Ah, the Freedom!
Some people prefer and genuinely enjoy traveling alone. I’m not one of them, but I do it anyway. If I traveled only when a suitable companion was available, I’d seldom get to go anywhere. Going somewhere interesting alone is almost always better than staying home alone. But I don’t see what’s so wonderful about it beyond that.
However, I have found that traveling alone lets me focus on photography. If I need to take half an hour getting the composition right or waiting for the sun to emerge from behind a cloud bank, I can do that without concern for whether a non-photographer companion is bored or impatient. But that advantage disappears when the sun goes down, during those infuriating waits in airport queues or on clotted freeways, and especially at dinner time. I have also noticed that many of my favorite pictures are not the ones I’ve taken on solo trips. The pleasure of travel with a good companion may well encourage the photographic “eye.”
Those who rhapsodize about solo travel emphasize the freedom and the opportunities to meet new people, benefits that supposedly aren’t available when burdened with a companion. I have certainly experienced ample freedom, which I consider a simultaneous boon and bane. But I’ve found rather little of the touted opportunities to meet and connect with new people. While some of that may have to do with not making a special effort to mingle, it also seems I have two strikes against me: I’m a man, and I’ve done almost all my solo travel in the United States.
I almost never see any unattached travelers of either gender during my travels in the United States. And I usually haven’t found the couples, families, pairs of friends, and groups I do encounter particularly approachable or interested in talking to me. There have been a few exceptions— mostly non-Americans— to whom I’m appropriately grateful. I suspect that a solo woman might find a warmer reception than a solo man.
For Women Only?
Over the years I have sought out lectures, classes, books, articles, Web sites, and travel forums about solo travel. The remarkable thing is that the speakers, teachers, authors, Web site owners, and most forum participants are exclusively women. If you type “solo men travel articles” into Google— which is how some people have found this article— the ever-helpful search engine will respond with “Did you mean: solo women travel articles.” And all the hits on the first few pages under “Results for: solo men travel articles” (except this one) are actually about women!
If solo travel is mentioned at all in mainstream guidebooks, it’s typically in a section about risks and dangers under the heading “For Women Traveling Alone.” But if you’re a widower or a divorced senior man, definitely look for adult-education classes on solo travel. There’s probably no better place to meet widows!
This gender imbalance may reflect reality, at least in the United States. It seems that rather few American men past “student” age take solo vacations. And many prefer not to take vacations at all. Some of us are even proud of all the unused vacation days we give back to our employers each year. That may be due to ambition and notions of “success.” Or maybe it’s because of the belief that when it’s time for the next layoff, bosses will axe the “slackers” who take vacations and spare the “dedicated” employees who consistently forfeit their vacation time. And we often prefer to spend what time off we do take playing golf, working on cars or projects, watching sports, or the occasional fishing weekend with buddies. When we do reluctantly tear ourselves away from the office for a vacation, it’s often for a summer family trip instigated by the wife and kids, or a romantic getaway at the insistence of a wife or girlfriend.
Yes, that is most definitely a sweeping over-generalization, to which there clearly are many exceptions. And increasingly, women are competing very favorably as workaholics. But it’s consistent with what I’ve seen and experienced— in my own workplace, on Web travel forums where women discuss plans for solo trips or seek female travel companions because “the DH [Dear Husband] doesn’t want to go,” and even in my own family. Without my mother’s continued “insistence,” my father would have never even considered the trips to Europe we made in the 1970s. Companies that offer tours and cruises for solo and single travelers consistently note that their customers are overwhelmingly female. The Web site for one those companies speculates that women enjoy the “social aspects” of their tours while men prefer “independence.” The recent proliferation of women-only travel services lends some validity to that theory, but I suspect the real reason is simply that many more women than men enjoy travel.
That said, I have evidence that at least some men are interested in solo travel: The logs for this Web site show a steady (and apparently increasing) trickle of search queries related to solo travel for men, leading to this page. But that interest may not (yet) be sufficient to convince media conglomerate publishers that male solo travelers are a “demographic” worthy of profitable attention. Men occasionally do write books and publish journals about solo trips. Two of my favorites on the Web are Philip Greenspun’s Travels With Samantha and Del Leu’s diary of his travels in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States.
