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Published: Sunday, 7/2/2006

Vacations for one: Single women increasingly are hitting the road alone

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Helen Roberts might never have seen Norway if she had waited for someone to go there with her.

And Gabrielle Warncke might not have gone heli-hiking in the Canadian Rockies or breathed the air of Mexico, Tahiti, or Australia if she allowed herself to be hobbled by the lack of a travel buddy.

Singly, the two local women aren t afraid to take on the world. Together, they re part of a trend.

Women are traveling alone or with female companions (sisters, mothers, best friends) in record numbers, according to Gutsy Women Travel, a 5-year-old company that became a division of Gate 1 Travel in Glenside, Pa., in January.

Being gutsy isn t about climbing Mount Everest, April Merenda, president, co-founder, and co-owner of Gutsy Women Travel, said in a telephone interview from her office in Long Island. It is a woman who says I m important. I need time for me. I need a getaway to refresh mind, body, spirit.

Half of the company s bookings come from women who are traveling alone, she said, including married women whose husbands aren t interested in a particular trip or can t get away at the same time as their spouse. The other half of the company s business is made up of groups of women, she said, such as mothers and daughters, sisters, and girlfriends.

Miss Roberts, 74, a retired accountant who lives in West Toledo, said that the friends she used to travel with are no longer able to join her. I went nine years without traveling, and I said that will never happen to me again, she recalled. I would rather travel with somebody, but I won t let it keep me home if I can t find somebody. I just go ahead and do it.

Miss Roberts just returned from a solo, week-long rail trip that started in Los Angeles and ended in Salt Lake City, stopping in between at Grand Canyon, Zion, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton national parks. In addition to venturing out on her own, she has signed up for many tours as a single.

The first trip you do totally on your own is the hardest, Miss Roberts said. But the initial lack of companionship has never been a problem, she added. People usually invite her to join them, or she ll take the initiative. Don t be afraid to go up and talk to people, she advised.

Miss Roberts suggested that first-time solo travelers opt for a cruise or a tour that will provide dinner companions. Meals alone are the hardest, she said.

Ms. Warncke, 32, a travel agent with Central Travel, said the pros and cons of taking a trip alone vary from person to person, and destination to destination. It s truly a personal thing, she said.

Tahiti, for example, is the kind of place you want to share with a significant other, she reflected. On other trips, Ms. Warncke said, she has relished the freedom to set her own agenda and not have to answer to anyone else.

I don t think it s that big of a deal to travel by myself, because most of the time I end up with a group, she went on. During the heli-hiking trip to the Canadian Rockies, for example, she flew in alone and stayed in a room by herself, but she went out every day with other hikers.

I ve probably been on 15 trips by myself, Ms. Warncke said, speculating that a fear of being alone may be keeping other women from doing the same thing. That doesn t bother me, she said.

Ms. Warncke said she often economizes by arranging air fare and lodging through a tour company thereby getting the advantage of group rates but may go early or stay later than the group so she has some time to explore on her own.

But even on a group tour, the economics of the travel industry usually work against singles, because of the assumption that a business is losing money when one person stays in a room or cabin that s designed for two. Although the industry is reportedly becoming more solo-friendly, singles commonly pay either the same price as two people in a double-occupancy room or cabin, or the per-person rate for that room or cabin plus a surcharge (often referred to as the single supplement. )

Everything is based on double occupancy, so unfortunately you re paying for the person who is not there, explained Dianne Hornyak, office manager at Travel Connection in Oregon.

She recommends a guided tour as the best option for the single who wants to travel. Unless you re matched with someone to share the room cost you ll still pay the whole bill, but arrangements for meals and activities will be handled by someone else, and you ll feel more secure, particularly in a place you haven t visited before, Ms. Hornyak said.

There s a comfort level with traveling with another person or a group. You have to be a very independent person to say I m going to do this on my own, she said.

Some local women are finding travel companions through Today s Traveling Women at AAA Northwest Ohio. We ve had some nice success stories, said Sue McCloskey, vice president, member services and travel agency. The club isn t a trip matchmaker, she explained, but it brings women together for presentations on travel topics, and some participants have become friends and travel companions.

This month, the group is taking a motorcoach trip to Tecumseh, Mich.

AAA serves many women who travel alone, Ms. McCloskey said. However, they choose to travel with one of our many groups, and the reason they do that is they like the comfort, convenience, security, and the companionship they receive in a group, she added.

Pat Johnson, vice president of Atlas World Travel, said although it s more common and acceptable today for women to travel alone, a woman still has to be cautious.

She needs to be aware of her surroundings and take the necessary precautions.

Mrs. Johnson suggests booking a hotel room near the elevator, so you don t need to walk down a long hall alone. If you re traveling by car, I recommend women don t stop at a hotel/motel that has exterior entrances to the rooms. I like a hotel with a lobby and interior doors, she said.

Some women travel alone because their women friends don t have the same interests or financial resources as they do, Mrs. Johnson pointed out. Maybe one wants to shop, and the other wants to visit museums.

And some women travel together but wisely book separate rooms. Some people cannot stand to hear someone snoring. And then there s the issue on a cruise ship, where Sally wants to go to bed early and Mary wants to see the shows and go to the casino. Sally may like her room cold, and Mary wants the room warm and believe me, all these things have happened, Mrs. Johnson said.

I have had people who started out on a tour in the same room and I have had to put them in separate rooms.

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.com or 419-724-6126.



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