Dreaming of adventure…
As of press time, the COVID-19 pandemic is still making all but the most essential travel impossible. However, for many people, the ban has merely strengthened their resolve to travel once we can safely do so again. The pandemic has had an unexpected side effect: we appreciate our regular freedoms much more, as well as the suddenness with which life can change completely, and our wanderlust has gone off the charts. There is a feeling that, once the pandemic is over, we will make up for the living we were not allowed to do while it was going on, and for many of us, this means seeking out adventure and new experiences. Stay-at-home orders give us the perfect time to dream and plan, to consider destinations we might have overlooked, different goals in our travels, such as visiting the 50 most beautiful cities in the world, volunteering, or supporting local environmental efforts, and ways of traveling that might have given us pause before, like traveling solo. Many of us have spent the year cooped up with family or roommates, and are desperate for time alone to process. Others have been alone far too much, and crave social connection. The solo trip serves both these needs, and these are the best destinations for one.
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Everywhere, Costa Rica
Though Stacy Schwartz is a born-and-raised New Yorker, the urge to quit her full-time gig to travel the world—alone—for three months struck her hard and she hasn’t looked back since. Eventually, she started her own travel company, Ketanga Fitness Retreats. One trend she sees emerging is Costa Rica, where people are kind and welcoming, and weather provides a healthy blend of ease and chaos, as both sunshine and rainstorms abound. Why does it make for a great solo getaway? One word: variety. “There are options to go to highly-visible, touristy areas or explore less-traveled areas depending on your level of comfort,” she says. Whether you stick to the shore or hike through the rainforest, pack an external battery pack because let’s be real: you’re going to run out of battery snapping pictures of monkeys, sunsets, rainbows, and more. These are the most popular destinations in Central America.
Mt. Koyasan, Japan
To be fair, if you’re going to make the journey to Japan, you should definitely see more than just one city, but one destination you should add to your solo travel bucket list is Mt. Koyasan, according to world traveler Shannon Ullman. Situated south of Osaka in the Wakayama Prefecture, just a five-hour bullet train away from Tokyo, this small town is not only beautiful but offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here, you can stay overnight in a Buddhist temple, experiencing the traditional rituals the Japanese are known for. “You’ll sleep on a traditional floor futon and monks will deliver vegetarian meals and sake to your room. You can bathe in the traditional, shared baths, and take a guided meditation class in the mornings. If you really want to get in touch with yourself, this is the place to do it,” she explains.
If, instead of having an Eat, Pray, Love moment in Rome, you’d prefer an Under the Tuscan Sun experience, pack your bags and venture to the Tuscan region of Italy. As travel agent Kimberly Hart notes, this part of the world doesn’t just offer beauty—and ahem, wine—but an escape that gives you ample time to think and unwind. When Hart made her way here for a getaway, she was able to book a stay at Cortona, which you will recognize from the film, and take easy bus rides to nearby wineries and small villages to sip and see. “I felt completely comfortable in these small towns walking around by myself as they were easy to navigate and people were welcoming, friendly, and helpful. It was nice to return to a home base each day as well. There was plenty of shopping, eating, and wine-tasting in the small towns, and it was a leisurely trip where I could really soak up the culture,” she shares. These airplane hacks will help you to travel in comfort.
When you first consider the ombré waters of the Aegean Sea, you might feel swept away in the romance of such a transfixing oasis. But before you whip out your heart-shaped glasses and start dreaming of a honeymoon, Kiersten Likkel from Cruise Specialists would like you to consider a solo trip to Greece. Specifically, a solo trip to Mykonos, which is known for its livelier nightlife scene, but with the same Instagram-worthy beaches. And Likkel should know, considering she’s been to more than 70 countries (all before the age of 30! We’re not jealous). In addition to sun, views, and local wine definitely worth sipping as you dance under the stars, Likkel recommends feasting on local Greek food—especially fresh-caught fish!—for a getaway you won’t forget. Just make sure you’re wary of your purse, as pick-pocketing is common. This is how to avoid being hacked when you travel.
Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland
Looking for a safe country where the locals are happy to show a tourist around (and pass her a pint… or three)? Schwartz says Ireland is a must-see for solo female travelers who want an adventure someplace beautiful, but want the comfort of being surrounded by native English speakers (although the accent might take a bit of getting used to—yours and theirs!). Whether you choose a larger metropolitan area like Dublin or Belfast, or take a gamble and wander through the countryside, Schwartz attributes some of her best independent travel experiences to this country. Worried about getting used to different customs and rituals while navigating? Don’t be, Schwartz advises, and instead, take it as a challenge and keep yourself open to the possibilities that may abound. “Driving on the left side of the road may be a bit intimidating, so I loved signing up for a day trip to see the places that stood out to me. As a lifelong equestrian, I came across a stable in the Irish countryside where I was welcome to ride, eat, and stay. I think Ireland is a great stepping stone for newbies to solo travel from the U.S. because of the lack of language barrier, the modern culture, and welcoming attitude,” she says. Travel professionals never leave home without these essential items.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
With a growing digital nomad scene that’s attracting workers from all across the globe, Likkel says Ho Chi Minh City, is worth the long-haul plane ride. Formerly called Saigon, the rich history and culture of Vietnam are accessible for a limited budget due to the affordability of this beautiful destination. Likkel explains that Vietnamese people are quick to welcome foreigners, and like to practice their English with anyone who will pause to converse. It also helps if you’re a foodie who follows your stomach. “Wander the boulevards of this burgeoning city at your own pace, stop to eat just about anywhere your nose leads you, and treat yourself—over and over—to the wonderfully affordable and hospitable day spas throughout the city,” she explains. As an added bonus? You definitely won’t get lonely here: “You’ll also find adventurous global travelers who are just as likely to strike up a conversation or invite you along to do something new,” Likkel adds. Wondering about travel insurance? Here’s when it’s worth it—and when it’s not.
While venturing into the jaw-dropping beauty of Switzerland might cost you a pretty penny, traveler and host Kelly Rizzo from Eat Travel Rock says you definitely won’t be disappointed on your solo trek. Not only is it easy to commute through various regions, cities, and countrysides with a no-brainer and efficiently-run travel system, but Rizzo notes that you’ll encounter many friendly locals and travelers alike along the way. “The trains effortlessly get you around the country, so you can visit the different German, Italian, and French-speaking parts of Switzerland in one trip if you wanted. This summer, I even took a scenic boat ride as part of the Swiss Travel System to get from Lucerne to Ticino in style,” she explains. You’ll want to read these tricks for getting over jet lag before hopping on a plane.
A few days of wandering in this beautiful historical city and sampling the local port generously administered by friendly locals and you might never want to leave Iberia to head back stateside. For a solo trip that offers both cultural immersion and relaxation, Porto offers beautiful views, amazing food, and history. The capital city of Lisbon is located just a three-hour train ride south, so you can head down to the big town for a couple of days of fine art and high culture. “Explore this gorgeous city at your own pace, taking as much time as you want to wander the hilly streets admiring the architecture and colorful tiling. Enjoy the bustling Douro waterfront atmosphere while sipping delicious port wine straight from the source,” Likkel suggests. These amazing Western European destinations will fuel your wanderlust.
This Central American hotspot has long been overlooked by American tourists, but tourism has been rising (at least before the COVID-19 pandemic). Once we can all safely travel once more, Panama is sure to be at the top of many people’s bucket lists. A hop, skip, and a short plane ride away from Costa Rica, Schwartz says this small country offers a unique cultural charm on a shoestring budget. “Bocas del Toro is a great place to start, with lots of adventurous activities, beautiful beaches, and hostels and hotels of all price points,” she shares. Her only warning is that most tourists aren’t American, but from other parts of Central or South America or Europe, so it’s a great opportunity to expand your network and mingle with fellow female solo travelers who seek adventure on their own two feet, too.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Though it’s a smart idea to be on high alert when you visit this region of the world, simply because pick-pocketing is a job here like any other profession, the beauty of Bosnia and Herzegovina can’t be denied. As the region still heals from a war that only ended in the mid-1990s, you will be amazed by the juxtaposition of new construction set against buildings that still have remnants of bullets and shelling. And outside of the cities, travel photographer and writer Tessa Juliette Torrente says the countryside offers a stunning escape to a part of the world that is still relatively untouched by mass tourism. “The exchange rate is great and booking private tours is completely reasonable, making it an ideal location for solo travel,” she says. If you want to continue your tour of this area, it’s easy enough to find a ferry to Dubrovnik and set sail through the many stunning islands and coastline of Croatia, visiting Split, Hvar, and more. Next, consider booking a hostel instead of a hotel on your next solo trip.