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Exploring independently while on a cruise

Georgina Smith / 31 August 2016

Whether you're cruising on your own, or simply having a wander onshore by yourself, have fun but stay safe on cruise excursions.

The rock the city of principaute of monaco and monte carlo in the south of France
Cruising alone can give you the best of both worlds: the independence to explore by yourself, with the reassuring security of being part of a wider group.

Going it alone

Solo travel can be an extraordinary experience. And cruising alone can give you the best of both worlds: the independence to explore by yourself, with the reassuring security of being part of a wider group.

But without a companion to watch your back, it's even more important to keep your personal safety in check throughout your holiday, especially if exploring independently onshore.

Even if you're travelling with a partner or group, but want to break away from the pack for a little while, it's imperative you take the same considerations and keep safe when setting off solo-style.

Related: New to cruising? What to expect from days ashore.

If the price is right

Many find reasons to shirk mass organised on-shore outings. Firstly, you may often find that cruise lines charge a premium for their excursions.

So if you're intent on keeping your budget under control, then it may be possible to find a cheaper tour independently. But the best way to make sure you don't pay over the odds for the pleasure is to do your research and book in advance.

Ports can host a whirlwind of competing tour operators: deciding which one to go with and hoping you're not signing up to some sub-par experience can cause more stress than it's worth.

There’s also the possibility that your cruise line may arrange an excursion that you would perhaps struggle to arrange for yourself, for example, calm water kayaking or dog-sledding in Norway!

Related: Feeling adventurous? Discover new experiences while on a cruise to Scandinavia.

Don't stray too far

Whilst there's nothing wrong with finding your own onshore tour operator, a rule of thumb is to never take a tour too far from your ship.

If you get stuck on the other side of a small town, it's safe to say you'll be able to make it back to the ship by yourself.

However, if you've gone further afield and, for instance, your tour operator's bus breaks down, you may only make it back in time to see your ship skirting over the horizon.

Whereas if you're on an excursion organised by your cruise line and it's delayed in getting back to the ship before departure, the ship won't sail until you've arrived back on board safe and sound.

Related: Shore excursions: what to expect on a cruise excursion

A stone's throw from your ship

The good news is that at many ports, there's plenty to do within a walk from your ship. For instance, the gems of Monte Carlo, including the castle, cathedral and casino are all within a reasonable walking distance of the port.

Which means you may feel confident to explore them by yourself or join an alternative tour group.

Related:  Savour a taste of high society in Monte Carlo on a cruise to Tuscany and the Riviera’s.

Excursions can enrich your experience

Whilst exploring independently onshore can take you to out-of-the-way places you wouldn't find on the main tourist trail, you may miss out on incredible insights and stories about a particular place.

Tour guides will usually have a good anecdote or two up their sleeves that can help a destination come alive. Stories of comet showers witnessed while stargazing at the foot of Mount Teide may make your visit to the Tenerife desert all the more exciting. Otherwise it's just another mountain on one of the Canary Islands!

Related: Experience constellations of wonder on a Canary Island cruise.

A shared experience

When your day is done and dusted, and you and your fellow passengers are back on board, it can be nice to share your stories of the day's excursion.

If you had participated in a group tour with your fellow travellers, you may find you have a lot to talk about over dinner.

A shared experience really helps to break the ice with others, which can be a blessing if you're travelling solo and feel the need to make friends and socialise.

Yet if you were a truly independent soul, perhaps you'd be happy to keep your experiences to yourself.

Related: Enjoy a sociable cruise experience with Saga.

Loosing yourself

If you decide to skip the organised onshore excursion entirely, whether that's one organised by your cruise line or one you've found independently, make sure you plan your day in advance. Or at least have a rough idea of where you're going to go and what you're going to do.

Whilst great joy can be found in wandering without a map and seeing where your meanderings take you, it can be easy to get lost.

So, always take a map with you, and study it before you set off. You don't need to walk with it folded out in front of your face all day, but it will certainly come in handy if you've lost your way and need to ask a local for directions.

Have useful phrases handy

Along with your map of the local area, be sure to have a couple of phrases on standby in case you get lost.

Depending on where you are in the world, and how far off the beaten track you've found yourself, there may be a bigger language barrier than you expect.

Which is why even just learning 'excuse me, which way is the port?' could save you hours trying to figure it out yourself. (Extending your arms and honking in an attempt to impersonate a large cruise ship may lead you someplace else entirely!)

Safety in numbers

Going it alone, though not without its benefits, also means you ought to be more alert to your personal safety, as well as your personal possessions; it's far less likely that you'll be swindled whilst on an organised tour.

If you're by yourself, you may be perceived as an easy target. Which is why you should try to avoid disreputable areas and anywhere out of view and earshot of shops or safe public places.

Related: Cruising for solos

Useful tip: the decoy wallet

Always keep your money and travel documents safe: not easily accessible in the front compartment of a backpack, for example.

One useful tip, if you're determined to explore off the beaten tourist track, is to take a decoy wallet or purse with you. It should be convincingly aged and contain a small amount of money and a few useless cards.

If, in the unlikely chance you're ever confronted by someone demanding your money, you can slip them the decoy.

Be prepared and plan ahead

Don't be deterred in exploring onshore independently, but realise that your safety and security (and ability to make it back to ship) can shift quickly as soon as you separate yourself from the crowd.

Plan where you're going to go in advance and always give yourself plenty of time to make it back to the ship. As beautiful as a sunset is over the Mediterranean, it will be bitter sweet if that diminishing dot on the horizon is your ship.

Saga offers a range of cruises around the world, both with included and optional excursions. Find out more today.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.