While there are certainly plenty of people who always travel with friends, family, or in some sort of group, many independent travelers relish the concept of solo travel. Sure, they make friends along the way, but not having to compromise on an itinerary or consult with anyone is the ideal way to make sure a trip is everything you want it to be.
One issue that many solo travelers face, however, is that the tourist industry doesn’t often seem as prepared for solo travelers as it does for couples or groups. Getting a table for one in a popular restaurant or a good single seat at a movie theatre may be no sweat, but try booking a cruise or tour without seeing the words “based on double occupancy” or finding a one-person hotel room that’s significantly cheaper than a double and you’ll start to see where the problems lie.
Single supplements are the bane of the solo traveler’s existence – but they can be avoided. Here are some ways you can travel solo without paying what amounts to a penalty fee for doing so.
Bring a buddy
Suggesting that you bring a friend on your solo trip may sound like it’s defeating the purpose of taking a solo trip, but for some people this might be a good solution. There are a couple ways this could work.
Let’s say you’re on a long-term trip, and you see an organized tour to Petra or a short cruise around the Greek Islands that you want to join as part of your itinerary. Why not ask a friend or family member back home – someone you miss and haven’t seen in awhile – to come join you for just that tour or cruise? Having a friend come with you for a week-long tour helps you avoid the single supplement, enjoy the company of a pal, and then go on your merry solo way afterward.
For those of you who aren’t on a long-term trip and who see a tour or cruise you’d like to take, you can bring a friend and still get solo time on the trip – provided you choose the right friend. This is where knowing your friend’s travel personality is key. Pair up with another independent-minded soul and you’ll be able to avoid the single supplement, split up during the day if you want to do different things, and still have someone to swap stories with over dinner.
Get a randomly assigned roomie
Some tour operators are more savvy to the needs of the solo travel market, and rather than forcing you to bring someone along to avoid the single supplement they provide the someone for you.
While many package tour operators still cater more to people traveling with a partner or in a group, most small group adventure tours have an option where you can sign up for a tour as a solo traveler and let the tour organizer pair you up with another solo traveler on that trip to be your roommate. If you’re already the kind of person who stays in hostels and has no problems sharing a room full of bunk beds with other travelers, then this is a no-brainer. And for everyone else, it’s like when you first showed up at college and your roommate had been assigned to you. You might not end up with a new BFF, but it’s not like you have to do everything together, anyway.
Oh, and ladies, if you’re concerned about the policy of getting assigned a roommate on a tour, rest assured that tour companies pair you with another solo traveler of the do same sex, so you won’t walk into your shared accommodation to find a single guy who likes to hang out in his boxers. (No guarantee you won’t find a single gal who likes to hang out in her boxers, though.)
>> Tour companies that will pair you up with another solo traveler as a roommate include GAP, Intrepid Travel, and Escape to Shape; most of the adventure trips available from BootsnAll have this option available for solo travelers
Make a friend before you go
Perhaps you’re not comfortable with the cruise or tour operator choosing your roommate, but no one you know is interested in taking the trip you want to take. There are companies that can help you out.
There are several organizations (such as Connecting Solo Travel Network and Travel Chums) that act as sort of match-making sites for solo travelers – but not in a dating sense. They’ll help you find the perfect travel companion for a trip so you and your new travel partner can skip the single supplement and (maybe even more importantly) have control over who you get paired with. One drawback is that these tend to be membership organizations, so you’ll pay a fee just to get access to the network of potential travel partners.
For a less official and completely free method of making friends with potential travel partners before you go somewhere, any travel website with a message board is a good place to start. In fact, you’re on one such website right now – and I’ve lost track of the number of trips BootsnAll members have gone on together after meeting first on the BootsnAll message boards. Start in the Travel Buddies forum, but you can definitely make friends anywhere on the BootsnAll boards.
Seek out singles specials
There are some travel companies that specialize in solo travel – but more often than not, what they’re talking about are “singles” trips which are sort of like traveling speed dating events. If you’re a solo traveler who’s also single and is interested in finding your travel-mad soulmate, then a singles trip might be fine. But if you just happen to be traveling on your own and looking for a good deal on solo travel, you’ll need to look more carefully at what these trips entail. Even some of the companies that are mobile dating services say their clientele is primarily female, since women traveling solo often feel more comfortable going in a group, so you don’t have to feel pressured into meeting your soulmate if you don’t want to.
Other companies that have “singles specials” aren’t even trying to be dating companies – instead, they set aside certain trips in their catalog to appeal to solo travelers by either pairing you up with another solo traveler for a roommate or reducing the cost of the single supplement (they don’t all waive the single supplement entirely, but some price reductions are wonderfully drastic).
