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Flying Solo Has Key Advantages

August 04, 1989|SUSAN CHRISTIAN | Susan Christian is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

The travel bug does not always synchronize its bites. You might get an itch to see the world--or at least San Francisco--on a week that none of your buddies can break away from work. Or you might yearn to jet off to Venice, Italy, when your best friend can barely afford a tank of gas to Venice, Calif.

Thus, many a resourceful single goes it alone when vacation time rolls around. "There's no sense in postponing your plans waiting for someone to accompany you," said Mission Viejo resident Tom Real, who frequently travels solo.

"Life is too short; you should do the things you want to do when the opportunity knocks," said Real, 26, a projects manager for a landscaping firm.

Real often ventures out on long car trips by himself: "I've driven to the East Coast and Miami, I've gone fishing up in Canada, and on another trip I drove to Alaska. It's good meditation time. I line up a row of rock 'n' roll tapes (in the car) and just take in the scenery."

A few years ago, he spent two weeks in Hawaii on his own; he is planning a trip to Australia.

"It doesn't bother me at all to travel alone," Real said.

Nor does it bother Johnnie Marr. In fact, she has come to enjoy her trips-for-one so much that she cannot imagine making the compromises that a companion would require.

"I sometimes worry that I no longer would have the patience to travel with a group of friends," said the 32-year-old corporate librarian, who lives in Seal Beach.

"It's a luxury traveling alone; you don't have to do a lot of planning--you can just show up. You can go at your own pace, and if you don't like where you are, you can take off. You don't have to consult with other people over your every move."

Marr has traveled extensively by herself--twice to Europe, once to North Africa and all over the United States. She has no qualms about driving cross-country on a deserted highway.

"I'm conscious that there's the possibility of danger," she said, "but I would never stop myself from doing something because of a risk. And I can pretty well take care of myself--I can change a flat tire."

Sightseeing solo "forces you to be more outgoing," Marr said. "You strike up conversations with people you might not even notice if you were with someone. I've met dozens of people traveling, some of whom I've stayed in contact with."

Both Marr and Real, however, admitted to bouts of loneliness during their expeditions--especially at mealtime. "When I take a trip by myself, food becomes something to sustain my body, not an event in itself," Real said.

"I've gotten used to eating alone," Marr said. "Usually I bring something that I'm writing with me to the restaurant, or I bring a book."

Still, she said, "there are times I feel kind of isolated on my trips. From time to time, you see something funny and you wish you could share it with somebody else."

In Europe, making acquaintances is as easy as walking outside your hotel, said John Mowbray, director of Orange County Travel Services in Anaheim.

"It's very common for people to hook up with one another and, for instance, rent a car together and drive outside the city," he said.

Mowbray recommended the European train system as a good track for socializing with fellow tourists. "Our clients are always telling us that they made friends with people on train trips," he said. "If you're traveling alone, buying a Eurailpass might be the way to go. It provides unlimited use of trains throughout Europe. You can get off and on the trains whenever you want; you're footloose and fancy-free."

Current prices run $320 for a 15-day Eurailpass, $398 for 21 days.

One way to beat loneliness is to join an organized tour group. Anaheim-based Contiki Holidays, an international agency specializing in youth travel, offers tours around the world to clients ages 18 to 30.

"Singles make up half our business," Contiki President Geoffrey Phillips said. "Traveling with a tour can save singles a lot of money. The single supplement for a hotel room can be as much as 50%. We make arrangements for people traveling alone to share a room with somebody of the same sex."

Time, as well as money, is a precious commodity while on the road. "Gone are the days when college graduates took six months or a year to go floating off to Europe," Phillips said.

"People are more career-minded today. By going with a tour group, they can see as much of Europe as possible within a three-week time frame."

Phillips said that in Contiki's 28 years of existence, "thousands of marriages" have resulted from romances that developed during tours.

Eileen Hoolihan, 30, of Dana Point is about to number among those thousands. She is engaged to an Australian she met while on a Contiki tour of Europe three years ago and will be moving to Melbourne.

"You're more open to meeting people when you're on vacation," Hoolihan said. "You leave your inhibitions at home."

Before crossing paths with her fiance, Hoolihan often traveled alone, usually without benefit of a tour group.

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