I actually suspect that plenty of men do take solo vacations. But they just quietly go on their trips, and don’t feel the same need to talk or write about them as women do. Conversely, some women who regularly travel solo seem compelled to share their enthusiasm about it. They become evangelists who promote it as the best way to go, even for those who have a choice of companions. Solo travel seems to carry a special emotional significance for them, as it provides empowerment and emancipation from oppressive gender roles. Also, enough women apparently need help overcoming fear and apprehension about taking a solo trip to create a viable market for helpful books and articles. Men never have those problems.
The Foreign Legion and the Single Penalty
Solo travel devotées often insist that only foreign travel is “exciting” enough to make an enjoyable solo trip. The language and culture barriers in foreign countries are also supposedly necessary to encourage and facilitate interaction with new people. To my nose that smells of rubbish heavily laced with snobbery. The United States is large and diverse enough to provide ample excitement and adventure.
But there may be valid reasons to prefer foreign destinations. Solo leisure travel carries a persistent stigma in the United States. Some of that stigma is admittedly in solo travelers’ own minds, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Americans have been brainwashed to believe that leisure travel is exclusively for couples, families, and possibly groups of friends vacationing together. That’s the dogma incessantly preached by a vacation industry that sells its products only in “double occupancy” and “family size” packages. And it doesn’t merely ignore solo travelers, but actively discourages them with hefty extra charges for single occupancy.
The official term for that extra charge is supplement, as if it were some kind of healthy vitamin pill. Some tour operators charge a fair and reasonable “supplement,” perhaps no more than about 25%, to reflect the actual cost of one person occupying a hotel room built and priced for two. But the single-occupancy surcharge for other packaged travel, particularly cruises, is so exorbitant that the only accurately descriptive word for it is penalty.
Travel-industry executives seem to take great offense at that word. They insist that “the supplement is not a penalty, but a necessary and unavoidable consequence of economics.” They apparently consider double occupancy an inviolable law of nature, like gravity or the speed of light, that can neither be changed nor questioned.
But the “economics” they cite are actually more like this: Filling hotel rooms and ship cabins with as many people as possible is the most efficient and profitable way to do business. So we market to couples, families, and groups; and we price our products “per person, double occupancy” with discounts for additional people who share the room or cabin. If you want to take advantage of the bargains we can offer from doing business that way, invite a friend. If you don’t have any friends, we might be able to do you a favor and assign you a roommate. But if you insist on your own room, you’re really asking for a special exception to the way we do business. That costs us extra and causes us a lot of inconvenience. So we think it’s appropriate and fair to charge you a large nonconformance penalty for that privilege. We call that a “supplement” rather than a “penalty” because if you’re willing to pay as much as double the advertised price, we’re certainly willing to take your money.
That’s all fine, but I have real trouble believing that it’s impossible for a travel operator to run a successful business that doesn’t penalize solo travelers. And despite the risk of offending travel-industry executives, I shall henceforth refer to the “supplement” as a penalty. Irrespective of intent and claimed “economic” justification, for solo travelers the “supplement” looks, walks, and quacks like a penalty— particularly when it transforms an enticing advertised offer into a case of jaw-dropping sticker shock.
Solo travelers can avoid the “single supplement” penalty by forgoing packaged travel designed around double occupancy, and instead shopping carefully for their own arrangements. The most common justification tour operators give for the penalty is that hotels charge them the same rate for one person in a room as for two. So they have to pass along the extra cost. While that’s unfortunately true in most places, you can work around it. Tour operators negotiate volume contracts with large hotels that can provide blocks of cookie-cutter double-occupancy rooms for tour groups. You can often find comparable (or better) accommodations for a lower price at smaller hotels. You might also get a better location and more local character that way.
