8 perfect destinations for the first-time solo traveler
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Do you ever want to stay at a local Airbnb, but your travel partner wants to stay at a five-star resort? Have you ever found yourself on a tropical holiday, relaxing by the beach with a margarita in hand, only for your travel companion to start itching to go zip lining or bungee jumping?
There are certainly many perks of traveling with friends, family or loving partners. However, nothing quite compares to stepping out of your comfort zone and traveling on your own. Solo travel has become increasingly popular over the past several years, as more and more people fall in love with the idea of globetrotting party-of-one style.
For those who’ve never ventured out alone, however, the idea of planning where to go can feel daunting. After having traveled to over 50 countries by myself, here are my top eight recommended destinations for the first-time solo traveler.
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Vietnam is a Southeast Asian sliver of adventure, paradise, beauty, delicious eats, nature and more. It’s a country that truly has it all. Ask any avid traveler what their favorite nations are, and Vietnam is bound to be included in that list, for good reason. Vietnam is safe, cheap, beautiful and full of adventure.
Hanoi is a perfectly chaotic city where motorbikes buzz through the streets from all different directions. Try some Bun Cha at Bun Cha Huong Lien, a restaurant visited by both President Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain. Here working women pour you large bowls of a fishy broth with clipped noodles, herbs and pork. Wash it all down with a beer at Train Street. Head to Ha Long Bay to see one of the new natural wonders of the world. When you’re ready for a city escape, head south to Da Nang, Vietnam’s hippest beach town, where expats from all over the world relax.
Extra perks? Vietnam is incredibly affordable. Meals run on average $2, and traveling around the country via bus will run you an average of $5 per ticket.
Where to stay: Intercontinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort.
When discussing different destinations around the world, it’s easy to group them into one of two categories: safe and unsafe. This can perpetuate negative stereotypes, and it’s important to keep in mind that every traveler’s journey is subjective. However, when it comes to Iceland, it would be hard to argue that it’s even remotely unsafe.
Iceland is absolutely, hands-down, one of the safest place on earth. You’ll likely meet several solo female travelers, as well as LGBTQIA+ travelers, because of the country’s inclusive and equitable societal standards. Downtown Reykjavik has a booming LGBTQIA+ scene. Also, walking alone at night isn’t as much of an issue if you choose to visit in the summer, because, around the summer solstice, it’s daylight (or twilight) 24 hours a day. Iceland is so safe that it’s been said there are more horses on the island than police officers.
As for the landscape, it’s true that Iceland is like another planet. You’ll be greeted with geysers, waterfalls, glaciers and volcanoes. If you’re feeling adventurous, try scuba diving between the tectonic plates that separate the North American and European continents. Keep in mind that Iceland is a bit more expensive than your average destination, so a downfall to traveling solo to this destination is not having anyone with whom to split the cost.
Where to stay: Hotel Ranga.
One of my first destinations as a solo female traveler was to Colombia, and never have I ever received as many questionable stares as when I told people I was headed there alone. Thankfully, I didn’t let the pessimistic comments get to me and headed out on a direct JetBlue flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Cartagena anyway.
Once riddled with a bad reputation, Colombia has cleansed itself of its ugly past and has become a backpacker’s and luxury traveler’s haven in recent years. It’s incredibly affordable, with some of the best cuisine in Latin America, and short flights from the U.S. make it an easy getaway.
If you visit Cartagena, expect to find a vivid city with nearby picturesque beaches, friendly locals, late night arepa stands and all-around sunny good vibes. Feeling adventurous? Take a day trip to El Totumo Mud Volcano. Don’t skip out on visiting the crystal-clear blue waters of either Isla Baru or the Rosario Islands. In Medellin, you’d be a fool to not take advantage of the flourishing and efficient transportation system. The city is full of beautiful architecture and museums.
Help rid a fabulous country of a negative stereotype by visiting solo — and have the time of your life while doing so.
Where to stay: Ermita, Cartagena, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel.
What traveler hasn’t dreamed of visiting Paris, the city of love? Though it may seem like a top choice for honeymoon getaways, who says you need a partner to enjoy a romantic vacation? Treat yourself to one of the world’s most popular destinations and choose your own adventures.
