It’s not easy — or cheap — to overcome the hassles of traveling alone.
My sister tells me I snore. “The cats don’t seem to mind,” I reply, and it’s true. If I do make noise (I’ll admit to talking in my sleep) it doesn’t bother them; but, sadly, another person’s apnea disturbs me greatly, and I’d be mortified to annoy a roommate. So I prefer to sleep alone.
This is fine, normally, but it costs the earth when I travel.
The travel industry assumes that people vacation in pairs, and sets prices accordingly; if only one person occupies a room designed for two, they can and do charge double. When traveling with a tour group or on a cruise, you can expect to pay a “single surcharge” or “single supplement,” and you’d best read the fine print.
I was tempted the other day by a Mediterranean cruise offered by my alma mater: a 16-day adventure sailing the Italian and Dalmatian coasts, with stops in Venice and Dubrovnik. It looked wonderful until I got out my magnifying glass. Not only are the single cabins priced at an additional $1,000-plus, but they have portholes, not windows, with views obstructed or “partially obstructed” by lifeboats.
This is the case with most of the cruises I’ve researched. Tour operators rationalize that one single occupies the spot of two potential participants but delivers only half the revenue. Thus, you can expect to pay as much as 150 to 175 percent more for your own room, and you get an inferior cabin. Even trips advertised for “singles and solos” sock you with extra fees because they figure the cost of a hotel room is the same whether you book it as a solo traveler or as a couple.
I could plan a trip myself — could arrange flights, find my own boutique hotels — but with whom would I share meals? The prospect of entering a foreign restaurant, requesting a table for one and then skulking alone with a book, frankly, fills me with terror. It’s hard enough to be single at home.
So for me, a group tour is the way to go, especially if the trip focuses on lifelong learning. Road Scholar (created by Elderhostel, Inc.) provides solo travelers with built-in, like-minded companions, sort of like college. So does Politics and Prose, a Washington DC-based bookstore whose book- and author-centered vacations include next October’s “Week in Tuscany with Phyllis Theroux.” A private villa room with bath is $2,488, as opposed to a shared room for $2,250, making the single supplement ($238) among the most reasonable I’ve found. But again, you have to read the fine print:
Villa Spannocchia has ample room for 18 people, but not for 18 singles. If not enough people plan to share a room, certain participants may be asked to double-up. Single rooms in both the main villa and the fattoria wing will be assigned on a first come, first served basis.
Well, there’s always a catch.
Odyssey Travel, a not-for-profit organization based in Australia, caters to people in the 50-plus demographic, so they design programs with mature travelers in mind. That sounds appealing, but Odyssey’s single supplements range from $1,500 to $2,000 or more per person.
Their educational journeys in Britain and France are 21-day affairs as opposed to a week or two, but — again, reading with my trusty magnifier — the Paris trip’s hefty single surcharge assumes you’ll stay in a two-bedroom apartment sharing one bathroom. Sole use of a studio apartment costs an additional $4,000-$5,000 over double room price. No thanks.
Despina Gakopoulos of Road Scholar says, “We offer roommate matching services at no additional cost; if a roommate can’t be found, we’ll waive the single supplement.” But you’re taking a chance.
“Our intention is not for you to ask for the matching service, secretly hoping we won’t be able to find you a roommate,” Gakopoulos said. “If you really prefer your own room you should probably book it that way.”
I’m willing to pay the extra if I have to. “Sure, I’ll share a room,” I told Gakopoulos, “but only with a Harrison Ford look-alike.”
Minneapolis writer Kit Naylor hopes to return to Oxford in the summer of 2014.