, and when we arrived at the hotels, our keys were waiting for us, we never had to queue!’
Solo travel is definitely on the rise; over 15% of travellers went solo last year (an increase of 3% from 2017), and solo travel is projected to grow four-fold in the next four or five years. The most common reason cited for choosing to travel solo in the 2018 ABTA Holiday Habits Report was ‘the opportunity to do what they want’ by 76% of respondents. Despite the fact that everything is organised for guests throughout the tour, Claire found there is still the opportunity for guests to do what they want with Just You; ‘you can definitely do lots on your own, though once you are in the group you want to experience everything together, it’s more fun and you really enjoy sharing those moments.’
For many solo travellers, the ‘opportunity to do what they want’ means the ability to visit a destination that they want to go to, without having to organise someone else with them. ‘Everyone’s reason [to travel solo] was different as I found out, some were divorced, widowed, their partner did not want to travel, and some like me, single and looking for an adventure. The one thing that we all had in common was our love of travel and seeking out new cultures and destinations.
‘I loved the group, it was a real eclectic mix, with ages ranging from 30s to 80s, I could not wait to hear everyone’s stories about why they were travelling to India, and where they had been in the past.’ At the ATAS Conference, Claire told the audience how she was now part of a Whatsapp group with people she’d met in the group, and had enjoyed making meaningful friendships.
Claire’s trip with Just You took her to India, a country where she had previously only spent a day in Mumbai whilst working on cruise ships, but she explained at the ATAS conference that India had been a destination which she had long yearned to return to, and explore further. When I asked whether she had any fears or concerns ahead of her first solo adventure with Just You, Claire explained ‘I was OK as I am used to travelling on my own. However, a lot of the group were nervous when they arrived at the airport. It did not take long for everyone to get their confidence, start chatting, you could sense the excitement we all felt about heading off to India on a great adventure.’
India can be a challenging and daunting country to visit, but it’s also one of the most incredible places you can visit, with a rich history, culture, some of the world’s most famous landmarks, and even the chance to spot some fantastic wildlife if you head off in search of tigers. Claire joined Just You’s Spirit of India, a 13-day tour which is one of their best-sellers; not only does it take guests to some of India’s most iconic destinations, from Delhi, Jaipur, and Taj Mahal, to the sacred city of Varanasi and the river banks of the holy Ganges, it also includes India’s famous national park, Ranthambore, widely considered to be the best game reserve in the country, and Just You – as we have already seen – ensure that everything is taken care of for their guests. ‘The way the tour was put together was perfect, there were long days, however we were on an adventure and we have plenty of time to sleep when we get home. There were a few days when we were up early, though it was worth it, how often do you get to see sunrise over the Ganges river or the Taj Mahal? Both are memories that will stay with me forever.
‘For me, the highlight of my Just You trip to India was Varanasi, it was the most spiritual and cultural experience that I have ever had, it was just so organic, it was an experience that was happening in front of your eyes. On our first night there we watched over 2,000 people praying in unison. We were then up at 4.30 in the morning, out on the river as the sun rose over the Ganges and the bank was full of worshipers. Words just aren’t enough to describe it, it was so emotional.
‘The Taj Mahal, of course, was a highlight, nothing prepares you for the beauty and exquisiteness of the building and its surroundings, it truly takes your breath away, just mind blowing.
‘Other memorable moments were the rickshaw ride through the streets of Delhi, it was just hysterical, and watching yoga on the riverbank at sunrise in Varanasi.
‘I have to mention the tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park, we were all wondering if we are going to see a tiger, and then suddenly, our driver spotted one, she came out on the road and was so close, she had no fear of us. It was thrilling, just one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments. To see a tiger in its own habitat, walking freely, was incredible, we all shared in a huge feeling of euphoria…and we took quite a while to calm down!’
If you’ve never been on a solo holiday before, then Claire has some simple advice for you: ‘I would just say that if you want to travel solo, go! Don’t be scared, everyone’s in the same shoes as you, and you’re all in it together, you become like a family. The organisation is great, and you can just relax knowing everything’s taken care of.’ For Claire herself, she admitted at the ATAS Conference that she next wanted to go to Argentina with Just You, and do the tango again, after scoring the highest marks for her tango in the first ever series of Strictly Come Dancing!
Special thanks to Claire Sweeney and the team at Just You for the opportunity for this interview - we hope our solo travellers will enjoy hearing about Claire's experiences as much as we have!
If you would like to find out more about solo travel with Just You
Contact our travel specialists today
01234 326 778
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