The solo traveler doesn't have to hunt for other people's luggage at airports, or wait for somebody to shop or nap or pee. He can sit at the bar and eavesdrop on a new town, or become an instant celebrity with a round of shots and a single well-told joke. He can pick a day, any day, to sleep in. The solo traveler is a tiny country -- population: 1 -- ruled by a benevolent autocrat, with a single vote to count on any popular referendum. All those in favor of going out and seeing what sort of blazing hell we can stir up with strangers? The aye has it!
The solo traveler is free, in short, which means he's free to make a heap of mistakes. To put yourself in position to succeed, we rounded up writers who have roamed the corners of the world where nature swallows you, where locals embrace you, and where you can arrive as a person of mystery who might return one day and find people are still talking about you, years later.
Perfect for: Finding friends to dance and share tapas with.
When I moved to Spain five years ago without knowing a soul, I panicked. In a country so famously social (the entire concept of tapas implies having friends to share them with) how would I get by? Luckily, I landed in Seville.
The south lives up to its stereotype as Spain’s most fun-loving, open, hospitable region. Social life here is a public affair -- in the streets, in the plazas, spilling onto cobblestones outside the bars. One friend told me he lived in Seville for years and never saw the inside of his best friend’s house. As a result it’s easy to strike up a conversation with locals (if you can hold your own with the tricky andaluz accent) or some friendly study-abroad types (if you can’t).
You don’t even need a plan: just go outside and something will find you, whether it be a religious procession (there are so. many. religious. processions.) or an impromptu flamenco show, or a crowd of strangers watching the Betis game in one of the bars on La Alameda or Plaza del Salvador. For a real challenge, visit during the Feria de Abril, when the entire city dresses up like it’s 1899 and spends a whole week dancing sevillanas and day-drinking in brightly colored canvas tents, called casetas. A few of the casetas are public and open to all, but most are reserved for specific families and their closest friends. Score an invite to one of those and you’ll earn a spot in the Solo Traveler Hall of Fame. -- Maya Kroth
Glacier National Park, Montana
Perfect for: Staring down nature with your claws bared.
Halfway through a 3-mile hike up a steep incline to a remote mountaintop where one twisted ankle could spill you into a crevasse, you’ll start taking stock. Quads screaming. Lungs burning. Subconsciously you’ll touch the bear spray on your belt, like feeling your pocket for your phone. A big mammal who got the drop on this version of you, with legs of spaghetti, would have every advantage. Vince Lombardi used to say fatigue makes cowards of us all -- but this is where you determine that you’ll go down with teeth and nails bared if a critter decides to step.
That frisson of fight/flight will find you in any of America’s National Parks. For the full experience, I can recommend Glacier, in Montana. At more than a million acres, with 175 mountains and an epic 745 miles of maintained hiking trails, it’s a vast, beautiful obstacle course. You will see chipmunks and rabbits and marmots. (Aw!) You will also see bears and moose. (Oh.) The park encourages hikers to wear jingling bells to scare away bears and always carry bear spray -- especially if walking alone.
Alone you’ll feel the towering snow-capped mountains surround you. The silence sinks in, and when you whisper, You can do this you can do this, or a surprise Lord’s Prayer during the final mile, it’ll sound like a shout. This is a true holistic test. Getting to the end of a trail, or coming upon a peak and taking in an otherworldly view shrinks you down to size, and reminds you that nature really runs this bitch. -- Nicole Shuman
Perfect for: Prowling the world’s greatest museums at your own selfish pace.
Book a trip to Paris and friends will invariably ask, “Who are you going with?” Your perfectly acceptable response: No one, dammit. You’re about to binge on the planet’s best museums, and nothing spoils a woolgathering stroll, or long meditative sit, or distracted sprint in a museum as surely as other people. Paris’ Museum Pass costs just 74 euros for six freakin’ days of entry to 50 different sites, an inexhaustible number. I only managed to hit maybe a dozen, and that counts the Louvre, a Voltron of museums unto itself. The city feeds you culture and beauty the way foie gras farmers feed their geese corn mash.
So, now, when you go. Post up somewhere central and walkable. I got a quiet flat through an outfit called Paris Perfect, but if your tastes run more bière than Champagne, a no-frills one-room apartment runs a mere $40 a night on Airbnb. Then: geek right out, on the cheap. The French earned their reputation as snobs over centuries of plunder and toil, and today Paris shows off its treasures in truly historic digs. Take the intimate Rodin Museum, for instance, on the grounds of a grand 18th-century mansion that the artist himself took over in 1911. That sits across the street from the Museum of the Army, housed in a veritable palace Louis XIV built for his wounded vets. You’ve got dozens, if not hundreds, of similar spots to hit. But no one is here to rush you if you dawdle at whatever relic or exhibit makes your heart swell. Let the present day buzz elsewhere. -- Sam Eifling
Perfect for: Abandoning any and all inhibitions.
