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posted: 6/6/2010 12:01 AM

A few tips for the solo traveler

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Early this spring, Carol Cross booked a canoe trip with a friend to Northern California. At the last minute, her friend bailed. Carol wasn't about to jump ship, so she joined the group as a solo traveler.

"It was a great experience," Carol said. "There were eight of us in the group with two guides. They all made me feel welcome and included me in everything."

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Carol said she made new friends, which probably wouldn't have happened as easily if her buddy had been there. But the best part was having time for herself - something that rarely happens when she's home with three kids.

Kathy Kuffner agrees. A couple of years ago, she joined a group of women on a kayaking expedition in Alaska. During the day, she watched whales surface right next to her boat. At night, she shared stories with her new friends around the campfire. Kuffner said it was liberating to find she could do these things on her own. And it was exciting to share her experience with her family when she got home.

According to travel agent Judy Barr, more women are opting to go it alone. "First-timers usually join tour groups, visit spas or take cruises," Barr said. "But the more adventurous ones strike out on their own."

While traveling solo can be a dream adventure, it can also be a nightmare. Here are some things to consider before you go solo:

• Choose your destination wisely. Pam Parsons thought riding herd on a Texas ranch would be great fun. When she couldn't talk other city folk into going with her, she took off on her own. Parsons knew she was in over her head when she mounted her first horse and they headed into the sunset - literally. Parsons was hanging from a stirrup while her pony headed west. She spent the rest of her vacation with her leg in a cast watching the wranglers from the front porch.

• If you consider walking from your car to the grocery store tough exercise, you should probably avoid a hiking tour through the Swiss Alps. And if your idea of roughing it is sleeping in a Motel 6, sleeping under the stars along the Salmon River isn't going to be utopia for you.

• Plan carefully. While being flexible is an advantage to traveling solo, traveling by the seat-of-your-pants is not. Before graphic artist Mary Boland takes off alone, she first takes a trip on the Information Highway. She talks to friends, checks websites and visits chat rooms to find spots she knows she'll enjoy.

• Pack light. Pack only what you can handle with one hand. Carrying several bags makes you a target for thieves. While you're fishing through your purse for cab fare, someone else may be reeling in your luggage. And avoid fanny packs and bright clothes. They scream "TOURIST!!!"

• Use your head. Don't assume every place is safe. Ask your hotel concierge to recommend safe places for you to visit. Eat in restaurants that are well-lit. And pay attention to whom and what is around you.

• Traveling solo allows you to immerse yourself in the local culture. When you're dining alone, talk to the people at the neighboring tables. Chat with the cabdrivers. When you show an interest in their culture, the local residents show an interest in you. And getting to know new places and making new friends is what traveling solo is all about.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached at gailtodd@aol.com.

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