With the capacity to empower and cleanse, travelling solo can also be a journey of self-discovery, a huge personal growth curve and otherwise a bundle of fun and adventure. Perhaps once it was true that many who travelled alone did so because it was that or nothing but these days many go solo through choice. It is not because they have no-one to go with or are lonely souls but because they actually prefer it that way. Statistically, many who travel solo – particularly women – are not even single, leaving partners behind and setting off on a journey to deliberately focus on themselves or simply to tick off personally significant bucket-list items.
Whether your hand has been forced or you have chosen to explore the planet solo some of us are still unsure where to start and it is normal to be full of doubts and fears. This piece sets out to offer a helping hand – serving up some ideas for how to narrow the choices down to find the best destinations for solo travellers as well as arguing the point for specific countries. Ultimately, solo travel isn’t just for the fearless – some of us need breaking in gently and mixed in here are plenty of destinations which will do just that.
Anywhere with plenty of hostels
Any country which has plenty of hostels is a sure sign it’s a destination attracting heaps of independent travellers. One of the main criteria for such a market is about finding the cheapest accommodation in town but another major bonus of such places are they are a great way of meeting others while on the road.
Those looking for the highest amount of socialising combined with the minimum financial payout opt for a bed in a dorm but most hostels offer private rooms of varying sizes too. If you prefer a little extra privacy but still want the chance to meet up with like-minded souls choose a hostel with loads of shared common areas. The most commonly offered places to mix and mingle are things such as gardens, kitchens, bars and TV rooms but you can also find roof terraces, swimming pools and games rooms.
People of all ages, social backgrounds and cultures use hostels as well as singles, families, couples and groups. Although not everyone there will be single you will find however that the biggest proportion of those who travel single opt to stay in hostels.
TOP PICKS: South East Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Europe
Anywhere with lots of organised tours
Joining up with a tour gives you instant access to a social group of people. Such effortless and immediate companionship is one of the reasons tours and organised trips are such a favourite of solo travellers.
Depending on your destination what’s on offer could come in almost any form starting from the kind of simple one hour tour of a museum or garden for example to a multi-night trekking adventure into the jungle or through the mountains. With themed tours aimed at specific interests such as wildlife spotting, bush-craft, visiting castles, wine trails or Art-Deco architecture, for example, the chances are high you will find yourself instantly in the company of like-minded others, all sharing a common interest.
Although you will find standard tours offered almost anywhere there are tourists, there are some countries which seem to be bursting at the seams with companies offering longer term tour and travel options with both fixed schedules and hop on/hop off possibilities. This means your entire trip or holiday could be spent with a ready-made group if you so choose.
As well as catering to all interests, tours also come in varieties which suit the energy levels of the participants too. Besides the most common coach or bus tour there are also possibilities for hiking, cycling or kayaking tours or those that go on horseback.
And in case you are thinking that tours really only offer sights and experiences in the most touristy and commercial places you might want to think again. Of course those places have a high density of choices but the whole point of many organised tours is to get you to places you wouldn’t otherwise be able to access under your own steam which means you could be headed way off the beaten path.
TOP PICK – New Zealand – This country offers a mind-boggling variety of tours and experiences of every kind but it is arguably the best pick if you want a longer term tour. Many of the companies here are in possession of global industry awards too which makes them exceptional in terms of what you get. The menu here is endless – included are options for those with very specific interests, for those intent on partying, those focused on camping/hiking/cycling/skiing/adventure experience, plenty in the hop on/hop off total freedom form and many more other possibilities.
Anywhere lots of other solo travellers go
Of course you will find solo travellers in just about every corner of the planet and trends come and go, but there are without doubt some destinations which seem to constantly attract more than their fair share of people choosing to travel alone, just as other places are better known for being popular with families and/or couples. Heading to somewhere well-established as a solo traveller’s spot of course raises your chances of meeting up with others like yourself and even finding travel companions, if that is what you are looking for.
TOP PICKS – Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bali (Indonesia), Mexico, Costa Rica
Anywhere Considered a Safer Option
Travelling can be daunting under any circumstances which means travelling solo is even more so for many. For this very reason many solo travellers – and certainly those embarking for the first time on a solitary adventure – opt for a destination offering the least challenges. For many the biggest and most daunting challenge of all is that of culture which makes anywhere Westernised, developed and where language is not a major issue very appealing and popular.
Additionally, personal safety features highly on a must-have list when narrowing down the destination choices. Solo travellers may have to wander around alone after getting off public transport, head out alone at night to eat and continually make decisions alone (often when tired) with no-one else to rely on to help make smart choices. It stands to reason that many solo travellers – especially women – opt for countries considered generally safer and with low crime rates.
