Best Places to Travel Solo?

by Gray Cargill on September 11, 2013

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Every once in awhile, I receive email and Twitter requests from people for “best places to travel solo”. They’re looking to me for a shortlist of the “sure-thing” destinations where they’ll have a great solo travel experience. Sometimes, I even see an article make the rounds of social media attempting to come up with such a list.

I totally understand the desire to have someone else tell us, in a simplified “top 10” list, where we should go first when we’re new travelers. In a world full of choices, it does help to narrow things down. And I understand the desire of experienced travelers to help newbies by sharing their passion for their favorite places to visit. But I have to be honest: I don’t think anyone can come up with a list of “best places” that will work for every solo traveler.

Honolulu

Many people think of Hawaii as a honeymoon destination, but I had a great time there solo.

My first solo trip was to London. My reason for going had nothing to do with wanting to try solo travel. I hadn’t read on a list somewhere that London was the best first solo trip you could take. It was London itself I wanted to experience, and if I had to go solo to do it, then so be it. I was an English major in school and a huge Anglophile. Many of the books I’d read up to that point of my life were set in England. So it made perfect sense that London would be both my first international travel experience as an adult but also my first solo trip.

That may not be the situation for someone else. Maybe you prefer tropical destinations. Or England’s literature and history may remind you of classes you found boring in school. Or it may not fit your shoestring travel budget. (Western Europe is more expensive to travel to than, say, southeast Asia or Latin America—unless you already live there and can get around by inexpensive regional airlines, trains or buses.)

Spanish Steps, Rome

Some people dream of seeing the Spanish Steps in Rome. Some don’t.

Some people have suggested that Thailand is the best place to get your feet wet as a solo traveler. Not for me. Not only is it very far away from where I live (making it expensive and time-consuming to fly there), I would have been petrified to make my first solo trip to an Asian country where I don’t speak the language and haven’t the foggiest notion what the culture is like. (I never said I was the bravest solo traveler in the world.) That said, if you live in Australia, it’s a lot closer for you and maybe not as expensive to fly there. It might be a good first trip for you—especially if you’re on a shoestring budget.

If I wanted to, I could come up with a list of “top 10 best destinations for solo travelers” based on the ten destinations I have most enjoyed–but who’s to say you’d enjoy them as much as I did? As Shakespeare noted (in Hamlet), “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” You might have a miserable experience in my favorite destination, and vice versa. There is no “cookie cutter” list of “best places” that will make sense for all solo travelers. We are all too different in our backgrounds, tastes, and travel styles.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

What kind of a traveler are you?

The “best place” for you to travel solo will be the place that you most want to visit—for whatever reason—not the places that someone else tells you that you should visit. It should be a destination that you daydream about, that calls out to you in your sleep, that makes you sigh wistfully just thinking about it. A place that gets you excited when you think about the possibilities of being there, walking its streets, climbing its mountains, or sharing meals with the locals who live there.

Maybe you want to travel solo, but you’re a little afraid. Maybe, in that case, the best place for you to travel would be another region within your own country, somewhere where you speak the language, or a place where you already have connections in case you need a safety net. Maybe you should try a cruise or an all-inclusive resort on a beach in the Caribbean or even Disney World. Hey, travel is travel. Do what feels right for you.

When people ask me which places are good for solo travelers, my response is usually “Most of them.” Even places that are famous for being romantic destinations for couples–like Paris and Hawaii–can be solo-friendly, so there’s no need to avoid them. Common sense will tell you which destinations aren’t great for solos—war-torn and politically unstable regions, countries that are enemies of your country, places that discriminate against women or the LGBT community (if you fall into one of those groups), that sort of thing.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty big world for the solo traveler to explore. So don’t let anyone tell you what destination is right for you, find your own “happy place,” and then do your research to learn the dos and don’ts of that region, figure out how much you need to save for your travel budget, and where you can meet other people if you’re so inclined once you get there. I truly believe that if you base your travel destinations on places you feel an affinity for and trust that they will be comfortable for you as a solo traveler (because they probably will be), your experiences will be much richer than checking off destinations from a list created by someone else.

