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Every year when summer is nearly two-thirds over, I start to think about making plans for the holidays. For the solo traveler, there is no need to find yourself “Home Alone for the Holidays”, but it does take some planning. It is a perfect time to dust off your bucket list and revel in the prospect of exotic adventures that you will dine out on for years.
My holiday odysseys have covered the globe from hearing Big Ben ring in the New Year in London to going upriver in the Brazilian Amazon.
One year I booked a 2 week solo journey to Bangkok where I spent several days in that other “City of the Angels” and then connect with a river cruise through Cambodia to Vietnam.
I have had some memorable trips with just an occasional glitch like spending part of the holiday rummaging through the lost luggage room at a local airport hunting for my missing bag. From my lessons learned, I have come up with the following tips to not only survive but thrive during the holiday travel season.
1. Dust off your bucket list. The best option is to treat yourself to a really exciting trip you have always relished taking. The more remote and exotic the better! One Christmas when I returned to the US and was queried by Passport Control/Customs why I had been abroad, I immediately responded: for an “Amazon Christmas”. The official appeared confounded. I hope to encounter him again this year to puzzle him further with a “Cambodian Christmas” as my response.
However, when selecting such a distant destination, do consider how you will feel being so far away from home during the holidays. Once I traveled alone to Egypt for my birthday. After a number of days in Cairo, I connected, as planned, with a Nile River cruise. Although this was my big gift to myself, it felt a little odd to not have a birthday cake or anyone to wish me “Happy Birthday”. (On most tours, you can indicate that you are having a birthday, anniversary or other event, and they can help you find a way to celebrate the day.) Last year on Christmas Day I swam in an Amazon River tributary and had a festive lunch with my fellow river cruise travelers. I did miss hearing the traditional carols so this year chose to celebrate on Christmas Eve and fly out on Christmas Day, hopefully on a less than packed airplane.
3. Some sights may be closed during holidays so check ahead of time. One spring I traveled to Spain and Morocco arriving in Madrid Easter week when many tourist venues were closed. One Christmas in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I planned to ski nearby in Taos only to find that the local van services were not available during the holidays.
4. Even if you are comfortable eating alone, be aware that many restaurants may be closed or fully booked and not enthusiastic about accommodating solos at the holidays’ height. I have had this experience on a Saturday night in a top US ski resort and again during the holidays in a 5 star hotel where I was a guest. I was able to negotiate a table for one at an early hour but ask about this when you book your room.
5. There are many ways to travel solo but become part of a group.
With the proliferation of social media’s usage for business as well as leisure networking, you may be able to identify contacts who are located in your destination and could connect with you there or offer suggestions for the time you are there.
Another option which I often choose is a river cruise. Having been on the Amazon, the Nile and the Yangtze, I highly recommend this approach for solos whether for the holidays or throughout the year. The reason? You can have the privacy of your own cabin but also have a ready-made group for meals and sightseeing. In remote and/or politically challenging locations, this can solve security issues that may result from commuting to a hotel after late night dinners. In many parts of the world, such as the Amazon, there may be no access other than by boat. Lastly, river cruises include accommodations, meals and local transportation, if needed, for day trips, making it easier to know your major costs upfront.
Some river cruises have no single supplement or provide a roommate option. (If you are in a solo cabin, be sure to ask if there are bunk beds. If so, see if they can be replaced by a single bed. On one trip, I had to duck repeatedly to avoid bumping my head and to read I had to sit on the floor.)
Volunteer for a short-term project. This is a great way to give back and to have the camaraderie of fellow volunteers.
Take a class to learn how to ski the top of the mountain. These small groups provide another opportunity to meet fellow travelers. I have also found from Australia to Quebec City that joining minivan tours from my hotels was also an effective way to make new friends.
Don’t wait too late. Figure out where you want to be when the New Year dawns. Whether you choose to go independently as a “Group of One” or connect with other travelers, there are multiple alternatives to being “Home Alone for the Holidays”. Now is the time to make your plans!