For more than a year I’ve been traveling solo non-stop. I sold everything I owned, ditched my apartment, and since then I’ve been zig-zagging across the world while writing, digital nomad-ing, and, okay, maybe vacationing—from surfing in Bali to glacier-climbing in Iceland, from hiking in the Alps to paragliding in Colombia. The tally so far? Seventeen months, 24 countries. Solo travel is my ethos: I love that it forces you to rely on your instincts and nudges you to connect with locals in ways that, realistically, wouldn’t happen if you were somewhere with friends or family. And after all that (forced?) self-reflection, I’ve concluded that solo travel is entirely underrated.
Where to do it?
Well…everywhere. The truth is that every destination can be enjoyed while flying solo, but some types of trips work especially well. These are your best bets.
The Photo Adventure
The camera is the solo traveler’s best friend. No buddies on your trip? No romantic partner to hold hands with? No problem. With a camera you always have something to do. In Ubud, Bali, I woke up at 3 a.m. to climb Mt. Batur and photo-chronicle the entire sunrise. Think Lisbon (or even Porto) has become too #basic? If you walk the streets with an eye toward photography, suddenly everything is interesting. Set goals. Today I’ll focus on street photography. Tomorrow, architecture. When I visited something as postcard-y as the Roman Colosseum, I felt imbued with purpose and pep—I will frame the sh#t out of this arch. You don’t need to be a pro or even know the difference between focal length and aperture; use this as an excuse to learn the basics, master your camera’s settings, or even splurge to buy a new camera.
Why it works: Now you can geek out with photography in ways that would irritate your normal traveling companions. (One word: Tripods.)
A Small City
There are a few obvious perks to visiting a smaller city: fewer tourists, cheaper prices. My favorite moments in Spain were not in Barcelona or Madrid, but in a sleepy café in a residential neighborhood of Seville, where I spent hours each morning sipping café con leche and chatting with locals, who might be a little less jaded than their big-city counterparts. I also felt a more genuine sense of British culture by killing a few days in Luton—a 200,000-person town I discovered by, um, accidentally booking a flight to Luton airport—than I did in London, and ditto Rotterdam versus Amsterdam.
Why it works: It’s easier to meet locals when you’re not surrounded by a group of friends.
The Coliving Gamble
In Malta, I spent three weeks in a coliving spot called CoCoHub, where freelancers and remote workers, mostly in their 30s from all over the world, occupied a 300-year-old building that used to house the Maltese knights. “Coliving” is a cross between a college dorm and a co-working spot; during the day I clacked away on my laptop, and at dinner we grilled swordfish and drank malbec while swapping best-bad-date stories. You’ll find a similar vibe in Medellin, Colombia at Selina, which has a meditation room, yoga studio, retractable roof, and tattoo shop, because of course.
You don’t need to “live” here for months or even weeks—most places let you try it by the day. It’s true that it’s a gamble (you’re risking the bros, the noise, the smells), but usually you can book a private room, and you’re guaranteed to emerge with a good story.
Why it works: Sometimes I crave solitude—but that doesn’t make me antisocial. Finding an easy way to mingle helps.
The Group-ish Tour
You’re not into big group tours. I’m not either. Yet there are some things that are nearly impossible to do on your own, and a smaller group tour (as opposed to a cheesy double-decker bus) can provide both logistical support and company. In Israel, I wanted to hike Masada at dawn and swim in the Red Sea, but I dreaded the headache of renting a car—Abraham Tours solved my transportation problems (they just shuttled us from place to place), and still gave me the flexibility to wander on my own. Ditto for Morocco, where I joined a tour to ride a camel (don’t judge) and sleep in the Sahara.
Why it works: I try to do this when I first land in a new country—it’s a handy way to meet new potential friends.
The History Binge
When you’re on your own, it can help to have a mission, a purpose. Much like the photo adventure, the history binge is a self-run education that can start before you even arrive. Read a history book, tumble down the rabbit hole, and gorge on podcasts like Laszlo Montgomery’s China History. In Beijing, if you set a goal of truly understanding the dynasties, you’ll see the Forbidden City as more than just Instagram fodder. Or focus on something specific like, say, Jewish history in Budapest. Instead of jostling with crowds in Croatia’s Game of Thrones filming locations, do a deep-dive into the Yugoslavian civil war. (Fewer dragons, more drama.)
Why it works: Your new flash-hobby will spark your curiosity and keep you busy, and you can luxuriate in your freedom to nerd out at your own pace. Not into history? The same “binge” principle applies to art, fashion, architecture, tech, or basically any topic of interest.
The Long Hike
Obvious? Maybe. But just because something has turned into a cliche (high five, Cheryl Strayed) doesn’t mean it lacks merit. My week spent hiking through the hills of Kashmir, India, allowed me to reflect and reboot, and I love that I saw more goats than people. “Long hike” is relative; this doesn’t need to be a three-month trek, and there’s no shame in joining the crowds that flock to Torres del Paine in Chile, the Alpine Pass Route in Switzerland, or Lares Trek in Peru—when you’re on your own, it can be nice (and safer) to have others on the trail.
Why it works: This is a classic. This is the classic. Long walks have been restorative for thousands of years, and will be so for thousands of years to come.