The Best Destinations for Solo Travellers

Expert travellers Kristin Newman, David Farley and Elizabeth Carlson share what they love about travelling alone and round up the top places to visit solo.

Travelling alone can offer an entirely new perspective on the world—and yourself.

A lot of us take vacations because we need to get away from home. Winter is too long, work is too stressful, or we just need a change of scenery. But then there’s another kind of vacation: the one where you need to get away from being you.

Some vacations don’t get rid of those home-thoughts. You sit on a beautiful beach and keep worrying about work or how much screen time to give your kids, and then you get mad at yourself for not feeling at peace in that beautiful place. You feel like your vacation isn’t working.

There is one way to guarantee that your vacation will come with a mental restart: Travel alone.

We talked with three frequent travellers about their motivation to travel solo and why they feel it’s so valuable to the modern-day globetrotter. Read on to hear what Kristin Newman, author of What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding; David Farley, author of An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town; and Elizabeth Carlson of Young Adventuress have to say about independent travel.

Kristin Newman: Newly single and ready to explore

TV writer and world traveller Kristen Newman found that travelling alone was the best way to get a fresh perspective and a mental restart.

The first time I travelled alone, I was 31, between jobs, and newly single after breaking up with a great guy because I wasn’t ready to settle down. If I was going to give up a relationship to keep my freedom, I figured I should do something with that freedom.

So I went to Argentina by myself for two months. I knew no one in South America, I didn’t speak Spanish, and the whole thing was pretty terrifying. Despite my fear of the unknown adventure ahead, I got on the plane, found an apartment in Buenos Aires, took Spanish and tango lessons, and met travellers and locals who took me in and became a new family of friends.

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The overwhelming nature of just moving through the day when I’m on my own far from home completely took over, and that’s the special sauce that always delivers a new outlook.

I have learned that when you travel alone you not only get to think a little different; if you want, you can even be a little different. Finding that alternate version of yourself is hard to do when you’re travelling with a buddy. I’ve taken trips with significant others, and girlfriends, and had magical times on those, too. But they didn’t transform me the way my trips alone did, because they didn’t deliver the greatest vacation of all: the vacation from myself.

Newman’s favourite places to visit solo

Bali, Indonesia: Just north of Ubud, the Tegallalang Rice Terraces provide beautiful panoramas amid Bali’s tropical climate. Photography courtesy Thinkstock
London, England: Take yourself on a theatre binge in London’s West End and feel great about how cultured you are, even when no one is watching.
Buenos Aires, Argentina: It has the glamour of a European city and the warmth of Latin America. Take a tango lesson at La Viruta and a milonga in the basement of the Armenian Cultural Center, then stay late to watch the cool kids dance. Photography courtesy Peter Adams Photography Ltd/Alamy
Queenstown, New Zealand: New Zealand wins in my book for best place to travel alone. It’s safe, gorgeous, and exotic, yet easy, and crowds are nearly non-existent, so you don’t have to make a single plan ahead of time. Hike lodge to lodge on the Milford Track, kayak beach to beach in Abel Tasman National Park, or swim with wild dolphins in Kaikoura. Photography courtesy Thinkstock
Siem Reap, Cambodia: Pretend you’re Indiana Jones or Lara Croft while scrambling alone in the ruins and jungles of the UNESCO-inscribed Angkor Archaeological Park – including the famous Angkor Wat. It’s just about as romantic a solo adventure as you could hope for. After, belly up to an expat bar and meet people from around the world who chose to move here. Photography courtesy Thinkstock

David Farley: Travels to learn about the world, and himself

For meaningful personal growth, journalist David Farley (pictured here in Istanbul) finds that solo travel helps him to break out of his comfort zone.

During my first year of college, I had become infected with a desire to learn in ways that I didn’t have the opportunity to in high school. When my humanities professor announced a group trip to Central Europe over the summer, I begged my parents for the money to go. They agreed. And it changed my life.

I discovered the best beer in the world in Prague. I ate goulash in Budapest. I saw Prince in concert in Munich.

When the group tour was over, I visited Paris for a few days on my own. As the train rolled into the city, I had my first look at the Eiffel Tower from a distance. I was star-struck. Or, rather, landmark-struck. I spent a couple of days wandering around the City of Light, never really terribly comfortable.

It wasn’t until I got home to Los Angeles a couple of weeks later, with my friends circled around me, hearing my tales from Paris, that my time there seemed a lot more fun and stress-free than it actually was.

