Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Checking In: Party of One

Up 330 steps of spiraling stairs I climbed until I reached the top of the dome of St. Peter’s basilica. As I emerged, I could see the colonnade, the Pantheon and all of Rome laid out below me. From inside the gallery, the sounds of music and soft whispers rose from a church service taking place below.

This was a delightful surprise -- a stolen moment -- an experience that almost didn’t happen.

It all started while I was visiting Umbria with a guy I was dating. In the middle of our trip we had a disagreement and I ended up spending the day by myself. I ate lunch alone in a charming restaurant, had a pleasant conversation with the couple sitting next to me and wandered around the city. I enjoyed myself so much that I wanted to stay and explore more of Italy but we were scheduled to leave for a business meeting the following day.

At that moment I faced a choice. The “little people” inside my head, who only see the negative, told me it wasn’t safe for a woman to travel alone, that I couldn’t have fun without a companion and that I had an obligation. But the truth was, I wanted to stay. The decision I made that day opened up the world to me and showed me that there was no reason to put off experiencing it just because I didn’t have someone to go with.

Today, 32 million single, American women travel at least once a year, one third of them travels more than five times a year -- alone. Like me, they have decided to quit listening to fear and doubt in exchange for searching out whatever adventures await. Here are some common-sense ideas that will help you get out and experience the world as a single traveler:

  Ask for help. The hotel concierge, shop employees and wait staff are very accommodating and can steer you where to go and what places to avoid.

  Ask yourself what circumstances would make you vulnerable then determine how to avoid them.  When in doubt, make sure someone knows when to expect you back.

  Only carry one day’s worth of cash and one credit card on you and use the hotel safe for your remaining funds and passport.

  If you have to use an ATM, pick a machine on a busy street and go during daytime hours.  Never store all your money in the same place. 

  In case of an emergency (ex. stolen phone) go to an internet café and get on FB or use emails to communicate.

  Know where you’re going before you leave and the name, address, phone number and email of where you are staying so you’ll know where to return.

  Know your limit. I never have more than one glass of wine when I’m alone because I know the second will lead to the third and that is what will impair my judgment.

  Have a sense of purpose when walking through airports, subways and train stations. Online maps and information sites will help you know where you’re going.

  Take a trial run. If you’re not sure you can travel alone at this time, take along your significant other but ask them to let you do it your way. Plan the trip as if you were taking it alone and have the experience you’re looking for.

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