TOP PICKS – Much of Europe especially the Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Malaysia
Anywhere you can join some type of class
All of the positive reasons mentioned before for hooking up with tours is also true for signing up to learning new skills or enrolling in classes – most significantly the chance to instantly find yourself within a like-minded group. According to National Geographic ‘meeting new and like-minded people, as opposed to seeking out a new partner, is a key motivator for many solo travellers.’
If there is something you have always wanted to learn or you have an existing skill or interest you wish to build on or simply immerse yourself in there are endless possibilities. These range from those easily found worldwide such as art, language and cookery but there are also more unusual choices in some destinations such as Thai boxing, yoga or massage. Some of these have become big business which sparks off a whole chain of competitor companies which all spells good news for the potential student.
Although some folk sign up on a whim while travelling a destination there are many people who actually travel specifically to do a particular something. In some cases this is to learn amid the excitement of a different culture or beautiful surroundings but for many it is because their interest area costs far less in a certain destination than it would back home. One good example of this is parts of Thailand where scuba-diving qualification courses are cheaper than just about anywhere else on the planet.
TOP PICKS – Thailand and Bali – If fitness, health, wellness or mind/body/spirit are the type of thing you have in mind you will find them in their hundreds in Thailand and Bali and often by the bucket-load in just one town or area. Such interests have long attracted the go-it-alone traveller and where yoga retreats and holidays are concerned typically more than half of any class will be made up of singles and solo adventurers.
Top Countries for Solo Travellers
Besides being an incredibly stunning destination, New Zealand has heaps of hostels and is full of other solo travellers. It also happens to have one of the most extensive menus of things to see and do you can find anywhere in the world and multi-day/night tour options of the award-winning kind beyond count. Add in the incredibly friendly natives, English as a pricipal language and so safe it is a country only considered second to Iceland in the whole world on the Global Peace Index and you can see why time and again solo travellers opt for New Zealand.
A simply stunning tropical idyll positively humming with spiritual vibes which makes it a top pick for yoga and meditation retreats and classes. Culturally exotic Bali has long had – and it seems will continue to have – a higher concentration of solo travellers than you would think possible as well as being known for the hospitality and warmth of its people. Factor in that Bali, unlike most of the rest of Indonesia, has a predominantly Hindu population – a religion noted for its ‘everybody included and welcome’ philosophy – and you may start to see why being solo here usually does not mean being alone. In short, Bali is that rare mix of a culturally exotic delight presented in a package digestible and comfortable for even the most nervous solo traveller.
To many Mexico is imagined as either off-limits dangerous or as the sprawling tourist hub of Cancun which at times is about as Mexican as Blackpool! However, this is a vast country and there are loads of incredible places which fall between these two extremes. Many destinations – particularly within the Yucatan peninsula – have well established tourist infrastructure and offer a great easy option for those otherwise daunted by Latin America. It has tons of cheap hostels which are often of a far higher standard than you would expect which equates to fantastic value for money. Additionally, Mexico – at least in parts – is one of the few Latin American options besides Costa Rica where you could get by with zero Spanish.
So often overlooked by those on the S/E Asia route, beautiful Malaysia is typically safe, stable, efficient and somewhat (and justifiably) beloved by the solo travellers in Asia. It is culturally exotic, comes with several idyllic tropical islands, offers incredible food from a range of ethnic backgrounds and has more than 60% of its population estimated to be English speakers.
Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos
Of course this is four countries but the Indochina area of Asia is so super-easy to get around that many choose to cover more than one destination and often all of them if they have long enough.
At first glance South East Asia may seem a little daunting with its worlds apart culture and food and the added challenge of a language barrier but in reality it truly doesn’t get any easier than this, Thailand in particular. These countries are now all so long-established and popular on the holiday makers’ and independent travellers’ route (Laos a little less so) that everything is in place and deliberately set up to make life as easy as possible to visit. Locals are totally used to seeing tourists everywhere and the strange ways in which they behave. Additionally, these places are full of solo travellers, have tons of hostels and are packed with tours of every kind along with all kinds of exciting things to see and do.
The great beauty of these countries which will offer you a wonderful blend of the culturally exotic combined with solid tourist infrastructure is that you can stick to the well-beaten path if you are just finding your feet or don’t want to stray too far out of your comfort zone. However, if you start to feel a little more adventurous each of these countries offers plenty of options for escaping the crowds and exploring your new confidence.
Along with all these solo travel pluses there is one more; as a cheap area of the world solo travellers on a tight budget can finally opt for something other than a dorm bed in a hostel. Here private rooms of all kinds can be picked up for a budget-friendly price and without the single room supplements you might find elsewhere in the world.
And a few other worthy contenders…
Australia – so huge it is almost like several destinations in one without the hassle of border crossings.
Costa Rica – The most Westernised and arguably stable of all the Latin American countries with English widely spoken.
Ireland – Full of some of the warmest people you are likely to find in Europe – you will never be alone for long here.
The Philippines – An exotic Asian multi-island destination where English is one of the official languages and the people as welcoming as it gets.
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