When John La Point became active in Parents Without Partners 18 years ago, he realized that he and his new friends were also travelers without partners.
So La Point started organizing outings for the group. Some excursions were as simple as an afternoon with the kids at Knott's Berry Farm, others as exotic as a week sans children in Hawaii.
"I have a knack for bringing people together," the 59-year-old Garden Grove man said. Such a knack, in fact, that by 1980 he had split off from the nonprofit Parents Without Partners to run his own for-profit tour business: Travelin' Singles.
Today, La Point's mailing list boasts more than 2,000 names of singles who embark from cities throughout California. He has guided voyagers to the canals of Venice, the beaches of Maui, the bullfights of Madrid, the ruins of Greece and the stores of foreign lands around the globe.
"Shopping, shopping and more shopping," his brochures promise--because, as anyone knows, all American all-American tourists could shop until they drop.
La Point operates his deals on wheels with the help of his girlfriend, Mary Ann Keefer, 57, whom he met in 1983 when she joined his trip to Spain. They usually divide escort duties for their dozen or so annual trips. If it's February, it must be Rio. This week, breaking routine, they are together overseeing a Mexican cruise.
"Travelin' Singles fills a tremendous need," Keefer said. "There are so many single people who want to travel, but who don't want to go by themselves. And even if you're not afraid of traveling by yourself, single supplements cost so much for most organized tours."
The typical Travelin' Single is 40 to 60 years old, divorced or widowed, and female. "Women outnumber the men at least 2 to 1," La Point said. "I don't know how to get the guys to travel. Women are more adventuresome."
Men, he noted, lean toward taking the $350, 4-day jaunts to Mexico rather than the $1,800, 3-week meanders through Hong Kong. "Guys are cheapskates," he surmised.
No matter. Travelin' Singles is not a matchmaking service. "A few romances have come out of trips, but we're primarily a travel organization," La Point said. He prefers to keep tour sizes down to 30 or 40 people: "When the group gets too big, some people feel left out."
On a recent Saturday evening, about 50 people reunited at La Point and Keefer's house to share war stories and photographs--over cocktails made from appropriately originated liquors, such as Greek ouzo. Some of the guests had gone to Oahu-Kauai-Kona in August, some to Greece and Turkey in September, others to Cabo San Lucas in October.
"I'm naughty--sometimes I'll go on three trips in 1 year," said Nancy Armstrong, 54, of La Palma, an administrator with Hughes Aircraft.
Since her divorce 10 years ago, Armstrong added, travel has become a high priority. "It was hard for my ex-husband and me to get away because of his job. When you're single, you only have yourself to worry about."
Armstrong said that she does not enlist in the trips with hopes of finding Mr. Right sitting on the airplane seat next to her. "If you meet someone, great," she said. "But the focus is on traveling. You're not going to spend all your vacation time and money on trying to get dates. There are singles clubs for that; why buy a $2,000 ticket for something you can do at home?"
Nick Hargis, 47, a General Telephone employee in Huntington Beach, agreed. "I wouldn't go on a trip just to meet someone, because if you (failed), you'd be disappointed," he said. Hargis, however, did date for more than a year a woman he met on a Hawaiian vacation.
"The best thing about the group is that it gives you a way to travel with other singles. It wouldn't be much fun to be the only single in a tour group of married couples," Hargis said. "I don't like traveling alone, but it's hard to find a friend who can take off 4 or 5 days at the same time you can."
"It used to be that I never traveled, because I had no one to travel with," said Jean Baker, 60, a tax assessor in Anaheim. With Travelin' Singles, "you don't have to run around asking friends, 'Can you go to Greece with me?' "
Her tour of Greece and Turkey, Baker said, "was like attending one long, ongoing party."
Travel is nothing new for Louise Tine; rather, it is a hobby that she developed with her husband and that she hopes to continue. "We went on trips all the time," the 55-year-old widow said. "When you're alone, it's hard to find other single friends who have the money to take the trips you want to take."
Bill Trelord, 60, a retired stockbroker in Costa Mesa, finds "traveling a lot more fun when you're with someone who has common interests."
"Most of the people on the tour (of Greece and Turkey) liked to shop, but I'd rather sightsee," Trelord said. "As far as I'm concerned, if you've seen one leather factory, you've seen them all. So I palled around with my roommate, a man who also was interested in history. We read a lot of books, and I learned a heck of a lot."
Mary Ann Day, 45, a divorcee and former Westminster resident, still joins the group on occasion although she has moved to Houston. "When I was younger, I was busy raising kids," she said. "Now I'm at an age where my kids are grown and where I'm more financially able to travel."
"A lot of people say they are going to travel when they retire," Armstrong observed. "But traveling can be hard on older people--it's tiring, you're exposed to different foods and different climates. I'd rather travel while I can still climb stairs and walk long distances. My philosophy is: Go for it while you're in good health."