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On the Spot: Readers share ideas for traveling solo

Tours are opportunities for solo travelers to meet people and study programs allow for independence.

November 18, 2013|By Catharine Hamm
(Reuben Munoz )

A woman who wants to travel but doesn't have a travel mate asked what she might do to avoid paying the singles supplement. She doesn't especially want to room with a stranger, but she doesn't want to pay the surcharge that solo travelers often are assessed either. What can she do?

The On the Spot column of Nov. 10, "Opportunities Grow for Solo Travelers" (, focused on finding a travel companion or learning to make the acquaintance of strangers, whether you're paired with them by a tour company or you find them on your own.

Readers had some good suggestions, as they always do. Marlene Frierson wrote: "Thank goodness for Grand Circle Travel/Overseas Travel [], a travel company out of Boston. Last year I traveled to … Europe for three weeks, and this year I just returned from a three-week trip with them to China. All their tours put aside single spaces so I never have to share a room."

Susan Wexler likes study programs. "I know they are not for everyone, but they can be a great way to get to know a city intimately, meet others and yet maintain one's independence (if so desired)," she wrote. During her three weeks at the Michelangelo institute in Florence, Italy, "I had as much 'alone time' and 'group time' [as] I wanted."

Eleanor Van Natta is a big fan of Road Scholar (, which used to be known as Elderhostel, "a wonderful and safe way for a woman alone to travel," she wrote. It offers "a staggering array of trips, domestic and abroad."

Some readers were not thrilled about the idea of a roommate and said so, but Van Natta suggested, "Don't be too quick to turn down a roommate.… On two occasions my partners and I got along so well that we took subsequent trips together."

Debra Asberry runs Women Traveling Together (, which offers women-only tours to all corners of the world. She thinks people who join her trips as solo travelers (and are then paired up) reach out more easily than those who come with friends. As Van Natta noted, they are actually traveling with a pool of potential future travel partners.

Tours — whether for singles or pairs — are not the only way to go. Traveling independently is also an option.

The best idea about solo travel comes from Marybeth Bond, who runs the website that helps travelers navigate the world: Do a tour and then do a few days on your own.

For Part 2 of your trip, you'll plan your own activities, so she has this advice: "Seek out things you love. Take a cooking class [or] a docent-led tour of a museum. You might go to a crafts fair, all of the things you don't have time for at a top tourist place.... I look into festivals."

For many solo travelers, eating alone is an issue, but Bond suggested finding a place with a counter and talking with others sitting nearby.

But, she noted, don't leave your street smarts at home. Walk with purpose, and remember that you don't have to be a "nice girl," she said. If you're walking down the street and you're about to encounter someone you'd rather not, cross the street or turn back. "You don't owe anybody," she said.

The only issue now is where you want to go. Asberry has watched the world undergo numerous changes since she started her company in 1997 and knows that places that seem dicey this year may not be in the future. But just because you are worried about going to see the pyramids in Egypt doesn't mean you can't go to the Maya or Aztec ruins of Latin America. South America is about to achieve its potential as a destination, she said; Patagonia is especially popular, she said.

Women (and men) now have more options than ever. Life is a banquet, as Auntie Mame would say, and travel is one occasion when many trips to the buffet are good for you.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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