Many people wonder if they should travel solo or with a tour. Both have advantages and drawbacks, which depend on your age and relationship status.
Many people wonder about traveling solo or with a tour. Both have advantages and drawbacks, which depend on your age, relationship status, and how much comfort or adventure you seek. I have done both, and from my experience as a single woman, my advice is to go with a tour.
For my first trip when I was alone, I chose to go on a tour to Egypt. I had dreamed of seeing the pyramids ever since I saw a picture of them hanging in my classroom when I was only ten years old.
As we approached Cairo by air, the captain’s voice came over the loudspeaker.
“Folks, if you look to the left of the plane, you can now see the Giza Plateau with the pyramids.”
There was a rush to the left side, and “Oh, wow” came in unison from the passengers. In the distance, the late-afternoon sun made the three pyramids look like they were part of a Hollywood set. But they were not; they were real, and I had to swallow a few times.
After clearing customs, a representative of tour organizers Abercrombie & Kent met my twenty-one travel companions and me. They took us to the Hotel Freemont, near the Nile in the center of Cairo.
Our group was a nice mix of men and women who were young, old, and very old. One couple, Walter and Annie, were in their late eighties. They never complained about anything and went in and out of, or up and down, everything and everywhere. They lagged a little behind the rest of us, but they always made it . . . except one day when we had left the hotel in Cairo at 4:00 a.m. to catch a plane to Abu Simbel in upper Egypt, and then took another plane to go to Luxor, where we arrived around 4:00 p.m. and then boarded the Sun Boat V, a cruise ship that would take us to Aswan the next day. It was a steamy, hot afternoon, and they did not want to visit the Crocodile Museum, another site on our itinerary for the day. Instead they stayed on the boat, and so did I. We sat on the upper deck talking about our journey
“Are you enjoying your trip to Egypt?” I asked Walter.
“I am—I mean—we are,” he said. Looking at his wife for confirmation, he continued. “But we would have enjoyed it more had we come ten years earlier. We kept putting it off. Now, I just feel grateful that we are here.”
Traveling in a group does slows things down, and often you can’t see something that is not on the itinerary. However, not eating alone at night makes up for it, as I found out when I did travel alone.
Since my first trip to Egypt had been short—just ten days—and there was so much more to see, I went for another visit the following year, again with a tour. It was as fascinating as the first time, and when it was over, I felt I was ready to do it without needing the help of a tour guide, which would allow me to stay longer than just ten days.
So I prepared for my solo trip by booking hotels and sightseeing tours before leaving the United States. The New Memnon Hotel in Luxor*, a recently built hotel facing the Valley of the Kings, was my first stop, and my first challenge. The owner, Mr. Sayed, was friendly and very attentive, but unlike on my tours, there was no welcoming dinner waiting for me, and worse yet, this hotel had no bar or dining room. Yes, they cooked breakfast and served it in the garden, but afterward, there was nowhere to eat, except for when Mr. Sayed offered to cook dinner, serve it on the roof, and share it with me. I declined. The nearest cafe was in the village and a taxi, which was not readily available, was needed to get there.
* The New Memnon Hotel is a very beautiful, modern hotel, and the lack of guests during my visit was due to the collapse of the tourist industry after the 2011 revolution in Egypt.
After my first night, I learned I was the only guest in the hotel. I panicked, and then tried to stay calm. I asked Mr. Sayed where he and his family lived, thinking it was in the hotel.
“Down the street,” he answered, “I will take you there and show you.”
As I listened to him, I realized that I was stranded alone in a twenty-five room hotel, way out in the countryside of Egypt. I didn’t speak the language, and I didn’t have a phone. This is something that would have never happened if I’d been on a tour.
My salvation came when I called Sue and John, an English couple I had met on my previous trip and who happened to be in Luxor. After speaking to them, I took Mr. Sayed up on his previous offer to cook a meal and invited Sue and John to join me for dinner on the roof.
While we were eating, Sue turned to me and said in a firm voice, “You can’t stay here. This is out in the middle of nowhere.”
