Last week, a friend told me that, following my example, she decided to go solo on a cruise to the Bahamas. How was it? "The first day was crushingly lonely." Ouch. The trip was only three days. That means a third of it was lousy.
I asked for more details. It turns out she was seated at a table by herself. I've never been on a cruise but I always thought that Captain Stubing, or whoever the people in charge are, watched out for things like that. Made sure people were comfortable. I guess not.
After thinking more about her experience I've come up with a few thoughts about why she might have been lonely and how, perhaps, it could have been avoided.
1. Know thyself
What was she thinking about when she signed up? Did she assume it would be a really sociable place and she'd meet a lot of people? Was she looking for single men? Point being, were her expectations too high? Would someone else have been happy just exploring the ship and sitting by the pool with a book on that first day? Going to the casino? Going to the gym, if they had one?
2. Know thy vacation choice
Was a large ship with a lot of people the best choice? The larger the group in general, the more people will break down into families or cliques. Singletons may get lost. That might not matter to some. But it will be agonizing to others. (see # 1)
In a small group tour, on the other hand, everyone will talk to everyone. If not, there is always a guide who will see you're not having fun and hopefully scoop you up and put you under her wing. Guides are paid to be friendly.
3. Research the cruise line or tour operator in advance
Find out how they take care of their solo travelers. On a cruise, do they seat you with others or by yourself? Do they pay attention to the fact that you arrived without companions? Are you okay with being on your own at dinner or will that make you feel crushingly lonely? Call ahead and probe for answers. Including whether other solo travelers will be on your trip. And how to find them if you have joined a vacation with dozens or hundreds of people.
4. Are you doing something you really want to do?
Say you've always wanted to see Mesa Verde. You sign up for a bike trip and, voila. There it is! Amazing! Maybe the group wasn't stellar. Maybe you didn't click with anyone. But boy, Mesa Verde was something else. You got to see something you always wanted to see. And that will be memorable. In a good way.
5. Talk to other people before choosing a trip
Get recommendations from friends, family and coworkers on a trip or place they loved. Have them give you tips about what to see or do. Ask them what they loved and decide if it's something you think you would love too. (See #1)
6. Plan to treat yourself to something special
Maybe it's goods or services a place is known for. Thai massage in Bangkok. Cowboy boots in Colorado. Maybe it's a famous hotel or restaurant. The Plaza in New York. Le Maison Blanche in Paris. You get the picture. Make it something to look forward to. Then do it.
7. Remember to enjoy your own company
Everything about the trip has gone to hell? Walk off and choose something that will please you. Food. Television. A tour. A nap. You're in control. Make yourself happy. You know best how to do that for you. Right? (see #1)