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many handsYou know you’ve got it bad when all you want to do is run up to the nearest stranger and ask her for a hug. While I never actually did that, back in 2004, after six weeks traveling in New Zealand alone and about to start another five weeks solo in Australia, I was desperate for some human contact.

I’d never given it much thought before, but humans are by nature social creatures. We crave not just human interaction, but physical touch as well. And I’m not talking in-the-bedroom touch; I’m simply referring to the everyday casual brush of the arm, hand touches, half hugs and such, which we typically get from close friends and family. Take this away from us, and we start to feel lonely and cut off.

This leaves solo travelers in a bit of a bind. Try touching a stranger on the shoulder, and I bet you that person startles. Brush past a person and you’re bound to get a dirty look. So how do you get even a tiny bit of much-needed physical contact?

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

Shake Hands: Handshakes are the easiest way to ensure yourself physical contact because they are socially acceptable in most countries and you can offer your hand to most people you meet. There’s rarely much warmth in a handshake — but if you’ve gone two or three weeks without touching anyone, you’ll be surprised at how good it feels.

Ask Someone to Dance: While this may not be possible everywhere you go, there are certain countries where dancing is an important part of their evenings. In Ireland and Scotland, for example, ceilidhs are a popular forum for Celtic music and dancing, and the locals are always up for dancing with someone new.

The Arm Touch: This one’s probably easier for men, who are generally comfortable clapping another guy on the arm when saying hello, even if it’s just the hotel doorman. My tricky tactic: gently bump someone “by accident” in a store or a line, then place my hand on their arm to steady them, while I apologize. It may sound silly, but it works.

Risk a Hug: Slightly less problematic for women, hugs are the ultimate casual physical touch, but usually require at least a little familiarity with the person you’re hugging. Not so easy when you’re traveling, but it can be done. If you’re staying in a bed and breakfast, give your host a quick hug in the evening to say thank you for all she (or he) has done for you. On a tour or cruise, make friends and offer half-hugs in the evening. If you’re a really comfortable hugger, wear a “Free Hugs” T-shirt out and about. Someone will take you up on the offer!

Have you ever noticed you’re missing physical touch when traveling alone? How have you handled it?

10 Things You Should Never Wear When Traveling Abroad

– written by Dori Saltzman

amsterdam solo travel womanI recently returned from a marvelous trip to Amsterdam, where I toured museums, ogled tulips, sipped jenever, ate pickled herring and explored the city’s canals and historical monuments — by myself.

I was informed early on that I’d be on my own for the trip, which was my first to the Netherlands. To put it mildly, I was terrified. I’d heard horror stories about pickpockets and districts of the red-light variety, and I’ll do just about anything to avoid dining by myself. But, as someone who has an abysmal sense of direction, I was most worried about finding my own way through the city without the help of a travel companion.

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

Some people cringe at the idea of traveling alone, but overall, I was relieved to discover that in Amsterdam nearly everyone speaks English, maps are plentiful and the train system is easy to use. (I only got lost twice!)

The most important takeaway for me, however, was that I was able to do the trip at my own pace. In addition to spreading myself out in my non-shared hotel room, I went to sleep when I wanted, I woke up when I wanted, I walked everywhere, and I saw/toured/tasted more than 20 of Amsterdam’s most popular landmarks/museums/foods and beverages in just four days. The freedom to go at such a break-neck pace is something I probably wouldn’t have had if I’d brought a friend.

Have you traveled alone? If not, would you consider it? If so, what are some of the fun experiences you’ve had solo? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

dining alone restaurantAnyone who’s traveled solo knows that it can be both rewarding and stressful. If you’re like me, you’ve probably discovered that dining sans companions can be one of the most awkward aspects of venturing out alone. (Let’s just say I was pretty discouraged when I ended up eating by myself during the first four nights of a six-night cruise last year.)

In a recent Independent Traveler poll, about 35 percent of voters said they either try not to dine alone or absolutely avoid it at all costs. Females who fall into either of those camps may want to check out Invite for a Bite, a Web site that allows women traveling alone to meet up for meals.

Founder Cressida Howard says on the company’s “about” page that she came up with the idea after listening to a radio broadcast during which several women lamented dining solo. Women who join the site can set up invitations asking for other female dining partners to join them for a bite … or a movie or whatever.

The site includes safety tips (after all, you’ll likely be meeting up with complete strangers), and according to the frequently asked questions section, it’s limited to females for safety reasons — and so as not to be confused with a dating site.

Would having dinner with someone you’ve never met be less uncomfortable than dining alone? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Want more tips on traveling by yourself? Check out our Tips for Going Solo.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

airplane women laptopDutch airline KLM recently launched “Meet and Seat,” an opt-in program whereby would-be fliers can share their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, which are integrated into an airplane seating chart. The social benefits are easy to grasp: Agree to meet for a pre-flight beer (or non-alcoholic beverage), share a taxi after the flight or even choose a like-languaged seatmate, who may in turn choose to sit elsewhere based on your profile pic, triggering a virtual game of cat and mouse.

