As a solo traveler your money-saving strategy need not involve sleeping with a stranger.
What I mean, of course, is that if you want to curb your lodging costs when you hit the road alone, your options aren’t limited to permitting your tour company or cruise line to match you with a roommate.
If for you traveling solo means always having a private room as well as partaking of your destination’s best food and other offerings, you can save some dough despite being on your own, and because of it.
Avoid the single supplement.
Most tour companies, cruise lines, resorts, and hotels price their rooms based on per person, double occupancy (PPDO). This means that if you want to sleep in a double-occupancy room solo, as you know from staying in most U.S. hotels, you’ll pay the same rate as couples do. And in many cases where your room fee is built into the cost of a package you might be expected to pay your own per-person cost as well as a “single supplement.”
The supplement is meant to compensate your travel provider for the fact that there isn’t a second occupant in your room paying his or her way. So a cruise line charging $1,500 per person may feel it’s losing $1,500 on the empty bed in your room. Your provider also isn’t happy about losing revenue your roommate might have contributed by buying alcohol and other add-ons during the trip.
One U.K. resort told me that the reason it levied a $50 per night single supplement on a nightly $150 room rate was that it was “something they’ve done forever.”
In some cases a supplement might lead to your paying double the per-person rate and often more than what a couple would have paid for the same room.
So how do you avoid the single supplement? Quite simply, ask to have it waived.
If your provider won’t blink, remind them of what some of their competitors are doing in the face of slow business. As of this writing, Cruse West was waiving its single supplement for an extended Antarctica voyage, and Beaches was waiving its supplement at all its resorts on selected dates for stays of three nights or more.
“In this economy there’s a far greater chance of bargaining,” says veteran solo traveler Lea Lane, “and you have to be more assertive because that’s the only way to feel out the situation.”
Even in the best of times, Lane says a solo traveler can try to negotiate simply by saying sweetly about the supplement or the rate itself, “I don’t think I’m able to do this” and see if the reservation agent is willing to help you work it out to your satisfaction.
Eat cheaply and well.
“It’s easy to get a bad taste in your mouth when you spend more than $20 for a small omelet and a piece of fruit” at a hotel breakfast buffet,” says frequent business traveler Ken Walker. “I always check with my host [company] to see if anything is being provided. Quite often, the company I’m there to visit will have a Continental breakfast or bagels available for the meeting or event.”
Since a restaurant’s lunch and dinner menus are often the same, Lane never fails to find bargains at lunchtime. “If you eat there at lunch you have ten dollars more in your hand,” she says.
Though it’s also true that the lunch trick benefits any traveler, not just a solo one. So how can your solo status work in your favor? For Lane, traveling solo is as much an attitude as it is a circumstance.
Recalling trips when she’s dined solo, she notes that it’s beneficial to engage waiters in your quest to dine on a shoestring by saying such things as “I love this food, but I’m on a budget,” and suddenly you’ll find your waiter saying, “Don’t get this, get that,” being very helpful as an ally, Lane says.
Longtime flight attendant Toni Vitanza concurs that being "open and flexible, along with being alone, means that airline employees and servers have an easier job giving you freebies or breaks. If you smile at a waiter, are nicely dressed, and ask, ‘What's good? What's your favorite thing on the menu?’ it means that when someone in the kitchen prepares the wrong appetizer by mistake for another table,” it’s quite possible the dish will show up for free at your table for one, she says.
Turn your flexibility into cash.
In her experiences traveling to more than 110 countries, many on her own, Lane points out that the ability to accept last-minute or one-ticket-left opportunities can often save you a bundle. This is especially important for novice solo travelers to keep in mind, she says, as “first-timers tend to be more nervous and do too much in advance.”
For instance, Lane says, there’s often little need for a solo traveler to pay in full ahead of time for one of the hottest tickets in town “when you could have gotten it on site easily. Take advantage of your flexibility and the fact that as a single person it might be easier to get a ticket.” Even for shows that are sold out, she says, she’s had luck. “Always at the last minute someone will return a ticket.”
Tweet and greet.
“Twitter has become a great meeting place for travelers, especially those going solo,” observes travel writer Beth Blair, co-founder of The Vacation Gals. “It’s easy to post a tweet asking if anyone will be catching a cab where you’ll be going -- this is especially great for events. I suggest searching and following hotels, airlines, travel companies, restaurants and even locals in the city [where you’re] headed to keep an eye out for killer deals like LastMinuteTravel.com’s (@LTMTweets) $10 Tuesdays or local specials from the many Convention and Visitors Bureaus on Twitter.”
More old-school than Twitter but surprisingly effective: talking. And if you’re traveling solo, start with the locals, observes Courtney Correll, whose solo journeys have included five months in South America, two months in Europe, five weeks in Thailand , and a month in China .
“The locals not only know the best of what's on offer in their area, but making friends with them will bring you all kinds of help, discounts, and fun that you wouldn't otherwise get,” Correll suggests. “Strike up a conversation with a local - anyone who smiles back will work - and see what they have to say. It's amazing what saying ‘Hi, I was wondering if you could recommend a great place to eat for a traveler on a budget?’ can lead to.”
While you’re at it, talk to fellow travelers, Correll says. “It doesn't matter where in the world you find yourself, there will always be other solo travelers there. And most likely, they'll be coming from where you're headed and full of useful tips. It seems so obvious, but other travelers are the best possible resource.”