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July 2007    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 22, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When You Decide To Go It Alone

trip tips for divers traveling solo

from the July, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

I remember my worst trip as a single diver. I was sleeping in a cottage on a Little Cayman beach, dreaming of Caribbean reefs, when I was awakened by the muffled voices of intruders attempting to open my door. I didnt have a room telephone and if I screamed, I wasnt within hearing range of other guests. I jumped out of bed and grabbed my dive knife. Huddling behind the door, I yelled in my most ferocious voice, Get the f--- outta here. The rest of the night was quiet, but I lay awake for most of it.

In the morning, I told the proprietor what had happened. Apologetically, she said, It was probably two of my employees looking for a love nest. Ill give you a cottage with a lock. You would have thought shed routinely give a single female diver that measure of security, but I announced I was checking out. At a hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica, a man followed me to my room to invite me for a drink. I thought these events would stop happening once I boarded the now-defunct liveaboard Isla Mia. My mistake. Asleep in my bunk, I was awakened by a man giving me a grope. My yell was so loud, he rushed off immediately. According to the captain, he was a drunken crew member.

Times have changed. Solo travel is a growing trend nearly one-quarter of American travelers have vacationed by themselves. And many divers, myself included, have learned how to protect themselves while enjoying dive trips to the fullest. Traveling alone offers many benefits your schedule is your own, you can focus time and money doing what you want to do, and youre more likely to meet other divers and locals.

But solo traveling requires more patience and organization. Couples can share travel tasks that create more of a burden for a lone traveler. You wont have the luxury of combining and sharing personal items like toothpaste or Advil with a partner, so youll need to make a list and check it twice. You may have to pay overweight baggage fees because you wont have anyone to distribute heavy gear with. Some travel costs will be increased because you wont have anyone to split the cab fare or post-dive bottle of wine with. Because all responsibilities are yours alone, youll need to be especially mindful of all your gear and to-do tasks.

Sleeping Arrangements

Dont deny yourself the amenities of a nice dive resort or liveaboard, just dont pick one catering to couples, families or big groups. Before I book, I inquire about the divers wholl be on the trip. Will they be honeymooning couples? A big dive group reunion? Japanese divers who speak no English? I once joined a group on the recommendation of Bilikiki in the Solomon Islands. They knew the group and assured me they were friendly and welcoming. Despite our being from Pac 10 football rival schools, we got along famously.

Undercurrent reader Harry ONeil (Alexandria, VA) has not encountered any serious roommate problems, but I have talked with other single divers who have had major roommate problems: slobs and snorers. With the exception of my husband, a workaholic CPA who prefers golf over diving, I prefer not to share a room because Ive had bad roommates foisted on me on past liveaboard trips. Ill never forget the woman who left everything where she dropped it, including her dirty underwear. Then there was the depressed roommate who I had to help in and out of her bunk and pick up from the shower floor. She never made it into the ocean.

Most dive lodgings price packages and room prices on two people sharing. When its just you, you may be required to pay a single supplement fee, up to a few hundred dollars more. If youre diving off-season (late January along with April, May, September and early December), ask to have that fee reduced or waived. Theres no harm in asking, says Kim Nisson of Poseidon Venture Tours, a dive travel agency in Newport Beach, CA. I have a good client going solo to Papua New Guinea, so I asked the resort to waive the single supplement. It did, because I am also a good customer so they cant complain. If youre staying a week or longer, theres less resistance to waive or reduce that fee.

More dive resorts are accommodating single divers. Richard Mitsoda of Miami-based dive travel agency Maduro Dive Fanta-Seas says some resorts have singles weeks with special rates for solo divers, and others sell twin share rooms. Theyll sell you one-half the room, then add another person so you dont have to pay a single supplement. If theres no one else, you luck out and still avoid the single supplement. Dive resorts with single-diver-friendly policies include Habitat Curacao, Captain Dons Habitat in Bonaire, CoCoView Resort in Roatan and Wakatobi Dive Resort in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Undercurrent reader Eldon Okazaki (Sunnyvale, CA) says Papa Hogs in Cozumel recently waived its single supplement. A $499 package includes five two-tank days and seven nights in Unit #2 with a large bed, private shower, air conditioning, TV and breakfast for seven days.

Keith Connes (Goleta, CA), who refuses to share accommodations with strangers, had a good experience at Anthonys Key Resort in Roatan. Their reservations agent told me I could have a room for half the double-occupancy rate if they didnt fill up during my stay, otherwise Id have to pay extra. They did not fill up.

Liveaboards are usually considerate when pairing up divers. Peter Hughes and the Aggressor Fleet let single divers book at the double occupancy rate. If they dont pair them with someone of the same sex, the diver still only pays for his half. If you want your own room, Peter Hughes charges 65 percent of the total cabin price. Aggressor charges 75 percent. I can often get my own room when traveling during low season, or booking at the last minute. However, single divers are still lower on the totem pole because lodgings view one couple worth far more than one person. A week before a trip with Explorer Ventures, an agent offered me a 50 percent discount if I would move into a below-deck quad without a bathroom so she could sell my room to a late-booking couple. When I declined, she slapped me with a hefty single supplement.

