Trip Coach: July 24, 2007
Beth Whitman, author of 'Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo,' answered your questions on solo travel.
Beth Whitman: Great question, Suzanne. I was in Rome by myself years ago and had the same issue.
My first response is "follow your gut". If you don't feel safe going out on your own in the evening, then don't. Spend your days seeing the sites, eat your biggest meal at lunch and perhaps get to know your local neighborhood in the evenings, not straying far from your hotel.
During the first few days of your trip, however, make a big effort to make new friends, either with other travelers or with the locals. My bet is that you will meet up with some other travelers who would love to have you along on their adventures, perhaps even other single women who are in the same position as you.
Many small hotels in Paris provide breakfast in a communal dining area. Step out of your comfort zone and sit with some other travelers, letting them know your intentions of connecting with others.
As for safe evening attractions, my favorite was just staring at the Eiffel Tower as it was lit up! Head up to the top of La Samaritaine shopping center (it's free) and you'll have an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower.
Los Angeles, Calif.: Hi! I would like to go to Cancun at the end of August and just relax. I travel often and by myself sometimes (mostly Europe). I am not sure if it is safe to travel to Mexico alone these days. Can you shed some light? Thanks.
Beth Whitman: I'm not sure what your concern is around safety (terrorism? theft?) but Mexico is very safe. Sure, there's a little machismo to deal with (catcalls, whistles, etc.) but if you can ignore it, you'll have a great time.
As with any destination, be smart and stay alert. Connect with other travelers when you want to and make friends with the locals when you can. Get to know the proprietor of your hotel and frequent the same café or restaurant in order to meet the employees. Ask for tour and restaurant recommendations from these folks--they'll be happy to share and you'll fast become friends.
Miami, Fla.: Beth, I noticed in a story you just did for Perceptive Travel that you had a travel partner with you in India. Was this someone you met up with along the way or someone who was with you on that trip? How easy is it to find people to travel with when you get tired of being by yourself (and paying for a single room)?
Beth Whitman: Hi, Joseph. On that particular trip, it was my partner, Jon, whom I traveled with. We stayed in many backpacker-type hotels and met many women and men traveling on their own. Though it's not as easy when you're traveling with someone, I intentionally make connections with solo travelers. I enjoy the additional companionship, I love to get their perspective on their travel experiences and, I hope, it helps them feel safer and a part of a group.
No matter where you go in the world, it's generally very easy to meet other travelers if you are open to it (some people WANT to be alone). Youth hostels, backpacker hotels and even bed and breakfasts are excellent places to stay in order to meet up with others. Eating at cafes with tables set close together or where you share tables are also excellent places to connect with others.
By the way, I'll be heading back to India in January--solo. I plan to spend time there doing research for my next book, Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling to India.
New York, N.Y.: I would like to extend or begin a trip to Cape Town next March with a self-drive or small group trip to the Garden route and a malaria-free Safari. Is this possible or practical to do on my own and is it safe? I have driven and traveled by myself in several other countries but never in Africa. Nor have I ever driven on the left side of the road.
Beth Whitman: I've heard mixed reactions to driving in South Africa. The roads are well maintained and driving on the left side of the road isn't as difficult as it might seem. However, driving at night is not safe. I've had several friends nearly run off the road in an attempt to rob them or steal their car.
Particularly when it comes to wildlife, you're really better off booking a tour with well-trained guides. You'll see and experience far more than if you tried to do this on your own.
I'd vote for a mix of organized tour to get an in depth introduction to the place but to leave yourself some flexibility to travel on your own via car.
Mattapoisett, Mass.: Could you suggest a few websites for booking solo travel?