Statistically there are 6.8 million people living alone in the United Kingdom. It is hardly surprising that some prefer holidaying or taking breaks abroad with someone for company. Having a friend is far preferable to wandering through the Kasbah or reconnoitering the restaurant scene on one’s own. No surprise either that a number of on-line services have sprung to the rescue; their purpose being to match like-minded travellers. Multiply the single Brits by similar numbers in other countries and the opportunities for travelling companionship are enormous.
Without being salacious the services cater for all tastes. This ensures that round pegs are placed in round holes. In other words if you’re a twenty-something and prefer the company of other ex-grads in the same age group; you set out your stall and wait expectantly for response.
You hanker to explore Mediterranean Spain? There is bound to be someone out there who has exactly the same idea in mind. Cycling through the Alps, back-packing the Dolomites; sharing the splendours of St. Petersburg or perhaps a fortnight in the Bahamas? You can put money on it there is someone out there, maybe a group of like-minded people, who want your company.
I thought I would give it a try: ‘Semi retired, physically fit, presentable. I can manage up to three short holidays a year. I prefer female company straight / platonic. I am interested in intelligent companion; empathy, appearance is important. Time flexible, personable, sociable; supportive. Share costs and rooms maybe (own beds).
‘My ideal break is flight to Europe, car hire, stop wherever looks attractive. Non-smoker, Like just chilling out, people watching, exploring, sight-seeing; culture, dining out; moderate drinker; theatre, orchestral music. Free spirit so hope you are too.’ Don’t you just love transparency?’
Checking out a number of internet services for singles looking for shared holidays I was spoiled for choice. Friendship Travel Com seemed as good a place to start as anywhere.
MAY I JOIN YOU?
“Catching a flight, getting to your resort, staying in a hotel – and worst of all – eating alone, is no fun at all.” This was an introduction I could identify with. Been there, got the t-shirt. Believe me there is nothing as lonely as being far from home and strolling alone among the tourists: All those hand-in-hand couples; groups of friends, and families. You really do look like Billy-no-mates.
What might attract some to online travel aimed at solos did put me on my guard. Although they try to get the balance right between structured and independent, seriously single and looking for someone, the edges are a little blurred.
The prices quoted reflect a presumption of no shared occupancy. This always bumps the hotel costs up. What you do between yourselves when you get to your destination is your own business, as long as it doesn’t frighten the camels. But if you prefer your own company there isn’t a problem when it comes to ‘lights out.’
The company’s portfolio offered as wide a choice as you could possibly want: everything from dinner dances to Nile cruises, European leisure breaks, skiing in France, trips to the U.S.; the Bahamas; perhaps a week or so in Bodrum: holiday romance optional.
THEY DON’T DO CHEAP
Known by the company you keep, company policy seems to encompass the solvent well-heeled so they do not do cheap. At least you will increase the chances of pairing up or making friends with those of your own social strata.
A 3-night break in Paris will set you back in your own currency the equivalent of £339. 12-days in Thailand £1399; seven-nights in Grenada will vacuum £1,899 out of your bank account. It is inclusive but I think at that price I might have a right to a shared room. £590 for a fortnight in Turkey was I thought pretty good value though that was a special offer; especially if it comes with an exotic belly-dancer?
LAST MANGO IN PARIS
It was then I remembered: I value my independence and was looking for a service offering no more an expectation of courtship than the weekly shop. Right! Off I travelled to Mango Tree.Com.
Descriptions and reality are like theory and practice; they don’t always match. Photographs for me are essential. The only negative being the missing chemistry and empathy, which can only be gauged on spending a little time together. But there has got to be some mystery left to life; otherwise it wouldn’t be half as exciting. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
I recall checking out a lady’s profile on a dating website. On the face of it she certainly joined up all the dots. Pretty as a picture, I could easily have framed it. Her profile had her marked up as petite, similar interests, age, likes and dislikes, no pets; kids flown the nest. This lady was going to fit like a glove on a well manicured hand.
THE CHAINSAW MASSACRE
Nervously I picked up the phone and as I timidly tapped her number I set my dulcet tones at just the right pitch. Alas her pitch had more decibels than a chainsaw and my cerebrum was indeed massacred. It was just as well I wasn’t meeting up with her on Belgrade railway station; her cheery ‘I’m over here!’ could be confused with the screech of a locomotive’s brakes.
Browsing through over 1,000 profiles the theory seemed fine and backed up by the sweetest of profiles: Jade (23) writes: ”I’ve never been travelling before, I set up a profile and added picture, it had been a few days and I hadn’t heard anything, but all of a sudden I started getting emails from other users with helpful and friendly advise. It was brilliant, the best part was the fact I have met a great friend who I speak to all the time by email and phone, and we’ve arranged to go travelling together in November this year!”
“I’ve met several people adds Emma (28), all of whom are travelling at the same time as me to Australia. We met up this weekend in London so I’m feeling even more excited about my trip.” The gents get a look in too and tell similar tales of success.