It’s not as easy to get around the stigma. According to a report the Travel Industry Association of America released in April 2007, 11% of leisure travelers in the United States take solo vacations. A 2009 survey by the consulting firm D.K. Shifflet & Associates put the figure at 25%. (The disparate numbers probably reflect different survey methodologies rather than a recent doubling of solo travelers.) Either way, that surely adds up to millions of people. But it’s still a minority small enough for managers throughout the travel industry to conclude that it’s easiest to simply ignore, rather than reconsider or make any exceptions to their long-established business practices.
The Web site of a well-known hotel touts “the perfect vacation for everyone,” with links to detailed pages for “Families,” “Couples,” “Honeymoons and Anniversaries,” “Family Reunions,” and “Seniors.” If the hotel is supposed to be “the perfect vacation for everyone,” why is there no mention at all of “Singles” or “Solo Travelers”? Is it a simple oversight by marketeers, who just aren’t aware of how many of their potential customers take solo vacations— and pay the same for their room as a couple? Or do they really not want single people to spoil the atmosphere for the wholesome families and romantic couples? Either way, I’m left to wonder whether I’d be welcome there. I would take my business elsewhere, except I won’t find mention of “Solo Travelers” on any of their competitors’ Web sites either.
I received an e-mail from the American Automobile Association (AAA) with the subject “Vacations everyone can enjoy.” When I opened it, the first words I saw were “Whether traveling as a couple, a family, or with friends, AAA has a package that will suit your style.” Like the hotel, the Auto Club’s definition of “everyone” apparently does not include solo travelers. These are small but very typical examples of the way the American travel industry excludes, ignores, and stigmatizes solo leisure travelers. And there are thousands more of them in brochures, advertisements, and Web sites.
The stigma may also be a side effect of long working hours and extremely limited vacation time available to American workers. That creates the understandable desire to make those two weeks— or too often much less— “highly effective,” with a packaged tour or cruise that does all the planning and preparation and packs the most into the limited time. Conversely, Europeans and Australians enjoy substantial vacation time as a fundamental right. They may thus feel free to explore whatever unstructured or “inefficient” forms of travel suit them, including extended solo trips. Their cultures are also not dominated by the fear that has become the all-pervasive characteristic of American society. So the solo traveler could possibly feel more welcome and have a better experience there.
I did notice (and appreciate) during my trips to Alberta and Québec that Canadians seemed noticeably friendlier than Americans. And I have had a few interesting conversations with Australians who were spending a month or more on solo explorations of North America. Are they really friendlier by nature, or could the culture barrier perhaps have been just enough to facilitate interaction, eh?
Solo, Single, or Something Else?
One essential fact tends to get ignored in most discussion of solo travel: It need not be an all-or-nothing proposition. For many solo travel enthusiasts, meeting new people is at least as important a part of travel as exploring new places. Some of them advocate a money-saving strategy of seeking out temporary travel companions to share the costs of transportation and accommodations at each destination. This may be most feasible outside the United States, where the “infrastructure” of trains and coaches, ferries, and bed-and-breakfasts provides more and better opportunities for getting to know other travelers than the more isolating airplanes, cars, and motels Americans prefer.
On those rare occasions when I’ve been able to take trips with friends, we often book a two-bedroom condo or separate hotel rooms. We also sometimes agree to spend our days apart but meet up again for lunch or dinner. I think this approach really offers the best of both worlds. But for an entire trip, this works well only with someone you know is compatible with your habits, interests, and budget. It’s too often difficult or even impossible to find someone who meets those essential criteria, and who is available when (and where) you want to go. And sometimes you have to find out the hard way that good friends don’t always make good travel companions. That difficulty isn’t confined to single people, as otherwise-happy spouses or partners can have incompatible work schedules, travel interests, and/or available vacation time.
What if you want to take a tour or a cruise? Making your own arrangements is almost always the most cost-effective approach for solo travel. But sometimes packaged travel really does have compelling advantages. It may be the only practical option for some destinations. And someone who truly is uncomfortable with traveling alone may find the shepherding and potential companionship of a tour or cruise a welcome alternative to staying home.
