Ready to mingle? Must-try vacations for singles

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By Sarah Sekula, Published in USA TODAY

When it comes to meeting the love of your life, bar hopping is so passé. That’s why loads of singles are taking a more creative approach to zeroing in on Mister or Miss right. In other words, they are giving match.com a breather and hightailing it out of town to give singles tours a try.

Take Sue Ellen Abbott, 43, for example. With her 40th birthday right around the corner, she finally had the time and resources to travel more.

“But my friends were all married with children or couldn’t afford to join me,” she explains. “I Googled ‘single travel’ and found several companies.”

Lucky for her, she met the man of her dreams the second night of her cruise to Italy and Spain.

“He was interesting, funny and a little nerdy,” Abbott says. “I have a soft spot for guys who are a little nerdy.”

The two really hit it off, signing up for the same excursions, the same dinners and hanging out with the same group of people.

“I wasn’t sure if we would keep in touch after the trip, but we ended up sending long emails and texting everyday,” Abbott recalls. “About two months after the trip, I had to change my cell phone plan because I was texting far over my original limit.”

Fast forward three and a half years, and the two lovebirds are hitched.

“It’s nice to meet someone in a social setting without any pressure of it being a date,” she says.

“Unlike traditional dating, you get to spend time with someone for more than one evening and you get to see them outside of their comfort zone,” says Tammy Weiler, president of Singles Travel International, which, in addition to hosting cruises, also plans weekend trips to jazz festivals in the U.S., weeklong trips to Cuba and 12-day tours of Bali that include elephant rides and temple tours.

“We travel with about 1,000 singles per year and have 25,000 globally in our database,” Weiler says. “We had four engagements last year that we know about and one couple did their wedding with us on the New Year’s Eve cruise. They are 60 and 70, so there is always hope.”

Looking for love on vacation
Just to be clear: These are not dating services. “Yes, we are proud to say we have helped lay the groundwork for dozens of marriages through the years, and when that happens, we couldn’t be happier for our guests,” says Jody Ryland, vice president of singlescruises.com. “There will be people who are looking for a love connection, as well as, others who just want to enjoy a vacation in the company of other singles.”

Karin Stevens, who met her husband on a singles cruise, says her advice is to go with an open mind. “If you go intending to find your future husband or wife, I think you will be disappointed,” she says. “But, if you go with the intention of just meeting new people, going new places and having a good time, the possibilities are endless.”

It’s kind of a win-win, really. Your odds are probably better than the typical bar scene because there, you can’t instantly identify the singletons. But, let’s say you take a singles-only tour, well, you are smack dab in the middle of hundreds of unattached folks.

If you find love, great. But if you don’t, you are still crossing off some awesome bucket-list adventures. Think of it as a wonderful vehicle for seeing the world and building friendships.

“Most of our clients tell us what they value most is the sense of community they feel by the end of their vacation,” says Ryland.

“One thing that’s great about meeting someone on a trip is that you know for certain that they really do love to travel,” says Abbott.

Trend for the lovelorn
Perhaps the best part is: You don’t have to come up with creative date ideas. Singles trips offer themed soirees, wine tastings and dancing lessons. And excursions range from touring castles in Ireland to trekking across glaciers in Alaska.

Luckily, organizers cater to the age group. Ryland says its cruisers range from 20-year-old hipsters to 80-year-old sophisticates. “However, the bulk of our guests are between 35 to 55,” she says. “We also have special age-specific cruises.”

There are more active vacations for the youngsters and more refined experiences for the older crowd. That said, there is also a wide range of pricing, ranging from affordable Caribbean getaways starting around $700 to pricier 12-day vacations to Vietnam and Cambodia for about $5,000; airfare is not typically included.

Starting this year, Singlecruises.com will even offer a single-parent cruise on Disney Cruise Line where parents are invited to bring their children.

“There are so many single parents who don’t have the luxury of getting away, or they feel intimidated about the prospect of bringing their children on a vacation without another adult,” Ryland says. “This gives them the chance to have it all.”

Weiler says her trips appeal mainly to singles over 35. “This age is critical, if you are single, it’s very likely that you are one of the last in your crowd,” she explains. “Then after 45 to 50, many are divorced and find themselves back in the singles pool. Our 60-plus guests are likely divorced or widowed and for the first time in their lives have the time and resources to finally figure out what they want out of life.”

“We hear from people every day saying that they had no idea something like this existed,” Weiler adds. “It is a wonderful platform for singles to reinvent themselves. It empowers them and introduces them to a community of others who are educated, like to travel and are not afraid to jump off and start the next phase of their lives.”

In other words, what is there to lose?