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Group tours for singles open world of travel

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Sunday, April 12, 2009
 

You don't have to be single to rub boars and doors.

You don't even have to be single to go on a singles tour.

I, however, am. As my friends got married, I gained bridesmaid dresses and lost my travel companions.

I still wanted to gallivant, but not by myself.

Among my dream destinations, Italy's Florence awaited. One of that city's myriad sights is a bronze boar in the straw market that passersby pat for luck. In Pisa, I pressed on a certain portal — another way, I was told, to assure good fortune.

But perhaps I already had found my luck. I might never had gotten to Italy in the first place if I hadn't discovered group tours for singles.

It sounds like an oxymoron: group singles travel. But it was easy for me to see the appeal of traveling with an entire entourage of single people:

• Having an assigned roommate means avoiding the singles supplement. Organizations that arrange group tours for singles will pair up the passengers, although single rooms sometimes are available for people who would rather pay more than share.

• It guarantees that my cabinmate and I aren't the only singles on a cruise ship full of honeymooners.

• You save money by traveling with a group tour, because the tour provider gets discounted prices for buying in bulk. Suzy Davis, owner of Adventures for Singles in Atlanta, says she tries to cap a group's size at 40. Her relatively big groups — she says some companies book groups no larger than 16, which is her minimum — help her to negotiate good deals toward her goal of offering an "upscale, five-star experience at a three-star price."

• Group tours are an answer for singles who say they are too busy to plan a vacation. Because the group-tour provider and guides do all the planning and take care of details, "you can leave your brain at home," Davis assures clients. In planning an itinerary, a tour designer makes contacts and does research that can open doors a traveler might not find by himself. "I'm able to arrange opportunities through group travel that are impossible for people to do on their own," Davis says.

• There's safety in numbers. Jennifer Reynoso, 47, a nurse from of Santa Rosa, Calif., has done two singles tours, both through Adventures for Singles. Her first trip was to the Amazon and Brazil. "The thought of group travel did not appeal to me," she says, but she wanted to see exotic locales and "not have to worry about finding someone to go."

"London, if I wanted to, I could do on my own," Reynoso says. "I could go to Mexico. But when it comes to more exotic locations, (there are places) I would not go alone."

For my first singles trip, I started small. A four-day cruise in the Bahamas set me back only $550, airfare included, partly because I signed up for a four-person cabin. I figured I was bound to get along with at least one of my roommates, and if I didn't, the trip would be over soon anyway.

My gamble paid off marvelously. My three cabinmates and I got along so well that, as the days went by, we all swore our cabin was expanding in size, rather than closing in on us.

Many years since, I still trade Christmas cards with one of those cabinmates, a Tennessean named Cheryl.

And for a while, I stayed in touch with two other members of our tour group, a couple of men from Pittsburgh. I was living in Buffalo at the time of the Bahamas cruise, but had harbored the idea of returning to my native North Hills. Eventually, one of my post-cruise correspondents, who lived in Emsworth, gave me a lead on the job that did, indeed, bring me back to the 'Burgh.

No other singles tour has so drastically changed my life.

It was the people, not the destination, that distinguished that short cruise.

In later travels, the destination — Egypt, Thailand, Europe — has been much more important. During these singles tours, it's the places we went, the sights we saw, that thrilled me. And yet, the companions on those trips made the journeys more fun and interesting, and are inextricable from the memories. I wouldn't have smoked a hookah pipe in Cairo if I hadn't been in the company of fun women from Texas and California. In Italy, another Californian, Teresa, and I broke apart from the group for several short excursions. One day, we used a free half-hour to go to the top of the bell tower in St. Mark's Plaza for a terrific view of Venetian rooftops.

After the Italy trip, one of the men in the group, a fiscal officer for a Texas manufacturer, wrote to me: "As I look at my photographs, I detect a shift in my focus. The early photos all are of buildings, but by the end of the week, my snapshots are of people."

Indeed, "on every trip, people meet as strangers and return as friends" says Davis, who founded Adventures for Singles 18 years ago. Fellowship and commonality are the earmarks of group singles travel, she says. "Everyone shares the same common denominators: They love to travel, and they've been dreaming of that destination."

Tammy Weiler of Boca Raton, Fla., who started Singles Travel International 15 years ago, also says her company thrives on singles' dual desires for travel and company.

They don't want to wait for Mr. or Ms. Perfect Travel Companion, Weiler says. "They want to travel and just do it now." But, she says, "Singles want to make a connection, not necessarily romantic, but just connect with other people."

Weiler's company maintains an on-line community similar to Facebook , so that customers can see ahead of time who else is booked for a trip and hold virtual "private chats."