A few tour operators do offer reasonably-priced single accommodations, but those offerings are neither plentiful nor easy to find. The ones I’ve seen are in Britain. They seem to have figured out how to violate the Inviolable Law of Double Occupancy and still make a profit. That’s possibly because solo travel is more accepted there than in the United States, so they have incentives to find ways to welcome singles as valued customers rather than penalizing them as troublesome nuisances looking to break their business model.
Some travel agencies advertise tours and cruises for single and solo travelers. “Single” and “solo” aren’t necessarily synonymous. A single traveler is (usually!) unmarried or unpartnered, and may or may not go with friends to share the cost and the fun. Either way, meeting other single people is an important part of the agenda. Conversely, a solo traveler is an individual of any marital or relationship status who travels alone, by preference or by default. Meeting people on trips may or may not be important to the solo traveler. Some travel operators understand this distinction, while others ignore it.
Organizers of singles or solos travel usually buy a block of cabins on a cruise ship or spaces on a tour, which they resell (with the appropriate markup) to their customers. Occasionally they might reserve an entire tour or ship. Sometimes they restrict particular tours or cruises to specific religions, age groups, or interests. What they add to the package varies considerably. They may arrange a full program of special parties, dances, matchmaking, and other activities for their groups throughout the trip. They might even actively manage the bookings to ensure a gender balance. Or else they might just set up a room for a “get-acquainted mixer” at the start of the trip, after which everyone is on their own to sink or swim (as it were).
If you’re single and looking to meet and mingle (or more), a singles tour or cruise can be a fun way to go. If you’re solo and aren’t specifically looking to mingle, it’s worth considering because you can at least avoid the possible discomfort of being the only singleton on a boat or bus full of couples, families, and (increasingly) groups. You needn’t take the group shore excursions, or attend the speed-dating and karaoke parties, unless you want to. Unfortunately, singles or solos packages provide no exemption from the Inviolable Law of Double Occupancy. If you don’t bring a roommate, the packager will assign you one. If the organizer offers the option of single occupancy, it comes at the usual punitive price. As always, there are some rare exceptions.
Whatever you’re looking for, a travel agent who cares about and has experience with solo and single customers can be very helpful. He or she can ferret out the scarce reasonably-priced single-occupancy packages that are available, and recommend destinations where you’re likely to find other single or solo travelers rather than legions of honeymooners or families, if that matters to you. But you’ll probably have to work with a distant agent by e-mail and phone. It might be difficult or impossible to find one with this very unusual “niche” specialty in your area.
A Note for Men
If you’re a man considering any “singles and solos” tour or cruise, be sure to have a frank discussion with the organizer about the expected gender balance before signing up. Unless the organizer actively manages the participant list to equalize the number of men and women, these tours and cruises almost always attract far more women than men.
That may sound like a great opportunity. But the reality of being one of a few men— or the only man— among a group of women may be very different from what you might imagine. Under such unbalanced circumstances, women tend to “bond” very quickly among themselves, forming their own cliques to enjoy the “social aspects of travel” and completely ignoring the men in the group! That inevitably leaves even the men who weren’t “looking for love” confused and dejected, a situation only exacerbated by their own inability to “bond” as the women do. This has been my own admittedly limited experience. But I’ve had discussions on travel forums and by e-mail with enough people of both genders who have had the same experience to suggest that it’s a common situation.
If you’re specifically looking for “singles” travel, consider a company or organizer that actively works to provide something close to an even gender balance. You’re most likely to find this “active management” on a trip specifically advertised for “matchmaking.” Similarly, a singles cruise for which the promotion prominently features parties, games, and dancing may attract a reasonably balanced mix even without “active management.”
Conversely, a man interested in a tour or cruise to a specific destination may do best by shopping for the best bottom-line price, including the single-occupancy penalty. If you’re of the appropriate age, some companies offering travel for “mature” clients have low single supplements, or sometimes no single supplement, even though they’re not specifically for singletons. If you’re athletic, an active outdoor adventure trip may be a good choice because the gender balance might not matter.
