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Going solo: Find adventure, friends and fun when traveling alone

A Santiago, Chile, tour guide takes the author’s picture with the city in the background.

By Marilyn Jones

I never thought I would travel alone, but as a single retired woman I soon realized if I was going to travel, I wasn’t always going to have a companion. In the last four years I’ve taken numerous road trips and traveled all over the world alone. This is what I learned along the way.

Tours

Whether you are in Alabama, somewhere else in the United States or traveling internationally, one of the best ways to get to know a location is on a tour. You’ll be accompanied by a knowledgeable guide. You are also surrounded by a group of other like-minded travelers and, especially in big cities and foreign countries, you are safer.

In a city, of course, your tour lasts a few hours and always a good idea in unfamiliar surroundings. But what I am referring to is a tour over several days or weeks. I have been on several tours all over the world. I always come back home with new friends, great memories and the desire to go again.

After deciding where you want to go, investigate. Check out several tour companies. Do you have friends who used a specific tour company? There are also usually customer reviews. This is a good indicator of many aspects of a tour — good and bad. Compare price points. Does the tour include air? What is the activity level? How many people on the tour? Smaller is better.

You can find all this out on the internet or at a travel agency.


The city of Mobile, Ala., officially returns to the cruising business with the inaugural sailing of the Carnival Fantasy on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. (Mike Kittrell)

Take a cruise

Solo travelers will find the same advantages to taking a cruise as they do with an organized tour. Whether you pick a river, sea or adventure cruise, the destinations seem endless as you start checking out options. And a huge advantage is you only have to unpack once.

River cruises have never been more popular. Most of us are familiar with the paddlewheelers plying the Mississippi. Cruise lines not only travel the mighty Mississippi, but other American rivers and New England’s shore makings stops along the way.

The draw for river cruises all over the world – including Europe, Asia and Africa – is passengers get off the ship almost every day and many cruise lines include one shore excursion at each port built into the price. The organized tours offer a good basis for knowing where you want to explore on your own during the free time allotted in many ports-of-call.

The atmosphere is very relaxed and the number of passengers is a fraction of ocean going vessels (around 150). There are plenty of opportunities to meet other travelers during social hour and dinner.

Ocean cruising is different because there are typically several sea days, and tours and excursions are usually not included.

Many ocean cruise lines also offer meetings for single cruisers. On a recent cruise I met a young man from New Zealand this way and the two of us shared meals, on board activities such as movies and evening shows as well as excursions.

An adventure cruise combines the convenience of other types of cruises, fewer passengers and built-in excursions to places like Antarctica, Galapagos Islands and the Arctic, but they usually require a much higher level of fitness.


Guides are always willing to take photos and often volunteer, like on Easter Island.

Getting there

Before you take a road trip, make sure your car is in good working order or rent one. I have been on the road and had car trouble. It’s not only an interruption in your travel and itinerary, but can cause a safety issue.

Safety is always a concern, especially for women, if you choose to hit the road by yourself. Always keep to main roads and never drive at night. You’ll also want to arrive at your accommodations before dark.

Be aware of your surroundings. Eat dinner before the sun sets or get take-out to eat in the room. If at any time you feel unsafe, ask a hotel employee to accompany you to the room.

Flying is safer especially if you are meeting a tour company or cruise line at your destination. If a cruise line doesn’t offer complimentary pickup, pay their airport transportation fee. It is not only more convenient but safer, especially if you are traveling internationally.

Although it is common in other countries for people to speak English, try to learn a few words of greeting and thanks. It shows respect. In France, many will not speak English if you do not attempt to speak French especially in large cities like Paris. Then, miraculously, they will converse in English. There are also a lot of apps offering translations as well as the trusty pocket dictionary.

So if you want to travel, don’t wait for your friend or significant other; just figure out where you want to go and go. There’s so much to see and experience in this world!