Traveling alone is one of life’s most rewarding — and sometimes embarrassing — experiences, whether you’re fresh out of high school or you’re married with kids.
You get to wander on your own schedule, follow your instincts and pursue your perfect travel day. But you’re also out of your element. You may have to navigate foreign cultural norms and faux pas. You may fail in the process. The good news is those blunders build character — and make for better travel stories.
If you’re new to solo travel, it can feel overwhelming to pick a place to go, let alone plan the whole trip. I’ve had the best time where there’s accessible public transportation and plentiful Ubers or taxis. My favorite places feel vibrant and safe beyond hotels and resorts.
Remember that destinations that may have been perfect for some solo travelers may have been terrible for others. Some may be great for men but unsafe for women or people of color. Do your homework before you start locking in a trip to make sure a place is right for you, and take some basic precautions: make sure your phone’s going to work if you’re traveling abroad, and enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive important alerts and make yourself easier to locate in an emergency.
So where should you go? Start with these 10 places.
San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico
After traveling more than 20,000 miles across Mexico — passing through 32 states and 156 cities — cookbook author Rick Martinez has many recommendations for solo trips. San Cristóbal de las Casas, a town in the Chiapas highlands, makes his shortlist for its Spanish colonial architecture, textile artisans and outdoor markets.
The cafe culture reminds Martinez of Paris. “You can people-watch and relax,” he said, “and the food is really amazing.”
Don’t leave without trying the city’s tamales, roasted plantains and other fruits — from guava to apples to passion fruit — preserved in syrups and alcohol. Fair warning: you’ll have to fly to the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez and take a bus.
According to findings from a VacationRenter analysis on “The Best (And Worst) Travel Destinations for Introverts,” Denver is the top pick based on factors like population density, walkability and the range of activities. That makes sense; Denver has a laid-back style and is easy to get around, offering something for every kind of solo traveler (extroverts, too).
Once you get off the Denver airport rail at Union Station, the world is your oyster. Visit distilleries and breweries, hike close to the city or take a walking tour to see the city like a local, appreciating the murals along Cherry Creek trail.
After five experiences traveling alone in Japan, I fully endorse a solo trip to the country whether you want excitement, peace and quiet or something in between. I’m not alone.
“I loved traveling Japan solo because it is safe, clean, and people are so respectful, kind, and helpful,” Annie Cheng, founder of the group tour company The Table Less Traveled, said in an email.
The obvious place to go — particularly for travelers who may feel self-conscious being on their own — is Tokyo, where restaurants, bars and public baths cater to the solo customer. You could spend your entire trip in Japan’s capital, or venture out by train to see more of the country’s special pockets, from mountainous Sapporo to the beaches of Okinawa to bustling Osaka.
Don’t feel intimidated to plan a trip if you don’t speak Japanese. “Despite the language barrier, I’ve had some of my best meals in Japan traveling solo,” Cheng said. Her advice for travelers is to get outside of their comfort zone, try to talk to anyone you can.
“You may feel awkward, stupid, or embarrassed if it doesn’t go as you planned, but in the best case scenario you make a new friend and local connection,” Cheng said.
Chanice “Queenie” Williams, founder of the blog and travel planning site Fly with Queenie, says her solo trip to Tanzania this summer was a perfect mix of relaxation and adventure. With an itinerary full of cities, national parks and beaches, it felt “perfect for solo travelers, particularly women who may not feel comfortable alone,” Williams said in an email.
On her trip through Arusha, Moshi, Zanzibar, Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater, Williams stayed in hostels where she could meet other solo travelers, choosing places that had good reviews online before booking. Zanzibar’s population is predominantly Muslim, so “adhering to the dress code and covering up will keep you from standing out and getting stares,” Williams advises.
Food writer, photographer and cookbook author Saghar Setareh is has a list of criteria that makes a place great for solo travel. There has to be good public transportation (an essential perk whether you’re visiting for a layover or a proper vacation), rich cultural and historic appeal as well as an exciting food scene to explore at different price ranges.
Istanbul ticks every box.
Hop on a $3 bus at the Istanbul Airport and you’ll be in the city in 45 minutes where you’ll find everything on Setareh’s list and more.
While Italy’s big cities are immensely popular for wandering alone, Katie Parla, author of the forthcoming cookbook “Food of the Italian Islands,” recommends heading off the coast of Lazio to the volcanic island of Ponza.
It’s not just the destination that dazzles her, “I actually love the part of getting there,” she said in an email.
To get to Ponza from Rome — about a four-hour trip door-to-door, Parla says — you’ll have to take a ferry after a train or a bus.
Parla’s No. 1 tip for visitors is to rent a boat to explore the island’s breathtaking bays. After you drop anchor, “it is pure freedom to rent a scooter and zip around the volcanic contours of Ponza en route to aperitivo or dinner in the village of Le Forna as the sun sets over neighboring Palmarola in the distance,” Parla said.
Anais Martinez, a food blogger and culinary tour guide from Mexico City, recommends her hometown for any solo traveler. One of the biggest cities in the world, it’s full of museums and archaeological sites to wander, parks and public squares for people-watching and amazing food at every price point.
For those worried about getting into said famous restaurants, most “would happily take solo travelers even if there is a long waiting list,” Martinez said in an email. “Show up at the door as soon as they open and you just might get lucky.”
Easy train to the airport? Check. Amazing food from every corner of the globe? Check. An eclectic mix of neighborhoods you can explore by foot? Check. San Francisco is a no-brainer for solo travel.
Walk the city’s 49 square miles to get a feel of it all, from the foggy end-of-the-earth vibes of the Outer Sunset all the way to the waterfront Embarcadero, stopping along the way to grab a seat at the bar at one of the city’s many restaurants.
If you want a solo trip in paradise, Bali is the place. After my first trip to Bali, in 2015, I felt a gravitational pull to return for more time surfing, eating, making new friends, practicing the local language, listening to bewitching music played on the gamelan and exploring the coastline and nearby islands — all while feeling safe and relaxed on my own.
If you’ve never been to the Indonesian island, don’t spend your whole time in Seminyak and Ubud. Rent a motorbike and get to know the rest of the island — which is only about 95 miles wide east to west. You can ride through lush rainforest and rice terraces to pristine beaches with immaculate waves to surf and places to hike, or find new spots to feast on Indonesian cuisine.
Ranked one of the safest cities in the world, Amsterdam attracts solo travelers with its architecture, parks, restaurants and nightlife. The capital of the Netherlands was travel writer Ali Wunderman’s first stop as a solo traveler, and a favorite destination for countless others with similar stories.
Maybe that’s because it’s simple to navigate between biking and taking the tram. Or maybe it’s that “the hostels in Amsterdam are known to be great places to meet people,” Wunderman said. It was easy for her to make friends to go sightseeing and museum-hopping. But even when she was on her own, “It’s impossible to get bored,” she said.