Bangkok is a “one size fits all” kind of place, a concrete jungle teeming with divergent personalities and crisscrossing travelers getting on in mellow symbiosis. Even for awkward or abrasive folks, forging alliances is pretty effortless. Friendly Thais will take you under their wing, delighted by your exoticism. You’ll befriend foreigners you might not usually gel with, united simply by shared experiences -- those WTF moments of navigating a chaotic hub that swings between electrifying and claustrophobic.
Show up to a bar opening or expat mixer, and a few flutes of Champers later, you'll be crammed into a tuk-tuk with a motley crew rattling off to a nightclub or after-party. Years ago, as a tenderfoot tourist in Bangkok, I found myself adopted by a Thai celeb couple and their posse at a Lady Gaga concert, treated afterward to a night of VIP bottle service and boogying at Bangkok’s best club. It was a colorful chance encounter, one that Bangkok creates like nowhere else. I jetted back to Canada, packed up all my things, and moved there. -- Barbara Woolsey
The coastline towns of Wales
Perfect for: A breath of fresh air and artistic fodder in quaint villages.
If you’re seeking a setting for your next short story, jet across the pond to the Welsh coastline. It boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world -- Barafundle Bay’s emerald fields, the colorful architecture lining the waters in Tenby, jagged rock cliffs at Presipe. Double down on the charm by staying at a bed-and-breakfast, or one of Wales’ many medieval castles like Bath Tower on the northern coast. Some beach towns (like Shell Island) double as campgrounds, so you can pitch a tent and fall asleep to sounds of waves in the countryside.
Wales is a safe country overall, which is obviously a plus for solo escapades. The Welch are also friendly and hospitable folk (just don’t call them British), so when you inevitably tuck into a local pub for a pint, making a new drinking buddy won’t be difficult -- especially since English is their most-recognized language. Native Welsh is spoken in more rural areas, but good luck asking for directions to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (yes, a real place). -- Brooke Sager
Perfect for: Visiting the world’s greatest breweries via the world’s most elegant vehicle.
A year after grad school, I bought a used bike and made my way around Belgium. I used my high school French to ask for directions and got very lost. I met a friendly little granny who convinced me, a vegetarian, to eat her homemade sausage. I met a man named Pol who'd named his microbrewery Inter-Pol. (He thought this was very funny.)
Two things make Belgium a great place for a bike trip. First, the density of great breweries. The entire country is smaller than the state of Maryland, and so crammed with world-famous breweries (over 150 of them) that you can stop at a different one each day. Biking between these breweries is dangerously easy; go on the tour, sample the beer, then hop on and ride off to your next pint.
Second, the country is completely bonkers for bikes. Some of its biggest celebrities are professional cyclists. There’s a bike shop on every corner, which saved me on two separate occasions, and a surprising number of dedicated bike paths parallel to highways. Drivers are much less threatening than in the States, an important consideration when you’re riding with a belly full of monk-brewed Trappist. -- Lewis Kelly
Buffalo, New York
Perfect for: Staying out until 5am with the new best friends you met at midnight.
In my home state of Florida, when two married couples start chatting up a solo traveler at a rooftop bar you assume you’re about to either get A) robbed or B) lured into a sex dungeon. So you can imagine my surprise when on my first night in Buffalo, as I drank alone at the Curtiss Hotel’s rooftop bar, two couples started asking me questions, bought me drinks, and never once used the phrase “so do you like my wife?” But this is how it works in Nickel City.
I spent three nights in Buffalo recently. Each night I ended up meeting strangers at bars who insisted I join them for more drinks, then wouldn’t let me leave until after closing time at 4am. People in Buffalo are the kind of genuine that folks from the coasts rarely experience, a mix of New York grit and Midwestern nice whose idea of hospitality is force-feeding you Jäger when you want to go home.
The city itself is chock-full of culture, breweries, and reinvented relics from its manufacturing heyday. And all of that is fun to visit solo. But if you’re the type who wants to be embraced into the local nightlife, you’ll never find a better place. Even playing tourist at the birthplace of the Buffalo Wing at Anchor Bar, you’ll meet some people who insist you bar-hop with them through the student-and-artist-filled bars in Allentown until 3, only to find yourself cajoled into doing 4am shots at the iconic dive Pink. You might wake up with a hangover, but you’ll also wake up thinking you’ve never had that much fun with a group of strangers. At least not the kind you can openly talk about outside of Florida. -- Matt Meltzer
Mexico City, Mexico
Perfect for: Flying by the seat of your pantalones.