Undercurrent reader Melanie Shain (San Francisco, CA) was given a male roommate on the Golden Dawn in Papua New Guinea. I was promised, even though I did not ask, that if I was the only single woman on the boat I wouldnt have to share a cabin. Instead, I had to share with some weird banker from Hong Kong. Shain didnt ask for a refund or discount because, As a woman traveling solo on a liveaboard for 10 days, Im afraid Ill be viewed as a bitch if I start complaining. The boat didnt offer her either. Let the liveaboard know your roommate requirements, especially if you prefer one of the same sex.

Some solo divers find dining alone unappealing. You can use mealtime to read or plan your next dive. Or, you can do like Keith Connes and sit in the open, make eye contact and engage conversation. While sitting alone in the dining room, I was invited to join a table of couples who hadnt known each other previously. We all bonded and later exchanged e-mails and photos.

Eat in informal places more conducive to mingling, like cafs or pubs. Have your meal at the bar where locals and other solos usually congregate; side-by-side seating is easier for starting conversations.Undercurrent reader Janice E. Smith selects land-based resorts located near nightlife. I hang out in the bar on the first day to observe different groups and determine who seems like fun. The following day, I plot a strategy to meet them. Te next day, I try to get myself adopted. She avoids all-inclusive resorts because many guests are non-divers, couples-oriented or are in large groups. Another option is to pick smaller lodgings, like a bed-and-breakfast, guesthouse or hostel that offer common spaces.

Your New Buddy

If you prefer to be on your own, dive time is the one time you want to make a connection. A dive buddy is not just a dive companion but also someone to help you out in a tricky situation, so pick yours wisely.

On a Peter Hughes boat in the Turks and Caicos, I had a memorable dive with an unknown buddy. He tugged my fin so I could turn to see a humpback whale approaching us. We hugged the wall, not knowing what to anticipate. The whale breeched, then returned to check us out, and we timidly swam toward him. Without a ripple, he swam away. Unfortunately, my buddy then felt entitled to drink beer at lunch. When he was given the drinking, no diving policy, he canceled payment on his credit card and Peter Hughes banned him forever.

Nothing ruins a dive trip like a buddy from hell, says Undercurrent reader Edie Sumney (Carbondale, IL), especially if dive operators require that you ascend together. That happened to me when I was assigned a buddy who was an inexperienced air hog. He consumed his air in 30 minutes on a wreck and had to ascend, leaving me 30 minutes short on my profile.

During the checkout dive, I am as busy as the divemasters, looking for the best diver. I then tell my choice that he or she wants to be my buddy. When they look at my silvery hair, I say, Trust me. If you dont find one you like, ask to be buddied with a dive guide. Whether you choose your buddy or not, get to know him before hitting the water. Reaffirm plans, including the goal of the dive, depth, time and air limits. Review hand signals and what to do in an emergency.

During looser group diving or solo diving when I have been put on a dinghy with the less experienced divers, I tell the divemaster, Im not going to have a good time if you dont move me to the other boat. Its not the divers as much as the better sites the more advanced divers get to experience. My request has always been granted, even when my addition to the other boat creates an uneven number. If youre a solo diver, ask two other divers to make sure youre back onboard before the boat departs. Its a good backup to the crews diver check-off list.

Join A Party

Adventure companies have long offered group trips for solo travelers. This option is now available for divers through SingleDivers.com (www.singledivers.com). The three-year-old organization claiming 3,600 members was founded to avoid single supplements and find appropriate roommates and dive buddies for dive trips worldwide. Were not a dating site and our hookups focus on tanks, but 90 percent of our members are single and weve had some relationships bud on our trips, says founder Kamala Shadduck. Upcoming trips are Holbox in August, the Philippines in September and Baja California in October. Another Web site to check out is DiveBuddy.com (www.divebuddy.com) to pair up with a local dive buddy.

You can also meet travelers through a local dive shop or dive club. Its a good way to do a dive trip with people you know in advance while also minimizing the financial costs of traveling solo.

Diving alone requires more effort in getting to your destination because there is no group leader to make all the arrangements. It helps to make friends with liveaboard operators and their agent reps to help you plan your next trip. Marc Bernardi of Aquatic Encounters knew I had been unsuccessfully searching for whale sharks. After sighting them in the Galapagos, he called me. I was on the next flight out and finally saw two of them.

Meet the Locals

A good perk of solo travel is you are more likely to strike up conversations with anyone and, if youre visiting a non- English-speaking country, work on your language skills. Locals are more likely to come to you because one person isnt as intimidating as a group. Reader Toni Rose (Rowlett, TX) had broken up with her dive buddy and partner but still decided to do a Fiji dive trip. I made friends with a barmaid whose uncle drove a cab, so I hired him for two days sightseeing, she says. Those two knew everyone, and they took me to their villages to meet their family. They were thrilled I took an interest in their culture and lamented tourists who never left the resorts.

But without someone around to watch your back, youre more vulnerable to thieves. While being friendly, dont share too much information and always arrange to meet in public places. Dont walk alone through shady-looking places after dark, pay a little extra for safety and take a cab. Give someone at home your itinerary and contact information.

Ultimately, solo travel is a luxury, not a burden. If you start feeling lonely, ask yourself if youd rather be at home alone wishing you were diving, or on a great dive trip with the best travel partner around yourself.

Mary L. Peachin is a Tucson-based adventure travel writer who is author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Sharks and is currently writing Scuba Caribbean, scheduled for publication in late 2008.

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