SR January 12, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Great post, very inspiring. I still haven’t travelled anywhere solo, but this made me look forward to it.

Gray Cargill January 12, 2014 at 8:24 pm

Solo is a great way to go, SR. Everyone should try it at least once.

Julie K. December 2, 2013 at 4:37 am

Any travel destination is as solo-friendly as you make it, I guess. Although i have to admit I´d be worried to go to India as a solo traveler these days..when it´s still buzzing everywhere with the reports of those horrific sexual assaults on women. I know you shouldn´t judge the whole nation by the actions of few individuals, but I cannot help but let the reason be overrun by emotions in this case.

Gray Cargill December 3, 2013 at 8:09 pm

I don’t blame you, Julie. We’re all only human, and sometimes our emotions do take control. I’ve known solo female travelers who have been to India and have been fine there. And God knows bad things have happened to people traveling in pairs, too. But we all have to do what’s comfortable and right for us. If India doesn’t feel like a comfortable place for you visit solo right now, there are plenty of other destinations to explore. Who knows, a year or a few years down the road, you might feel differently. Or if you really want to go now, going with a tour group might make you feel more comfortable. I’m not a big fan of tour travel in general, but if there were a place I really wanted to see and that was the only way I felt comfortable going, I’d do it.

Hotels in Zagreb October 11, 2013 at 7:16 am

Great arguments for solo trip. btw. I like your stories and photos very much and would like to invite you to Croatia, Zagreb. It’s a great city for solo travel too. 🙂

Gray Cargill October 11, 2013 at 10:30 am

Croatia is definitely on my travel list. I’ve heard it’s beautiful.

Garry Ladouceur September 23, 2013 at 11:51 pm

North America….

The critical reason is that hotels and other places charge per room and not per person. Single rooms in Europe are expensive and per person, so for an ordinary room, one pays double.

I am not a woman and am a rather big fellow at six foot two and 250 lbs., so people tend to leave me alone. I prefer to be alone. Sometimes I want to do things that my wife would complain about. Well, if one is alone, one can do these things like drink beer in a bar.

My wife likes to see things. I dont. A building in Holland looks the same as a building elsewhere. See one see them all. I saw Van Gogh in a book once. That is enough. A sunflower is a sunflower and the real ones are better. I did like seeing the Kiss by Klimt in Vienna. That was interesting and I was alone and it was the only picture I saw there The museum has some nice statues as you come in. I liked that. The floors squeaked.

I was with my wife once and we were in Vienna. I had to see every single one of the Hunnertwassers spirals and it drove me crazy. But she did every floor and quizzed me later on which spiral was the best. I said the blue one.

||Alone, I would have gone to that museum just to see the crooked floors and stuff, but if you see one of this guys painting, well you have seen them all.

I like to eat all sorts of strange foods. Most are not healthy, but I am vacation right. Well you can do that alone.

So where is it best to travel solo….A place that has a lot of restaurants and shops within walking distance. Say New York except for the bedbugs…..

Gray Cargill September 24, 2013 at 8:34 pm

You certainly make a lot of arguments for traveling solo, Garry. Not all couples have the same interests when they travel, that’s for sure. Thanks for your comment!

Traveller September 22, 2013 at 5:26 am

I couldn’t agree more. Every individual is different and “top lists” are just a lazy short cut and will most likely result in a not so WOW result. I actually think that part of the magic of travelling starts with deciding (or not deciding) where to go yourself. I so often think should I go here, should I go there.. tell me where I should go but then I think… no… I will just go where I would like to go…and that always makes my travels much more exciting .. just like xmas shah you spend a couple of weeks anticipating that trip and when you finally arrive you feel like “ahhhh here I am”… I just love it!!! 😀 great post buddy

Gray Cargill September 22, 2013 at 10:57 am

Thanks for your observations, Traveller. I agree with you, and I think when people choose their own destinations, it’s the first step of growth that comes with solo travel: Making your own decisions.

