15 Places to Take the Solo Trip of a Lifetime
Solo travel, like dining alone, gets a bad rap -- mostly from people who don't particularly enjoy their own company. If you can put up with yourself, however, you can cover a lot of ground on your own.
The solo traveler doesn't have to hunt for other people's luggage at airports, or wait for somebody to shop or nap or pee. He can sit at the bar and eavesdrop on a new town, or become an instant celebrity with a round of shots and a single well-told joke. He can pick a day, any day, to sleep in. The solo traveler is a tiny country -- population: 1 -- ruled by a benevolent autocrat, with a single vote to count on any popular referendum. All those in favor of going out and seeing what sort of blazing hell we can stir up with strangers? The aye has it!
The solo traveler is free, in short, which means they're free to make a heap of mistakes. To put yourself in position to succeed, we rounded up writers who have roamed the corners of the world where nature swallows you, where locals embrace you, and where you can arrive as a person of mystery who might return one day and find people are still talking about you, years later.
MORE: Counterpoint -- Solo Travel is Massively Overrated
Seville, SpainPerfect for: Finding friends to dance and share tapas with.
When I moved to Spain seven years ago without knowing a soul, I panicked. In a country so famously social (the entire concept of tapas implies having friends to share them with), how would I get by? Luckily, I landed in Seville.
The south lives up to its stereotype as Spain’s most fun-loving, open, hospitable region. Social life here is a public affair -- in the streets, in the plazas, spilling onto cobblestones outside the bars. One friend told me he lived in Seville for years and never saw the inside of his best friend’s house. As a result it’s easy to strike up a conversation with locals (if you can hold your own with the tricky Andaluz accent) or some friendly study-abroad types (if you can’t).
You don’t even need a plan: just go outside and something will find you, whether it be a religious procession (there are so. many. religious. processions.) or an impromptu flamenco show, or a crowd of strangers watching the Betis game in one of the bars on La Alameda or Plaza del Salvador. For a real challenge, visit during the Feria de Abril, when the entire city dresses up like it’s 1899 and spends a whole week dancing sevillanas and day-drinking in brightly colored canvas tents, called casetas. A few of the casetas are public and open to all, but most are reserved for specific families and their closest friends. Score an invite to one of those and you’ll earn a spot in the Solo Traveler Hall of Fame. -- Maya Kroth
Redding, CaliforniaPerfect for: Getting off the grid and reconnecting with nature.
If you talk to someone about Redding, they’ll likely remember the Carr Fire and the destruction it caused in Northern California. But, as is typical with wildfires, new growth abounds from the ashes, and Redding is blossoming. Sure, Redding isn’t the hippest place to hang on the West Coast, but it’s not trying to be. It’s a town big enough to allow you to explore alone, but small enough that if you stay for a week, you’ll make friends with three bartenders and contemplate real estate costs on the outskirts of Shasta Lake.
One of the most paradoxical things about Redding is this: You go there to leave it. The city is surrounded by some of California's most beautiful and untouched nature. There’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest to the north, home of beautiful Lake Shasta; Lassen Volcanic National Park to the east, boasting a ton of hydrothermal sites and the breathtaking Devastated Area; and Six Rivers National Forest to the west. Me, I headed north to hike a waterfall loop -- ostensibly four falls in one day. By the time my trip ended, I had visited seven. One of the most beautiful was Middle McCloud Falls, where the water is freezing, but swimming under the hot summer sun while gazing at the behemoth of a waterfall pounding down around me was nothing short of spiritual. For a real adventure, head up to Hatchet Creek Falls and jump off giant log into the swimming hole below. Just make sure you don’t get lost: There’s no service.
Then there's McArthur-Burney Falls. Most of the river leading up to the falls is underground, so when you finally get to the base, it looks like a gigantic wall of water is spilling out from the entire mountain. I didn’t swim here because I think they’ll yell at you and it was chilly that day, but it’s a risk entirely work taking. On the way back to Redding, give in to the allure of Yaks on the 5. It’s one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, and after a day of hiking and swimming, it’s absolutely the right move, and a great place to brush up on local real-estate listings in the local paper. -- Alex Robinson
Bangkok, ThailandPerfect for: Abandoning any and all inhibitions.
