Sunday, February 16, 2003
A column by travel expert Arthur Frommer was published today in North Jersey's Bergen Record. It focused on options for solo travelers, a growing consumer group of interest to the travel industry.
Frommer says that a case can be made that single people traveling alone are the most put upon, discriminated against, and badly treated of all the people who take vacation trips. They are given the worst tables in restaurants, eyed with suspicion if they're a woman sitting at a bar and - worse yet - hit with that dreaded single-room supplement, which raises their accommodations costs by 50 percent to 100 percent over the amount charged per person to members of a couple traveling together.
And yet, he says, the single traveler is a mighty force in travel. According to the Travel Industry Association, nearly a quarter of all U.S. travelers, or 34.8 million adults, have taken a vacation by themselves in the past three years - double the number of a decade ago.
But, he suggests, changes may be coming. In two Budget Travel columns appearing in late September and early October 2002, I reviewed more than a dozen organizations that assist the single traveler in avoiding single supplements and travel loneliness on trips to all the standard destinations - Las Vegas, London, the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, and so on. I'd like now to supplement that discussion with organizations that offer a more novel and non-standard experience to the single traveler.
The Omega Institute at Rhinebeck, N.Y. ( 944-1001 or  266-4444, www.eomega.org) does that. As America's foremost residential center and resort for exploring personal relationships and psychological issues, it maintains spacious dormitory accommodations for singles of all ages, costing $64 to $85 a night, including three (vegetarian) meals daily, and it is primarily patronized by singles - hundreds of them at a time.
Also heavily booked by singles of all ages are the outdoors, hiking, or work trips of that important defender of the American environment nationwide, the Sierra Club, headquartered in San Francisco ( 977-5522, www.sierraclub.org/outings). Since most of its programs utilize sleeping bags, tents, or hostel-type log lodges, there is rarely a single supplement, and prices usually average well under $100 a day for everything - meaning accommodations, guides, and three meals a day.
Frommer says that he should have devoted more detailed attention in his earlier columns to travel by singles with the great Earthwatch Institute (www.earthwatch.org), whose participants pay to accompany noted university researchers into their areas of study. With Earthwatch, travelers occupy lodgings rented to serve the particular scientific project, perhaps using a sleeping bag or cot in the living room and making communal meals. They pay no single supplement, and they meet other dynamic people who are among our most-outstanding citizens. Whether they are traveling as a single or as part of a couple becomes utterly unimportant - the majority of Earthwatch participants travel alone.
Readers will find a similarly extensive program operated by the Research Expeditions Program of the University of California (http://urep.ucdavis.edu) for projects initiated by its faculty and graduate students. The program has temporarily been suspended, but it will resume operations in August.
As another option, singles can sign up to assist archaeologists in their field work, in the United States and abroad. Crowcanyon Archaeological Center (www.crowcanyon.org ) is a non-profit group that conducts archaeological expeditions and solicits volunteers of all ages (mainly singles) as assistants. For a great many other such volunteer activities, contact the Archaeological Conservancy online at www.archaeologicalconservancy.org. For still other volunteer vacations geared toward singles and priced to meet their needs without discrimination, insert the words "volunteer vacations" under "search back issues" at www.budgettravel.msnbc.com and get the relevant article written by Matthew Link.
Frommer believes that the best vacation trip for a single person traveling alone is one focused on activities, themes or projects having nothing to do with meeting, mingling, or socializing with other singles; it is a vacation in which people serve an outside cause, project, or independent interest. In that setting, the single traveler does emotionally satisfying work - and probably meets far more singles than he or she would at any commercial resort or cruise, or on any tour.