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Singles Travel

By Margaret Piton

Traveling alone can be great fun or a great trial – a lot depends on your attitude and preparation.  But anyone who travels alone quickly finds that in either case it can be a great expense.  Most hotels charge single visitors almost as much as two people sharing a room, and most tours add a substantial supplement for single room occupancy.  Only a  few tour operators give you the option of being paired up with a roommate of the same gender in order to avoid the supplement.

Traveling alone can also mean higher costs for security and peace of mind.  With a companion you might take public transit at night, but alone you are more likely (and usually well-advised) to opt for a taxi.  Similarly, a couple might venture to stay in more dubious lodgings than a man or especially a woman alone.

I have traveled extensively and frequently alone for more than 20 years, and over the years I have developed some tricks to help keep expenses down.

One of the keys I have found to minimizing lodging costs is to think non-traditional.  A chain hotel or even a budget motel will probably charge as much or nearly as much for one person as for two, since few modern lodging places are designed for single occupancy.   Non-traditional lodgings vary a lot, but here are a few options:

1)  University dormitories out of season.  Especially during the summer, many universities rent out student rooms to travelers to increase their revenues.  Most rooms are singles, and prices are usually reasonable.  Often the bath is down the hall and the room may be spartan.  On the plus side, there are normally laundry facilities and a moderately-priced cafeteria nearby. Last summer I spent a few days in residence at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.  The charge for a single room including a full breakfast was only $26 a night.  The address is:  University of Victoria Housing, Food & Conference Services, P.O. Box 1700, Station CSC, Victoria BC V8W 2Y2, Canada, telephone (250) 721-8395.  Most Canadian universities rent out rooms in dormitories, which we call residences, during the summer from May to September.

2)  Even if the university itself does not rent out rooms or if the rooms are full, fraternities and sororities or other student lodgings near campus may rent out rooms during vacations.  Check campus bulletin boards and student newspapers, or ask any students you see around. Universities are also a great place to meet fellow lone travelers, and often a good source for free or inexpensive museums, concerts and lectures.  Again, check bulletin boards or campus newspapers or just ask around.  At the University of Chicago recently, I visited the Oriental Institute and happened in on a tour the curator of Egyptian antiquities was giving for other museum professionals, and learned a lot for free.

3)  In big cities when universities are in session, Young Men’s Christian Associations frequently offer the best deals for single rooms.  For instance, in New York City it can be hard to find a hotel room under $200 at busy times of year.  But you can get a room at the Vanderbilt Y on East 47th Street for $72 a night.  Rooms have shared bath, but they are air-conditioned , guests have free use of the sports facilities and there is a restaurant on the premises.  The Ys in New York City fill up fast, so book as far in advance as you can.   The number of the Vanderbilt Y is (212) 756-9600.

For Ys across the United States, call (800) 872-9622 and specify which state you wish to visit.  The operator will then give you the number to call.  Ys outside big cities are considerably less expensive than the Vanderbilt.  And you don’t have to be young, Christian or in many cases even male to stay at a YMCA.

4)  At the other end of the hedonism scale from the Ys, Club Meds still offer single vacationers a fair deal.  If you wish they will match you up with a roommate of the same gender so you avoid the single supplement.  When business is slow you may end up with a single room anyway at no extra charge.

The least expensive way to visit Club Med resorts is generally with the Wild Card promotion, where you allow the company do decide about a week before you travel which of five or six resorts you will visit.  Using Wild Card, an all-inclusive week at certain Club Med resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico goes for as little as $899, including air fare from New York or Washington.  The price includes lodging, transfers,  all meals with unlimited wine or beer at meals, and all sports and entertainment.

5)  Sometimes you are probably going to have to stay in chain hotels or motels where you will pay dearly for a single room.  When you do, join the customer loyalty program.  Membership in these programs is free, and while it may not reduce the room rate it frequently offers other perks that keep your overall travel costs down.

    Last summer, as part of negotiating a lower room rate at a Holiday Inn in Cumberland, Maryland, I agreed to join the Holiday Inn Priority Club.  Recently I stayed at the Allerton Crown Plaza in Chicago, where a tiny room cost $135.  But because I was a Priority Club member I got free continental breakfast and free coffee, tea, soft drinks and hors d’ouevres at tea time in their club lounge.  One night the hors d’ouevres substituted for dinner, a big savings.

6)  Use affinity clubs to secure savings at chain hotels and motels and on rental cars.  I recently joined my university alumni association (Johns Hopkins) and to my surprise found that membership entitles me to discounts of up to 30 per cent for stays at several hotel chains and with a rental car company.

The American and Canadian Automobile Associations are clubs that anyone can join and they offer good travel discount programs.  For the over 50 crowd, membership in the American Association of Retired Persons costs only $5 a year and can generate substantial reductions on travel costs.  And if you are a student of any age, carry your identity card and ask about student rates.

7)  Never hesitate to negotiate a room rate just because you are traveling on your own.  Remember, your dollar is as good as anyone else’s, and if a hotel has rooms to fill the management should be glad to have your business.  Negotiate in person if possible, and make it clear that if they do not give you a good rate you will go elsewhere.  Of course, this will not work if virtually all the rooms in the city are filled because of conventions or heavy tourism, as is true of many cities this summer.

8)  A good Website to check for deals for single travelers is  They list without endorsing a number of tours that cater to singles and have a chat room where those in search of travel companions can get together.

In addition, the group whose full name is Connecting Solo Travelers Network,  publishes a bi-monthly newsletter.   The cost is $28 a year, and samples are available for $5.  The address is by email, or P.O. Box 29088, Delamont R.P.O., Vancouver BC V6J5C2, Canada, telephone (604) 737-7791.