Our Trip Coach answers your top questions on solo travel.
I'm planning to take a trip by myself. Are there any destinations that are especially appealing for solo travelers?
First off, you're not alone. Solo travelers account for 11 percent of all American vacationers. No destination is strictly off-limits to solo travelers, but some places are easier (and more appealing) to navigate than others. In general, the best bets for first-time single travelers are English-speaking destinations known for their friendliness and hospitality, such as Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia. After all, you're a lot less likely to get lost or feel lonely if you're surrounded by people who can understand what you're saying. Within Southeast Asia, Thailand and Vietnam are also particularly welcoming, if only for the affordability and prevalence of English.
What are some ways I can connect with others on the road?
You'll want to start planting the seed before you go: Talk up your travel plans on Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media outlets. You might be surprised to discover a long-lost friend from college who plans on passing through Paris when you are, too; or perhaps a colleague has family in India, near the yoga retreat where you've booked a stay. Another networking suggestion, from IndependentTraveler.com editor Sarah Schlichter, is to use the website couchsurfing.org. Even if you're not interested in the site's primary service (setting up free couch-stays), it can be a handy tool for connecting with locals around the world. "The site draws social types who are obviously up for meeting and hosting travelers," she says. "You can suggest lunch or coffee at a café or museum." Beth Whitman, author of Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo, offers this simple tip: Go to a busy park, sit out on a bench with a map and phrasebook, and wait for a curious passerby to make the first move. "You'd be amazed how often this works for me," she says. "In faraway locations, especially, there are always friendly college students who want to practice English." Finally, be strategic about where you stay. At big chain hotels, people tend to retreat to the comfort of their own private rooms; your chances of befriending other travelers are far better at B&Bs and family-run inns, where guests congregate at the breakfast table and in common areas.
Any tips for keeping costs down?
When you're on your own, lodging becomes the main, annoying expense. Solo travelers are effectively charged twice as much in hotels because most places automatically base their room rates on double occupancy. One way around this surcharge, called a single-supplement fee, is to simply ask for a discount: Point out that you're the only person staying in the room and that you'll be using less electricity and water and eating less breakfast than two guests. "Bargaining over room rates is common and accepted in most of the world," Whitman says. "Smaller, family-run hotels are more apt to give price breaks than chains or ritzy properties." On cruises, solo travelers are often charged the full cabin rate—which amounts to a 200 percent single-supplement fee—but you may be able to find deals by booking early or at the very last minute, according to Amber Blecker, a travel agent who runs Solo Cruise Resource. Specifically, Princess and Holland America often offer solo cruisers discounts of up to 50 percent off the single-supplement fee for bookings made six or more months ahead, and Celebrity and Royal Caribbean often reduce fees by as much as 25 percent as the cruise's date of departure nears, Blecker says. Tour package supplements vary significantly, so choose wisely if you want to go guided. Charging solo travelers around 30 percent more is typical, for instance, but some outfitters, such asGap Adventures and Cosmos, offer price breaks and design itineraries specifically for groups of singles. That trend seems to be growing, according to Diane Redfern, founder of the website Connecting: Solo Travel Network, which lists tours and trips specifically for solo travelers. "When I launched the company in 1990, I knew of just one travel company that catered specifically to singles," Redfern says. "Now I have upward of 400 tours and cruises listed on my site at any given time." Check out our sidebar, "Trips for One, for Less," for more money-saving trip ideas on cruises, tours, and accommodations. Story continued on next page...
By the Numbers
9 Million — Number of American women who travel abroad solo each year