A Television Star travels

“I like to explore off the beaten track. Looking back on some of my trips I wonder how I dared to be so enterprising, but I've had some wonderful adventures.”
  • Name: Valerie Singleton
  • Age: 79
  • Occupation: TV Presenter

Anyone who grew up in the UK in the 60s or 70s will likely have fond memories of Valerie Singleton, as the much-loved presenter of 'Blue Peter,' the iconic children's television series. If 'Blue Peter' was part of your after-school routine, you may remember the time Valerie travelled to Kenya on a safari to accompany Princess Anne.

The pair could be seen chatting like old friends as they walked along a beach and encountered a badly-behaved baboon named Gladys, while the Princess sipped tea from a cup and saucer.

The travel bug never left Valerie. “Perhaps selfishly, I like doing my own thing, and get talking to people - especially local people - in a way I never would if I was travelling with a companion,” she says.

Valerie has embarked on many solo adventures in her lifetime, occasionally with a tour group, but mostly making her own plans and arrangements, including hiring a car to explore her chosen destination. “I like to explore off the beaten track,” she says. “Looking back on some of my trips I wonder how I dared to be so enterprising, but I've had some wonderful adventures.”

“Perhaps selfishly, I like doing my own thing. I get talking to people in a way I never would if I was travelling with a companion.”

She continues to surprise her friends with her adventures - whether it's Cairo, California or the Caribbean - who tell her they would never dare to do the same.

Valerie is adamant that the exaggerated “tales of horror” that are often passed on in association with a particular country - or even the idea of solo travel in itself - have little to no bearing on reality.

“I've driven around Barbados in an open sided jeep, and apart from getting very wet when it rained, I never felt in the least bit scared,” she says.

“There will always be someone to warn you of the perils of a particular destination, but let's face it, I am just as likely - or unlikely - to be mugged in London as I am in a foreign land.”

That's not to say that Valerie doesn't take precautions when she travels alone. She never travels with expensive jewellery or valuable camera equipment, and she always asks the staff at her hotel for advice on areas to avoid. Valerie is also careful that she is seen to be respectful of foreign cultures and customs.

“I try and wear appropriate clothes for the country I'm visiting,” she says. “I'm surprised at how thoughtless some tourists can be in brief shorts and revealing tops when it is obviously offensive to the local culture.”

Nevertheless, Valerie has occasionally found herself misjudging the local dress code. “Travelling in one African country, I got it wrong and thought it was my arms I was meant to cover,” she says. “In fact it was my bare knees that caused consternation amongst the restaurant staff. I didn't make that mistake again!”

Valerie now reads up on the country's customs and familiarises herself with a few words - at the very least - of the language. “English is pretty widespread but it's not always spoken and making an attempt, no matter how bad my pronunciation, gives people a laugh and is usually appreciated,” she says.

Press anyone who has travelled alone on the downsides of their hobby and you'll hear the same gripes from even the most seasoned solo traveller: paying twice as much for your accommodation and the occasional awkwardness of dining alone.

Like many solo travellers, Valerie has found that some hotels aren't quite set up for people travelling on their own. “One thing does make me very cross as a lone traveller and that is paying the price for two for my accommodation and then being given a cupboard to sleep in,” says Valerie.

However, if you ask politely and with just the right amount of confidence, Valerie has found she can quickly change her fortunes.

“When I was in Egypt, I came out one morning from my pokey room overlooking a back wall and the generator in our Cairo hotel to hear a married couple in my party talking about their glorious view over the Nile River,” she says. “I asked if I might take a look. The view was stunning and I went straight down to reception to request a similar room. I got it too!”

As for eating out, there have been times where Valerie has felt uncomfortable when surrounded by families and honeymooners, with the lighting so low that reading a good book is all but impossible. “My father considered reading a book at meal times very bad manners and he was probably right,” she says. “But it is a delicious luxury.”

“Reading a book at meal times is a delicious luxury.”