09/10/2014 02:50 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2014

Single in a Group

Traveling alone without being alone, that's an option that opened doors for me lately.

It's a turnaround, because for long times my routine included single ticket, single room, confronting the price for a hotel room where the charge was the same for one person or two. You want a room just for yourself, you pay!

I had heard of tour groups, of course, but joining one seemed just what I wanted to avoid... following someone else's itinerary and joining others of not my choosing. Not my choice.

In recent years I've done reassessing. In 2005, I traveled with two close Chicago friends on an excellent tour to St. Petersburg and Moscow. Later, I joined singly a summer bus tour of some western National Parks. We set out at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and wended south through Yellowstone Park and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, then gorgeous Bryce Canyon in Utah, and on to Arizona and some of Colorado. All by bus. The only flaw was the sense of rushing, since we stayed nowhere more than two nights, and often only one.

I had approached the trip cautiously, knowing that I'd likely be the sole single traveler. That's how it turned out. Whether the 40 others found me a curiosity or felt sympathy my way, or both, I befriended three or four couples for the two weeks we were together. By the time we ended in Denver, I had to admit that it was great to share so much natural beauty and my misgivings had been unwarranted; traveling on that tour was wonderful.

A few years later, I signed up with a long-time lady friend from Texas for a planned tour of museums and theater in northwest Massachusetts. And in summer 2013, I joined alone a program that began with crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2, followed this summer with a repeat of that trip. The first had a theater theme, the second based on the work of Julia Child. In between, and again just now, I went by myself on a tour to the summer Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts. All of those trips were memorable.

And from them I learned some virtues of organized tours.

....Once you've arrived for the program, all is done for you: lodging, meals, lectures or performances, side travel, transfer of luggage.

....It's not hard to skirt around someone whom you find you don't like (same is true, I believe, in reverse). If the tour includes some activity you'd rather skip, you can tactfully (or less tactfully) find a way out of it. ....You can still up the ante for a single room.

I've discovered other things:

Most travelers on these kinds of programs are women, and since they are intended for older folks, most are seniors (no kidding).

Having clocked numerous trips at home and abroad, most are experienced travelers, comfortable in groups and eager to make new friends.

They're good travelers, too. If the tour guide says that the bus will leave at 9 A.M,, they're there at 9 A.M.

Nowadays I employ a walker, and I've found that people on tours tend to be surprisingly generous with help. I felt grateful for multiple offers of assistance while traversing the wide grounds at Tanglewood in August.

My future travel is likely to be greatly scaled back from the past. I really don't mind, am glad for many great trips, and happy to live in a city with plenty of interest at an arm's length.

On these recent tours, I've not been a hopeless traveling companion. It hardly seems worthy of praise to say that I've become an OK member of a group, but hey, we take what we can get.


Stanley Ely writes about travel to many places in his new book, "Life Up Close," in paperback and ebook.