“But I have booked for ten days! I can’t just leave.”
“Oh, yes, you can. This is your holiday, and this is not where you want to spend it. You want to see people and have a drink.”
The next morning at eleven o’clock, John came to pick me up and take me to the Pyramisa Hotel in the center of Luxor. I had paid Mr. Sayed for the ten days I had booked (it was only thirty dollars a day), and not wanting to hurt his feelings, I had told him that because of Hurricane Sandy, I was returning home early.
During the rest of my time in Luxor, Sue and John took me under their wing, which was better than any tour.
I admire Sue and John greatly. They have taken traveling to a whole new level. For the past seven years, they have been living in Luxor for six months of the year, from February to May and from October to the end of December.
“You really like Egypt, don’t you?” I asked John.
“Many people back home ask me the same question,” John answered, “and I always tell them, if we didn’t go to Egypt, we would just be sitting around here with other older folks.”
Spending part of their time in a different place from where they typically live has opened up a whole new world for them, and the challenges that come with it are wonderfully rejuvenating. But it would not be the same for a single woman. You need to be a part of a couple, especially in a male-dominated society like Egypt, where men deal with men. When Sue comes into contact with an Egyptian man, I love how she responds in an authoritative tone: “Oh, go and see my husband, Mr. John, over there. He will take care of it.”
Maybe you are a part of a couple, or maybe you don’t want to be away six months of the year, but then again, you should still consider doing something like this! Traveling opens new doors, and doing it part-time allows you to keep your world back home intact. You just put it on hold for a while. If you are not tempted by Egypt, online services like Airbnb offer very nice houses or apartments for rent in the South of France or Italy—or almost anywhere in the world.
After my stay in Luxor, I went back to Cairo. I had another twelve days left before going home. I was staying in the Hotel Longchamps in Zamalek.
Zamalek is an affluent district of western Cairo encompassing the northern portion of Gezira Island in the Nile River. The island is connected with the riverbanks through three bridges. Years ago, many foreign embassies were located there in opulent mansions that still stand today.
The hotel was efficient (with a bar and dining room), and Doris, the German manager who had lived in Cairo for twenty-two years, was helpful whenever she could be. I spent my time in Cairo visiting the Cairo Museum again, taking a felucca (sailboat) on the Nile, walking through Old Cairo, and shopping in the Souk . . . and eating alone at night.
While still in New York, I had also made reservations for a two-day trip to Alexandria. Transportation, a guide, and a hotel had been booked. The Helnan Palestine Hotel at Montaza Palace Gardens was no disappointment. It had all the comforts one could hope for. It was located at the end of the Corniche, the waterfront promenade running along the Mediterranean, where luxurious mansions and exotic, grand hotels welcomed the rich and famous of Europe who were spending their summer vacations abroad in the 1920s.
My room, bright and welcoming, faced the water. When I stepped onto the balcony, the sight of King Farouk’s castle just a few hundred feet away, made me think that I had become part of One Thousand and One Nights. The beauty of the storybook-looking castle bathed in the rays of the setting sun, and the waves of the Mediterranean lapping against the rocks, made this a magical moment, but it was a moment I could not share with anybody because I was traveling alone.
What’s my point? If you are single and traveling alone, a tour is your best choice. During those three weeks in Egypt, I never had a bad experience, but I learned that traveling alone is not as much fun as I had hoped, and eating alone at night feels very lonely. When you are part of a group, you might not love all twenty-one people, but there is always somebody you will bond with and share a table for dinner with.
About the Author:
Brigitte Nioche is the author of The Sensual Dresser, Dress to Impress, and What Turns Men On. Born in Germany, she lived in Australia and Europe before moving to the United States. She is a long-time resident of New York City and a proud mother and doting grandmother who plans to never “grow old.”
This article is an excerpt from author Brigitte Nioche’s recent novel Getting Over Growing Older.
Her site: Getting Over Growing Older
Photo: Dennis Jarvis