“Success is a journey not a destination—
half the fun is getting there.”
Imagine yourself touring the countryside with a group of fascinating people from around the world who have the same interests as you. Picture yourself laughing at meals with new faces and interesting personalities. Envision yourself traveling to a safe destination where everything has been created for your comfort.
Does this sound enticing? If so, you might be up for a semi-solo vacation. This is how I began my solo travels: I started by by traveling with a friend, then tried out group tours, and worked up to traveling alone to resorts. Each was a step closer to complete and independent solo traveling. This article will help you wade through different semi-solo scenarios, and assist you in finding one that best suits your needs.
The world is bursting with all sorts of group trips and destinations for solo travelers. There are plenty of resources that focus on specific trips that might interest you. To find out more about them, check out this website, or do an Internet search for group tours and destinations.
Before you choose a group package or tour that suits you, you need to ask yourself some important questions.
• If you are single, are you looking for other singles?
• Are you in a relationship and want to get away with other like-minded people?
• Do you want to travel with all women, or is co-ed okay?
• What kinds of people do you want to meet?
• Do you want this to be an active trip—like biking, hiking, horse riding, or surfing?
• Do you want to learn something on this trip, like cooking or another language?
• Do you want your own room, or are you happy sharing?
These are important questions you need to answer—keep in mind your CAWS preferences (to find out your CAWS score, take Tango Diva’s L’Atitude Quiz). Usually, women who rank social interactivity higher than the other three factors tend to migrate towards tours. If social interactivity is low on your list of priorities, remember that going semi-solo, especially in a group tour, will limit your options. If you want your own space to go where you please, visiting a destination on your own might suit your needs better. Tours are great when you’re comfortable spending time with the same people for a week or two.
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
“Earth’s crammed with heaven.”
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Joan’s husband dislikes traveling. He covets his prized English rose garden and spends his free time watching cricket in silence. Joan grew up in York, England and mastered the art of English cooking: roast pork, baked potatoes, and fish and chips. She knew there was more to food than English fodder, and she longed to spend a week in Italy learning how to prepare Italian cuisine. Her husband didn’t want to go, so she researched tours that specialized in cooking classes and found one that fit her schedule and price range. “I’ve never been on a tour like this, and at first I was very nervous,” she said. “But my excitement and anticipation of discovering a new part of the world and learning how to cook outweighed my fears. My husband drove me to Heathrow Airport, where I caught my flight to Rome. We didn’t talk much on the way there, after spending so much time with someone, it seemed like there was nothing to say. It was a sad drive and I realized that this trip meant more to me than just learning how to cook.
“This trip represented my ability to venture out; it was about letting go of fear and doing something I always dreamt about. I’ve been married for twenty-four years and my life’s focus was on my husband and our three children. When our son passed away four years ago, we both died with him. My husband retreated to the garden and I withered away in the house. The last time we drove to London was to clean out our son’s flat. I thought a lot about my son on the way to the airport, and I believed he would be very proud of me. He always said I should get out more. So, I did. I could just picture him in heaven with those wings of his smiling down on me!
“When I arrived in Rome, the tour company had a delightful sign with my name on it—I felt like a movie star. From that moment on, I didn’t have to worry about anything. I spent a week in Florence—a culinary paradise—chopping fresh basil, kneading fluffy dough, and tasting robust wines from around Tuscany. Now I understand why the great thinkers of the Renaissance portrayed Florence as heaven—it is! I made new friends, learned cooking secrets, and created delicious food. This tour restored a part of me that had shriveled away. Once again I was a young girl, full of creativity and wonder, learning, growing, and discovering abilities I’d never explored. I wouldn’t have been able to do this trip alone, so having a guide and other travelers with me was ideal. I shared my room with a marvelous, kind woman from Canada—she also left her husband at home! I found comfort in my fellow travelers and in the food. Who knew I could make savory braised lamb ravioli with fresh grilled Portabella mushrooms and eggplant! Not only did I learn how to cook like an Italian mama, I met some fabulous women, and healed a part of my broken heart.
“When I arrived back in London, I saw my husband waiting for me. Although I was only gone ten days, I could tell we had both changed. He stood there, like the passionate young man I fell in love with—holding flowers from his garden and smiling with tears brimming in his eyes. I was aglow, with the smell of lavender and thyme still on my skin. Our hug at the airport was electric. On the way home we talked nonstop. We giggled and chatted about his time alone, how he missed me, and almost starved! And I swooned with stories about my adventures with fresh herbs, olive oil, and pomegranates. We fell in love again.
“I’m thinking about taking a cooking course in France next year!”
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Reading stories from women like Joan gives others the opportunity to understand what a marvelous world of experiences await us—we just need to decide to do it. Joan, like many other women, finds tours a safe, social, and educational way to travel. Tours are renowned for taking care of all your travel details once you arrive—your transportation, accommodations, meals, sightseeing, etc. Confirm the tour’s benefits first, because all tours differ. Make a point to check out local walking or historical tours in your city or neighborhood to get a sense of what it’s like being with a group. The unfortunate element about tours, especially ones overseas, is that if you’re uncomfortable with the other guests, there is little you can do about it. You can’t be assured that some obnoxious, needy traveler is not on your trip.