Bangkok is a “one size fits all” kind of place, a concrete jungle teeming with divergent personalities and crisscrossing travelers getting on in mellow symbiosis. Even for awkward or abrasive folks, forging alliances is pretty effortless. Friendly Thais will take you under their wing, delighted by your exoticism. You’ll befriend foreigners you might not usually gel with, united simply by shared experiences -- those WTF moments of navigating a chaotic hub that swings between electrifying and claustrophobic.
Show up to a bar opening or expat mixer, and a few flutes of Champers later you'll be crammed into a tuk-tuk with a motley crew rattling off to a nightclub or afterparty. Years ago, as a tenderfoot tourist in Bangkok, I found myself adopted by a Thai celeb couple and their posse at a Lady Gaga concert, treated afterward to a night of VIP bottle service and boogying at Bangkok’s best club. It was a colorful chance encounter, one that Bangkok creates like nowhere else. I jetted back to Canada, packed up all my things, and moved there. -- Barbara Woolsey
Paris, FrancePerfect for: Prowling the world’s greatest museums at your own selfish pace.
Book a trip to Paris and friends will invariably ask, “Who are you going with?” Your perfectly acceptable response: No one, dammit. You’re about to binge on the planet’s best museums, and nothing spoils a woolgathering stroll, or long meditative sit, or distracted sprint in a museum as surely as other people. Paris’ Museum Pass costs just 74 euros for six freakin’ days of entry to 50 different sites, an inexhaustible number. I only managed to hit maybe a dozen, and that counts the Louvre, a Voltron of museums unto itself. The city feeds you culture and beauty the way foie gras farmers feed their geese corn mash.
So, now, when you go. Post up somewhere central and walkable. I got a quiet flat through an outfit called Paris Perfect, but if your tastes run more bière than Champagne, a no-frills one-room apartment runs a mere $40 a night on Airbnb. Then: geek right out, on the cheap. The French earned their reputation as snobs over centuries of plunder and toil, and today Paris shows off its treasures in truly historic digs. Take the intimate Rodin Museum, for instance, on the grounds of a grand 18th-century mansion that the artist himself took over in 1911. That sits across the street from the Museum of the Army, housed in a veritable palace Louis XIV built for his wounded vets. You’ve got dozens, if not hundreds, of similar spots to hit. But no one is here to rush you if you dawdle at whatever relic or exhibit makes your heart swell. Let the present day buzz elsewhere. -- Sam Eifling
The coastline of Wales, UKPerfect for: A breath of fresh air and artistic fodder in quaint villages.
If you’re seeking a setting for your next short story, jet across the pond to the Welsh coastline. It boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world -- Barafundle Bay’s emerald fields, the colorful architecture lining the waters in Tenby, jagged rock cliffs at Presipe. Double down on the charm by staying at a bed & breakfast, or one of Wales’ many medieval castles like Bath Tower on the northern coast. Some beach towns (like Shell Island) double as campgrounds, so you can pitch a tent and fall asleep to sounds of waves in the countryside.
Wales is a safe country overall, which is obviously a plus for solo escapades. The Welch are also friendly and hospitable folk (just don’t call them British), so when you inevitably tuck into a local pub for a pint, making a new drinking buddy won’t be difficult -- especially since English is their most-recognized language. Native Welsh is spoken in more rural areas, but good luck asking for directions to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (yes, a real place). -- Brooke Sager
Glacier National Park, MontanaPerfect for: Staring down nature with your claws bared.
Halfway through a 3-mile hike up a steep incline to a remote mountaintop where one twisted ankle could spill you into a crevasse, you’ll start taking stock. Quads screaming. Lungs burning. Subconsciously you’ll touch the bear spray on your belt, like feeling your pocket for your phone. A big mammal who got the drop on this version of you, with legs of spaghetti, would have every advantage. Vince Lombardi used to say fatigue makes cowards of us all -- but this is where you determine that you’ll go down with teeth and nails bared if a critter decides to step.
That frisson of fight/flight will find you in any of America’s National Parks. For the full experience, I can recommend Glacier, in Montana. At more than a million acres, with 175 mountains and an epic 745 miles of maintained hiking trails, it’s a vast, beautiful obstacle course. You will see chipmunks and rabbits and marmots. (Aw!) You will also see bears and moose. (Oh.) The park encourages hikers to wear jingling bells to scare away bears and always carry bear spray -- especially if walking alone.
