It’s not always easy making connections with local people in your travel destinations, especially in big cities in foreign countries, but don’t be intimidated. The Web is ready to help you link up with proud, friendly locals just about anywhere in the world. These sites can get you started.
GUIDES AND GREETERS
In cities around the world, you’ll find guides, both professionals and even better, volunteers, who will spend a few hours or a day with you, showing you the place they call home. The volunteer guides often do what they do at no charge.
If your time and travel plans are flexible, meeting other travelers exploring your destination can be as enjoyable — and beneficial — as hooking up with local residents. And who says you can’t do both?
LODGING WITH LOCALS Skipping the hotelm/motel scene in favor of staying in a local home or apartment has two big pluses. One, it’s often a lot cheaper. And two, it gets you out of commercial zones and into local neighborhoods, where you see firsthand how folks really live. Local flavor, real cheap.
“ALONE: In bad company.” — Ambrose Bierce, “The Devil’s Dictionary,” circa 1900
“Why don’t you write something on your blog about traveling alone?” Renee said.
Single travel is the ultimate form of independent travel. It may not be an “issue” exclusively for women, but it does fall on women harder than men, especially since women began asserting their professional and personal independence over the last half-century.
Renee, a respected colleague and longtime friend from my newspaper days, is an online journalist and a single woman. I could tell you her age, but a gentleman doesn’t do such things. Besides, I prefer to go on living.(NOTE: Everything about Renee is real, except her name, which I’m withholding at her request.)
There are two kinds of people who travel alone — those who want to and those who would rather not. Count Renee firmly in the second group.
“Some people might enjoy it, but I don’t,” she says.
At times, it seems as if the entire travel industry picks on singles of both genders. Hotel rooms, cruise ship cabins, resorts all charge extra for singles. More than a few airline reservation Web sites have an annoying way of presuming you’re booking one flight for two people. A lot of discount rates are strictly reserved for couples or families only. Singles need not apply.
It’s as if the travel industry refuses to accept the fact that more than 40 percent of the U.S. adult population happens to be single.
Some hotels and cruise lines have figured this out and offer rooms and cabins at special rates to attract single travelers. Singles rates on tours may be harder to come by, but not necessarily impossible. A hotel, ship or tour organizer may be eager (read: desperate) enough to fill remaining space to cut a single traveler some slack, especially on a last-minute booking. It never hurts to ask!
But the toughest part of traveling alone may well be the “alone” part.
Some folks like the solitude, the chance to absorb a new experience without the chatter of a travel companion to distract, but they do seem be a minority. Most of us find the joys of travel lacking without someone to share them with.
Then there are those who have no problems traveling alone because their personalities ensure that they’re never alone for long.
I once knew a young Czech journalist named Petr Tuma who traveled much of the world at a young age. On trains or buses and in restaurants, he made a point of sitting down with strangers and striking up conversations.
Petr made the whole world into his traveling companion and I admired him for it, but let’s face it, we’re not all as outgoing. For women in particular, approaching strangers in strange lands, even for the most innocent of reasons, is something you just don’t do, for many good reasons.
Renee has done her share of solo traveling. In her eyes, it’s overrated.
“I traveled to Europe with a former sorority sister in the early 70s and the idea was she was meeting up with her boyfriend after England, and I was just going to wander around Amsterdam, Paris, London, Rome, Venice, Florence and Barcelona all by myself.”
Even for a confirmed travel addict like me, that’s a lot of time and miles on your own.
“I met some Americans along the way of course, and i even met some interesting French and Dutch folks. One woman let me stay in her loft,” she said. “But it was friggin’ LONELY. No one to share with. And also, since this was the early 70s, it wasn’t really appropriate for a single woman to be roaming around the likes of Rome or Venice by herself at night.”
The other danger of traveling alone, Renee pointed out, is that of being arbitrarily paired up with a travel partner who turns out to be totally incompatible:
“I…went on a bike ride through the Loire Valley by myself, with a tour group of families, and that felt like being all by myself too. Not really fun. I was paired with an Orthodox Jew who wouldn’t eat meat, wouldn’t drink wine. Who knows why the hell she was biking through the wine country.”
For the single black traveler, the single black woman in particular, the issue can be even more acute. For some, just leaving the comfort zone of home for a week or longer is difficult enough. Facing such a prospect alone might seems almost too daunting to contemplate.
But you had to know that in the age of social media and networking, somebody on the Internet was going to take this on, right?
There are travel clubs online designed to pair up single travelers or combine them in groups for vacation tours. Some admittedly have romance as an ultimate goal, but many simply seek to put together two compatible travelers to share and enjoy a trip. Some focus on offering safety alerts for certain destinations and other information designed to help keep the single traveler safe.
You can find links to a sampling of such groups on the Cool Travel Sites page. Believe me, there are lots more.
So don’t let your single status hold you back. Save your coins, do your research, back your bags and get out there!