Just one of the adorable small towns in France you’ll visit while river cruising. (Photo: Glynnis MacNicol)
I love traveling alone. This wasn’t always the case. Even though I have never been particularly fond of groups, I frequently travel in pairs with a few select friends. And it’s great. But as I get older I consider traveling alone a real luxury, and one of the rewards of being an independent woman.
And while I have not yet reached the point where I am attending a ski challenge in Afghanistan on my own (less out of fear, admittedly, than a real love of clean sheets and a nice shower), I have done a solid amount of solo travel and cherish the feeling of launching myself into the world, no social strings attached.
That said, while solo travel is on the rise for women, it is far from the norm, and I know many women, friends just as independent and adventurous as myself, who shy away from it because they are intimidated by the idea.
A selfie of the author cruising. (Photo: Glynnis MacNicol)
Here then let me offer an intermediate option for those of you considering venturing out alone but unsure of how to make it happen.
Think of it as solo traveling with training wheels.
I recently spent a week on a Uniworld river cruise through the South of France, and it was a revelation.
First, the average river cruise passenger is older; most of the people I encountered were either retired, close to retired, or traveling with parents who had been long retired. Wait. Don’t stop reading. This was my first great discovery: Traveling with an older crowd, especially when you’re alone, is the greatest.
Just taking a solo morning stroll in the countryside. (Photo: Glynnis MacNicol)
These people know what they are doing: They are well-traveled (everyone I met had been on at least one Uniworld river cruise prior), have done their research, are organized, are unfazed by things such as daylong rainstorms, and are good conversationalists! They’ve had long and generally very interesting lives. They are not just interesting but interested in you. And not just pretend interested; these are people who can do what they want with their time and have chosen to leave their homes, get on international flights, and travel around. They want to know things. And this is not unwelcome attention, as is sadly often the case for women traveling alone; this is nice attention. Moreover, I was, simply by dint of being younger and alone, an object of fascination. Everyone can use a dose of that from time to time.
They also want to make sure you’re OK (and possibly set you up with their sons, until they find out you are not, in fact, 25 … which, by the way, is a side bonus: Everyone thinks you are much younger than you are).
Second, and this is a big one, I never had to eat alone. The idea of eating alone can be, for a variety of reasons, intimidating for women. Presumably in part because it can leave a woman feeling vulnerable — there still persists the annoying assumption on the part of some that consuming food solo is code for “I’m lonely, please proposition me.” On this river cruise, where the passenger capacity was a reasonably intimate 159, I could eat alone if I wanted to — and often did in the mornings — but at dinner I was almost always invited to join a table, which was very enjoyable (see above re good conversationalists). The result was the best of both worlds: time alone wandering and discovering — or going on excursions; I toured some lovely Rhone vineyards one morning — and time among a friendly, safe crowd.
And how about a solo bike ride. (Photo: Glynnis MacNicol)
Third, speaking of safety, on a river cruise you get to be on the move but also have a place to come back to at night and a staff that is on the lookout for you. One day I reserved one of the onboard bikes and spent a glorious morning by myself biking around the French countryside, all the while confident that an entire shipload of people knew I was doing just that. Another day I got up early and wandered around a tiny French village on my own, making it back to the ship just in time to catch the last servings of breakfast.
I’ve said this before about cruising, but the best thing about it is you get the experience of traveling to a variety of places but only unpack once. I have a long-standing rule that when I’m traveling alone I aim to reach my destination before dark so I can get situated before the sun goes down. I implemented this rule long before the age of the iPhone, but I still try to stick to it. However! Totally unnecessary on a river cruise, where you just make sure to be back on the boat before it sails and wait in your freshly made-up room for dinner to be served.
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