One for the road: Tips on hotels, dining and more for women travelling solo

A female tourist on a beach at Tumon Bay in Guam.
A female tourist on a beach at Tumon Bay in Guam.PHOTO: AFP

(NYTIMES) - Suzanne Randolph, 60, knows first-hand that it can be daunting for women to travel on their own.

In her more than two decades of frequent solo travel, Ms Randolph, a former art adviser, says she has encountered her fair share of challenges. “Finding a place to eat and getting plugged into the local scene of your destination aren't easy when you’re alone,” she said.

Her new venture, a membership club called the Alix Experience, addresses the lack of resources for solo female travellers and is currently available in New York City and London, with Paris and San Francisco debuting later this year.

For an annual fee, ranging from US$750 (S$1,025) to US$2,000 a city, depending on the level of service, women have access to a concierge staff that assists them throughout their trips. The staff suggests welcoming restaurants and will help travellers book services such as yoga classes and manicures.

The Alix Experience also gives women travellers the chance to connect with one another during events such as wine tastings and art gallery tours.

Here are edited excerpts from a conversation with Ms Randolph.

You say that the idea for the Alix Experience was inspired by your own solo travels. How?

No matter what city I was in, it was hard to find a place to eat on my own. A lot of popular restaurants weren’t necessarily inviting.

In Paris, for example, I remember going to a French seafood restaurant, where I had awful service, and many of the diners stared at me.

Beyond dining, it was also hard finding where to get my hair done early in the morning when most salons are closed or where I could take a great spin or pilates class.

Can’t a hotel concierge help with these needs?

Hotel concierges are great, but they often have set relationships with restaurants and other service providers, which can influence their recommendations. The local Alix concierge does not play favourites. Our recommendations are based on blind trials using our own money.

Also, unlike a hotel concierge, we host events for our members. Our event in April in New York, for example, was a private tour of the Whitney Biennial with an art curator, followed by cocktails at Untitled, the museum’s restaurant.

How are the needs of female travellers different from those of men?

I find that women want alternatives to dining at their hotel. They also feel more of a need to maintain personal routines such as their yoga classes or manicures.

What kinds of hotels should solo female travellers look for when it comes to safety?

They should pick a smaller boutique property where they are known to the staff because in larger properties, they can be anonymous and the sense of security and personalisation is not as strong.

Also, that hotel should be near good public transportation because you want to be in an area that is busy, not remote.

Are there certain cities you think are more suited to solo female travellers?

New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam and Paris would top my list. They are all walkable, which is nice because it’s easy to get around and take in the sights.

Also, they are cities with late-night activities, such as theatre in New York and London and museums in Paris, such as Palais de Tokyo, which is open until midnight. With options to entertain yourself at night, you can have a very full day and never feel alone.

Any tips for dining alone at a high-end restaurant?

Some restaurants have beautiful bar areas — a good option for those who want to have an elegant meal out.

But if you do not want to eat at the bar and want the full pomp and circumstance, go for it. I’ve often gone to high-end restaurants when travelling because I really wanted to try the food. The staff will pick up on your interest and usually respond with warmth and extra attention.

When I was at a restaurant in Dusseldorf last year, the owner was so welcoming that he even had a glass of champagne with me.

What’s the best part of travelling without anyone else?

You set your own tempo because there is no negotiating with another traveller. Women — me included — often have anxiety about hitting the road solo, but once they actually do it, they will realise that it is a worthwhile adventure.