When I bought my plane ticket to Bali I had nagging doubts about whether I, a single woman traveling alone, would really have a good time vacationing on an Indonesian island for a week.
The travel brochures and guidebooks promised me that I'd find silken-sand beaches, bathwater-warm seas and magnificent crimson sunsets.
But there was no guarantee that I'd also find fun and romance if I went all by myself without a friend or spouse. Even though I had been traveling alone successfully and happily for years and had visited nearly 40 countries, I was worried that this might prove to be the exception.
Half-heartedly I congratulated myself on having had the foresight to line the bottom of my suitcase with paperback books. Much to my surprise, I never finished a single book that week. I was too busy having fun exploring Bali with other travelers, single women and men as well as married couples, to get past any first chapter.
Traveling alone invariably leads to new friendships and high adventure. The first day I was on Bali, for example, I signed up for an evening tour to see Balinese villagers perform ceremonial fire and monkey dances. On the mini-van going to the village I met Michelle, a single young Australian woman traveling alone, and we sat together as we watched a Balinese native in a trance walk on burning coconut husks.
When we returned to Kuta Cottage, the bungalow resort complex where we were both staying, we decided to stop for a drink at the open-air poolside bar.
While we were sipping mai tais we met Anders and Thomas, both from Stockholm, who were also vacationing on Bali. They told us they planned to rent a pair of motorbikes the following day and invited us to join them for a trip to Uluwatu Beach. Intrigued by their description of the untamed surf and immense coral formations, Michelle and I accepted.
The next day she and I found ourselves bouncing along on the tail ends of the motorbikes, dodging stray cows and noisy trucks. When we arrived at the southern tip of the island we hired two boys to lead us to the hidden beach.
We spent the day splashing in the surf, sunbathing on the hot white sand and cooling off inside a giant coral cavern that echoed with the sound of the breakers.
From that time on the four of us were inseparable friends, whiling away the ensuing days lounging around the pool at Kuta Cottage and sipping fresh banana juice. Every night we dined on turtle soup, grilled fish, lumpia (Indonesian spring rolls), fried bananas and Balinese rice wine at a palm-covered cafe before returning to Kuta Cottage for a midnight swim.
Our Separate Ways
At the end of the week we went our separate ways, but at Christmas I received a Swedish greeting card from Anders and Thomas with the picture Michelle and I had taken after we had buried them up to their chins in the sand at Uluwatu Beach and written "Happy New Year" in seaweed above their heads.
We still correspond, and the next time I visit Australia or Sweden I know that I'll have some old friends to show me around.
That's the pleasure of traveling by yourself. You are constantly meeting interesting people and making international friends as you go, and you are free to pursue adventure wherever you find it.
When you want to be by yourself or feel like taking a day off to do nothing, you can, without disrupting anyone else's plans or feeling guilty. It's a luxury that many couples and people who travel in tour groups never enjoy.
One of every three American travelers is a woman, compared to one of 50 just a decade ago, according to U.S. government statistics.
In Nairobi, Kenya, two American businessmen waiting in line at the airport offered to share their taxi into the city. In Arequipa, Peru, Alberto and Clara, a couple from Milan, Italy, invited me to have dinner with them at a small cafe on the zocalo (town square) one evening.
Although no trip is guaranteed to be trouble free, planning and common sense can assure that it will go smoothly most of the time.
On cruises I have found that I was just about the only single person on board who was traveling alone. In contrast, I met a lot of single men and women when I vacationed on the Greek island of Corfu, at the Red Sea resort of Eliat in Israel and at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.
Finding a place to stay has never been a problem, even though I never make reservations. Visitor information counters at major airports, bus and train stations have lists of hotel names, locations and rates, and the information clerks will gladly call to book a room for you.
But sometimes you have to improvise a little. Once when I couldn't find a room in Lagos, Portugal, a Portuguese family invited me to stay with them in their home, a wonderful experience.