>> Tauck and Adventure Life both offer certain trips in their catalogs with discounted single supplements, and Adventure Life also has the roommate-pairing setup if requested; companies that are for “singles travel” but say they’re not dating agencies include O Solo Mio and Travel Buddies Singles Club; and companies that are all about getting singles together for dating as well as travel include Singles Travel International, All Singles Travel, and the horribly-named Meet Market Adventures.
Choose the right cruise
As there are tour companies that cater to the solo traveler, there are also cruise lines that are more apt to look favorably on a person traveling alone, too. Some cruise lines will waive the single supplement if you’re willing to get paired up with another solo traveler, while others have certain staterooms that are specifically meant for solo travelers and for which they don’t charge a single supplement. Even these single rooms, however, aren’t usually half the price of a double room – so it’s not exactly penalty-free, but it’s better than nothing. Another option is to watch for a last-minute or repositioning cruise deal – when cruise lines are usually more preoccupied with filling a ship than charging singles extra fees.
Although there are “singles cruises” for people who want to take dating to the high seas, solo travelers who just like cruises don’t have to book one of those. Some cruise lines have the option to be paired with a roommate to avoid the single supplement (Holland America, Crystal Cruises, P&O Cruises, Fred Olsen Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions with National Geographic, Avalon Waterways), some cruise lines have a limited number of single-occupancy rooms for which there’s no single supplement charged at all (Norwegian, Viking River Cruises), some cruise lines reduce the single supplement on a limited number of their trips (Silversea), and some cruise lines never charge a single supplement – period (Hebridean Island Cruises).
Of the cruise lines listed above, a few deserve to be called out specifically. Holland America‘s “Single Partners Program” not only matches you up with another (same-sex) solo traveler for a roommate, you can also ask to be seated with other travelers at dinner so you’re not dining alone. Norwegian‘s single-occupancy staterooms are an excellent option for solo travelers, but note that they’re only on the line’s newest ship, Epic. It’s a good thing Lindblad Expeditions offers the option to pair solo travelers with a roommate, because they’re one of the main companies leading trips to Antarctica – and that’s an adventure you might have more trouble finding a travel partner for!
Look for alternatives to single hotel rooms
Maybe you’re not the organized tour or cruise ship type, but you still feel ripped off by paying for a whole hotel room by yourself when you know the couple next door is paying the same price for double the number of people using the room. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about what a hotel charges for its rooms – but you can look for hotel alternatives.
Hostels charge by the person rather than the room, so solo travelers aren’t going to pay any more for the use of a bunk than a group of people traveling together would pay per person. Not all hostels have huge dorm rooms, either, so if you don’t mind hostels in general look for ones that have dorm rooms that are smaller (4-6 beds per room) – you’ll still save quite a bit over a hotel, and you won’t be paying any penalty for being a solo traveler.
For those of us (myself included) who are well past the days when sleeping in a dorm room of any size was conducive to getting actual sleep, the next best option is to look for a hostel with private rooms. You’ll pay for the room here rather than a per person rate, but you’re still likely to pay far less for a private room in a hostel than a double room at a hotel. Other budget-friendly accommodation options that sometimes have single-occupancy rooms are B&Bs and guest houses, where you may end up sharing a bathroom down the hall, but still come out on the favorable side budget-wise.
It never hurts to ask
This is one of those cases where you’ve got nothing to lose if you make a special request, so it absolutely is worth asking the tour company, cruise line, or hotel/resort whether they’ll drop their single supplement fee for you.
Now, if you’re traveling at the height of the tourist season and visiting a popular spot, you’re not likely to hear a “yes” to that question (they’d be polite to at least wait until they hang up the phone to laugh out loud at the very idea). But if you’re traveling in the off-season, or to a less-visited place, or last-minute – it’s a good idea to ask. Maybe the cruise isn’t as full as they wanted it to be. Maybe the tour is one person shy of being able to actually go on the trip. Maybe the hotel or resort would rather have the room occupied for a lower rate than sit empty for the weekend. You just never know, which is why it’s good to ask.
By all means, however, ask nicely. And don’t get your panties in a knot if they say no. Know whether the single supplement is the only barrier to you taking the trip, and be prepared to walk away from it if they won’t back down.
Be your own travel agent
The bottom line is that the only certain way to avoid even looking through the fine print for the words “single supplement” is to book trips yourself and don’t take organized tours or cruises. It may take a little more legwork on your part – independent travel is more work than handing over a wish list to a travel agent – but more often than not you’ll get a better deal anyway, without having to worry about bunking with a stranger in a cruise ship stateroom or finding yourself in the middle of a speed dating party on the Inca Trail.
There are a million great reasons to travel solo – and although there are definitely some obstacles to doing so, the single supplement shouldn’t be one of them.