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Travelling on your own may be your ticket to a transformative experience.
“To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world,” wrote British explorer and travel writer Freya Stark. Yet so many of us, used to constant companionship, are intimidated to travel alone.
Yes, travelling with a partner or a small group usually requires a certain amount of compromise. But many of us like the comfort of knowing someone has our back and will share our table at cafes and restaurants. A travelling companion also provides a measure of safety when strolling unfamiliar streets and alleyways, gives you another set of eyes, helps with the luggage and shares at least some of your interests.
On the other hand, as a solo traveller, you can choose precisely what you want out of your travel experience and reawaken your independent spirit along the way. Say you find a great deal online, but your spouse or friends can’t take time off. There’s no reason to stay home. Start packing. There is no one to consult, no one to approve or disapprove of your choices, no one to distract you or slow you down. Tired of gothic architecture? Skip those cathedrals in favour of exploring the arts district. Get up and out early in the morning, hit every sushi place you spot, go to a clothing-optional beach. You’re free to design your itinerary on a whim and make as many new friends as you like among fellow travellers and locals you’ll undoubtedly meet.
So where should you go?
Fascinating solo traveller destinations
The world of travel is completely open to you, and you don’t need anyone else’s approval as you plan your journey. Nevertheless, safety and suitability will probably play a role in your choices. A variety of travel advisors suggests major European cities and the following as worthy destinations for the single traveller.
Paris – The French capital remains a prime tourist and solo traveller destination. Sit outside (or inside to avoid the traffic noise) at a café on the Champs-Élysées, sip on a café au lait or a chocolat chaud and watch the world stream by. If linking up with other solo travellers is your desire, head toward Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots, two well-regarded meeting places.
Seville – Spain is dotted with travel-friendly, walkable, charming cities. Seville, the Andalusian capital, offers colourful markets, picturesque architecture and is a natural fit for the solo traveller.
Dublin – The Irish capital is a stroller’s delight, and its pubs allow you to strike up conversations with locals. You’ll meet fellow travellers on walking tours that explore the city’s history, architecture or literary legacy.
Iceland – Almost every list for solo travellers suggests using Reykjavik as a base from which to explore Iceland’s stark, dramatic beauty. The Laundromat Café in Reykjavik is a meeting destination where you can have coffee or tea, read, do your laundry or dine among a mix of locals and other travellers.
Vancouver – Summer is a delight in British Columbia’s largest city. Visitors can explore the city’s waterside parks and revel in its bohemian atmosphere. Attend one of its many music festivals, or for shopping, strolling, dining and people watching, head to Robson Street, the city’s “best” street, according to many travellers.
Queenstown – This resort on New Zealand’s South Island draws serious adventure types for bungee jumping, horseback riding and zorbing (hurling oneself downhill inside a giant inflatable ball). In this very safe country, you’ll probably want to check out the restaurants and the nightlife, too.
For solo travellers interested in Asia, Bali and Bangkok often appeal. The first because of its easy lifestyle and inexpensive cost of living; the latter for its shopping, nightlife, temples and floating markets.
South of the border, consider sophisticated Santiago, Chile – head for Bellavista, the city’s bohemian quarter – and Ambergris Caye in Belize, where rainforests, Mayan ruins and a stunning barrier reef offer endless appeal.
There are many more destinations, including ones for the more adventurous at heart. As you search for your solo adventure, keep these things in mind before taking off on your own.
Remember the single surcharge
Tour operators, cruise lines and hotels may tack an extra charge onto your bill to offset the money they’re not making from a second occupant. This supplement may range from 25% to 100% of the tour cost. To avoid the single supplement, you may want to go with a tour operator that offers roommate matching based on similar tastes and personalities. Among others that specialize in solo travel – use your favourite search engine – check out G Adventures (gadventures.com), Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com), Road Scholar (roadscholar.org; previously known as Elderhostel) and the Holland America Line (hollandamerica.com). These firms are known to match single travellers.
Safety is a concern for any traveller, but particularly those going solo. Without a companion to watch out for you, you may become a target for criminals and scam artists. But you have certain advantages, too. As an individual, you can blend in more easily than a group of tourists, which could help you stay secure. In addition to basic travel safety guidelines, follow these other tips when you’re on your own:
- Carry identification, and store it in more than one place.
- Stay in open, public places, especially at night.
- Walk confidently and purposefully.
- Don’t fumble with tourist literature or maps on the street.
- Avoid drawing attention to yourself by your clothing or demeanour.
- Be circumspect when speaking with strangers – if asking directions, imply there’s someone waiting for you. Don’t offer too many personal details that could put you at risk.
- If a situation doesn’t feel right, extricate yourself from it.
Finally, make sure you leave a copy of your itinerary with someone at home and stay in contact via phone or email.
Travelling on your own can open up the world in a whole new way. You’ll be independent and perhaps more attuned to your surroundings. A solo adventure may be just the ticket to becoming a little more adventurous in your everyday life, too.