Alouise September 16, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Gray, when I started reading this article the first thing I thought was, “the best place to travel solo is wherever you want to go.” As it is my first solo trip was a tour in Europe, but I spent a few days in London on my own before the trip. For me London was a perfect first solo travel destination. I’d always wanted to go to there, and I knew from past travels that I enjoyed visiting cities. Also not to discourage people from international travel, but there isn’t any hard fast rule that someone’s first solo trip needs to be done halfway across the world. If you live in a diverse country like Canada or the US you could get still get some culture shock traveling solo within your own country as well. If someone is really intimidated by solo travel then there isn’t anything wrong easing into it by traveling within your own country, or traveling to a country that might be easier to travel to (for yourself) than other countries. One reason why I wasn’t too intimidated going to London was that I knew I’d be in an English speaking country, and would not need to worry about language issues.

Gray Cargill September 16, 2013 at 8:49 pm

We are on the same wavelength, Alouise! I agree with everything you said. Everyone has different comfort levels when t comes to travel. Everyone should try international travel at some point–I think it’s important that we see for ourselves that not everyone lives the way we do–but you can get just as much enjoyment exploring the diversity of your own country, and that is sometimes a good way to ease your way into solo travel. Especially if you’re a timid traveler.

Alan September 15, 2013 at 7:36 am

I like this advice as well, it really emphasizes the diversity of single people, how we can have really different likes and dislikes in terms of destinations. Not much of a traveler myself, but I have to say I don’t think of destinations in terms of being single-friendly or not.

Gray Cargill September 15, 2013 at 10:04 am

Thanks, Alan. Yes, we are a very diverse lot. Thank goodness–it would be boring if we were all alike!

Monnette September 14, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Yes, traveling solo even for newbies really depends on their preferences and what they really like to see and experience.

By the way, traveling to Southeast Asia could be cheaper if you exclude airfare especially when you come from the opposite side of the world. And language may not be much of a problem in the Philippines if you can speak English since most Filipinos understand and can speak English.

Gray Cargill September 15, 2013 at 10:03 am

It’s always the airfare that makes or breaks a trip budget, Monnette. Mine, anyway. I do think the reason so many budget backpackers travel southeast Asia is because it’s cheap, once you get the airfare out of the way. For long-term travelers, it could be a good deal.

Christine Kaaloa (@grrrltraveler) September 13, 2013 at 6:07 am

Solid post, Gray. I’m 90% with you about individuality, personal tastes and preferences. Any advice or recommendation should be taken with a grain of salt & folks have to make their own choices.

But many first time soloists don’t know their own travel g-spots, what they want, what is safe for them… this is why they seek lists and recommendations, I feel. *Decision-wise*, they feel helpless. My first planned solo trip was to be Guatemala… that’s where I *wanted* to go. Until friends were like- Uh, isn’t it a dangerous country? A gf suggested Thailand to me. I knew nothing about it, but she convinced me I’d like it, because she liked it. I trusted her travel sense. She was right.

Some country recommendations are fairly consistent with travelers for good reason. Thailand is infamously loved on the Asia backpacking circuit and cheaper-easier too.Personally, I found it easier to travel than the U.S. or Europe. That’s me and my comfort zone. Some countries are synonymous with being challenging. For instance, as much as I love India, I’d never recommend it to a first time solo traveler, even though technically, it was my first solo country. It wasn’t unsafe for me, but it wasn’t easy.

It helps to have recommendations from people, who have experienced the countries and can lend insight for a more informed decision.

I know what you’re getting at & I’m on that same page. Hope people are smart enough to take lists with a grain of salt and match them with self-sense.

Gray Cargill September 13, 2013 at 11:42 am

Oh I totally understand why people seek out lists and why newbies need some guidance, Christine. I’m just afraid if people take these lists too seriously, it could end up turning them off solo travel forever. (“This was supposed to be one of the best places for solo travelers, and I hated my time here, so I must not be meant for solo travel!”) I think suggestions of places to travel to can help when you personally know the traveler, their likes and dislikes, their comfort level, their travel style. Then the suggestions make sense. But putting a list out there for the entire world doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Gray Cargill (@SoloFriendly) September 12, 2013 at 9:04 pm

BarbC emailed the following directly, but it was such a great example of how your travels take you in directions you don’t expect them to, I wanted to share it with you all, so I got her permission to post it here. Thanks, Barb!

