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May 19, 2015

Travel Tip #1. Find a Friend or Go Alone?

May 19, 2015

Tip #1: Find a friend with similar interests and budget OR join a nonprofit organization with a strong travel program OR select an experienced travel agent who can recommend appropriate tour operators.

Chances are that you have taken “girl” trips before. You already know that some friends make good roommates and others don’t. And it’s one thing to share a room for a weekend and quite another to go around the world. Even a trip to New York can create tension if you are used to staying at 5-star hotels on Fifth Avenue and she is happy with 3 stars on Lexington. Some want every meal to carry bragging rights; others aren’t interested in fine dining at all. Ditto private car and driver vs. taxi vs. subway vs. walking. Museums vs. shopping. Orchestra seats vs. second balcony. First class vs. business vs. economy.

How flexible are you? How willing are you to compromise? What is more important—what you see and do or whom you’re with?

14 Tips for Safe Solo TravelI have tried a little of everything: Two grand trips to Asia with luxury tour companies; cruises; and travel in the U.S. and abroad with various nonprofit organizations. Sometimes the group is what matters, but sometimes no one I know is interested in the particular event or destination on my bucket list.

Experienced travel agents can recommend cruises and tours in your price range that are appropriate for singles, and they can make all the arrangements for your independent travel. In the U.S., I like to stay in smaller luxury hotels with excellent concierges. I am up front about my age and single status when I contact them in advance to make safe, appropriate restaurant and transportation arrangements for me.

Each of us is different. Overall, I find that travel with nonprofit affinity groups is most satisfying. Many cultural organizations offer travel experiences for their members and donors. They range from the vast array of tours and cruises offered by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society to alumni groups to local museums. In my experience, these are more welcoming groups than the luxury commercial operations. I no longer fear joining a group of strangers, for I know they won’t stay strangers long.

While small groups tend to be more luxurious, they offer fewer opportunities for friendships. A friend went to Prague with a respected luxury tour operator. The group of seven included three couples traveling together. She was the odd woman out, doomed to meals alone or with her tour leader. Those become factors too: demographics—average age and marital status of the group, how many meals are included in the package, whether alcoholic beverages are included. Couples are much more likely to invite you to join them for the evening if they know they won’t get stuck with a bar tab.

Though we don’t choose solitude, we grow accustomed to it. We can do what we want when we want to. We can fill the closet with our clothes and cover the bathroom counter with our toiletries. We can stay up as late as we choose, and we can sleep in when we want. Now, even when I travel with friends, we get separate rooms. I have grown accustomed to my private space, and I am no longer willing to share it.

Photos: 2010, first year of travel without Lev. Left: Versailles, at the end of a trip to Maastricht, the Netherlands, and Paris with a group of friends; upper right: Baltic cruise with friends; lower right: Amalfi coast (the most beautiful place on earth) during a cruise around Italy with family.

Feedback:
What are your greatest fears and concerns about traveling alone?
Did you ever travel alone when you were married?
What tips can you share?

1 comment

  1. I agree with you about traveling with affinity groups, Ella. My two most memorable trips were with groups who shared similar interests, one to Spain and France to study caves and one to England and Scotland (a choir tour, where we sang American spirituals in churches, including John Wesley’s church in London). I am looking forward to a Baltic cruise next year with a group of knitters. It’s fun to immerse oneself in an experience with other enthusiastic travelers.

    I like to travel with all accommodations made for me by the group, but the cave trip to Spain required us to do a fair amount of arranging transportation and lodging on the spot. I appreciated the adventure of it at the time (I was 38) and it did lead to some lovely serendipitous events, but after a certain age one wants to leave it in the hands of experts, n’est-ce pas?

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