The fact is, some of us would just rather travel alone. Nothing against organized tours, beach house rentals or cruise lines (per se), but the most fulfilling trips often involve complete immersion in an exotic culture — something that is hard to achieve when your travel buddy is bugging you to go check out that museum. Here are some of our favorite cities to take a vacation for one.
Auckland, New Zealand
A key component of solo travel is friendly local culture — I mean, you have to talk to somebody in order to understand the strange land you’re visiting. And the Kiwis of New Zealand fit this warm, welcoming reputation to a tee. In addition, the country’s capital city is home to more than two dozen youth hostels where you can network with fellow travelers. Plus, the city is within reasonable distance of practically any outdoor adventure you could imagine, from adrenaline jolts like zip-lines and bungee jumps to more peaceful endeavors like cycling, hiking or surfing — and none of them req uire membership in a large group.
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Scotland’s largest city is a cosmopolitan hub nestled among miles of rolling countryside — and it’s chock-full of stuff to do. Edinburgh Castle, which looms high above every corner of the city, begs to be explored for hours — and you can do just that, since much of the property is unguided. If you’re in the mood for a tour, Edinburgh has several that legitimately don’t suck, including the Literary Pub Tour that visits landmarks to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and other famous Scottish writers. If you’re a Scotch drinker, visit one of the city’s many distilleries for a tasting (which may or may not include a 45-minute ‘ride’ complete with animatronics, as I discovered). When the sun goes down, head to any restaurant or pub to bond with the local lads (or lasses). And if you enjoy early morning hikes, you can’t really do better than the hills surrounding Edinburgh, as far as breathtaking views are concerned.
Many women are wary about traveling alone, especially in countries with a bad reputation for crime and sexual harassment. For this reason, Vietnam is considered one of the best places for solo female globetrotters. The country’s crime rate is one of the world’s lowest, according to a 2005 survey by Aon. In recent years, the country’s capital city has emerged as a major metropolis of Southeast Asia — as well as a popular tourist destination, complete with a wide range of fun activities and friendly accommodations. Plus, any traveler — male or female — will dig the shockingly low cost of everything, from dining and drinks to clothing and souvenirs.
Iceland is a land of vast, barren beauty — which is all the more reason to visit the island nation by yourself. From volcanic hiking expeditions to naturally heated (and beautifully colored) hot springs, Iceland is prime soul-searching territory. Though it’s the capital, Reykjavik is a tightly knit hamlet with roughly 120,000 residents — many of whom are welcoming and happy to have a chat with you, perhaps even in English (it’s the second-most spoken language there). Plus, airfare to Reykjavik from the U.S. East Coast is dirt cheap at the moment.
San José, Costa Rica
Many travel advisories warn against visiting much of Central America on your own, but Costa Rica is often listed as an exception to this rule. Though the city is landlocked, efficient public train and bus lines will transport you to either coastline in just a couple of hours. Costa Rica is well renowned as a mecca for both adventurous outdoor activities and eco-tourism, and solo travelers can hop across the country to find fun things to do and socially responsible places to stay. Plus, the country offers numerous volunteer opportunities to visitors, such as English teaching or wildlife/botanical restoration, that will give you a place to stay and (in some cases) provide you with meals.
Have you ever traveled somewhere by yourself and had the time of your life? Tell us about it!
By Brad Nehring