"The first day of the singles trip is the most stressful, because nobody knows anybody," Weiler says. But now, thanks to the online endeavor, "It seems like it's not such a cold splash of water if they already know everybody by e-mail."

Because 70 percent of Davis' clients are repeat customers, many of her travelers already do know each other.

Davis says 97 to 100 percent of every group her company books is single.

But not all singles group travelers are unattached; some have partners at home who can't or don't travel.

There's no way to scan for singlehood, but if a prospective client offers up the fact that he or she is married, "we turn them down," Singles Travel International's Weiler says. If someone wants to bring along, as her roommate, a friend or sister who is married, it's OK, Weiler says, "but we make it clear that our group is predominately single, and (the married person) may not be comfortable."

For me, being in the company of other singles has been fun and comfortable. It's not unusual to find a dinner conversation centered on dating, single parenthood or other single-centric topics.

My trip to Greece was a group tour, but not a singles tour. I was befriended during it by two wonderful couples, one from Australia and one from Thailand. Sightseeing, shopping and dining with my new travel friends was terrific -- but I was the "fifth wheel." That "odd woman out" situation seldom arises when I travel with singles. Even if some couples form, the rest of the group is unattached.

The fact that most singles groups contain more women than men helps to assure that not everyone is going to pair off.

Davis and Weiler both have the goal of a woman-man ratio of 60-40, but say it's tougher to sign up men than women. Men, they say, tend to put off vacation plans until the last minute, whereas, "Women book first: They set their travel goals; they save money and make it happen," Davis says.

Still, an obvious advantage for a single to take a singles group tour is the chance for romance. The flip side, of course, is that the vacation romance usually ends at the airport, and sometimes someone feels hurt.

During my Italy tour, my pal from Texas told me he enjoyed the attention he got from the women on singles excursions, but that he had grown wary of liaisons. "There's no sense in getting involved," he said, "because when the week ends, it's sayonara."

All singles tour companies stress that they are not a dating service. Still, 14 marriages, including her own, have been byproducts of Davis' trips. Davis sends a "tour leader" on every trip to accompany the travelers. It was during one trip, when Davis herself was the tour leader, that she met Terry Pawelko. Now they are married and run the tour company together.

During Reynoso's second singles trip, to Thailand in November, the California nurse hit it off with a male passenger from Washington state. They have been dating since.

Nevertheless, "I do not think singles trips are 'Love Boats' or flirtation expeditions," Reynoso says. Many more women than men were along on her first trip, she says, and romance wasn't much of an option. So, "I definitely didn't expect anything the second time," she says.

As it turned out, several twosomes formed among the Thailand passengers, and most of the couples tended to peel away from the rest of the group.

But deciding to spend much of the time with one person "is not to take away from the group and being with the group," Reynoso says. "It's just nice to ... know you have somebody to talk to. You don't have to do everything together all the time."

Besides, Reynoso says of partnering with a fellow passenger, "It doesn't have to be sexual or flirtatious or anything." A travel buddy "doesn't have to be a guy. It could be a roommate. It's just someone who you meet and get along with."

Singles group tour providers

Internet searches for singles travel groups will turn up several options. Some, mainly cruise purveyors, specify that their vacations are for 20- and 30-somethings. Limiting a tour to a certain age group can be a good idea. A band of 20-somethings let loose in Paris is unlikely to be interested in the same schedule or itinerary as a gaggle of sexagenarians.

Nearly all companies provide tour escorts.

Adventures for Singles schedules about 11 trips a year designed by Suzy Davis. Details: www.adventuresforsingles.com or 877-813-9421.

Singles Travel International offers many tours, cruises and weekends, some of which are geared to specific age groups. Owner is Tammy Weiler. Details: 877-765-6874 or www.singlestravelintl.com .

Singles Travel Co. designs trips open to all ages, as well as vacations designated for the age groups of mid-20s to mid-40s; younger than 35; and mid-60s and older. Director Ann Thomas has been conducting the Los Gatos, Calif., operation for 15 years. Details: 888-286-8687 or www.singlestravelcompany.com

O Solo Mio Tours offers "small private trips ... in the comfort of a group of like-minded people." Four departures to Europe are scheduled for this year. The Los Altos, Calif., company, was created in 1991. Its tours tend to be pricier than those of other providers, and travel insurance is required. Details: 800-959-8568 or www.osolomio.com

Other well-established companies such as Trafalgar Tours (866-544-4434 or trafalgartours.com ), Contiki (for ages 18 to 35, 866-266-8454 or contiki.com ) and Cosmos Vacations (800-276-1241 or cosmos.com ) do not cater specifically to singles but offer a roommate matching service to solo travelers who wish to share

 

 
 


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