Monthly salons draw fans of flying solo

Where do you book an off-season college-dorm bed in Edinburgh? Which cruise lines don’t charge single travellers an extra fee for a cabin? Is it really possible to experience a fulfilling, worry-free adventure if you travel by yourself?

Advice, anecdotes, and appetizers fly across the table at the Solo Travellers’ Cafés. For those who have journeyed by themselves –or want to– this monthly salon offers up servings of solo-oriented tales and information at an eatery near you.

Created less than a year ago by “returned” traveller and workshop instructor Deborah Tiffany, the roving café, usually held on the second Wednesday of every month, has attracted up to 50 participants to neighbourhood tapas, dessert, and ethnic restaurants. A table of 20 café-goers joined Tiffany at Commercial Drive’s Artistico Greek Café recently. Prompted to describe their latest trips, the chatting travellers recounted tales ranging from a Canadian studies work term in Scotland and a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas to a road trip up the Yukon’s Dempster Highway and a cross-country tour of France’s valleys.

A seasoned partner-free traveller herself, Tiffany regularly offers “Solo Traveller Toolkit” workshops at Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre campus. Under her Solo & Company banner, the one-day courses combine Tiffany’s tried-and-true tips on packing, risk-proofing, and money management with perspectives on the sensitivity, connection, and awareness of small moments” one becomes open to when travelling without a companion or group.

Budget, off-the-beaten-track travel is a common theme for single travellers and was a popular topic at the Café. Participants shared stories about their home-stay, hostel, and campus-dorm experiences while other attendees discussed the benefits and drawbacks of cargo-vessel travel (one cruise and freighter travel association, for example, provides open-sea passage between working ports), and freelance air couriering (where passengers carry a courier company’s checked packages instead of their baggage in exchange for free or subsidized airfare).

One of the most valuable resources discussed at the Travellers’ Café was a member-based solo travel network called Connecting that links single travellers with the clubs, organizations, and businesses that love them. Started six years ago in Vancouver by travel writer Diane Redfern,
Connecting offers its 1,800 international members a sense of camaraderie as a well as a wealth of benefits. A $45 annual membership buys six issues of a 20-page, info-packed newsletter; the prolifically indexed and cross-referenced Single-Friendly Travel Directory; hospitality and lodging exchange opportunities with other members; guaranteed relief from the
“single supplement” fee that most tour agencies, hotels, and cruise lines
impose on unaccompanied travellers for requiring only one bed in a two-bed room; and‹for those who falter‹free travel-companion ads.

Single or not, travellers-at-rest may find their first essential tool for
solo travelling is a fork: the next Solo Travellers’ Café begins at 7 p.m.
at Calhoun’s Bakery Café (3035 West Broadway) next Wednesday (November 13). The following Saturday (November 23), Solo & Company presents the next Solo Travellers’ Toolkit workshop, and‹for the second year‹a Mother and Daughter Travel Workshop is scheduled in the spring for Mother’s Day. For more information about the Travellers’ Cafés, the Solo Travellers’ Toolkit courses, and other organizations mentioned, visit http://www.soloandco.com/ or phone 604-980-2008.

Published in the November 7, 2002 issue of Vancouver’s Georgia Straight

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