Solo travel is starting to get some respect

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Ed Perkins

For many years, true solo travel was the Rodney Dangerfield of travel: It “got no respect” from the industry.

Standard cruise and tour pricing was almost always “per person double occupancy,” or PPDO.

Solo travelers were generally told to conform to the “Noah’s Ark” formula: If you don’t want to pay an outrageous single supplement, pair up with someone. And if you don’t have anybody to share with you, we’ll find you someone.

But that’s changing, slowly: A current release from Grand Circle Cruise Line announces a substantial boost in the number of single cabins the line will offer next year. The release notes the “increased interest in solo traveling among older travelers,” adding that 88 percent of its solo travelers are women.

It’s about time. True solo travel — traveling by yourself — is a lot different from sharing. Not every single wants to share accommodations with anyone, friend or stranger.

I, for one, was suddenly thrust into the solo travel scene when my wife passed away four years ago. When I travel now, I want my own space, not a roommate — but without a huge “single supplement.” I’m sure lots of you feel the same way.

Airlines, railways and bus lines have always been pretty good to solo travelers. They price most ordinary tickets on an individual basis.

Even so, however, you find a few nods to couples. Some European rail passes sell “saver” versions at reduced per-person prices to couples who travel together on all trips. And airlines often offer “free companion” fare promotions, although the fine print may require you to buy the first ticket at a higher price than the cheapest available ticket.

Some help for hotels

Solo hotel rates are a mixed bag. Rooms in most modern hotels and motels are designed for double to quadruple occupancy, with one queen, one king, twins and often double-queens. Rates are generally the same for single or double occupancy: in effect, a 100 percent single supplement.

But you find some exceptions:

— Small and midsize hotels in Europe, which typically include breakfast, often offer single rates that are less than double rates, and many have dedicated single rooms.

— B-and-Bs and other nontraditional accommodations often offer single accommodations and single pricing.

I’ve found that the better hotel online booking systems, such as booking.com and Expedia, can consistently locate accommodations with single accommodations and single-priced doubles.

But unless you’re prepared to pay the regular double price, you can pretty much forget the opaque booking agencies, such as Hotwire and Priceline, which default to double occupancy almost all the time. Also, flash sale OTAs and promotional coupon deals always price double occupancy and give you no single option.

Many cruise ships actually have at least a few single-person cabins, and some of the newer ships, such as the Norwegian Epic, were designed with a substantial number of single-specific cabins.

Most cruise lines put solo travelers in a conventional two-person cabin, and typically, these singles get slammed with the dreaded “single supplement” that can often double the price.

You occasionally see singles promotions with reduced single supplements, but finding good solo deals can be a challenge: When I last checked, I couldn’t find either a big cruise line website or online cruise agency that offered single rates through their search systems — not even on the Norwegian Epic.

When I asked my colleague Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic (www.cruisecritic.com), about the best way to find solo pricing, she told me that the only practical approach is to contact a travel agent personally — either by calling an online cruise specialist or visiting a local retail agency location.

I’ve found, by the way, that AAA agencies often have good cruise deals. Cruise Critic also posts a guide to the “best” solo options at www.cruisecritic.com/v-6/articles.cfm?ID=419.

Solo tours

 Although most conventional tour packages are priced PPDO, agencies such as Singles Travel International (www.singlestravelintl.com) list a small number of solo-accommodations tours.

But solo deals without a single supplement are hard to find: Even Club Med, the epitome of resorts for “swinging singles,” prices on a PPDO basis. Go figure.

Send e-mail to eperkins@mind.net.