How to

TRAVEL SOLO

The ultimate guide

From leaving your partner behind to mastering dining by yourself, discover the secrets to solo-travel success

“I was so much more aware of everything; my senses were really alive”; “I found myself talking to more, and very different, people”; “It really opened my eyes in so many ways”. All these are familiar phrases that I typically hear from people who have taken their first solo trip in the past year or so.

Solo travel is booming post-pandemic, with one Google Trends report in 2021 claiming that searches for the phrase were up 761%. It doesn’t come as a surprise, as the trend had been curving upwards for years, and coming out of lockdown has only heightened our desire to get out in the world and live our best travel lives. Yet there is still a lot of ignorance around who the typical solo traveller is, with even the travel industry often using the word ‘single’ interchangeably with solo.

Meeting people from the local community is often easier when you’re by yourself and more open to encounters (Alamy)

Meeting people from the local community is often easier when you’re by yourself and more open to encounters (Alamy)

It never really has been just about young singles. When I took my own first solo trip in my 20s, I felt very adventurous until the day I came across a tiny, white-haired British lady who looked like she should be eating cream teas in Devon rather than hiking through the hills of northern Thailand. It was a wake-up call that solos come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, and can participate in any type of travel.

Most of my trips over the years have been solo, from business travel in my 20s (where I would often add on a couple of days to explore a destination) through to myriad trips for Wanderlust researching articles or attending conferences. I’ve experienced every type of trip covered in these pages, and what I have found – like the people quoted previously – is that I see more when I’m on my own.

It’s so easy to be in an inward-looking bubble when we’re with a partner, family or friends. But travelling solo forces us to look outwards, while giving us the headspace to be ourselves. What’s more, it offers a chance to try on different personas, other than how people in our daily lives see us – parent, child, partner, work colleague, boss, whatever. I always find it fascinating when someone goes through the liberation of stepping outside their usual character while travelling.This is the joy of solo travel: it lets us see not just places differently, but ourselves too. And that’s perhaps the most exciting thing of all.

– Lyn Hughes

Busting the myths

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1. You have to be young

You can take your first solo trip at any age. Indeed, travel companies report a rising demand in middle-aged and silver travellers taking their first solo trip. Intrepid Travel have seen an 83% growth this year in women aged 50+ travelling solo. As their spokesperson explained, “Women in midlife seem to be very keen to have adventures, and they’re not letting the fact that they don’t have anyone to travel with hold them back!” Another good example is Journeywoman, a popular website for solo women travellers that has many still-active members over the age of 80.

2. You have to be single

Single and solo sometimes get used interchangeably, even by travel companies, but they are not the same thing. Many people who travel solo are actually in relationships, but it can often be that they have very different tastes and interests when it comes to travel, or it could be that one of them gets more opportunities to travel than the other. It may even be the case that their partner simply isn’t into travel.

3. You have to be confident

There’s no doubt that the thought of travelling alone – particularly if it is your first time – can be daunting. But, like overcoming anything that potentially challenges us, we feel so much better when we succeed in doing it. There are also many ways of making it easier for yourself, as you will learn about further down.

4. You have to be a backpacker

To some people, solo travel is synonymous with budget backpacking, for some reason, when in fact there are almost certainly more mid- and high-end travellers choosing to head out by themselves. Join any expedition cruise, safari or upmarket cultural trip and there will be a high proportion of solos just like yourself.

5. You will get lonely

Yes, there is a chance you will feel lonely sometimes, but you could feel even lonelier if you were travelling with an unsuitable or incompatible companion, or someone who doesn’t share your travel passions. Look around when you are travelling and you will see plenty of people wishing that they were with someone else, or even that they were free to experience a destination on their own. You’ll have them looking at you in envy.

– Lyn Hughes

Ways to solo travel

Going independently

You may feel least comfortable when arranging your transport and accommodation by yourself, so consider going to a specialist agency, such as Trailfinders or Flight Centre, who have experience of booking everything from two-week-long fly-drives to a round-the-world itinerary.

Join a group tour

Most companies who offer escorted group tours carry a large percentage of solo travellers. In the case of Cox & Kings it is around 25% on average; with Explore Worldwide it is 35%; while Intrepid Travel report that over half of their clients are travelling solo.