Alone you’ll feel the towering snow-capped mountains surround you. The silence sinks in, and when you whisper, You can do this you can do this, or a surprise Lord’s Prayer during the final mile, it’ll sound like a shout. This is a true holistic test. Getting to the end of a trail, or coming upon a peak and taking in an otherworldly view shrinks you down to size, and reminds you that nature really runs this bitch. -- Nicole Schuman
BelgiumPerfect for: Visiting the world’s greatest breweries via the world’s most elegant vehicle.
A year after grad school, I bought a used bike and made my way around Belgium. I used my high school French to ask for directions and got very lost. I met a friendly little granny who convinced me, a vegetarian, to eat her homemade sausage. I met a man named Pol who'd named his microbrewery Inter-Pol. (He thought this was very funny.)
Two things make Belgium a great place for a bike trip. First, the density of great breweries. The entire country is smaller than the state of Maryland, and so crammed with world-famous breweries (over 150 of them) that you can stop at a different one each day. Biking between these breweries is dangerously easy; go on the tour, sample the beer, then hop on and ride off to your next pint.
Second, the country is completely bonkers for bikes. Some of its biggest celebrities are professional cyclists. There’s a bike shop on every corner, which saved me on two separate occasions, and a surprising number of dedicated bike paths parallel to highways. Drivers are much less threatening than in the States, an important consideration when you’re riding with a belly full of monk-brewed Trappist. -- Lewis Kelly
Buffalo, New YorkPerfect for: Staying out until 5am with the new best friends you met at midnight.
In my home state of Florida, when two married couples start chatting up a solo traveler at a rooftop bar you assume you’re about to either get A) robbed or B) lured into a sex dungeon. So you can imagine my surprise when on my first night in Buffalo, as I drank alone at the Curtiss Hotel’s rooftop bar, two couples started asking me questions, bought me drinks, and never once used the phrase “so do you like my wife?” But this is how it works in Nickel City.
I spent three nights in Buffalo recently. Each night I ended up meeting strangers at bars who insisted I join them for more drinks, then wouldn’t let me leave until after closing time at 4am. People in Buffalo are the kind of genuine that folks from the coasts rarely experience, a mix of New York grit and Midwestern nice whose idea of hospitality is force-feeding you Jäger when you want to go home.
The city itself is chock-full of culture, breweries, and reinvented relics from its manufacturing heyday. And all of that is fun to visit solo. But if you’re the type who wants to be embraced into the local nightlife, you’ll never find a better place. Even playing tourist at the birthplace of the Buffalo Wing at Anchor Bar, you’ll meet some people who insist you bar-hop with them through the student-and-artist-filled bars in Allentown until 3, only to find yourself cajoled into doing 4am shots at the iconic dive Pink. You might wake up with a hangover, but you’ll also wake up thinking you’ve never had that much fun with a group of strangers. At least not the kind you can openly talk about outside of Florida. -- Matt Meltzer
MORE: Why Buffalo is America's Most Underrated Place to Spend a Weekend
IrelandPerfect for: An uncomplicated vacation to shake up your routine.
Dublin is easy to get to from New York. And exploring the idyllic, shockingly green countryside dotted with loads of fluffy white sheep is an easy day or overnight trip from Dublin. Ireland isn’t very big at all, which means you can see a lot of it in only a little time. There are many ways to do it: by public transport, by bike, by renting a car. If efficiency is your goal, scooting down to historic Cork or over to the traditional harbor city of Galway and the inconceivable Cliffs of Moher for a day or two is incredibly easy on a tour bus. Is it a little hokey? Yes, but it will also give you an easy opening with other solo travelers who probably also want to get a pint in a cozy bar with live Irish folk music and then buy a fisherman sweater.