In Mexico City, prepare for the unexpected -- the recent earthquake a prime example. But, tremors or not, the city’s clogged roadways and nebulous business hours reward travelers who don’t nerd out with bullet point itineraries. It’s best to simply walk, popping into one place or another, or (cheaply) Uber around CDMX -- which, in its center, feels as safe and as clean as any major European destination.
You could head into the bustling historic district where you’ll find plenty of opportunities to scarf street tacos, including more exotic meats like goat. The nearby Zocalo, the town’s main square, sprawls in a way that nods to the city’s mass. For your essential dose of mezcal, hit up La Opera Bar, a historic haunt that boasts a bullet-holed ceiling left by one Pancho Villa.
Or: don’t. Just prowl the hipster hoods of Juarez, Roma, or Condesa. Mexico City bursts with so many options that unique experiences can even be found at chains: Whether picking up a can of New Mix paloma at the OXXO convenience store or ordering pozole at La Casa del Toño. Whatever you do, be ready to hang with Mexico City’s many dogs that chill in storefronts, parks, and under benches. Follow their lead: Get lost. -- Colin St. John
Perfect for: Falling in love with Bossa Nova and ocean sunsets.
Try not making new friends in the Portuguese capital. Easy to get around, with an abundance of cafes, fairs, and parks, the city really turns into an open house during the evening. Jump on one of the bright yellow trams and grab a beer, a bifana (beef sandwich), or pasteis de nata at the renowned lookout point Miradouro de Santa Catarina, and join the rest of the city as day bleeds into an epic night. It’s a real meeting point where people strum guitars, play games, and get together with a palpable sense of easy camaraderie and pervasive romance.
Follow it up with a night in the Bairro Alto neighborhood drinking ginjinha and bouncing between bars as locals pour out their hearts singing melancholic Fado songs. Lisbon is getting trendy but remains, somehow, an unspoilt delight, rich in a love for everything and everyone. From the beaches to the barrios, you’ll find your place in the revelry so long as you can sing, dance, or eat. --
Perfect for: Seeing the world like a photographer.
Nearly everywhere you turn in Morocco, there’s something to be photographed. “The colors of the aged architecture suck you in,” says Eian Kantor, who took nothing but a backpack and two cameras to the North African country this past January. “The landscapes are paintings. The medinas are chaotic, yet beautiful mazes.” From city to city, Morocco offers something different. Chefchaouen practically begs to be put on film; its blue-washed buildings complement overcast or blue skies, and the vast Rif Mountain region surrounding them.
Three hours south in Fez, you’ll find an 11th-century leather tannery unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Animal hides are soaked in limestone vats of cow urine, pigeon feces, quicklime, salt, and water; then they’re dried and dyed naturally with spices like saffron. If you can forget where the colors are coming from and hold a sprig of mint up to your nose, the sight (dozens of vibrant vats) are seriously something to behold. Locals will ask if you want to see it from a balcony and charge you $5 (60 dirham) to do so -- which Kantor says was well worth it for the shot. Friendly Moroccans genuinely just want to show off what the country has to offer, a mission a photographer instantly shares. -- Rebecca Strassberg
Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
Perfect for: Outdoor adventures with strangers who consider you family.
Whitehorse is cold, isolated, and small. Like, population 25,000 small. It’s the capital of a vast, majestic region of Northwest Canada the size of California, yet with approximately one one-thousandth the population. In fact there are almost two moose for every human being living in the Yukon. (This is the best Yukon fact there is.)
To make life there tolerable, the locals have become alarmingly good at making friends. I stayed in Whitehorse for two weeks; by the time I left, it felt like I was abandoning my hometown. Within 24 hours of arriving I experienced the following: first, a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend heard I needed to borrow a Wi-Fi router, came over, and installed it. Second, he invited me to dinner at his house. Third, he offered to lend me his car to pick up groceries.
Whitehorse is also surrounded by scads of great opportunities to hike, mountain bike, kayak, or ski and dogsled in the winter months. It offers honest-to-goodness untamed wilderness, with all the associated rewards -- and risks. This is where your new friends will come in handy. When you’re one twisted ankle away from a seven-hour limp back to civilization, having someone to lean on is priceless. Plus most locals carry bear spray with them almost everywhere, with good reason. -- Lewis Kelly
Road tripping from Miami to Los Angeles
Perfect for: Embracing the weirdness of America’s most eclectic cross-country route.