While you may not have the flexibility of travelling completely independently, there are many advantages to joining a group. You’ll be tapping into the expertise of the company and the tour guide, and will probably see and experience more in this timeframe than you would have on your own. You may even get to do activities that you wouldn’t have been able to easily arrange yourself.

Learning and activity adventures

Trips where you get to learn or perfect a skill are growing in popularity and are generally full of solo travellers. This could be your chance to practise your salsa dancing in Cuba, learn Spanish in Cartagena, make mosaics in Greece or pasta in Italy.

Activity trips involving physical effort, whether trekking, cycling, riding or rafting, also tend to attract a very high number of solos. They can often be especially gratifying, thanks to the endorphins produced, leaving you feeling uplifted. The sense of camaraderie is also particularly high on these trips, and a general level of teamwork (or support) is usually involved, leading to more of a bonding experience.

Safaris and wildlife

On most safaris and wildlife holidays, the days are spent searching for creatures in 4WD vehicles or on foot, then you then get to share your experiences over a sundowner or pre-dinner drink. At many safari lodges and camps, especially the smaller ones, meals are eaten house-party style, rather than at individual tables, making it a particularly inclusive and communal experience.

Expedition cruising

Expedition and specialist cruises are sociable and sharing, offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences and tending to attract a lot of solo travellers. The membership-based Expedition Cruise Network reports an average of 22% solos travelling on affiliated cruises, and that percentage is growing. You may want to ask about the mealtime arrangements in advance, to check that seats aren’t preassigned and you can sit with whichever newfound friends you want. But, even if they are preassigned, solo travellers are usually sat together; solos on Hapag-Lloyd cruises are even specially invited to a dedicated welcome cocktail.


Combining group and independent

If you want to explore a country or region but are hesitant about heading off on your own, one solution is to start your trip with an organised tour. That way you’ll get over the initial culture shock, get into the rhythm of travelling, and will gain confidence before you take off by yourself. Equally, even if you want to travel independently and have an idea of what you want to do, you can still combine this with day trips and multi-day organised tours, whether to orientate yourself, gain insights or simply because it’s the easiest way to access and explore somewhere.

Chauffeured escapes

In much of Asia and the Middle East, hiring a car and driver is a common way of travelling. It takes away the stress of driving through big cities and on strange roads, and in some cases the driver may be able to act as a guide as well. Many travel companies can arrange this in advance for you; alternatively, your hotel will almost certainly be able to sort it.

Simply chilling

Do you dream of just having some me-time, reading a good book, recharging and relaxing? Nothing wrong with that; just consider what type of accommodation you want to stay in: a hotel or a rental? If choosing a hotel, you may want to consider the adults-only variety (unless you want to be surrounded by families), or at least ensure you travel outside of school holidays. And take into account optional activities and its location – will you want to go exploring after a couple of days? If it’s a recharge you need, there are many retreats and wellness breaks you can join.

– Lyn Hughes

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Sociable soloing

Trust the Danes to have a word for it. Squished onto a table in Copenhagen’s hip Vesterbro neighbourhood, I wasn’t just eating, I was fællesspisning. This concept of ‘communal dining’ is an old tradition that is experiencing a modern revival in Denmark. At Folkehuset Absalon – a deconsecrated church turned community centre – big, cheap, tasty suppers are served daily. You and your table-mates collect your own cutlery, then chat away as you dollop stew and pineapple cake onto each other’s plates. There’s no telling who you’ll be sitting next to – old, young, couples, groups, fellow solos – but everyone comes with a willingness to engage. By the end of the meal, I had a notebook full of tips, and I’d avoided that most awkward of solo-travel moments: dining alone.

The Danish are streets ahead when it comes to friendly ways to meet strangers (Alamy)

The Danish are streets ahead when it comes to friendly ways to meet strangers (Alamy)

Indeed, the ways in which lone travellers can meet others is becoming increasingly inventive. While in Copenhagen I joined a ‘Social Sailing’ trip with Hey Captain – part scenic tour of the waterways, part genial interaction with fellow passengers. I joined locals for free yoga by the harbour (though that was more silent camaraderie than social function) and I mingled at my classy hotel’s daily happy hour, where free wine was poured and guests were encouraged to mix.

