06/03/2014 02:15 pm ET Updated Aug 03, 2014

Traveling Solo

Anyone who has traveled alone and tried to book a single room in a hotel knows the odds are poor: There probably isn't such. The "single room" will be a double room with just you as the occupant, and the tab will be for a double. In this unlikeable situation, you might go out on the street and ask if someone wants to share your hotel room, but chances are that wouldn't have much appeal.

You, the single player, are, as a friend of mine describes it, punished.

I've found myself in that category a good number of times, so, though grouchy, I've come to expect the punishment. It can be the price of traveling solo.

The ledger does have a positive side. If alone, you don't have to wait for the other person to finish in the bathroom, or get dressed or want to walk by the river when you've for months had your heart set on visiting the city's world famous museum (or porno shop). I've had a lot of experiences I wouldn't have wanted to miss if I were tied to another person's itinerary.

There's a side bar to this story. For years traveling for me meant car or train. I boycotted airplanes. It wasn't a protest; it derived from a phobia that had been sneaking up and burst into full bloom around age 30. Since I was already living in New York and refused to always sit at home, my propensity for being by myself was given a full-scale production: I set out, mostly alone, on car trips, some plenty long. To see family in Texas took several days on the road, and a couple of times I stretched that all the way to the West Coast. Though loving, my Texas relatives looked at me baffled. And I did too, knowing the phobia was irrational. It didn't matter.

My sit-out lasted more than a decade and ended only through a "Fearful Flyer" program sponsored by Pan Am. A group of us fearfuls met several times in Manhattan and ultimately at Kennedy Airport, and hollered and cried as we finally lifted off on a spring morning for a round-trip graduation flight to Hartford. Since then, I've flown over the Atlantic and to Texas so often that I nearly re-established citizenship. In a notebook that's now crumbling, I've kept a log of all those flights. The log gives proof that I did make the journey!

There are, in defense and comradeship with non-flyers, some beautiful parts of this country that are a shame not to be seen on the ground. Traveling by car out West certainly beats looking down from the sky. Short distances I still do by train, and would stretch those farther if America caught up to Europe or Asia with a needed high-speed rail system.

During my air boycott, I managed to get to France and Spain and Italy by ship, mostly alone. That was 40 years ago, when passage on the great ocean liners like the "France" and the "Raffaelo" was inexpensive and within the budget of a young person. Years later -- last year -- I (singly) signed up for a tour that included a trip going East across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2, a sort of 80th birthday gift to myself. I -- you knew it -- had a cabin to myself. Seven nights on the water, which sounded long, went by beautifully. In a couple of weeks I'm signed up for another tour that includes the same crossing on the same ship. I can't claim that it's a birthday gift, maybe a reward for eking out a new book. Any excuse sounds good.

A few years ago I look a bus tour of several western National Parks. I was the sole single traveler, couples looked at me with curiosity, and perhaps out of sympathy, a few reached out as if to want to adopt me. I did one other bus tour, with a friend, but that wasn't nearly as much fun. So I climb back on the Queen solo.


Stanley Ely explores his tendency to being single in his new book, 'Life Up Close, a Memoir,' in paperback and ebook.