Sometimes a solo trip doesn’t have to be a grand transcendent adventure or a challenging journey of self-discovery. Sometimes you only have a week between quitting a job and starting a new one and you want to go somewhere accessible and fun where you don’t have to use too much of your brain to communicate. Ireland is the perfect place to get away from your everyday, be anonymous for a little while, eat comforting food, and pet the sweet noses of curious donkeys who peek over the fence of their pasture when your ride pulls to the side of the road. Folks here are friendly and the air is crisp and fresh, excepting, of course, the one night I stayed in a poorly ventilated, six-person hostel room in Dublin with five roommates who had been out drinking beer all night at The Temple Bar. I don’t recommend that last bit. But I'll never forget it either. -- Carrie Dennis
MoroccoPerfect for: Seeing the world like a photographer.
Nearly everywhere you turn in Morocco, there’s something to be photographed. “The colors of the aged architecture suck you in,” says Eian Kantor, who took nothing but a backpack and two cameras to the North African country recently. “The landscapes are paintings. The medinas are chaotic, yet beautiful mazes.” From city to city, Morocco offers something different. Chefchaouen practically begs to be put on film; its blue-washed buildings complement overcast or blue skies, and the vast Rif Mountain region surrounding them.
Three hours south in Fez, you’ll find an 11th-century leather tannery unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Animal hides are soaked in limestone vats of cow urine, pigeon feces, quicklime, salt, and water; then they’re dried and dyed naturally with spices like saffron. If you can forget where the colors are coming from and hold a sprig of mint up to your nose, the sight (dozens of vibrant vats) are seriously something to behold. Locals will ask if you want to see it from a balcony and charge you $5 (60 dirham) to do so -- which Kantor says was well worth it for the shot. Friendly Moroccans genuinely just want to show off what the country has to offer, a mission a photographer instantly shares. -- Rebecca Strassberg
MORE: How Moroccan women are taking tourism into their own hands
UtahPerfect for: Outdoorsy adventures where you can get some actual peace and quiet.
When we think of getaways to national and state parks, we mostly think of trips taken in the summertime. Summer, however, means crowds. To get some quality solo time during the off-season -- the kind where you can actually hear yourself think without an ambient chorus of hungry schoolchildren in the background -- you need to go to one of the outdoors destinations that are best visited in the wintertime. Utah has these in spades. And hoodoos.
February is an ideal time to take a solo trip to Zion National Park; only 13% of visitors go in the winter months, meaning the usually crowded trails are 87% more peaceful to explore. It’s also prime time to wander the echoey washes of Goblin Valley State Park, where you can enjoy the otherworldly hoodoos that Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for, without the crowds that Bryce is also famous for. If you’re aiming farther North, try Vermilion Cliffs National Monument along the Utah/Arizona border. Wherever you are, maybe sure you don’t head back to your motel too early -- you’re in the right place for some of the most incredible stargazing you’re likely to ever see. -- Kastalia Medrano
MORE: The best stargazing this winter is in Utah
Berlin, GermanyPerfect for: A history nerd’s first foray into traveling alone.
Here’s a tip: Start with a guided walking tour. Germany’s history is visible on almost every corner of this city, and getting quickly acquainted with some of the darker realities of the city’s past will give you a strong geographical and cultural foundation for the rest of your trip. Explore the Jewish District, see the site of the former SS & Gestapo Headquarters at the Topography of Terror Museum, visit the Holocaust Memorial -- it’s all very sobering, but you’re alone, so don’t worry about what your face looks like when you start getting emotional. Walk along the East Side Gallery -- the spectacularly painted remains of the Berlin Wall -- and see the Brandenburg Gate at sunset. Berlin is where events you’ve read about in textbooks since you were 14 years old actually happened, and connecting dots will never be this compelling.
Berlin is a veritable feast of museums and historical hotspots, which makes it an excellent city for entry-level solo travel. Too shy to strike up a conversation with a stranger? Spend your days seeking the city's best currywurst while wandering between points of interest: Go to Bauhaus Archiv to see items from Walter Gropius' iconic design school, and then head to to Kultureforum, a complex of cultural buildings that includes the Neue Nationalgalerie, which houses 20th century paintings. (Note: At the time of this writing, both Bauhaus Archiv and Neue Nationalgalerie were undergoing renovations, so be sure to check before going.) Climb to the top of the Berlin Cathedral for the view. And then maybe on your third or fourth night in town, make a weird friend who’s just as alone as you are. Invite them to eat a doner kebab for dinner and then see if you can get past the bouncer at Berghain, a club with one of the strictest door policies around. You probably won’t, so move on and dance to trance music until 7am at a club you can’t remember the name of instead. That’s what I did, at least. -- Carrie Dennis
Whitehorse, Yukon, CanadaPerfect for: Outdoor adventures with strangers who consider you family.