Otherwise, if independent solo travel isn’t appealing, you could just look for a tour or cruise that interests you. If you’re going to pay a penalty and be ignored as a “misfit” in a group of either women or couples and families, you might as well take advantage of the much greater range of choices beyond the rather limited “singles and solos” offerings.
There doesn’t seem to be anything for men equivalent to the increasing array of “women-only” travel opportunities. “Men-only” tours and cruises do exist. But they’re meant for a very specific “demographic,” estimated as including between two and ten percent of the population.
Cruising Solo: Lost At Sea?
Cruise lines are notoriously hostile to solo travelers. They typically charge singles twice the full “brochure rate,” or perhaps a 75% penalty if you’re lucky, even though most couples and families receive substantial discounts from that official retail price. To keep their ships full, cruise lines frequently make very attractive discounts available through agencies and consolidators. But if you call about one of these offers, they’ll often tell you that it’s not available for single-occupancy bookings. Then they’ll quote a price that’s the full “brochure rate” plus the penalty, which can add up to as much as triple the advertised offer you called about.
That’s because the business model for most cruises relies on packing discounted cabins with couples and families who then spend lavishly on the shore excursions, drinks, photographs, gambling, shopping, spa treatments, and numerous other overpriced extras that generate the actual profits. A cabin occupied by only one person thus represents very significant lost productivity. That’s called spoilage in industry jargon, which explains why singletons are often treated like sour milk, broken jars, shoplifted candy, or rotten eggs. It’s why cruise lines have to charge single passengers a penalty sufficient to indemnify their shareholders for all the revenue and profit their missing cabin-mates could have produced.
There are occasional exceptions, and it’s sometimes possible to find a cruise that’s reasonably-priced even with the penalty. Look for a special discount offer that is available for single-occupancy booking, a cruise in a competitive market with a dirt-cheap “brochure rate” that’s still reasonable even when doubled, or perhaps an off-season sailing that’s selling so poorly that the cruise line is desperate enough to reduce the penalty or even eliminate it. But some cruise lines apparently would rather have an empty cabin than allow a single person to (partially) fill it without paying the full penalty. Since that doesn’t make business sense, I have to conclude that they really don’t want individual solo travelers as customers. (They presumably want them to sign up with a singles cruise organizer, who will pair up strangers to maximize cabin utilization and provide a “party atmosphere” that encourages spending.) Even so, bargains do exist. But finding them will definitely require some work.
Luxury cruise lines tend to charge singles much lower penalty percentages than the mass-market lines; they also make more of their promotional discounts available to singles. Their higher fares and “discerning” clientele mean they rely much less on the relentless hard sell of overpriced extras for their profits. They also want to retain loyal widowed customers who had enjoyed cruising with their late husbands. The cost of single occupancy on a luxury line with a promotional discount can be similar to that of a mass-market cruise with the usual penalty. You might not save money, but you could get something better (and dressier) for the same price.
One new exception is Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic, a 4000-passenger behemoth that debuted in 2010. At least for now, it offers 128 diminutive “studio cabins” built and priced for single occupancy, along with a lounge reserved for passengers in these cabins. This is a particularly courageous experiment that bean-counters throughout the cruise industry will surely be scrutinizing closely. Unfortunately, an article about the Epic’s inaugural sailing describes the cruise line’s CEO kvetching to journalists about the single-occupancy cabins costing his company $5 million in profits for the first year alone. That doesn’t inspire much confidence that he wants the experiment to succeed.
Even if the penalty is not a problem for you, a mass-market cruise on a large ship may not be a good choice for a solo vacation. Under their “price to fill” business model, cruise lines aggressively market those cruises to families, extended families, and groups. They just as aggressively discourage singles by charging a full 200% penalty, plus two of the sneaky new per-person fuel surcharges and “non-commissionable fees” that let them advertise a deceptively low price and cheat travel agents out of a chunk of their commission. So the manifest is unlikely to contain many other “soloists.” Locating those few (if any) single needles in a haystack of 3,000 or more passengers may be very difficult. And the staff will likely be too preoccupied with crowd control— and too unfamiliar with the needs of solo passengers— to offer much help.
