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Although I love taking trips with my spouse, as a travel journalist I spend much of my time on the road by myself. Over the years I've learned that traveling alone doesn't necessarily mean traveling lonely, and that it can lead to unique encounters you may not have when a companion is always at your side. Here's how to make your solo voyage successful.
1. Consider package tours
If you're not comfortable doing a trip totally on your own, consider a package tour or cruise with a theme that fits your particular interests, whether history, art, food, gardens, nature or any of countless other topics. You won't have to worry about logistics -— and there's a good chance you'll make friends during the trip. Though most tour operators and cruise lines charge extra for solo travelers (the dreaded "single supplement"), the amounts vary greatly. It pays to shop around.
2. Take reading material
Always carry something to read or a puzzle to work on while eating at restaurants or even while waiting in line for museums or other attractions. That avoids deadly, loneliness-inducing silence at times when you might normally be used to conversing with someone. It may also lead to a welcome conversation when people notice what you're reading or doing and want to chat about it.
3. Consider informal dining
Speaking of restaurants, solo travelers are most often subject to pangs of loneliness during meal times, with some developing what one pop psychologist has dubbed solomangarephobia — the fear of eating alone. Consider outdoor or informal cafe dining as you peruse the local paper. For finer dining, pick restaurants that offer patrons the choice to eat at the bar, where it's often easier to talk with staff or fellow diners.
4. Stay in the heart of town
Book yourself a nice place to stay right in the heart of where you want to be. Figuring out everything for yourself while traveling and having no one to watch your back can be draining. But having the ability to freshen up or recharge your batteries between bouts of touring makes a huge difference. Staying in the boonies may save a few dollars, but you could end up dreading the long days of sightseeing without being able to take a private breather at your hotel.
5. Be web social
Join a social website, such as the Hospitality Club or Couchsurfing. Think the latter is only for college kids looking for a place to crash? Think again. Many members are retired people looking to share a cup of coffee and local touring tips with interesting visitors. Especially if it's going to be a long stay, you could also do some pretrip online sleuthing to connect with local groups — bridge players, golfers, quilters, hikers — who share your interests. Contact them before you leave to have ready-made, occasional companions when you arrive.
6. Consider day trips
Even if you don't want a full-blown package tour, consider joining guided walks and day trips. In addition to getting some great local insight, you'll also have the companionship of a guide and probably a number of like-minded individuals for at least a short time. Sometimes a few hours of guided touring is all it takes to stave off solo-traveler blues.
7. Keep it simple
Keep your itinerary simple. Dashing city-to-city or country-to-country can be physically and emotionally exhausting, even for experienced traveling couples. Instead, consider picking one destination and one lodging, and making that your base for the duration of the trip. And think about taking a class during your stay. You'll get to recognize people, know your way around without a map, develop pleasant routines and maybe even start to feel a bit like a local.