Whitehorse is cold, isolated, and small. Like, population 25,000 small. It’s the capital of a vast, majestic region of Northwest Canada the size of California, yet with approximately one one-thousandth the population. In fact there are almost two moose for every human being living in the Yukon. (This is the best Yukon fact there is.)
To make life there tolerable, the locals have become alarmingly good at making friends. I stayed in Whitehorse for two weeks; by the time I left, it felt like I was abandoning my hometown. Within 24 hours of arriving I experienced the following: first, a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend heard I needed to borrow a WiFi router, came over, and installed it. Second, he invited me to dinner at his house. Third, he offered to lend me his car to pick up groceries.
Whitehorse is also surrounded by scads of great opportunities to hike, mountain bike, kayak, or ski and dogsled in the winter months. It offers honest-to-goodness untamed wilderness, with all the associated rewards -- and risks. This is where your new friends will come in handy. When you’re one twisted ankle away from a seven-hour limp back to civilization, having someone to lean on is priceless. Plus most locals carry bear spray with them almost everywhere, with good reason. -- Lewis Kelly
CroatiaPerfect for: Enjoying the finer things -- without spending like it.
Dubrovnik can get a little pricey -- it is, after all, one of Croatia's most touristed cities. But wander up Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline and you’ll find all the wine, cheese, seafood, and sunbathing spots you could ask for. This is a place where you can indulge without putting a crater in your wallet -- turns out, traveling solo to a gorgeous destination doesn’t mean you have to rough it if you pick the right spot.
Sample the oysters in the ancient village of Ston, and take a dip in front of the Sea Organ in the town of Zadar, where the waves make a musical instrument out of the strategically hollowed-out marble steps descending into the water. Stop in Pag for a wheel of what many consider the best sheep’s cheese in the world. And no matter where along this dazzling aqua-green coastline you end your night, tuck yourself into a bar with a glass of the local red and ask your bartender for their recommendations for swimming holes to hit the next day. (Might not hurt to smoke a lil weed while you’re in Croatia, either.) You’ll never want to travel weighted down by anyone else ever again. -- Kastalia Medrano
MORE: Croatia has Europe’s most flat-out stunning coasts
Road tripping from Miami to Los AngelesPerfect for: Embracing the weirdness of America’s most eclectic cross-country route.
Start in Miami. Head out early, grab a cafe con leche and say adios to the Magic City. Don’t slow down until you reach St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city. Visit the Castillo de San Marcos and Ponce de Leon’s “Fountain of Youth.” Next stop: New Orleans. Settle in for a night of solo bar hopping, beignets, and live jazz. Go for four Hurricanes or one French 75 -- the world is your muffuletta.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that ain’t just something folks say. Eat your fill of Salt Lick BBQ in Austin, tap your foot to a band or two, and then it’s onward to the Hill Country town of Fredericksburg. Marfa is totally out of the way, but go anyway to see what all the fuss is about. Lookout for Border Patrol trucks -- with 71 traffic checkpoints near the southern US border, there’s always a chance you’ll be stopped.
You’ll get an uncanny feeling driving on the 10 Freeway through El Paso (one of the safest US cities) and looking over at Juarez (one of the most dangerous cities in the world) on the other side of the Rio Grande’s barbed-wire-topped riverbed. The radio stations get a bit fuzzy and confused here, and you’ll probably get that “Welcome to Mexico” message on your cell, alerting you to a change in costs and coverage.
Power through New Mexico (White Sands!) and Arizona (orange rocks!), and stay alert at those sketchy casino gas station rest stops where you will inevitably need to stop and pee. If you can time your trip through Joshua Tree to catch a majestic sunrise, do that. Snap some pics, grab breakfast at an Anthony Bourdain favorite and your final destination is in sight; congratulations! LA’s hilly hikes, Pacific sunsets, ramen, street tacos, and tattoos might convince you to stay a while. -- Allison Ramirez
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