That’s not to say “soloists” can’t have a great vacation on a mega-ship, but merely that they will have to overcome the built-in obstacles and challenges. A very extroverted, ebullient woman who can readily get “adopted” by a family or a group probably has the best chance; and also perhaps a very introverted person of either gender who doesn’t mind being invisible to the hordes of couples, families, and groups. Solo sailors between those extremes might find a more congenial environment on a smaller ship. Again, a travel agent with the right experience can help you find a cruise where you’ll feel welcome and comfortable rather than lost at sea.
Roommate Roulette and Hobson’s Choice
If the single-occupancy penalty for a tour or cruise is more than you’re able or willing to pay, the obvious first choice is to invite a friend, relative, co-worker, or acquaintance. Going with someone you know will likely work out better than taking pot luck with a stranger. The very significant cost saving might be well worth spending a little time identifying any known incompatibilities and agreeing on an amicable strategy for handling them, at least for a week or two.
If that’s not an option, you could investigate “travel companion exchange” forums or “share a trip” ads. These at least provide an opportunity for getting to know a potential companion. A common recommendation is to meet up for a weekend jaunt as a trial run to assess compatibility before committing to an expensive trip. Like other solo travel resources, these forums or ads may be most useful for women. When I’ve checked out some “travel exchange” Web sites, I noticed that the posts purely about travel were from women seeking female companions for specified trips. With a few “special” exceptions, men who mentioned specific trips were also looking for female companions. Men’s posts often resembled dating personal ads seeking women (or occasionally men) with specified physical attributes, presumably as companions for something more than travel.
Finally there’s the share program, where the tour or cruise operator lets singles avoid the single-occupancy penalty by assigning them same-gender roommates. The entire packaged travel industry seems to have decided on this as the only concession they’ll allow for singles, as it conveniently pounds the square peg of the solo traveler into the round hole of double occupancy. The companies that offer it represent themselves as “single-friendly,” and probably deserve partial credit for at least trying to treat solo travelers as customers. But a share program is really nothing more than a Hobson’s choice of penalties: Either share accommodations with an unknown stranger or pay a large, possibly prohibitive “supplement.”
Despite the good intentions, I consider this roommate roulette game an insult that only affirms the pariah status of solo travelers. Sharing accommodations with an assigned stranger is otherwise associated with boarding schools, university residence halls, hospitals, mental institutions, nursing homes, and prisons— places where the immature, the infirm, the insane, or criminals do not enjoy the full rights of citizens, and are treated as something less than fully-qualified members of society.
More practically, the inevitable annoyances, conflicts, and stress that go with sharing often cramped accommodations with a total stranger can seriously mar the enjoyment of a vacation. That seems entirely incompatible with the oft-touted concept of a vacation as a relaxing escape from daily stresses. On the one cruise I’ve taken so far, my cabin truly was closet-sized. It was adequate for one person, and a romantic couple might not mind the “coziness.” It might be a fun challenge to share it a good friend, but sharing such close quarters with a total stranger would seem more appropriate for incarceration than a vacation.
For that matter, filling a room or cabin with four people would be more efficient and profitable than with two. Travel company executives might privately dream about the “economics” of a “quad-occupancy” standard; but they know couples would never accept sharing accommodations with strangers. Why should singles be any different?
That said, some people do win at roommate roulette. The odds of winning are surely better for those cheerful easygoing souls who can happily get along with anyone. The game may even be desirable for those fortunate few who see a share arrangement not as a risk or source of stress, but as a delightful opportunity to make a new friend. Assigned roommates sometimes do become good friends and subsequent travel companions. Even those who don’t win may nonetheless find that being able to take an African safari or Antarctic cruise without that outrageous penalty is worth any roommate difficulties.