Hi Gray,
This is such a good article for all travelers and especially solo travelers. Years ago I made a list of places I thought I wanted to see; however, over the years, I have deleted some, added some others, and changed the order in which I I wanted to do them.

I have made three noteworthy solo trips –
I drove from Dallas, Texas, to Calgary in Canada on my own. I spent over a month with a friend in Calgary before driving home to Phoenix – by myself. (A friend had driven with me in my car to Dallas (left car at my friend’s home there). We flew to Germany via Lufthansa where we spent almost 3 weeks and then via train to Copenhagen, Denmark, ferry ship to Oslo, Norway, and Norwegian Air to Stockholm, Sweden, for another 12 days before flying back to Dallas. My friend flew home and I left for Canada.) My other long solo road trip was from Phoenix to Minnesota and home again. There have been many other solo road trips here in the western states but those two really stood out. I think to do a road trip alone you have to like your own company and know how to read a map.

My only solo trip out-of-the country was to London… by the time I did this, I’d been to many other countries but always with another person or a group. This time I was totally on my own and loved every second… an hour after arriving at my hotel near Victoria Station in London, I had secured a senior ticket for that evening’s performance of Wicked… (walking distance to and from my hotel). In short, I hit the town in high gear. I enjoyed five days before taking a bus to Southampton where I met a friend for a cruise around the British Isles. She spent one night in London before flying home but I stayed for 3 more days.

As I write this, I am starting to pack for a trip to Turkey with a friend – we will be with a tour group and will be traveling in what is considered Western Turkey. We had booked this tour before the protests started in Turkey and definitely long before the problems in Syria. We will not be going to southeastern Turkey where it borders with Syria. I am not as stressed since they are delaying any action against Syria right now. I am hoping things settle down in Syria and stay settled.

Happy Travels,
Barb Chambers

Kirstin Lucas September 11, 2013 at 10:52 pm

My first solo trip was to Australia, which is only on the other side of the world if you live in England or America (and others)… If you live in New Zealand like me then Australia is an obvious first step.

Gray Cargill September 12, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Sounds about right, Kirstin.

Tracy Antonioli September 11, 2013 at 10:46 pm

One word: amen! LOVE love love this!

Gray Cargill September 12, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Wow, triple love! Thanks, Tracy. 🙂

Kris September 11, 2013 at 6:58 pm

I agree! I was initially very hesitant about traveling solo to Paris. I had this romantic “City of Lights” picture in my head and thought I’d end up totally depressed that I was there alone. Totally didn’t happen! I spent my days *running* from one attraction to another (because there’s no way to see it all in one trip) and my evenings noodling away on my book. It was awesome.

And yes, solo London is great as well! If you fall into that romantic, depressed mood, just visit the Tower and think about beheadings 🙂

Gray Cargill September 11, 2013 at 7:31 pm

LOL, Kris! “It could always be worse, I could be Anne Boleyn”, right? It’s hilarious how we build these things up in our minds–as if the only people in Paris are lovey-dovey couples holding hands while walking the Seine. We forget that a city is a city–that actual people live there, including single people!

ChinaMatt September 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Absolutely right. Best place to travel depends on what you want out of the trip. First-time solo travel is a bit easier when there’s something familiar, which is why I studied abroad in London. Now I look for destinations that are easier to meet other travelers or locals (at least for longer trips).

Gray Cargill September 11, 2013 at 7:25 pm

ChinaMatt – Agreed. There are so many different approaches to solo travel, and the same thing isn’t going to work for everyone. We each have to figure out our own “solo travel groove,” so to speak.

Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren September 11, 2013 at 2:56 pm

I 100% agree with this post. Thank you so much for sharing. Funnily enough, my first solo trip was to London as well and for the same reasons you listed!

Happy travels 🙂

Gray Cargill September 11, 2013 at 7:22 pm

We must be kindred spirits, Lauren!

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