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Coping with the single supplement

For better or for worse, the travel industry is set up to handle people in pairs. Larger family groups of three or four can also do pretty well, too, but not singles. If you’re single, you almost always have to pay a stiff “supplement” for any tour or cruise. As one reader recently asked, “I am a senior-aged female and would like to take a cruise. But fares for single travelers are much higher. Any suggestions for my travel?”

Actually, I have two: Look either for someone to travel with you or for one of the small number of cruises that charges only a small senior supplement.

The singles curse

Air travel—and before that, train travel—has almost always been priced on a per-person basis. Even the occasional “free” companion airfare deals usually require that you pay as much, or almost as much, for the one ticket you have to buy to qualify for the “free” one than you’d pay for two cheaper tickets. And when I first started traveling, lots of big-city business hotels offered small single rooms for less than the double rate.

Now, however, except for the transportation, the other big services—hotels, tours, cruises—are almost always priced “per person, double occupancy” (or PPDO in short form). Almost all hotel rooms and cruise cabins are outfitted for two. A single traveler who wants to use those services therefore takes up as much capacity as a couple, and the suppliers expect single travelers to compensate them accordingly.

What do you do if you’re single? Basically, you have only two options, depending on exactly what traveling “single” means to you:

  • If you view being single as a matter of status rather than travel preference, you can arrange to find another traveler to share your room/cabin, so you wind up paying only the PPDO price.
  • But if you really want to travel solo, you have to find a travel experience where the single supplement is minimal.

Make your own match

If you’re looking for someone to share the PPDO costs, your best bet is to find your traveling companion yourself. The universes most of you would search would be some combination of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, members of your church/club/whatever, and the like. I suspect most of you would have a reasonable set of options.

Traveling with friends or family is often preferable to traveling with a stranger, particularly if you know from the beginning that you share some common interests. But traveling with a companion doesn’t necessarily mean being heavily involved with that person. You can, by mutual agreement, keep to yourselves during the days and simply share a room or cabin. It’s your call, only be sure you and your companion are on the same page before you make final arrangements.

Find a match

Several online sites perform a pre-trip matching service for singles. Connecting Solo Travel Network, Travel Acquaintance, and Travel Chums are among the operations that locate potential matches, pre-trip. Companions 2 Travel is a similar service based in the UK.

These sites generally encourage you to sign up well before you actually plan to travel so that you can scope out potential partners and meet a few times to assure compatibility. Most such services give you the choice of same-sex or opposite-sex matching. One matching-service owner once complained that his biggest problem was loss of members who found long-term relationships and no longer needed his service.

Take a match

Most outfits that promote themselves as “singles” agencies or tour operators actually sell conventional PPDO tours and cruises. They simply combine single applicants into couples for travel. Some give you a modest amount of selection (age, interests, and such), but you’re pretty much at the agency’s mercy as to the individual with whom you travel. Among those agencies are Aim Higher, All Singles Travel, O Solo Mio, Singles-Cruises.com, Singles Travel International, and Women Traveling Together.

Large cruise lines and tour operators often arrange to match single travelers into couples for PPDO travel. Some even “guarantee” that they’ll find you a match and put you up in a single accommodation, at no additional cost, if they fail. Most limit your choice to a same-sex match.

True solo travel

If you really want to travel solo—and not share your hotel room or cruise cabin—you’ll have to look for “least worst” options:

  • Long-haul rail trips on Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada offer single-occupancy sleeping compartments for close to the PPDO price.
  • Some cruise ships have a few single cabins—usually more expensive than the minimum PPDO price but less than you’d pay for single occupancy of a standard cabin.
  • Cruise lines and tour operators occasionally offer reduced single supplements as an inducement to fill unsold cabins/rooms. You’re most likely to encounter these offers as last-minute promotions. I’ve seen single supplements as low as 10 percent and occasionally “no supplement” single pricing.
  • Although their main focus is on matching singles for PPDO travel, the agencies I listed in the preceding section also promote a few tours and cruises for true solo occupancy.

Clearly, if you want to travel solo at the lowest cost, you have to be more flexible than if you’re willing to put up with a match. But if you keep on the lookout, you will find options.

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