Recently, my good friend and fellow travel writer Clark Norton asked if I would share some tips for women traveling solo because he was going to be interviewed on the topic.
I realize I haven't blogged on solo travel tips lately. And, hey, I was flattered that Clark, who is an expert in baby boomer travel, called my pointers "valuable." So I thought I would share here what I shared with his audience.
* Travel light so you can easily handle everything you brought.
With only a small bag or two, you won’t struggle to get your luggage onto a train car, up a flight of stairs or into an overhead rack or compartment. Or need someone to watch your luggage while you go the restroom. (No one will know you’re wearing the same clothes over and over. You’re traveling alone!)
* Consider taking day or afternoon or even weekly classes of some sort in the destinations you’ll be visiting.
Classes and other activities can combat any loneliness you might feel being on your own all day. And they’re generally “safe places.” Most of all, they can be really fun, especially if the subjects are unique to the places you’re going. Think tango lessons in Argentina, French cooking classes in France, olive oil tours in Italy, photo tours in Alaska and bike or winery tours in northern California.
* Even if you skip the language classes, learn a few words in the language of the country you’re visiting.
Even if it’s just “please” and “thank you.” That simple act can go a long way toward creating cross-cultural goodwill and communicating with locals.
* Talk to shopkeepers, waiters, B&B owners — anyone you encounter.
They often are intrigued by women traveling alone and may offer tips and suggestions and extra assistance. When the owner of a restaurant on Vancouver Island saw me sitting alone, he sat down and chatted with me. A waiter at a restaurant in Austin, Texas, brought me a free dessert because we had struck up a conversation.
* Do whatever you want to do because the only person you need to please is yourself.
Relish the flexibility and opportunity to do whatever you want, change your mind, go left when you were sure you were going to go right. Go shopping for gifts for family and friends, or wander down the aisles of markets to inspect the different foods and brands in a country. Whatever strikes your fancy. It's 100 percent your vacation.
* Practice street smarts much as you would in your own home town.
If you’re going out after dark and don’t know the area, take taxis. (That is, if taxis are considered safe in the country you’re visiting. Be informed). Try not to look like a tourist, with a camera around your neck and your map out. Know the local cultural norms so you can blend in a bit. Not that you ever will entirely.
* Do your research before heading out so you’re familiar with some things you want to see and won’t waste time with your head in your guidebook once you get there.
* If you’re traveling alone because you can’t find someone to go with you, but you do like company, consider group tours.
I must admit, as I have here before, I don't always love the details of travel planning. But with a few phone calls, I'm all set for a windjammer cruise, white water rafting, biking, hiking, or staying at a horse ranch, where you eat at family style tables and meet people. The first time I went alone to Club Med, I met a friend who I stayed in touch with for a decade afterwards, visiting her in Hungary and Montreal.
* If you do take a guided tour, call and ask for the ratio of solo travelers to couples who are signed up.
Although you're likely to be fine going with all couples, it may be more comfortable beforehand to know that others in the group also are traveling alone. (If you’re a very early booker, this may not work!) If you want to save money, many tour companies will waive the single supplement if you’re willing to room with another woman traveling alone. They’ll pair you up if you both agree to it.
* Remember that solo does not equal “loser.”
Not by a long shot. Married women often travel solo because their husbands don’t like to do the same things or want to go to the same places they do. (Keep an eye out for couples sitting together sullenly because they’ve been fighting or are tired of traveling together and remember how lucky you are not to have to deal with that!)
And not everyone is going to want to go to that sand castle contest or hockey fantasy camp that you're dying to attend. Go anyway!
* Understand that you will be apprehensive about setting out, particularly if you’re going to a new place.
Perhaps extremely apprehensive. It happens to me every time, even after years of travel. Yet as soon as I get to my destination, the feelings of apprehension go away. I can't explain it. But there you have it.
* Know that you can deal with most anything that comes up.
Because you can. Just the way you do at home.
Photo: By Ellen Perlman. Resident of the falconry school at Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland.