Tips for the solo trav­eler: plan­ning, se­cu­rity and com­mu­nity.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY NANCY TRE­JOS

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All you solo trav­el­ers out there, take heart: You’re not ac­tu­ally alone.

Ac­cord­ing to mar­ket re­search firm TNS’s Trav­el­sAmer­ica Study, so­los make up 10 to 12 per­cent of all U.S. adult leisure trav­el­ers.

Some go solo be­cause they’re sin­gle. Some have part­ners who don’t share their wanderlust. And some sim­ply like the free­dom of trav­el­ing alone: You set your own sched­ule, choose your own ac­tiv­i­ties, eat where and when you want to, sleep when­ever you feel like it.

But you also face unique chal­lenges: You and you alone are re­spon­si­ble for your safety. You don’t have some­one to share ex­penses with. And you might oc­ca­sion­ally get lonely.

So if you’re go­ing to leave home on your own, you’ll have a few ex­tra things to take into con­sid­er­a­tion.

“A lot of stuff can hap­pen when you are alone, and it can be ex­tra­or­di­nary,” said Jan­ice Waugh, who blogs at Solo­Trav­elerBlog. “But you have to be care­ful and read peo­ple and un­der­stand what they want from you.”

Which type are you?

First ask your­self: Do you want to be a solo trav­eler or an in­de­pen­dent trav­eler? There’s a dif­fer­ence.

Solo trav­el­ers can join a com­mu­nity of like-minded trav­el­ers so that they don't feel en­tirely alone. Want to learn how to cook in Italy? Take in­Mon­treal’s In­ter­na­tional Jazz Fes­ti­val? Tango in Brazil? Vol­un­teer in a Mex­i­can vil­lage? There’s prob­a­bly a group tour com­pany that of­fers such ar­range­ments.

The down­side is that most tours charge sin­gle sup­ple­ments to make up for los­ing money on a sec­ond per­son. But oc­ca­sion­ally, a com­pany will waive that fee. Aber­crom­bie & Kent, for in­stance, is waiv­ing the sin­gle sup­ple­ment on a $3,120 Feb. 22 trip to Costa Rica booked by Jan. 15, a sav­ings of $760. Waugh also points out that if you book at the last minute, you could sim­ply ask that the fee be waived. And if you’re will­ing to share a room with a stranger, some com­pa­nies will find you a room­mate.

Cruises also charge a sin­gle sup­ple­ment, but some are com­ing around to solo trav­el­ers. In July, the Nor­we­gian Epic de­buted with 128 stu­dio state­rooms, all with ac­cess to a twofloor sin­gles-only lounge.

In­de­pen­dent trav­el­ers, on the other hand, want DIY va­ca­tions and shun tour groups. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to con­nect with strangers. Con­sider hos­tels and bed-and­break­fasts, which have a built-in mech­a­nism for meet­ing peo­ple. In a hos­tel, you’ll prob­a­bly be shar­ing a room. At a bed-and­break­fast, you’ll have the innkeep­ers and other guests to keep you com­pany, at least dur­ing break­fast. Or you can try mem­ber­ship com­mu­ni­ties such as Couchsurf­ing.com, where you stay at an­other mem­ber’s home free or for a small fee, or Airbnb. whose prices are higher but still less than most ho­tels.

Se­cu­rity con­cerns

Like it or not, when trav­el­ing alone, you’re more vul­ner­a­ble be­cause you have no one to turn to if you get into trou­ble.

If you don’t feel com­fort­able shar­ing a room or a small house with a stranger, con­sider a ho­tel a lit­tle closer to the beaten path, where there’s more foot traf­fic and bet­ter light­ing. Look at pic­tures on­line and read other trav­el­ers’ re­views. “If you ar­rive at a ho­tel that just doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and go else­where,” said Kate Reid, a travel ex­pert and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Call of the Wild, which ar­ranges ad­ven­ture travel for women. “Don’t risk it.

Also, don’t over­pack. Not only will it slow you down, but if you have to run to the re­stroom, there’s no one to look af­ter your bags. “I had lug­gage stolen that way once,” said Va­lerie Knoblauch, a fre­quent solo trav­eler and pres­i­dent of the Fin­ger Lakes Vis­i­tors Con­nec­tion in Canandaigua, N.Y. “I rec­om­mend mak­ing friends with the bellman.”

An­other rec­om­men­da­tion: Re­search your des­ti­na­tion be­fore you go. If you’re trav­el­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally, fa­mil­iar­ize your­self with the lan­guage, even if it’s just a few key words, such as “ help.” Find out what the so­cial cus­toms are, and make sure you pack ap­pro­pri­ate at­tire. Yes, that means no tank tops and no miniskirts in Cairo.