Start in Miami. Head out early, grab a cafe con leche and say adios to the Magic City. Don’t slow down until you reach St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city. Visit the Castillo de San Marcos and Ponce de Leon’s “Fountain of Youth.” Next stop: New Orleans. Settle in for a night of solo bar hopping, beignets, and live jazz. Go for four Hurricanes or one French 75 -- the world is your muffuletta.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that ain’t just something folks say. Eat your fill of Salt Lick BBQ in Austin, tap your foot to a band or two, and then it’s onward to the Hill Country town of Fredericksburg. Marfa is totally out of the way, but go anyway to see what all the fuss is about. Lookout for Border Patrol trucks -- with 71 traffic checkpoints near the southern US border, there’s always a chance you’ll be stopped.
You’ll get an uncanny feeling driving on the 10 Freeway through El Paso (one of the safest US cities) and looking over at Juarez (one of the most dangerous cities in the world) on the other side of the Rio Grande’s barbed-wire-topped riverbed. The radio stations get a bit fuzzy and confused here, and you’ll probably get that “Welcome to Mexico” message on your cell, alerting you to a change in costs and coverage.
Power through New Mexico (White Sands!) and Arizona (orange rocks!), and stay alert at those sketchy casino gas station rest stops where you will inevitably need to stop and pee. If you can time your trip through Joshua Tree to catch a majestic sunrise, do that. Snap some pics, grab breakfast at an Anthony Bourdain favorite and your final destination is in sight; congratulations! LA’s hilly hikes, Pacific sunsets, ramen, street tacos, and tattoos might convince you to stay a while. -- Allison Ramirez
Perfect for: A culture binge and instant connections over a martini.
The only people bored in London are the insufferably boring. The city’s wealth of art and history museums are all free, including the Tate Modern, the British Museum, and Victoria & Albert Museum. The city’s markets, like historic Borough Market (which is older than the United States) and weekly Broadway Market make grabbing lunch a cinch without needing to sit at a table for one. Snag a ticket for anything playing at the Old Vic or National Theatre, particularly if it stars someone famous, and enjoy a long walk through Regent’s Park to Primrose Hill, which offers a sweeping view of the skyline. The city won’t leave you alone with your thoughts so much as stir a whole slew of new ones.
When the sun dips, head for a drink. English pub culture is some of the friendliest anywhere on the planet, and if you’re rolling solo, a seat at the bar is your go-to. Try for a spot at Barrafina or the Barbary, and then head to the Savoy Hotel’s American Bar, recently named No. 1 on the list of the world’s 50 best bars. It also happens to be where I pulled up a stool one fateful afternoon to order a martini (gin, dry, twist). The bartender who served me is now my husband. As I say, they’re friendly in these parts. -- Emily Zemler
Perfect for: Unabashed partying without an ounce of pretense.
A few years back I sauntered into a lakeside Bemidji (pop. 15,000) bar. I told the bartender I was having a lousy day and that the only thing that could lift my spirits would be partying with the town’s unofficial all-knowing mayor. The bartender phoned up Bill Batchelder, who soon arrived and loaded me into the back of his pickup for an all-night tour of the town’s outlying brewha establishments that included heavy-metal karaoke and a bonfire in a Native American reserve. Yup, that’s how they roll up here. I’ve since back three times.
The top of the American prairies can be thought of as an inland fresh-water sea -- an extension of Lake Superior -- where the island dwellers mean “Let’s party!” when they wave hello. The profusion of lakes, many of which permit only human-powered boating, are so clean that a drink means dipping your mug over the side of your canoe. That small-town magic pervades the place. The locals aren’t just friendly -- they’re fit, hilarious, and up for pretty much everything. Lake Superior-hugging Duluth is nifty too, but the ready-to-roll $2 tallboy-drinking AC/DC fans are dancing across the bridge in grittier Superior, Wisconsin. -- Bruce Northam
Queenstown, New Zealand
Perfect for: High adventure with a dose of self-reflection.
You don’t need a Tolkien obsession to book a flight to Queenstown, a stunning lakeside town on New Zealand’s South Island known for its skiing, white-water rafting, parasailing, and bungee jumping. If you have to prioritize, opt for the horseback ride through the sweeping green hills of nearby Glenorchy, through an area literally called Paradise. On a daytrip tour of Milford Sound, where you might spy penguins, seals, and dolphins alongside the boat.
The town itself is walkable, safe and welcoming -- all pluses for solo women travelers. Fergburger sells the best burgers in New Zealand (and potentially the world -- I ate four in three days) and Mrs Ferg will satiate any sweet tooth with endless flavors of gelato. The nightlife shifts depending on the time of year, but Gibbston Tavern is great for outdoor imbibing, while Rhino’s Ski Shack attracts fellow travelers looking to chat. Or skip the small talk altogether; your time is equally well spent sitting at the edge of Lake Wakatipu, where you can look over the impossibly blue water and just be. -- Emily Zemler