Unraveling Traveling: Going It Alone

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Wendy Perrin, consumer news editor at Condé Nast Traveler, has joined us every Thursday this May for a month-long series on travel. For our final installment, a panoply of travel-related tips, including how to travel solo. When should you get professional travel advice, and when should you figure it out yourself? As usual, we'll take your calls.

Have any questions for Wendy? Comment below!

Previous installments of Unraveling Traveling: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.


Wendy Perrin

Comments [22]

Chris O from New York City

That's not fair: we American men think that as well!

May. 29 2008 11:17 AM
Ash in Manhattan from Manhattan

To Ana [1],

Since retiring in 2002, I have exchanged my Manhattan co-op apt two times: For 5 weeks in Paris in July 2005 and again just last month (April 2008) for 10 days in Paris.

Apt exchange is not for everyone. You have to be a risk taker. In my case, it worked out well the first time (only negative: the 21-year-old student dropped a little candle wax on my velvet sofa) and excently the last time (with a 58-year-old classical pianist living in Paris) who maintained my apt so well, it seemed he was never even here. I am registered with an int'l travel exchange service called ahaGO.

I love traveling alone and gladly pay the single supplement to have a room and time to myself when I want it. I now use guided tours -- generally used by older travelers -- and find being able to be alone after a day and sometimes an evening with a group is worth the supplement to have time alone. Not to mention being able to use the extra bed for my stuff, etc. I used to pooh pooh group travel when I was younger, but now find having some one take care of all the details something I like. I think it's a mainly a matter of age.

May. 29 2008 11:16 AM
Karla from Manhattan

I traveled alone widely throughout Eastern Europe in the 90s for months at a time. Also in France and Germany in the 80s and 90s, alone and designing my trips to visit friends in various places.

That traveling was far more interesting and enjoyable than any of my trips with friends. People are very kind and welcoming to a woman traveling alone and I had the opportunity and flexibility for all kinds of adventures.

In all those months, over several years, I had only one close call with a creep: an overly-interested train passport control guard on a late train from Czech Republic to Poland. And I solved it becoming very formal and proper and by finding a compartment full of Americans.

Note to women traveling alone: be formally polite and DON'T SMILE at strangers(until you know someone better). Many non-American men think smiling means "I want to sleep with you".

May. 29 2008 11:06 AM
Robert from NYC

I remember in the early 70s I would travel to Italy and get into all the museums without any waiting and for practically nothing and often for free. The Forum and Colosseum were both open for free and you just wandered around on your own. Now it costs a fortune and the line are unbearably long and people unpleasant. Boy am I getting old.

May. 29 2008 11:00 AM
David Rittinger from Clinton Hill

I just backpacked 10 days through Italy solo last week for my first vacation over seas and saw a married American tourist couple fighting for over an hour in the streets of Florence arguing over needs to email and other groups of people disputing half the day away on what to do or where to go or waiting for the rest of the group to catch up while I was loving soaking in each moment on my own whims.

May. 29 2008 10:58 AM
T P from New York

Be wary of currency exchange. You may find individuals willing to exchange for a 'better rate' since you are not going through banks.

I did this in Prague, received a fake bill worth $.33 when I thought it was worth $65 at the time.

I found him 3 days later...interesting story.

May. 29 2008 10:57 AM
M. L. from Brooklyn

My brother recently returned from a business trip to China. While he was there, he hired a personal tour guide for a day--he found this person online through a trusted travel Web site. It was an affordable option, and my dad observed that my brother ended up seeing more of Beijing than my parents did when they went to Beijing as part of a tour group. Apparently this tour guide took my brother to all the places where the locals go--whereas the tour group that my parents were on ended up taking them to some not-so-notable places.

May. 29 2008 10:57 AM
CH from Staten Island

I usually book our vacations with online "agents" (Gate 1, Lonely Planet, etc.). The only place so far I have felt it was a real plus to go on a preorganized group tour was at Stonehenge. We booked a tour with Astral Tours to go to Stonehenge on their last group of the day. We were admitted after the public hours were over and had the place to ourselves from 4 pm through sunset. The group size is limited to 8, but there were only 6 on our tour. It is the best tour I have ever had.

May. 29 2008 10:57 AM
Andy from Brooklyn

I've traveled all over the world on my own and found it to be a much better way to get to know locals and challenge my language skills. I've made so many friends around the world and wouldn't trade the experiences for anything. I prefer to stay in hostels and take day tours rather than a package deal.

May. 29 2008 10:56 AM
Prof. C J Reiss from China

Hear in China all the Chinese students are amazed that I go everywhere without a guide. The students seem to act as guides for all other foreign professors. I find talking with hands, drawing pictures etc always works even when you don't know the language no matter what country.