With­out a com­pan­ion, main­tain­ing your abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant, so if you’re trav­el­ing abroad, check

the mo­bile net­work of your des­ti­na­tion coun­try in ad­vance, said John Ren­deiro, vice pres­i­dent of global se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence for In­ter­na­tional SOS As­sis­tance Inc., a se­cu­rity com­pany in Trevose, Pa. And keep all hand­held de­vices charged at all times. A backup bat­tery and car charger could come in handy.

Be­fore you book flights and lodg­ing, call your credit card com­pa­nies to find out what type of cov­er­age you’ll get in case of ill­ness, ac­ci­dent, lost lug­gage or can­celed flights. You’d be sur­prised what ben­e­fits some card com­pa­nies will of­fer. Also, if you’re trav­el­ing over­seas, con­sider ex­chang­ing some money into the for­eign coun­try’s cur­rency be­fore your trip so that you don’t have to go to an ATM alone in an un­known place.

Fi­nally, reg­is­ter with your em­bassy or con­sulate and scan all im­por­tant doc­u­ments such as your pass­port and vac­ci­na­tion record. Ren­deiro rec­om­mends email­ing them to your­self at an ad­dress eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble via the Web.

What do you do once you’ve landed at your des­ti­na­tion? If you haven’t ex­changed your money yet, use an ATM in the air­port, not one out on the street.

If you’re a woman trav­el­ing alone, pre­tend that you’re not. Carolyn W. Pad­dock, founder of In-flight In­sider, goes so far as to wear some­thing re­sem­bling a wed­ding ring, even though she’s sin­gle. (But re­mem­ber: No flashy jew­elry.) Woman or man, al­ways have a plan to check in reg­u­larly with friends or relatives back home. And don’t tell strangers where you’re stay­ing or that you’re alone.

Pad­dock also sug­gests keep­ing a card in your wal­let with im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion, such as the names and phone num­bers of doc­tors and an emer­gency con­tact.

A good per­son to have on your side is the ho­tel concierge. He or she can rec­om­mend a res­tau­rant, call for a reser­va­tion and ar­range round-trip trans­porta­tion. “ This en­sures that you will be missed if some­thing hap­pens and you didn’t have time to check in on

“ Take time to ex­pe­ri­ence the lo­cal hap­pen­ings. Don’t miss out on the serendip­ity of meet­ing peo­ple as a sin­gle trav­eler.”

— Ann Lom­bardi, travel blog­ger

the home front,” Ren­deiro said.

But most im­por­tant, just let com­mon sense pre­vail. Don’t stop on the street to study your map. Don’t read a guide­book at a res­tau­rant. Don’t drink too much. And walk with con­fi­dence.

Con­nect­ing with oth­ers

Now it’s time to have fun. But what if you start to feel lonely?

“Do things you would nor­mally do at home to so­cial­ize,” said Ann Lom­bardi, a travel agent who blogs at TheTripChicks.blogspot. “ Take time to ex­pe­ri­ence the lo­cal hap­pen­ings. Don’t miss out on the serendip­ity of meet­ing peo­ple as a sin­gle trav­eler. There are many op­por­tu­ni­ties to meet peo­ple and take in the cul­ture if you are open to it.”

That means go­ing to a con­cert in­stead of only vis­it­ing tourist at­trac­tions. Or at­tend­ing a church or a syn­a­gogue. Or tak­ing in a folk fes­ti­val.

An­other way to com­bat lone­li­ness is to hire a driver to take you around the city, or join­ing a mu­seum tour.

When you’re din­ing alone at a nice res­tau­rant, sit at the bar and chat up the bar­tender. Or make your main meal lunch, when you’re less likely to be sur­rounded by cou­ples on dates. You can also seek out restau­rants with com­mu­nal ta­bles. Or eat at a farm­ers’ mar­ket.

If you’re stay­ing in the same city for a few days, be­come a reg­u­lar at a par­tic­u­lar res­tau­rant or cafe. “ You’ll get adopted in no time,” Waugh said.

Want a pic­ture of your­self to prove that you ac­tu­ally went some­where? Knoblauch sug­gests tak­ing time to study other tourists and choos­ing some­one who’s tak­ing fam­ily pic­tures to snap your photo. You can also take along a bend­able tri­pod if your cam­era has a timer.

Most im­por­tant, though, take time to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence. “I think that trav­el­ing alone is ac­tu­ally im­por­tant,” Waugh said. “In ad­di­tion to all the won­der­ful things that can hap­pen, there’s also an op­por­tu­nity for re­flec­tion and an op­por­tu­nity to gain that con­fi­dence about who you are and your re­la­tion to the world. You find out who you are when no one is look­ing, and that’s a re­ally great gift to give your­self.”

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