E X P E R T T I P

Joining the right group tour means you will be with likeminded people, and can even result in lifelong friendships. Ask your travel company about the make-up of the group you are considering and whether you will have
your own room or will have to share.


But most extraordinary was a visit to the Human Library, a worldwide social-change movement designed to provoke eye-opening discussions. It was founded in Copenhagen in 2000, and there’s a permanent ‘library’ in the city’s Nørrebro district where, on set days, you can come and borrow a book or two – ‘books’ being people with stories to share. Forget “So where do you come from?” – this is not traveller small-talk. At the Human Library you’re likely to fall into conversation about anything from transgender issues to autism, to politics. I spent half an hour with Meike, who told me about her harrowing childhood. It was comfort-zone smashing, thought-provoking, perspective-altering stuff. Just what travel is all about.

– Sarah Baxter

Copenhagen is filled with chances to mingle with the locals, from waterside walking tours to paying a visit to its ‘Human Library’ (Alamy)

Copenhagen is filled with chances to mingle with the locals, from waterside walking tours to paying a visit to its ‘Human Library’ (Alamy)

Communal dining is a great way to meet someone and have a good meal (Alamy)

Communal dining is a great way to meet someone and have a good meal (Alamy)

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Copenhagen is filled with chances to mingle with the locals, from waterside walking tours to paying a visit to its ‘Human Library’ (Alamy)

Copenhagen is filled with chances to mingle with the locals, from waterside walking tours to paying a visit to its ‘Human Library’ (Alamy)

Communal dining is a great way to meet someone and have a good meal (Alamy)

Communal dining is a great way to meet someone and have a good meal (Alamy)

Tips for sociable solos

1. Find friends

Use an app to connect. Sites like frienderapp.com,
bumble.com/bff and heyvina.com (women only) are like Tinder for platonic friend-making. Or try meetup.com, searching by location, date and activity to meet likeminded people getting together to do everything from hiking to playing boardgames.

2. Eat with others

Many countries have equivalents to fællesspisning. Look for local restaurants offering group meals. Also try eatwith.com or bonappetour.com, which list locals hosting dinners and cooking classes.

3. Busy evenings

Evenings can be the trickiest times for solos. Rather than hiding in your room, check listings websites and noticeboards for alternatives, such as flamenco shows, live music bars, poetry readings or group runs at the local sports shop. When there’s a focus to the night, it’s easier to start chatting to others. And even if you don’t, you’ll be entertained.

4. Join a group

Book yourself on a small-group walk, pasta-making workshop, sumo class – whatever! – to meet others. See toursbylocals.com for ideas. Consider booking a tour for later in the day; you might find someone to go to dinner with after you’re done.

Mental wellbeing

The first time I set off on a round-the-world trip, I had prepared myself for a series of life-changing adventures. What I hadn’t expected was that while my senses were being bombarded by new sights, sounds and smells, my constantly racing mind would finally slow down. As a naturally anxious person, I am perhaps not the obvious candidate for solo travel. However, over the years, I have found that it is the single most useful tool I have to help my mental health.

In 2012, I decided to take a grown-up gap year, due to feeling burnt out and stuck in the hamster wheel of eat, sleep, work, repeat. While planning the nine-month trip left me wracked with anxiety, I found that taking the journey gave me the time that I’d been longing for to focus on myself.

As I made my way through South America and across Asia, I discovered that being away from the stresses of work, bills and relationships gave me the time to concentrate on my mental health. One important lesson I learnt was what a difference spending time in nature made.

I also believe there’s few things in life that truly make you live in the moment; however, when your mind is being wowed by a country’s beauty spots while navigating its transport system and juggling new currencies and languages, there is little time to worry about anything else. It’s one of the reasons I continue to travel solo, even though I’m now married with children.

Dr Noreen Nguru, founder of the website What The Doctor Recommends, agrees. In 2020, she left the NHS after collapsing at work from severe exhaustion. She went on to found her digital health start-up, which prescribes wellness travel and coaching to people who are at risk of chronic work stress and occupational burnout.