You might want to call the tour company you’re thinking about using and find out what types of people usually attend. Ask honest questions about your concerns, and with any luck you’ll get candid answers about the tour participants. Also ask about the accommodation setup. Most times you are required to share with another same-sex person. If you want your own room, you’ll need to request it, and plan on spending addition cash for this luxury.
This is a good time to do some self-reflection. If you’re the type of person who gets impatient often, doesn’t like small talk, or finds most people boring, you might want to rethink taking a tour. You don’t want to be considered one of those “obnoxious ones.”
“Happiness is not a destination. It is a method of life.”
Perhaps you’re not ready to go solo, but you’re not interested in tours either. A destination location might be ideal. These would include places such as Club Med, spas, yoga camps, retreats, all-inclusive resorts, and sports camps. Each of these choices tends to cater to a specific demographic.
My first experience with a semi-solo trip was to Club Med. At the time, they had great specials called Wild Cards. For one thousand dollars you could book a seven-day, all-inclusive vacation: flight, room, food, and drinks! I booked my trip in advance but didn’t know where I would end up until my travel agency called and surprised me. One thousand dollars and two weeks after booking my trip, I arrived at Paradise Island in the Bahamas. My roommate, Carolyn, was a fabulous femme who also worked in advertising. She came alone and planned on having a great time socializing with others. We spent the week sharing advertising tales, flirting with guys, and laughing with twelve other singles we’d met on the trp. And half of these twelve wonderful people are still dear friends!
One of the advantages of destination vacations is the ability to get away from others and spend time alone. You have the autonomy to enjoy your vacation at your own pace. You can take pleasure in quiet walks, or nestle under a palm with a book, as well as socialize with diverse groups of wonderful, friendly international travelers. Most resorts are packed with activities to keep your day bursting with things to do, so you won’t have the chance to get bored or lonely. If you’re not good at meeting people, but want to learn how, this can be a great way to begin because many resorts focus on socializing, getting to know the other guests, and creating a sense of community.
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
Another fantastic semi-solo option is visiting friends who have moved overseas or somewhere you want to visit. Don’t assume that they’ll want you to stay with them. Call first, tell them you’d like to visit, and see what they have to say. It’s not proper to inconvenience your friends, so you might want to ask about places to stay nearby. If they offer you a place to stay, that’s a bonus! And if you do stay, make sure you give them their space, privacy, and time to decompress when they get home. Although you’re on vacation, they usually aren’t. Don’t expect your hosts to keep you entertained during your visit. All the rules of solo travel still apply: you’re responsible for planning your personal itinerary. After your stay, wash the bed linens and towels you used, buy your hosts a special thank-you gift, and leave their home and the space you occupied a bit cleaner than when you arrived. You want to be remembered as a kind, clean, and thoughtful guest.
If your plans take you to a place where none of your friends live, send an e-mail to everyone you know and ask if they know anyone at that given destination. Let them know where you’re going, when you plan to be there, and what you like to do. Ask your friends for the introduction, and take it from there. Once again, don’t expect to stay with these people, but do ask if they have time to take you sightseeing or out for a meal.
When Sally from Cork, Ireland decided to go around the world alone, she e-mailed all her friends with her planned itinerary. She asked for names and numbers of friends living abroad whom she could meet for a meal or contact for local information. By the time she departed Dublin, she had a phone book filled with names of contacts from around the world. I met Sally when I was living in Melbourne, Australia. At the time, she was visiting a generous friend who offered her a place to stay for a few nights. While she was in Melbourne, I gave her a list of my friends in San Francisco who would be delighted to entertain her. When she got there, she called them and they treated her to a day of wine tasting in Napa Valley.
The next time I caught up with her, this is what she shared: “This world tour has proved to me that we live on a small, special planet and at the end of the day, we’re all friends. This journey began as a six-month trip around the world, but what it turned into was a friendship festival. When I departed from Dublin, all I had was a list of forty-three names in fourteen different countries. I had an airline ticket, hotel reservations, and a lot of courage. By the time I returned home, I had a list of over 230 people who I met through these forty-three people and random encounters. I met Teresa in a pub in Melbourne and before I knew it, I was in Napa Valley with four of her friends, sipping wine. Of those four friends, two of them had friends in Chicago and New York. I’ve told all those wonderful people I met that if they come out to Cork, they have a place to stay—it might be small, but it’s comfortable, warm, and I always have a few bottles of Guinness in the fridge! I have such a deep connection to the world now. I am very aware that what happens in Brazil—or anywhere else in the world—affects me. I think that’s the greatest lesson I learned from traveling—that we’re all connected by deep and meaningful relationships. I wish everyone could go on a trip like this, I believe the world would be a better, safer, happier place if everyone got to experience the power of friendships and connections through solo travel.”