Economics, Inertia, and Necessity
Travel operators have now mostly abandoned share programs. It seems that instead of the expected outpouring of appreciation (and bookings) from grateful participants, they got too many complaints (and possibly lawsuits) about roommate problems spoiling vacations. The executives may have been surprised about this, but I’m not. Did they really expect that customers would not complain if sharing close quarters with a total stranger hampered the enjoyment of their trip, for which they paid good money?
The discontinuation of share programs has left some solo travelers frustrated. Despite the inherent problems, an assigned roommate provides the only way they can afford the tours and cruises they enjoy. Organizers of single and solo travel are increasingly filling this void. It’s an advantageous situation for the tour and cruise operators. They’re happy to sell blocks of seats or cabins at discount prices to third parties, who then take on all the hassles and possible legal liability of pairing up strangers, along with the costs of marketing to individual customers. The number of “singles and solos” tours and cruises is minuscule compared to the industry’s entire range of offerings, but it’s growing. Still, solo travelers who want the benefits of packaged travel surely deserve better than a choice between paying a possibly unaffordable “supplement” or gambling on an unknown roommate.
According to the Census Bureau, over 27 million Americans live alone, accounting for 26% of all the households in America. That’s more than the 22% of households that are “traditional” nuclear families with children, and also more than the 21% of households that are married couples without children.
Executives who ignore— or worse, actively discourage— such a substantial group of potential customers surely can’t be serving their shareholders’ best interests. I strongly suspect that if any of them really wanted to profit from this market, they could use their negotiating clout to start changing the supposedly sacrosanct “economics” that “require” them to penalize solo travelers. The “economics” are an entirely artificial creation of the travel industry, perhaps reflecting decades-old demographics. They can change to reflect today’s demographics. Large numbers of people live alone. And those who can best afford packaged vacations often have “successful” careers that make coordinating vacation schedules with spouses, partners, or friends difficult if not impossible.
I think it’s a matter of somehow convincing even one influential executive that millions of people would eagerly spend good money on their products— if they’d only offer those products at reasonable prices that don’t require bunking with a stranger. It would certainly help if single people stopped resignedly accepting inferior treatment, and actively let the executives of travel companies know what they want. But I’ll admit that will be an uphill battle. If the travel operators continue to fill their cabins and motorcoaches with satisfied customers “traveling as a couple, a family, or with friends,” what incentive do they have to change a successful practice firmly embedded in the very foundation of their industry? Rather than trying to move mountains, solo travelers would do better to reserve packaged travel for when they can find either a compatible companion or a rare single-occupancy bargain. In the meantime, they can plan and enjoy their own independent adventures.
I remain skeptical of the claims various (female) writers make about the desirability, superiority, and even spiritual advantages of traveling alone. Some day— perhaps during a solo trip?— I might experience an epiphany and finally understand what’s so great. Until then I can only regard traveling alone as a practical necessity: I refuse to let the lack of a travel companion force me to stay home!
But I am grateful to those ladies for all their efforts to legitimize solo travel. By specifically encouraging women to venture forth boldly by themselves, they may speed the development a critical mass of solo travelers sufficient to overcome the lingering stigma and make solo travel better for everyone. I’m beginning to suspect that their efforts could result in the travel industry specifically recognizing and welcoming solo women travelers as valued customers, while continuing to ignore men. But it’s also possible that they could ultimately persuade travel industry executives that their shareholders will indeed prosper from extending a genuinely warm welcome to their valuable single customers of either gender.
The Solo Traveler’s Manifesto (Well, Sort Of)
This isn’t really a “manifesto,” but let me leave you with a few thoughts and suggestions.
It’s important, though, to accompany any such request with a gracious smile. Your intent is not to complain, but to suggest that their establishment would benefit from including solo customers in their marketing. If you do get a discount, enjoy your small victory in a world where “One For the Price of Two” is the solo traveler’s usual deal! I have occasionally seen fine print on two-for-one advertisements mentioning an alternative discount for people eating or traveling alone.
(See Some Lessons From Alberta for more about solo travel.)