She says: “I encourage people to make full use of their holiday time by thinking about what activities they can do to rejuvenate and replenish themselves, such as finding a holiday that is fun but also focuses on holistic healing.

“I am a big advocate of solo travel. I believe we have to get more confident as a society with focusing on ourselves and our needs.

“Solo travel is a great way to experience self discovery and personal growth. You are making decisions on your own and stepping out of the environment you know. This increases your confidence, independence and wellbeing.”

– Emily-Ann Elliott

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Eating alone

When it comes to solo travel, there’s no denying the sense of liberation and empowerment it brings. I’ve travelled solo to over 17 countries, and it has been a transformative experience, exploring new places and cultures on my own terms. However, even for seasoned solo travellers like myself, there is a common concern that often arises: the experience of eating alone.

I’ll admit that I used to feel awkward and self-conscious about it too, but over time, I’ve genuinely found joy in dining by myself. It is more common and acceptable to eat alone in some cultures than in others. But observing and embracing local customs can help you feel more comfortable. In Japan, for example, solo diners are often seen eating and drinking at bar counters or slurping on ramen. Dining alone in a restaurant is perfectly normal and has allowed me to clear my mind, reflect, relax and enjoy moments of silence and solitude in my new surroundings while taking it all in.

Whether you’re a solo traveller who wants to explore the local food scene but is nervous about it, or if you just want to enjoy dinner out when friends are away, here are a few tips to embrace and enjoy the experience.

Before your trip, plan ahead and research the local dining scene to find restaurants that cater more easily to solo diners. Choosing places with counter seating or communal tables can help you feel more comfortable. Booking ahead is also essential. A reservation can save you from having to have a back-up plan in the evening, or from hearing ‘table for two’ from the waiter. Like many solo travellers, I find that asking for a table for one can be one of the most daunting aspects of solo dining. Having a reservation means the restaurant will be expecting a single diner, saving you the potential discomfort of having to declare your status.

Look for food and dining experiences that come with entertainment. Enjoying dinner with a cultural show or live music performance helps fill the awkward silences you may feel and can also be good fun. If you’re near a river, lake or coastline, consider taking a dinner cruise or boat tour, where you can enjoy a scenic journey while relishing a delicious meal onboard. Alternatively, you can keep yourself entertained by bringing a book, magazine, phone or tablet. Having something to occupy your attention can help you feel more at ease and give you something to focus on if you’re feeling self-conscious.

It helps to embrace more laid-back dining options, such as food courts, street food stalls and casual dining joints, which are often more accommodating and welcoming for solo travellers. They provide a relaxed environment where you can enjoy a meal without feeling like you’re on show. Also try striking up a conversation with your server. I enjoy having conversations with them, as they can provide recommendations, share insights about the local cuisine and make you feel more comfortable.

Lastly, take part in food-related activities. You can try cooking classes, wine tastings or even food-related workshops. These not only give you a chance to try new foods but also provide an opportunity to socialise and meet fellow food enthusiasts.

– Joyce Oladeinde

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Eyes wide open

The moment you go somewhere new, you spot the differences. It doesn’t matter which place you visit, or whether you’ve arrived by plane, train or ferry. Signage may change. Language may change. You may drive on a different side of the street or scratch your head at cryptic menus. New laws and customs may now be in full effect. It can be a shock.

A new land can overwhelm the solo traveller, but it can also be uniquely thrilling. All your senses awaken at once. You must problem-solve alone. You can’t blame anyone else for your mistakes, but you can also claim full credit for every success. Did you puzzle out directions with a taxi driver who doesn’t speak your language? Did you finally find your way to the museum in a strange city? The most trivial task becomes a character-building exercise. And if you want conversation, you may have to strike it up with a stranger.

If you go it solo, you have the joy of deciding everything yourself, so every success is of your own making (Alamy)

If you go it solo, you have the joy of deciding everything yourself, so every success is of your own making (Alamy)

Travelling alone forces us to connect with our surroundings. Companions can be wonderful, but they can also soften the experience. When we always have someone to talk with, we may spend so much time trading plans and jokes and observations that we miss the subtleties around us – and that’s when we like the people we’re travelling with. Alone, you can’t help but immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of a place, the aromas and textures, the hubbub and the stillness.

