Summer Travel Plans Include Solo Experience For Some

Summer travel plans have a majority of Americans on the road and in the sky this year and in greater numbers than in the past. A recent report says 59 percent of Americans will travel this summer, primarily in the United States. Also up is solo travel as single travelers plan engaging vacations more than in the past.

“Consumers want deeper, richer experiences when they travel,” said David Patron, vice president of American Express Travel in a Wall Street Journal report. “When a traveler visits a destination they want to understand the local traditions and feel like they are getting a true insider experience.”

USA Today reports sixteen percent of 1,500 U.S. adults recently surveyed by American Express say they will take a trip alone, up from 12 percent last year

“People who have never traveled alone often describe their first solo trip as an almost religious experience,” says Independent Traveler. “To take in new surroundings unfiltered by the prejudices, tastes or preferences of a traveling companion can be heady stuff. Traveling alone gives you the chance to indulge yourself fully.”Independent Traveler also offers a variety of tips for solo travelers, urging caution while enjoying the freedom and flexibility that solo travel offers.

“One of the best reasons to travel alone is to meet new people, but this also makes you more vulnerable,” says Independent Traveler. “It’s okay to hang out, travel and share with new friends, but you might not want to ask them to hold your money. Scam artists can often be the most charming companions you’ll find; you want to be open-minded, but keep your guard up enough to ensure your safety.”

See more tips for solo travelers at Independent Traveler.

[Flickr photo by mikebaird]

“Taken” (the movie) and travel safety

Upon the suggestion of a family friend, my parents treated me to a $1 movie to see “Taken,” the new movie with Liam Neeson. My dad had told me his friend thought it would be relevant to my travels abroad, but after reading the synopsis, I kind of scoffed at the idea that the movie could have anything to do with me! After watching the movie, however, I can now see how it could in fact have to do with me, any solo female traveler, and travel safety in general.

The film’s plot is based on a real existing crime in Europe. In this case, an Albanian mafia group in Paris solicits information from female tourists, kidnaps them, gets them hooked on drugs, and then uses them in shady sex trade deals. Although this would appear to be a ridiculously convoluted storyline, the ease with which the mafia identifies and eventually captures these innocent girls is pretty easy to imagine. In the film, a man simply asks to share a cab into the city and then invites the girls to a party later that night. Suddenly, they’re taken.
Luckily, in the film, the father happens to be on the phone when his daughter is captured and also just happens to be a former spy. He single-handedly rescues his daughter from these dangerous and scary mafiosos. (Making matters worse, when he seeks the help from a former French spy, he discovers the mafia group is actually paying the government to keep its despicable operation running).

Unfortunately, not every girl can be so lucky. It was both funny and scary when, after the movie, my parents said to me, “Well, at least you know there’s no way we’ll be able to save you.” And it’s true. If I did find myself in that situation I would pretty much be at the mercy of the cruelty of my captors, which is not a very pleasant thought.

Females absolutely have to keep their wits about them more than men do — both at home and abroad. The first time I traveled to Colombia I was honestly scared of getting kidnapped. I was particularly wary of taking night buses. Fortunately, Colombia is a far safer place than people believe it to be, but it doesn’t mean that you can travel everywhere and anywhere to your heart’s content.

It’s a shady, shady world out there, so if you’re female and traveling alone, use really clear judgment:

  • NEVER get drunk or go to a party where you don’t know anyone (even if you’re going with another female travel companion).
  • Never hitchhike alone.
  • Always take a certified cab if you don’t feel safe walking back to your hotel at night.
  • Always do whatever is within your power/control to be safe even if it means staying in at night, taking a day bus, or not going somewhere altogether.

Solo travel. How to make it cheaper.

For those who solo travel, bargains are harder to come by, particularly if you’re booking a cruise or taking a tour. Most tour prices are couple friendly. If you have a traveling buddy, lodging is cheaper.

Ed Perkins, a consumer travel writer for Tribune Media Services offers some suggestions for people who are going it alone to reduce the cost of an adventure.

One option is to have a cruise line or cruise operator find a roommate for you. Perhaps someone is in the same position you are. You would only be sharing a room, but the rest of the time you can strike out on your own.

Another is to look for a traveling companion by hitting up your friends, coworkers, family members, basically anyone you know, to find out if they know of someone who would like to go on a trip.

Check out an organization like Connecting Solo Travel Network, Travel Acquaintance and Travel Chums. These businesses specialize in hooking people up to single travel deals and with each other.

Perkins also suggests O Solo Mio Tours and scouting out last minute deals with tour operators. Sometimes you can get a good deal right before a trip starts.

Even for people traveling with a partner, hooking up with a single person can be a money saver and can offer a broader experience. When my husband and I were traveling in Vietnam we became friends with Amit, a woman from Israel. We shared a room and hired a driver together, and even arranged to meet up with her in Hanoi after we veered in different directions for a few days.

We also hung out with Stan, a Vietnam vet who was traveling alone. After sharing a meal, we shared the cost of a driver from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang. Since Stan was stationed in Nha Trang, this gave us an experience from his point of view.

Amit became our companion from Nha Trang to Hue and on to Hoi An.

In Hoi An, Amit and I had a wonderful time shopping while my husband was relieved to not tag along.

Women-only subway cars comimg to South Korea in 2008

When I was traveling through India, the crowds were often the most tiring aspect — constantly being closely surrounded by people. When I took a local train to a guesthouse in Mumbai, I stood next to an open door, my backpack slamming people’s faces every time I turned my body.

Then I discovered the “women-only” car — a calm respite from the crowds. Here, I was able to find a seat next to mellow ladies who chatted amiably with me. My ride was relaxing and I didn’t worry about anyone trying to grab my booty or steal something out of my pack.

South Korea has the same idea. The country will be adding women-only cars to its Seoul subway line in 2008 in order to make rides for women more comfortable. Reuters states that “nearly half the crimes reported on the city’s eight subway lines are sexual in nature, with many taking place on two lines that serve university and office districts.” Officials are hoping the women-only cars will cut down on subway crime.

Thanks to ampontour on Flickr for the shot of the women-only sign for a train in Japan.

Women Traveling Solo: An Online Conversation by the Best

I came across this travelers’ bounty on the Rambling Traveler. At World Hum this week there has been an on-line conversation between accomplished women travelers Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Liz Sinclair, Terry Ward and Catherine Watson. The four women are presenting their experiences about traveling alone as a female.

Each entry of the eleven is a mini-essay of sorts that turns on the subject broached in the essay or essays before it. The result is a wonderful blend of thought, musings and descriptions of traveling experiences with some how-tos mixed in. In the first entry Terry Ward describes her first solo bus ride when the man sitting next to her in Jordan propositioned her while the woman, increasingly agitated with the conversation, burst out “He’s my husband.” The next essay turns on the idea of playing or not playing the female card and the complexities of that one. The third essay Liz Sinclair elaborates even further on the idea of the feminine card and recounts using various techniques of flirting, crying or, in once, case breaking a cab driver’s jaw when he physically tried to get more money out of her. I found their conversations fascinating.

For women, whether you are a solo traveler or not, you’ll recognize situations in your every day life where you’ve perhaps felt a similar way or have been in a similar situation even if you’ve barely left your hometown. For men, these women’s conversation is a wonderfully rich glimpse in what it’s like being female–the good and the bad. I would say the good out weighs the bad since the four continue to ramble across the globe.