The Joys of Traveling Solo

Do you love to travel, but are hesitant, threatened and can't get motivated? Read on... I was first bitten by the travel bug reading
"Gulliver's Travels" in third grade. Today, let's face it, I'm elderly, retired and single, but the itch remains. My suitcase seldom makes it back to the closet, The sight of a ship, the sound of a train whistle, even the fumes from a gasoline pump makes me begin to plan. I gather my maps, brochures, and clippings. The pieces begin to lock together and it all transforms into a trip-a journey-a voyage-an adventure.

Do I plunge in with the same abandon as when I was younger? Of course not. But the better question, my friends, is do I enjoy the end result just as much? An emphatic yes, but in a different way: I'm more cautious and judgmental, better organized and prepared. I have the experience of past trips to guide me, a built-in wariness of the unknown, and some caveats that I'm willing to share with those who are willing to listen.

CAN I TRAVEL ALONE? Like me, you're no spring chicken, and you travel alone for any of a thousand reasons. What is out there for you? A universe. When I started traveling solo, in what now seems like the Dark Ages, "nice" women didn't travel alone. A single woman on a train or a plane immediately evoked the "poor thing" reaction. If she happened to be older, white haired and single, all the worse.

Today, single women stride the globe, comfortable in their independence and ready to meet anyone on their own ground. Solo travelers often see and experience more and arrive at their destination less hassled than groups or couples.

WILL I MEET PEOPLE? It's human nature to want to meet new and interesting people when traveling, so allow me to wax personal, for I often travel solo, a combination of preference and necessity.

I arrived at the joys of travel, particularly cruising, rather late in life, and looking for Mr. Right was absolutely not a high priority. However,I have closely observed the social scene and concluded that there are certain activities that will, inevitably, lead to meeting people. Obviously eating and drinking are high on this list. But many people, primarily older people, also meet over a bridge table. This holds true of backgammon,cribbage and other board games.

On a 46-day freighter journey to South America, there was very little planned activity. To fill the time during two long stretches at sea, the ship organized tournaments of the above mentioned, as well as shuffleboard, scrabble and ping pong. Even if competitive sports are not your bag, deck sport contestants adore a cheering section, so don something fetching and sit on the side lines encouragingly. You'll fit into the scene by osmosis!

READ BEFORE YOU GO: For all travelers, male and female, the young and not so young, once the choice of destination is made, READ, READ, READ. Use every source available,and there are many, including the public library and, of course, the internet. I have found The New York Times to be a mother lode of information; ditto Gourmet, the New Yorker and all the upscale travel magazines.

I'm an inveterate newspaper and magazine clipper. It's worthwhile, even if I only use one article out of twenty. I often copy articles out of library publications rather than carry all that pulp. And of course, when tracking an article on the internet, it's a cinch to print out any article. The Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian, and National Geographic, all sponsor superb itineraries for members. These adventures are often open to independent, non-member travelers.

Get some good maps of the regions you will visit, particularly if you will be doing any driving. Michelin is still dependable, and I use the Mobil Guide in the U.S., but there are a wide array of choices. The same can be said for travel books. I love the "Eye Witness" guide book series, illustrated and diagrammed. It's expensive, but worth every penny! When searching for places to stay, the Karen Brown series is my long-time favorite, well-researched, and loaded with valuable information. Again, Xerox what you need and leave the book at home.

BEING PICKY: Speaking for myself, especially on long trips, I opt for space and amenities, even if it means paying more, and it always does. I don't enjoy sharing a cabin, -- most especially, a bathroom -- and I no longer adjust well to economy class flights. Give yourself time to rest, read, nap, re-charge and get reacquainted with yourself. Pack a pretty skirt that whirls on the dance floor or while walking the deck. For men, maybe a wild Madras jacket is just the extra touch you need.

Throw in some walking shoes and a "go to hell" hat to wear in the
sun, and a warm snugly sweater for chilly evenings, and enjoy your precious time on the move. There are some extraordinary people traveling all over this vast, beautiful and exciting world of ours...go out and get to know them!

(The first in a series of articles on traveling solo , who has cruised alone on more than 50 ships. To ask Mary questions, e-mail her at

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