The word ‘mindfulness’ gets thrown around a lot, but if you’ve ever struggled to meditate or breathe deeply, solo travel is a surefire way to make yourself mindful. You don’t have to hitchhike through Central Asia to feel alert and alive; boarding a luxury cruise ship on your own can be an act of bravery, as you learn the geography of the vessel and mingle with thousands of strangers on open water. Once you start meeting people, you feel a tinge of pride when they ask, incredulous: “Are you travelling alone?”

Solo travel makes you become more mindful (Shutterstock)

Solo travel makes you become more mindful (Shutterstock)

Solo travel helps cure the numbness of routine. Studies have shown that about half of traffic accidents occur within 8km of home, suggesting that repetitive activities can make us airheaded and reckless. When we visit a new place, we have to notice things again, to keep ourselves from getting lost and confused. We don’t have to venture far to reap the rewards of solo travel; the next town over will do, so long as you’ve never been there before.

When a day of solo travel ends, and you have a cabin or hotel room all to yourself, you can fully reflect on everything you’ve witnessed and done. You own the whole story of your day. You are the hero of your tale. Open your journal, pick up your pen. You alone will decide how it will all be remembered.

– Robert Isenberg

Don’t let the practicalities of solo travel put you off. Sometimes it’s worth upgrading your experience to take the hassle out of your trip.

Airport transfers

Book a car to take you to the airport or have a driver waiting for you on arrival to avoid the stress of navigating public transport or unfamiliar roads.

Luggage

Send your suitcases ahead with delivery services such as Luggage Mule or AirPortr so that you can breeze through the airport.

Airport lounge

Pre-book a lounge pass, even if you’re not flying business-class, so you have a place to chill at the airport and can start your trip in style.

Private guides

Arrange some guided day trips at the start of your trip so you have a plan for your first few days and can source local tips on what to do with the rest of your time.

Keeping safe

The best thing about solo travel is you’re on your own. The worst thing about solo travel is, erm, you’re also on your own. When the chips are down, it might be only you who you can rely on. This isn’t to assume the worst, but it’s wise to prepare.

After becoming seriously ill one time while travelling solo, I learnt this lesson the hard way. While I’ve always carried a small first-aid kit (containing, among other items, rehydration salts, anti-diarrhoea meds, antiseptic, plasters, bandages, antihistamines, painkillers), it now includes instructions for me on what to do if I find myself badly dehydrated or with a sprained ankle, etc. The reality is that you don’t always think straight when you’re ill, and you can easily become blind to the obvious, especially with no one around to direct you.

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The first 24 hours can be when you’re at your most vulnerable as a solo traveller. Have a plan for how you’re getting from the airport to your accommodation, and how you’re going to orientate yourself, such as joining a tour.

Health aside, be careful (but not paranoid) about your money, credit cards, phone and documents. Print out and email yourself a copy of your passport, insurance, flight info, numbers to cancel cards, consulate info, etc. I’ve seen people experience mini-panic attacks after losing their personal items or having them stolen. As a solo traveller, you won’t have a friend with you who can cover your debts, so keep some cash and a debit or pre-paid card in a discreet place, hidden and tucked away in some part of your (locked) case. And while it might sound like a tenuous connection, pack light (realistically light). The more ‘faffing’ you do each time you check-in and check-out, the more likely you are to misplace items. Be aware of common scams too.

When it comes to personal safety, the free spirit and level head can often clash, fuelled by the desire to escape the normality of home. Be open to people, but also trust in your own instincts; if something feels weird or just not right, don’t ignore that feeling.

If you can, get a local SIM card so that you’re not reliant on wifi. Try and arrive in new places by day (if possible) and have your first night’s stay booked ahead of time. Personally, when staying in cities, my preference is for accommodation in the neighbourhood I’m more likely to go out in, which isn’t necessarily ‘the centre’. And try to share your ever-changing itinerary with one or two people back home; it’s a huge comfort to have someone know what you’re up to, and sharing can ease some of those on-the-road blues.

