One of my favorite travel experiences happened in Florence after visiting an out-of-the way church up on a hill. On exiting the church, I came across an elderly man who was trying to talk to a young woman who clearly did not speak any Italian or understand how to read hand gestures. Despite my miserable Italian, I was able to translate and earned the gratitude of both sides. When I asked the man for directions to my next stop, instead of pointing me to the right road, he took my arm and lead me down a hidden footpath. Had he been a younger man, I would have been quite nervous. His age and frailty made that a non-issue and the views were outstanding, much better than from the road. At one point, he looked at the old cities walls and said, “Old walls are beautiful. Old men are not.” How wrong he was!
When traveling alone, one never has to be alone. If you want to travel alone, but be assured of avoiding loneliness, there are several good choices with various degrees of private time and independence.
Group tours are probably the most obvious alternatives and have a wide range of intensity of togetherness. Some keep you with a group most of the time. While this can give a sense of security, it has downsides. Just one bad apple can ruin the whole barrel. Also, as part of a group, you may be less open to opportunities to meet locals. Specialty tours such as those focused on history or photography can be great choices as you already have something in common with your fellow travelers beyond just interest in the destination. Eco tourism and volunteer programs can provide both this benefit and that of knowing you are doing good while having fun.
Some people don’t like cruises because they feel trapped on the boat. How about being trapped on a boat with hundreds, if not thousands, of strangers. If you’re outgoing, this can be a good deal of fun. Many ships assign people to tables and, under the right circumstances, this can be the beginning of beautiful friendships.
Many B&Bs (bed and breakfast) foster interaction among both owners and guests. This is one of the things I love about them (in addition to the prices). I’ll have a separate post on the joys of B&Bs, but for now suffice it to say they’re a great way to get expert advice and swap stories. In one case, people I met at one B&B turned up in a later part of my itinerary. We already had a common bond which made the time together feel like being with old friends. Owners of these properties tend to enjoy talking with people and sharing their local expertise. Take the time to talk with them beyond just picking up your key.
Full service resorts, including those focused on honeymooners, may seem like an odd inclusion for this topic, but they can be great for those traveling alone. Staff that are at all outgoing will enjoy having someone to talk to who isn’t completely wound up in their partner. Classes and other activities keep you busy while bringing you into contact with others. I’ll go into detail on a couple examples of this kind of place, Pueblo Bonita Pacifica in Cabo San Lucas and Lalati in Fiji, in later entries.
What ever form of travel you choose, the key is to keep an open heart and an open mind. Be as outgoing you can and keep receptive to when others reach out to you. Not only will you avoid loneliness, but your travel experiences will be greatly enriched.