Unfortunately, sometimes your friend don’t turn out to be the loving, welcoming hosts you expected. It’s smart to have a realistic exit strategy. If things get hard to handle, be able to change your ticket, or get a hotel room—you might have a better time spending the cash. Monica shares her story: “I went to visit a friend in Chicago. I have to admit that she wasn’t a very close friend—we met at the gym and we both attended the same weekly Pilates class. We didn’t talk much and one day she said she was taking a job in Chicago and that I could visit her any time. I’ve never been to Chicago, and when she moved there and offered me the opportunity to stay with her for a few days, I took her up on her lovely gesture. I left my husband and dog at home and headed to Chicago for four days to visit her. What a nightmare. I’m a low-key person and I soon found out that this woman was strung tighter than a banjo! Every dinner and lunch with her was on red-alert. The fours days with her were high-intensity DRAMA. Everything was an issue; she spent our evenings creating a scene everywhere we went—I felt sorry for our waiters and hostesses. I didn’t plan on this kind of trip and by the third day, I was ready to go home. It was a four-day control-freak fest. I don’t wish that on anyone.”
Situations like this happen, so be prepared with a plan of action—just in case.
If you’re mature enough to take good care of someone’s property and pets while they’re away, you might explore the possibility of house-sitting. If you get this chance, be prepared to take extra-good care of their home and animals. Don’t forget to water the plants, and if something breaks, make sure to share that information with them. Request a list of contact numbers—including their travel itinerary, as well as the number for the vet, and a neighbor or friend who lives nearby. House-sitting is a big responsibility, so if you endeavor to go this route be prepared to spend time keeping the house in order and the pets well cared for. Remember to leave the house cleaner than it was when you arrived, fill the refrigerator with some of their favorites, and leave a thank-you card and flowers. Then, you’ll have the opportunity to come back again.
As someone who often has people staying at my house when I travel, I like having my house sitter over the day before I depart so I can show them how things work (the house alarm, entertainment system, washing machine, cat-feeding details, etc.) and I like them gone right before I arrive home. I appreciate a note, letting me know how their visit was, and if anything happened. I set my expectations very high for those who stay at my home, and I only let people stay whom I trust with my life.
Trudy from Vancouver has mastered house-sitting and is now known worldwide as the person to call, because she takes such great care of pets and always leave the homes she sits in mint condition. “The first time I was asked to house-sit was when my college friend was going on his honeymoon and they needed someone to take care of their home and animals in Sonoma, California. I was in graduate school, so I had the time to stay at a quiet place and write my thesis. They had three cats and two dogs. I loved those animals like my own and I made sure the house was spick-and-span when they got home. I treated the animals like royalty and even bathed them right before my friends got home. As a wedding gift, I found a landscaper who planted a garden of colorful flowers in their front yard. When they got home, they found a living bouquet of flowers blooming, a refrigerator full of fresh food, five clean and happy pets, and a thank-you note. They told all their friends about what I did and I get called every few months by people who need a pet- or house-sitter. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time I did when I was getting my master’s, so I am unable to take advantage of these opportunities. Honestly, it’s way more work than just staying in a hotel room, because you’re responsible for someone’s home and their much-loved pets. I’ve had accidents happen where pets broke glass objects and fish died. My advice is, if you’re not interested in the responsibility, don’t pet sit!”
“He never is alone that is accompanied with noble thoughts.”
If you must travel to a wedding, reunion, or business meeting, take advantage of the opportunity to explore. My friend Ashley is attending a wedding in Lanai; she is taking a week off before the nuptials and plans on attending an all-girls surf spa. For the first week she’ll be flying semi-solo in Oahu, learning how to surf between her manicures, seaweed wraps, and massages, followed by a weekend wedding in Lanai. When she arrives at the wedding, she’ll be relaxed, tanned, and ready to greet all her relatives—with her perfect mani-pedicure and glowing exfoliated skin!
Business travel is another great way to add on a few extra days of sightseeing and exploration. Many times airline tickets are a bit less expensive when you have a Saturday stay. Plan your meetings at the beginning or end of the week so you can take advantage of this nice business travel perk.
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By now, you have a good idea what kind of semi-solo trip is most appropriate for your needs. Whichever style of traveling you prefer, there’s an ideal destination, tour, or friend to support you. Now you get a chance to explore what feels right for you.
1. What resonates with you?
• Educational tours
• Cooking classes
• Wine tours
• Yachting tours
• Skiing tours
• European tours
• Cultural tours
• Activity-based tours (bike across France)
• Sport camps
• Adventure camps
• Health resorts
• Snorkel destinations
• Surf camps
• Visiting a friend
• Going somewhere where I can meet friends of friends
• House/pet sitting
• Delightful Detours:
• Upcoming required trips
• Free weekends
• Business Travel
• Finding time to stay
• Making plans to explore
2. When it comes to spending time with others on your vacation, what personality traits of yours will people find enjoyable? (Are you friendly, energetic, honest, fun-loving…?)
3. When it comes to spending time with others on your vacation, what personality traits of yours will people find not-so-enjoyable? (Impatience, irritability, unfriendliness, rudeness…?) What can you do to ensure those traits won’t accompany you on this trip?