Q: I love to travel and go on cruises, but what does a person do who refuses to pay a 50 percent surcharge tacked on by most travel companies for traveling single? Is it possible to travel alone without penalty?
Hyde Park, N.Y.
A: A 50 percent surcharge would be considered a bargain by many single travelers, who often face surcharges of 150 to 200 percent, especially on all-inclusive vacations, such as cruises, many Caribbean resorts and most organized tours. It's possible to find trips that don't charge a singles supplement, but there's almost always a catch--you have to accept a roommate if the company can find one.
Among the tour groups that offer special deals for singles are:
* Backroads, an upscale adventure company that offers 200 itineraries designed for singles. The single supplement is waived if you book at least 60 days in advance and agree to accept a roommate if they find one. Information: 1-800-462-2848, www.backroads.com.
* Going Solo Travel Club (1-888-446-7656, www.goingsolotravel .com) organizes trips for singles to destinations across the globe, including England, Africa, the Caribbean and Canada. It promises to match you up with a roommate.
As for cruises, a few companies have relaxed their single occupancy surcharge. River Barge Excursions (1-888-282-1945, www.riverbarge .com) is entirely eliminating the singles supplement for those who book summer cruises before June 30. A seven-day cruise from Nashville starts at $1,480. Orient Lines (1-800-333-7300, www.orientlines .com) charges only a 25 percent supplement on its Australia and Africa cruises.
There are also organizations that will match you up with a traveling companion. The best known is Travel Companion Exchange (516-454-0880), which has been in business for nearly 20 years. A year-long subscription to its newsletter costs $48.
And there are several newsletters geared to single travelers. Connecting: Solo Travel Network, for example, publishes six newsletters annually, plus the "Single-Friendly Travel Directory." Membership is $25 a year; 1-800-557-1757, www .cstn.org.
Q: Can you suggest a destination for our honeymoon, which will be the first week of May 2000? We probably won't want to spend a lot of money or have much energy for lengthy travel. We enjoy beaches, historic sites, top-notch dining and exploring on foot.
A: Go to Charleston, S.C., a city dripping in history, shopping, fine dining and good nearby beaches. Plus it's one of those places that consistently show up on magazine top 10 lists of most romantic cities.
You can drive there in one very long day. Better yet, fly. US Airways offers nonstop jet service from Reagan National for about $165 round trip. The flight takes less than 90 minutes. Heather DeVille, a spokeswoman for the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau, suggested staying at the Governor's House Inn, Fulton Lane Inn, Vendue Inn, Harbourview Inn, Meeting Street Inn or the Andrew Pinckney Inn. I'm sure you've picked up by now on the "inn" theme. If you're more the hotel type, consider the Mills House Hotel or the Westin Francis Marion Hotel. If you want to save money, stay outside the downtown area. DeVille suggested the Mount Pleasant area, about 15 minutes from downtown and closer to the beaches. Stay at the Guilds Inn Bed & Breakfast or, if you're looking for luxury, the Harbor Hilton Resort.
As for dining, Charleston has a glut of good, reasonably priced restaurants. For a splurge, try Louis's Restaurant for new Southern cuisine. Other restaurants worth visiting include Slightly North of Broad, Sticky Fingers, Magnolias, Robert's of Charleston and Bocci's.
Charleston is easy to see on foot. There are plenty of walking tour companies, including Charleston Strolls, Walk With History (843-766-2080), which looks at Charleston's history from Colonial days through the Civil War to today. Or you can walk around on your own, shopping the boutiques and antiques stores of King Street.
Charleston is just a short drive from Folly Beach, Sullivan Beach and the Isle of Palms, which all have public-access beaches.
For accommodations, restaurants and other information about Charleston, contact the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau at 843-577-2510. A good travel guide is "Insiders' Guide to Charleston," available at local bookstores.
Q: Can you recommend inexpensive lodging in and around London similar to those recently described in the Travel section's April 18 article "Cheap Sleeps in Paris"?
A: Dozens of decent London hotels have room rates of $150 or less per night. The nicer ones book quickly, especially during the busy summer season. Be warned that England's idea of a budget hotel room is different from what we're used to in the States. Don't automatically expect air conditioning, a television, telephone or a room much larger than an oversize closet. We stayed last summer at a budget French chain hotel near Euston Station and, in retrospect, wish we'd spent more money and splurged on nicer digs.
Here are a few choices:
* The Willett Hotel off Sloane Square near Harrods has double rooms starting at about $145 a night. The building is a refurbished Victorian-era town house and has a full-service pub. Information: 1-800-270-9206, www.eeh.co.uk.
* The Montana Hotel in the Kensington area has double rooms starting at about $125 a night. The hotel has been recently refurbished and also houses an Indian restaurant. Information: 011-44-171-584-7654.
* The Royal Park Hotel in Bayswater, about a half-mile from the Paddington train station, has double rooms for about $132. The building was constructed in 1854, and contains a Thai restaurant and a pub. Information: 011-44-171-402-6187.
For many more choices, contact the British Tourist Authority (1-800-GO2BRIT, www.visitbritain .com). The BTA's Web site includes a search engine allowing you to look for accommodations by price and location. Another useful Web site is www.londontown.com, operated by the London Tourist Board and Convention Bureau.
Q: When traveling from Russia to the Soviet Union's former republics (Ukraine, etc.), do you need passports and visas? Are there certain procedures to follow before starting my trip?
A: Twelve of the former Soviet Union's 15 Republics are now loosely joined as the Commonwealth of Independent States, but there's not a lot of cooperation when it comes to visas. Each country has its own requirements. Several have agreed to honor one another's visas, but only for short stays, usually three days or less. Visitors to Georgia, for example, with a valid visa from Armenia or Azerbaijan, are not required to have a Georgian visa if they stay for three days or less. Visitors to the Kyrgyz Republic who hold a valid visa from Russia and other neighboring states, except Georgia and Tajikistan, can also enter without a Kyrgyz visa, but can stay for only three days. The three former Soviet Union Republics that are not members of the commonwealth--Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania--don't require visas for U.S. citizens staying less than 90 days.
Decide before you go exactly which countries you will visit, then contact each country's embassy for specific visa requirements. U-kraine, for example, requires a letter of invitation or a tour company voucher before it will issue a visa, and visas must be obtained before traveling to Ukraine. Information: Embassy of Ukraine, 202-333-7507. For details on each country's visa requirements and embassy contact information, contact the U.S. State Department on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov or order a copy of "Foreign Entry Requirements," available for 50 cents from the Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, Colo. 81009.
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