“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect,” writer Paul Theroux once said.

Solo travel is a great metaphor for many other aspects of life. You can’t just move through time and space like a sloth, hoping other forces will step in and take care of it. When things go wrong on the road – and they often do – it’s up to you to fix it.

That’s why solo travel is so important for our personal growth. When you’re travelling with another person or people, you’re essentially bringing your quotidian world, your comfort zone, with you across the planet.

When you’re alone, the habitual you is peeled away because your mind can’t rest in the familiar. Your soul is stripped bare, and you have to resort to being a child again, asking for help from others and using the rational side of your brain to figure out how this new world works.

When I’m on my own, I end up feeling quite lonely after a few days, propelling me to crack open my shell and talk to people. If I haven’t arranged to meet friends of friends in the place – always a great way to get to know the city you’re visiting – then I go to an event, like an English-language stand-up comedy show where you can chat about the performance with other attendees afterwards.

Farley’s favourite places to explore alone

Prague, Czech Republic: To foreigners, Czechs may appear to have a frosty exterior. This quickly melts away with one tiny attempt at conversation. Within minutes, you’ll be clinking pints of beer in a pub or chatting about the best restaurants in town. Hang out in cafés, restaurants and bars away from Old Town – namely Žižkov, Vinohrady and Karlín – to maximise your chance of meeting locals.
Dublin, Ireland: There may not be a more welcoming, less intimidating place on the planet than Ireland. Sit in a pub in Dublin – John Kavanagh, aka “Gravediggers,” on the north side, or O’Donoghue’s on the south side – and someone is certain to strike up a conversation before you can drink half your pint of Guinness. Photography courtesy Thinkstock
New York City, New York: The Big Apple’s reputation as a bastion for rude or different behaviour may precede it, but it’s not necessarily accurate. New Yorkers, crammed into a tiny piece of land together, are really just giving you mental space. Engage them, and you’ll encounter some of the warmest people in the United States. Drinking spots, particularly in the West Village, East Village and Lower East Side, are great places to sidle up to the bar and chat with your neighbours.
Mumbai, India: Big, bustling Bombay, as some locals still call it, is sensory overload. But the people are curious and friendly enough that travelling solo here is a lot easier than in other places around the globe. Hang out in the expat spot Leopold Café, or stroll around the food hub Crawford Market, and you’ll be chatting with locals in no time. Photography courtesy Thinkstock

Elizabeth Carlson: Teaching English and falling in love with travel

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I moved to Spain to teach English for a year when I was 20 years old. I didn’t know anyone there or whether my limited knowledge of Spanish would be more of an asset than a hindrance.

I was eager to plan a weekend getaway to somewhere in Europe. I was thinking Paris, but unfortunately – and surprisingly – none of the other teachers were.

Taking a chance, I booked a flight to Paris for my very first solo trip. I knew I was in for an exciting weekend, but I didn’t know how long-lasting its impact would be on me. Unbeknownst to me, a weekend exploring the streets of Paris until my feet bled, eager to see everything, eat everything and meet anyone, put me on a journey to self-discovery.

Since then, solo travel has been my main way of seeing the world.

Carlson’s top destinations to see solo

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Dubai may not spring to mind as a solo traveller’s destination, but I stop through Dubai all the time on my way to Europe and always make a point of staying for a few days. It’s an unapologetic city if you want to pamper yourself – eat well, shop a lot and relax in serious comfort. Plus, roughly 84 percent of the city is made up of expats from around the world. Photography courtesy JandaliPhoto/Thinkstock
Koh Tao, Thailand: Tucked away from the bigger islands of Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Tao is an easy boat ride away. It’s a must-visit if you love the water and want to scuba-dive or snorkel, as there are amazing reefs here. It’s a perfect place for solo travellers to meet people, since many of the people here are in the same boat. Literally. Photography courtesy Soren Egeberg
Banff, Canada: Banff is a great spot if you love nature and wilderness but don’t want to sacrifice a vibrant downtown scene and lively nightlife. Many who visit or live here are solo travellers passing through for a season, so it’s easy to make new friends. Photography courtesy Gavin Heillier
Helsinki, Finland: I recently spent a week in Helsinki, and it blew me away. In this capital with an eye for design, the shopping is amazing. A growing culinary scene and a quirky café culture round out the city. Finland is notorious for its introverted culture, so if you like to keep to yourself on your solo trip alone, this is the place for you. Photography courtesy Thinkstock