The program is currently only offered to solo fliers booked on three flights — Amsterdam to New York, San Francisco and Sao Paulo — but KLM says there are expansion plans in the works.

We’re all for an airline offering a free means to enhance the experience of being wedged into seat for seven hours — and it got us musing: Which other travel scenarios could benefit from a little pre-trip social engagement?

1. At-sea meat and eat (note the pun). While more flexible alternatives are available, nearly all cruise ships still offer the popular set-time, set-seating model in their main dining rooms. Chatting with strangers over dinner can be an exciting prospect … until Ron drops a comment about “the liberal media,” and Steve, a journalist, turns his lobster tail into a weapon. Lines do try to match diners a bit by age, but it would be a novel concept to give the power to the passenger.

2. Bus buddy. Megabus and BoltBus, the U.S. coach companies touting $1 starting fares (alas, I haven’t landed one yet), could certainly adopt KLM’s model, minus the pre-assigned seating. Given the operators’ young audience of assumed Facebook users, we have every confidence that there’d be many takers. After all, it’s more enjoyable to mock the explosion of sound coming from a neighbor’s headphones when the laughter can be shared. The pre- and post-trip incentives — again, that beer and taxi share — are also built in.

Why You Should take the Bus on Your Next Trip

3. Tour with your new best friends. No doubt you want to take that full-day excursion from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and Masada. But as a travel writer who often flies solo or in tandem, I’ve been stuck too many times on the right tour with the wrong crowd. I’ll never forget an excursion in Cairo where fellow travelers had an hour-long conversation about which of their friends and acquaintances were obese. Others on the tour refused to de-bus a few hours in because they were sick of all these pyramids, “which look exactly the same.” Needless to say, the tour suffered from the lack of interest in the surrealistic profundity of a 5,000-year-old tomb rising 400 feet into the sky. Condescension aside, if we could only join a tour group based on common interests, every traveler would be a little happier.

Eight Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours

Now it’s your turn: Is there a travel scenario you’d like to see socialized … or a company that’s already doing it?

– written by Dan Askin

eating alone I hate eating alone while traveling. If I have to do it, I seek out dark corner tables and I make sure I’m armed with a book or a laptop in which to bury my face.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, I used to like dining alone, beaming confidently at the empty chair across from me while enjoying my food in peaceful silence. But a bad incident at Senor Frog’s in Myrtle Beach changed everything.

I know. Senor Frog’s, the hard-partying place that serves JELL-O shots and fish tacos to tank top-clad tourists in beachy destinations, isn’t exactly Shangri-La for the solo diner. Nevertheless, I was at Broadway at the Beach at the time (a vast Myrtle Beach shopping and entertainment complex), and my options included a Hard Rock Cafe shaped like an enormous Egyptian pyramid and various steakhouses and seafood spots. I’m a vegetarian. And it looked like the 70-foot-tall Hard Rock pyramid might swallow up a lonely unaccompanied traveler. So I took my chances with the frog.

In the same way that T.G.I. Friday’s displays vintage memorabilia and relics of Americana, Senor Frog’s posts smart-mouthed signs declaring “Save water. Drink tequila!” or “We don’t speak English, but we promise not to laugh at your Spanish!”

Sometimes, I noticed, Senor Frog’s staff placed signs next to patrons. As I waited for my nachos to make an appearance, I watched a waiter set up a sign next to a gaggle of giggling teens. It read “Supermodels at play!” with an arrow directing diners’ eyes to the girls.

“How sweet,” I thought. “But you better not put one of those things near me. You. Better. Not.” I sank my face into my novel and tried to blend in with the booth.

A server soon arrived and, with his left hand, slid a plate of cheesy nachos under my chin. In his right hand, he gripped a tall wooden sign, which he positioned next to my booth. “Needs a date,” it read. A fat arrow pointed mockingly to my head.

This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve always secretly feared when dining alone. Sharing a meal with a ghost in a restaurant stuffed with chatty quads and pairs, I’ve envisioned people whispering about me, wondering what happened to my date or whether I was some kind of socially marred loner. In reality, few people care about or even notice solo diners. Of course, there’s usually not a brazen sign broadcasting one’s lack of date.

“Take it away!” I hissed to the waiter. “No sign! Take it away!” The thing went down like a slap, but the damage was done. Thoroughly embarrassed, I choked down one or two triangle chips, signed the check and exited quickly.

Should I have laughed at the sign and taken myself a bit less seriously? Perhaps. But I was pretty embarrassed, and ever since that meal at Senor Frog’s, I’ve dreaded the table for one. How do you feel about dining alone?

– written by Caroline Costello