A SPRINKLING OF BLOKES
Members have the choice of travelling one-2-one or as part of a larger group. As decorum insists a choice of preferred gender too. This is where it gets really interesting so if you are easily shocked stop reading right here.
For those who are still reading here’s the wink-wink, nudge-nudge bit. Of 90 female profiles scanned across all age groups a dozen preferred a female companion. Six specified a male companion and the remaining 72 weren’t gender specific; either would do.
Finally there are the more gregarious, or those who simply like safety in numbers. Twelve of the ladies opted for groups, three of them for female parties; the remaining ladies were happy for a sprinkling of men.
WOULD YOU SLEEP WITH A STRANGER?
Personally I don’t have a problem with it. I got plenty of practice sleeping with a stranger when I was married. I can’t speak for anyone who has read this far but if I am comfortable enough to travel through the day with someone, I don’t have a problem with sharing a room: Think of the savings to be made?
I could say at this point I made my excuses and left: The reality is that after two weeks with my profile on view I have collected just three suitors. Whatever the outcome they will have read my profile which makes it clear that shared rooms won’t be a problem.
For those given to profanity of thought I naively believe that mature people can travel in platonic decency. Take your jim-jams with you, turn the lights out, or have the decency to ram your head in your book while your companion prepares for his or her zzzzzzzzzzzzzs. If either of you are frisky I am sure you are smart enough to encourage or discourage as your mood sees fit.
Is your holiday date out there waiting for you? Much depends on your taste, your location, your travel plans and of course your age group. Not quite as mixed as I might have led you to believe, but if you are under thirty then you have won the lottery on this one.
Of 97 ladies 78 were under thirty-years of age. Twenty-eight were Brits with a dash Aussies, New Zealanders, Canadians and a fair few ‘Gee, they have McDonald’s here too?’ from the good old US of A.
If like me you’re not keen on travelling anonymously or you have never risked a blind date you will be pleased to know that 78 had posted pictures of themselves so you can at least picture yourselves together so much better.
RIPE-TYPES NOT SO ANONYMOUS
For those of more genteel nature and for whom it might be said maturity has been reached, the answer could be in retiredbackpackers.com. I registered though I haven’t retired yet. But in the finest traditions of investigative journalism and without a thought to my own safety I delved and discovered.
They cheated too. There’s no end of nice people on their books who are well short of their sell by date. Even those who qualified for semi or retired looked better than a few thirty-something’s I have seen. This was right down my strasse and across the plaza.
Anne’s profile tells us she is a very young 52 (she looks 42) with a zest for life. I have let my house to take advantage of the ‘now’. I am used to travelling and hostels. I am confident with a map and a timetable but if we miss the bus then so be it!
She adds, “I am well educated and appreciate the culture of the areas I am visiting whilst realising that I am just a stranger in their environment. I am vegetarian, a non-smoker, a very light traveller and have no problems with sharing’.
A TRAIL MARRIAGE
Rob is less age specific but is in the 51 – 60 section. He says, “I am a fit, non-smoking guy, who owns a splendid motor caravan which has 2 sleeping areas and the usual fittings.
I am keen to use it to slowly tour Switzerland, Austria, Italy etc, so I am seeking an enthusiastic female as a travel companion, sharing costs. I have no romantic expectations, I just prefer female company! Detailed itinerary to be discussed and agreed, but I foresee a trip lasting 2 or 3 months, starting perhaps late April 2008.” Now that’s what I call a trail marriage.
Jenny is in the same age group but what is it about the ladies; their photographs suggest they are younger than the group they’re placed in? They wouldn’t be old photographs would they? It is quite un-chivalrous of me to even think that way.
Jenny says, “I work full time and will need to book holidays in advance. I have just started an open uni course in social sciences. Curious about the world and the different people who live in it. I am a people person who enjoys a good chat/discussion.
“I enjoy walking and some hiking. Have an interest in interior decorating. Also enjoy meeting new people. Eating out but would like to try unfamiliar dishes. Looking to do some cycling. I would love to try horse riding also. Not had the chance to see many cultural things. Hoping to change that and broaden my knowledge of different cultures; hence the interest to travel to different destinations.”
LIKES AN ALL OVER TAN?
A British musician describes himself as “Short skinny long hair old hippy type prefers an all over tan. (tread carefully, ladies). Lazy, likes reading, dancing, singing, spiritually aware. A good listener. Photography, Music, Reading, Travel, Sailing, Horse Riding DIY.”
There are certainly a few pluses and minuses in there so 50 – 61 Section this poster might be just what a bored lady is looking for. A stringed guitar rather than a string vest as he does want an all-over tan.
One of the many interesting things about these lovely traveller types (there are 1,411 of them listed) is their sheer lust for adventure. If a nation’s name ends in ‘stan or ‘ia they have either been there or they want to go there.
Wherever your weary feet propel you; maybe traipsing across the Gobi desert, trying to gather your wits as an Uzbekistan sheep-herder bids for your attractive companion, or perched precariously on a camel’s hump on the long winding road to Ayers Rock, if you see someone coming the other way call out; “Hi. Didn’t I see your profile on retired backpackers.com?”