Tribune Media Services
March 19, 2010
The tour and cruise businesses are built around the model of serving people in couples. Unfortunately, the travel industry, in general, has been slow to catch up with the country's increasing single-adult demographic. And it's still behind the times: The traditional "single supplement" can increase the singles' price by as much as 100 percent, and often by 50 percent or more. Although lots of cruise lines and tour operators target singles, their solution is almost always to pair you up with another single. If you really want to travel solo, you continue to face some serious cost hurdles.
This report was triggered by a release from the USTOA (United States Tour Operators Association), the trade association for the country's largest and most substantial operators. According to USTOA's data, more than 40 percent of American adults are single and single travelers account for 20 percent to 40 percent of most individual tour departures. And if you're in that very large population segment, your choice often is either travel single or stay home. Seniors, especially can feel the pinch: A long-term spouse or companion may be unable to travel, or may no longer be around at all. But the problem faces travelers of just about any age.
With many singles, the main challenge is economic, not social. If you're willing to have a cruise line or tour operator find you a cabin- or roommate, you can easily get around the single supplement. That way you pay the usual "per person, double occupancy" rate, just as couples do. USTOA says that more than 60 percent of its members offer "single shares," and many other tour operators and cruise lines do the same. Some even "guarantee" a share: If they can't find you a companion of the same sex, you can travel alone at the per-person rate.
Although I've never done it, I can see some advantages to traveling with a stranger. You're together strictly to share a room or cabin for sleeping; the rest of the time, you're free to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Even if you're more social, on a tour you can hang with anyone you want in the tour group - including the roommate, if you get along well.
However, if you're wary of spending a week or more in close quarters with a stranger, you have the option of finding your own companion. Often, you can locate a traveling companion from among your usual circles - friends, relatives, co-workers, or members of your church, club, professional association or your other organizations. You can ask around or even post a notice in a newsletter, bulletin, on a board, or such.
If that doesn't work, you can still explore potential companions before you start your trip. Several membership organizations match potential travelers, including Connecting Solo Travel Network, Travel Acquaintance and Travel Chums. You enroll (usually with modest "dues") and submit a personal profile with a list of places you want to visit. The organization then sends you a list of potential matches, and, depending on your reaction, you can start contacting or even meeting with any that seem of interest. Depending on your interests beyond just travel, these organizations arrange either same- or opposite-sex matches.
If you really want to travel solo, you have a tougher problem avoiding single supplements. However, a few online agencies specialize in tours and cruises either with low single supplements or none. Among them is O Solo Mio Tours; although it, too, pushes shares, it tries to find at least a few one-person accommodations on its tours.
OTHER OPTIONS: Tour operators and cruise lines sometimes reduce or waive single supplements as a promotional gimmick, especially on last-minute deals. And some big cruise ships have a few cabins designed - and priced - strictly for solo travelers.
Of course, if nothing else works, you can shun organized tours and arrange your travel independently. You will, however, pay as much or almost as much for solo occupancy of a hotel room as double. Still, if you really want privacy, you can find it at reasonable rates.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals is titled "Business Travel When It's Your Money.")
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