May. 29 2008 10:55 AM

I love exploration traveling alone - and visiting people I know en route so I don't die of loneliness, and I feel like a guest. I feel like you miss everything! It's usualy it's attached to a work trip when this happens. (I do travel for work at times.) Also I like to go to something like a film festival... Someone I know had 2 guides in SE Asia but drowned in a pool beneath a waterfall anyway. The guides should have known about those pools and not allowed swimming there.

May. 29 2008 10:55 AM

I took a spontaneous solo camping trip to Maine a few years ago when I still had a car- it was probably the best 3 weeks of my life! Everyone I ran into said how brave I was to travel alone as a young woman, but as a resident of crime-filled Richmond VA, I felt perfectly safe staying in state parks in friendly Maine. It was wonderful to be able to go where ever I wanted, whenever I felt like it (even if that meant staying in my tent with a good book all day).

May. 29 2008 10:54 AM

NOT off the beaten path-- I would love to re-visit the great Italian cities on my own, but without signing on with a tour group, how would I get into the great museums and historic sites? I would love to poke around the Uffizi at my own pace, but when you're not with a tour group, you're left waiting on lines all day.

May. 29 2008 10:54 AM
Kourtney from West Village

I spent much of my 20s & early 30s as a solo female backpacker, visiting over thirty countries in Asia, Europe, South America, Central America and also Australia. Travelling solo is the only way to go. However, you are really not solo, because you will meet and travel with amazing people along the way. I still keep in touch with many of those that I met over a decade ago.

May. 29 2008 10:53 AM
Lina from Brooklyn

I have traveled alone several times and love it! I love the alone/introspection time, and if/when I do get lonely, it's always easy to meet people- locals who are curious about the lone woman, other adventurous souls, etc. I highly recommend it.

May. 29 2008 10:53 AM

I have traveled alone throughout Asia which I really enjoyed. In China, I was able to manage because I speak Mandarin but would imagine it would be more difficult to go off the beaten track if I wasn't. However I recently went on my first group tour to Turkey which was a great success because i chose a company (intrepid travel) whose tours follow the same philosophy as I do when I travel. The tour took the stress away from bus ticket purchasing and hotel reservations but allowed me to do and go as I pleased. No big buses, all local transport, small family run hotels, etc. Essentially I was going backpacker style but with a new group of friends.

May. 29 2008 10:53 AM
Robert from NYC

I see, Brian, you didn't see the South Park show when the kids visited the Rain Forest in Costa Rica. You would have learned a lot had you seen it.

May. 29 2008 10:52 AM
RJ from Brooklyn

I've always traveled alone (I'm an independent contractor with my own schedule) and I've always canvassed friends to see who they know where, and contact them about borrowing their couch for a few days. It's a great way to meet new people--I tried Vegemite (yuch!) with a family in Adelaide, Australia, that way.

May. 29 2008 10:50 AM
Prof. Christopher Reiss from China

I raised my daughter on East 74st as a single father; she now works for C.Air. What a deal for me; I never had a perk as a father before. I get to fly anytime, anyplace, firstclass with the only catch being standby but I can look up on the internet to see how many seats are available in advance.

May. 29 2008 10:47 AM
burtnor from upper west side

Traveling alone has the great attraction of allowing you to feel completely free -- your time, decisions, emotions are entirely your own. There is a great feeling of liberation. Of course, the trade off is that you lose the pleasure of sharing adventure. But it's very hard to find really compatible traveling companions, and traveling alone allows you to be more open to meeting great people en route.

The main disadvantage is having to pay all the bills for two, although you are by yourself. You pay for the double room, the rental car, the single supplement, etc. And you get the worst table in the restaurant. Still, I often choose the freedom.

May. 29 2008 10:14 AM
Dianne from manhattan

I love traveling alone! I just retruned from 3 weeks in India where everyone found it very curious that I was traveling myself.

When you travel with others it changes your experience beccause it is determined by the group dynamic or the relationship with your traveling partner. Solo you are free to experience the place you are in and change plans at will. And it's much easier to meet people - both locals and other solo travelers.

For me the other issue is that I am the person who spends lots of time researching the place I am visiting so when I have a traveling companion I always seem to fall into the role of guide. Much of my energy is spent making sure my companion is having a good time.

I highly recommend traveling solo if you want to really experience a place!

May. 29 2008 10:12 AM
Ana from Summit, NJ

Has anybody tried house exchange? I was checking out their website and it sounds interesting, but have some reservations. With travel as expensive as it is now, especially to Europe, it seems like an attractive alternative. Do you know how widely is it used and what kind of experiences have people had with it?

May. 29 2008 09:20 AM

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