Enjoy freshly baked baguettes with cafe au lait each morning as you wake up to views of the Eiffel Tower or Seine. Explore the Paris Catacombs for a creepy history tour. Head to a winery, or even more luxuriously, to the Champagne region to savor the real deal. Explore the rocky beaches of Nice. If you want to make it a two-for-one deal, take a day trip to Monaco and tick off another country as a solo traveler.
Where to stay: Hotel de Louvre.
Has life been stressing you out? Are you looking for a proper getaway in a tropical location where you can sit on a hammock, drink a beer, pet some local dogs and just relax? Look no further than the tiny Central American oasis of Belize.
All international flights go into Belize City. You can spend a few days on the mainland to explore Mayan ruins or head out on a local ferry to one of the many islands, or cays. Why not opt for Caye Caulker? It’s a 45-minute boat ride from Belize City. Upon arrival, you’ll likely notice the absence of vehicles. Bikes are the primary mode of transportation on this car-free cay. The island’s motto is “Go Slow,” and it’s easy to feel the relaxing vibes all around you. If you want to venture out, head to Shark Ray Alley and swim with the nurse sharks. Want to tick off a major bucket list item? Scuba dive the Great Blue Hole, just off the coast of Belize.
Where to stay: Alaia Belize, Autograph Collection.
For travelers looking to jump into an extraordinary adventure, look no further than Japan. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world and has something for every traveler.
In Tokyo, feel the fast-paced energy of Shibuya, play Mario Kart at underground cafes in Akihabara and enjoy the street food of Omoide-Yokocho. In Kyoto, feel the calmness and history of Japan at one of the many shrines, preferably one of the country’s top visited sites, Fushimi Inari Shrine. Take a day trip to Nara, Japan’s original capital. Here you can meet and feed sacred deer who will bow to you. If your time and budget allow, head to Okinawa for some of the best scuba diving in the world.
Why travel to Japan alone? Japan will catapult you out of your reality quicker than most destinations. The traditions and cultures of Japan don’t bend and shift with trends, and you won’t be catered to based on your needs. That’s not to say that the locals are not above and beyond friendly. However, Japan is hard to make a home out of if you’re an outsider, pushing you to the ultimate limits of your comfort zone.
Where to stay: Hyatt Regency Tokyo.
If you’re into nature, serenity and road trips and want to get as far away as humanly possible from everything and everyone, New Zealand should be on your radar. It’s quite far from most destinations around the globe, meaning you’re likely to lose at least a day from travel. However, what awaits you on the other side includes stunning landscapes, sheep and bunnies to greet you, fresh Manuka-honey-laced ice cream and friendly Kiwis to assist you in anything you might need.
Road tripping New Zealand is the proper way to explore either island, and it’s almost a travel requirement to rent a car while here. Keep in mind, New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road. Though it might sound daunting, as long as you’re a decent driver it takes very little getting used to. There are also plenty of road signs to remind you to stay in your lane.
For adrenaline junkies, Queenstown on the South Island is a must. It’s known to be the adrenaline capital of the world, with the Nevis Swing (the world’s biggest canyon swing) as well as canyon bungee jumping. New Zealand can easily be done in just a few short days, or a few long weeks. Itinerary options are nearly endless depending on your time and budget. If you rent a car, as you should, New Zealand is one of the destinations where traveling solo means you’ll truly be alone.
Where to stay: The Carlin Boutique Hotel in Queenstown.
What travel list would be complete without including Indonesia? This nation is a popular choice for honeymooners, families, and yes, even solo travelers. It’s affordable, aesthetically pleasing and boasts some of the most beautiful scenery this world has to offer, from waterfalls and rice terraces to pristine beaches and more.
Traveling solo in Indonesia seldom means traveling alone. In popular destinations such as Bali, Nusa Penida, Jakarta, Lombok or Java, you’re bound to meet plenty of other travelers, many of them traveling solo. All over Indonesia, you can chase waterfalls, ride swings over rice terraces, meet playful monkeys and try the world’s rarest coffee called Kopi Luwak. Each corner is more picturesque than the next. If you feel adventurous, rent a motorbike to get around. Prefer to travel without responsibilities? Hire a driver to take you around for as low as $30 per day.
Don’t skip out a visit to Komodo Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Komodo National Park is home to about 2,500 Komodo dragons, as well as other species of reptiles, animals and mammals.
Where to stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Bali.
Featured photo by Kaitlyn Rosati for The Points Guy.
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