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TRAVEL INSIDER : Solo Globetrotters Find Strength in Numbers : Singles: Various organizations are offering ways to beat the high cost of touring alone.


Here's a tender Valentine's Day message for all the single travelers out there: Yes, you have been getting a bad deal for years, and no, that's not likely to change anytime soon.

On cruises and tours, partnerless travelers routinely pay 20%-50% above the per-person rates of couples. In U.S. hotels, singles often pay twice as much per person as couples do. And then there's the social side of the equation.

"You can really feel like a fifth wheel if you get placed in a dining room with a table of all couples," says Wendy Lowenstein, manager for Singleworld Cruises and Tours in Rye, N.Y. "You wonder, what and I going to do, and who am I going to do it with?"

It's true that some cruise lines and tour companies pledge to find roommates for singles, or hold down the "single supplement" charge when one person occupies a room meant for two. But the bottom line is that as long as people tend to travel in couples, the travel industry is likely to build hotel rooms, cruiseship cabins and prices around that expectation.

The best way around those circumstances may be to draw bargaining strength through one of the many organizations now devoted to the care and feeding (and sometimes, it must be said, mating) of the lone traveler.

Some of these organizations specialize in the young, some in the mature. (Many "single" travelers are women whose husbands prefer to stay home.) Some arrange for you to share space with a stranger; others leave you in solitude but put you in line for a discount. Most are tour operators, but there's also a newsletter and a cruise "hotline" listed. An unscientific sampling:

For the young and flexible. Contiki Holidays (1432 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim 92805; telephone 800- 466-0610 or 714-937-0611) is a 32-year-old company founded to serve young New Zealanders traveling in Europe. Contiki specializes in budget trips for travelers aged 18-35, and 60% of the customers it books are signed on as singles. Average age: 24. Most customers are Australian and New Zealanders, but the firm estimates that it sent almost 10,000 Americans abroad on tours last year. "They don't have a lot of money," says Contiki president Jerri Ross. But at that age, many travelers don't mind sharing rooms with up to three strangers. As with most companies that try to match lone travelers, the company's only screening category for same-sex roommates is whether they smoke. Sample trip: An upcoming 11-day trip to Egypt, including Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, and a two-night Nile cruise: $655 (airfares excluded), if you share a room; $870 for a single room.

For the older and wiser. Elderhostel Inc. (P.O. Box 1959, Dept. NM, Wakefield, Mass. 01880-5959; tel. 617-426-7788, requests by mail preferred) is a 19-year-old nonprofit organization that operates as a clearinghouse for 1,800 educational and cultural programs worldwide, often lodging participants in college dormitories. The programs are open to travelers age 60 and older, and last year drew an estimated 250,000 participants (among them many repeat customers). "About 35% of our participants come alone. And 67% of our participants are women. You are immediately welcomed as part of the group. You are not regarded as a solo traveler," says Cady Goldfield, Elderhostel's director of public relations. Travelers who want single rooms pay a single supplement, which varies by host organization. Sample trip: April 4-10, single participants share twin-bed dormitory rooms (bathroom down the hall) at Southern Oregon State College in Ashland, taking three no-homework courses (Shakespearean women, music of social change and a behind-the-scenes look at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival). The fee of $320 excludes air fare, but includes meals and various admission fees and field trips.

For the bold and companionable. Jens Jurgen, divorced and experienced in the travel business, started Travel Companion Exchange Inc. (P.O. Box 833, Amityville, N.Y. 11701; tel. 516-454-0880) in 1982,drawing on a mailing list bought from a singles club. The Travel Companions newsletter, published six times a year, runs 30-34 pages and is divided between traveling tips and listings of individual travelers seeking companions. (A six-month membership, which includes listings in the newsletter, runs $36-$66. A six-month newsletter subscription alone runs $24.) Most newsletter readers are over 30, and Jurgen says he makes "a huge effort, constantly, to find more men." Clearly, some voyagers are hoping for rather close companionship; many listings include the traveler's age, height and weight.

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