– Meera Dattani

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Why happy couples should embrace solo travel

It is a common misconception that solo travel is for single people; in truth, it is actually what strengthened my relationship. My partner and I travel differently: he could spend all day in shops that sell vinyl records and wouldn’t mind having a lie in; I tend to have a busy itinerary that often involves waking up at 7am. Travelling alone just lets you experience a destination the way you want to; you are freed from other people’s needs and are completely in charge of your plans.

Travelling separately can be a blessing for any relationship, as it often gives partners much-needed space and doesn’t force them to share interests – especially when those interests don’t coincide (Alamy)

Travelling separately can be a blessing for any relationship, as it often gives partners much-needed space and doesn’t force them to share interests – especially when those interests don’t coincide (Alamy)

Though we enjoy travelling with each other, we strike a balance with our own trips. The majority of my friends say that they view solo travel as either a work-related thing or mere escapism to beat loneliness. For me, it is sheer curiosity. I have been travelling solo since I was 18 years old and it has become an integral part of my life. It helps if your partner is on board with the idea. Thankfully, we constantly need our space, which we made clear during the early stages of our relationship. So, while I might be far away, perhaps hoping to go stargazing, I know he will be back home playing his music at full volume or watching cricket. I often come back with many amusing stories to tell him, then we catch up on everything.

I believe that time spent apart can build healthier relationships, as travelling alone has helped us to become more introspective, making us stronger and happier partners.

Rashmi Narayan

Tips for starting out

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1. Begin your solo adventures small, preferably within an hour or two of home. First, try going on a weekend city break by yourself and pack your schedule with everything that you truly enjoy doing.

Dining alone can be daunting for some, so try heading to a restaurant with live music, or just carry a good book with you.

2. If you are nervous about going solo, head to a destination with your partner or friend, but set out and do different things for the day to get an idea of exploring alone. You can then catch up over dinner with your companion and share your respective adventures.

3. Be open and honest about your itinerary with your partner and loved ones. Communicate with them regularly when you are away and set boundaries on when you can be reached and when you’d like to be alone on your trip.

4. Always keep safety in mind and do thorough research (think about language barriers, transportation issues) before making any concrete plans.

Rashmi Narayan

Managing post-trip blues

There’s so much talk about how to prepare for a solo trip and what to do when you’re travelling solo – from personal safety and health tips to beating loneliness on the road – but what about after the adventure is over?

Even if you’re looking forward to seeing everyone, coming home can be a downer for some. You may feel fatigued, lost, trapped, have mood swings, sleep badly, feel disconnected or feel life is mundane compared to your travels. And while you can still share your incredible – dare we say transformative or life-changing – experiences with your new friends (hello, Whatsapp group ‘Colombia Beach Buddies 2023’), it’s a lot harder to relate your experience in any meaningful way to your nearest and dearest back home. Don’t be surprised if, after a few “What was it likes”, the chat turns to that of shared news, people and life at home.

E X P E R T T I P

Still not sure you’re ready to do a big trip alone?
Then think ‘bitesize’ and start with day trips and short breaks; you can then work up to the perfect trip of a lifetime.

One way to ensure your experience isn’t completely removed from your family and friends is to share choice pics as you travel on social media. This allows you to build a mini community around your trip, and if you share a good mix of photos without overloading your feed, it doubles as an informal record of your journey, so it’s win-win. Sharing in this way gives friends and family some understanding of what you’re up to without the frustration of trying to explain your trip to them when you’re back. The reality is: it was your trip and everyone else is busy with life. While many people will enjoy seeing and hearing about it, drip-feeding is better received than an all-out aural assault.

When you get back, line up a handful of fun experiences, get-togethers and dinners. Book in some day trips and remember that there’s travel on your doorstep too. Use your post-trip time to sort out photos, perhaps make a photo book, and re-live your travels by connecting with friends you made on the road, regardless of whether or not you think you’ll be in touch in a year’s time – some may end up friends for life, others a few weeks.

And lastly, if finances and time permit, have a short trip planned within a couple of months of coming home. If you can’t do that, at least start planning your next adventure, whether it’s another solo travel trip or a holiday with friends or family; this will be enough to keep you going

– Meera Dattani

(Alamy)

(Alamy)