Question: I am a single woman, and none of my single friends has the money to take a vacation. And my married friends want to travel with their spouses. Yet everything I see is geared for two. I don't want to have a stranger as my roommate at a resort, on a cruise or on a singles trip. Do you have any suggestions so I don't have to pay the huge premium to have my own room?
Answer: This is an age-old problem for single and older women who want to travel but don't want to get stuck with a big bill, with a whack-job roommate or with being the odd woman out.
People who are paired up aren't always welcoming to solo travelers, said Mary Ann Zimmerman, who runs SWT Tours (www.poshnosh.com) specializing in trips for women older than 50. "Traveling as a person alone is difficult," she said. "When there are men and women and they are couples, you are not invited to join them. It's just a fact of travel."
The good news is that there are more opportunities for women who want to travel, whether it's solo or with a group.
The solo traveler, for instance, will now find single cabins on cruises (Norwegian for ocean cruises and Viking for river cruises, among others). Traditionally, cruises are based on double occupancy; if you want a cabin to yourself, you'll pay for two even if no one is with you. Sometimes cruise lines will reduce or drop the surcharge; one of the easiest ways to learn about this is to have a travel agent who specializes in cruises keep your needs on his or her radar. Cruise lines are less eager (many of them, anyway) to help you find a roommate.
In that case, you may want to consider (besides scoping out people in groups you belong to, such as church or book clubs) travel matching services (Travel-Buddies.com, Travelchums.com, among others), whether it's for a cruise or some other kind of travel.
To make sure the person is a match, you must do some spadework ahead of time.
Marybeth Bond, who runs GutsyTraveler.com and whose book, "Gutsy Women: Stories, Advice, Inspiration," is now in its fourth edition, scopes out possible roommates and uses what she calls a "roommate checklist." She shared some of the questions: Do you smoke? Do you snore? Are you a night person or morning person? If you read at night are you willing to use a flashlight? Describe your morning mood.
"Call and talk to that person," she said. "And take earplugs just in case."
Bond is firm about certain issues. "I don't lend any of my things," she tells her roomies. And she makes it clear that "Just because we're roommates…don't be offended if we don't have every meal together." She recommends making it known that both parties need "alone time," whether it's to decompress or to make a call to a loved one back home.
If you're paired up by the tour company, keep in mind that you don't necessarily have to be friends, said Phyllis Stoller, whose company is the Women's Travel Group (www.thewomenstravelgroup.com). "It's a business arrangement," she said. "It's not an arranged friendship. It's a sharing of real estate."
Sound too hard-edged for you? If you've ever been saddled with a bad roommate, it's not. Treating your paired-up trip as though it's strictly business gives you leeway to raise difficult issues by using the feedback techniques you use in the workaday world. And that means not saying, "Touch my perfume again and I'll shove that bottle up your nostrils," but saying, instead, "I want to be clear again that I don't mind sharing the space, but I prefer not to share personal items. Tell me if there's an issue with that."
So which is better for the solo: independent or group travel? We'll talk about that next week.
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