Published Feb. 8, 2000
search of travel mates? Try the Web
By Kitty Bean Yancey, USA TODAY
Retiree Ronda Cox, widowed for two years, likes to roam the world, but
friends can't always get away to join her.
Hotel owner Morris Blitt loves to take cruises but prefers knowing at
least a few fellow passengers before boarding.
player Karen Allison does lots of traveling to tournaments but despises
paying double for a single room.
All three are logging on with
their computers to plug in with potential travel partners. This genre of
electronic personal ads is in its infancy but starting to catch
"I often room with people I've met online," says Allison, 58,
of Jersey City and Toronto. She'll go to OKbridge (http://www.okbridge.com/) and post a
message saying, "I'm going to a tournament and I could use a
Blitt, the 50-year-old features editor of CruiseMates.com, an online
community for cruisers, used an America Online chat room in 1997 to see
who was sailing on the Veendam with him and his wife. "We decided to have
a pre-cruise party. Now it's something I've started doing before every
cruise. No question, it makes the cruise better. As you walk around the
ship, it feels more like a neighborhood, not like being with 2,000
Blitt, who lives in Calgary and uses the festive online
pseudonym "Kuki," also helps cruisers find roommates via Internet message
boards (CruiseMates has one). There's a compelling reason for doubling up:
to avoid the dreaded singles supplement, which can increase a solo
traveler's bill 25% to 100%.
Cox, 63, is making travel plans again
after nursing her husband through multiple sclerosis and a losing battle
with lung cancer.
"I'm not fond of traveling alone," says the
retired alumni activity director for Iowa State University in Ames. "For
me, it's a matter of having someone to share the experience
A few months ago she bought a computer and came across
postings for travel partners at Maiden Voyages, which caters to
female travelers. She has found three prospects.
Cox has yet to
take a trip with a mystery travelmate and plans to meet potential
companions before traveling. "If it works out the way I hope it does, it's
a marvelous way of reaching out and meeting people."
has made a successful connection. Many who have posted messages seeking
companions for everything from travel to golf to skiing say they've had no
Mark Thompson, 22, of Cincinnati tried to help his mother
when one of her friends couldn't honor a commitment to share a cabin on a
dream cruise to Australia and New Zealand. He advertised on a few message
boards but got no useful response before his mom found a last-minute
"One of the most enjoyable experiences in
traveling is meeting new people," he says. "If you plan ahead enough, I
think the Internet could be terrific."
It's not that there isn't a
hunger for traveling companions in a nation in which 21% of voyagers are
single, according to the Travel Industry Association of
"So many people don't travel because they don't have
someone to go with," says Jens Jurgen, founder of the nearly 20-year-old
Travel Companion Exchange in Amityville, N.Y., which has had success
matching up travelers for trips. It boasts about 2,000 active members, who
pay $159 for the first year of membership (800-392-1256).
is thinking about expanding to the Internet, "but we have delayed our own
Web site because in this business you really have to know who people are.
Even prisoners are working the Web sites. People give false names. The Web
is the way to go, but it will need better security."
So what about
the fear that perverts and ax murderers lurk on the Internet?
can sort of get a feel for people," Blitt says.
"Some creep is not
going to put down $4,000 to travel with you," Thompson says.
have to use a little bit of caution," Allison says.
visited the homes of fellow cat fanciers she met online, and she has
hosted a bridge-loving Slovenian law student in need of housing during a
shoestring trip to America. Nothing bad happened.
Those who make
successful online matches don't start packing their bags when they come
upon a likely prospect. First comes the getting-to-know-you phase,
starting online and often continuing on the phone or in person. Once the
tests are passed, the negotiations begin.
For Allison, it's "no
partying in the room and no television. When I'm at a bridge tournament,
my focus is on that. I find television annoying."
Cox is a "morning
person" but was paired with a night owl when a cruise line matched her
with another single. Now she'd rather pick her own roommate.
want to know that someone is fairly spontaneous and adventuresome, but not
foolhardy, and that they have wide-ranging interests."