What makes a destination great for solo travel? First of all it should be safe. Secondly, it should be affordable. Solo travellers do not have a companion to share accommodation expenses and car rental. Consequently, being able to find good budget-friendly accommodation and easily travel around on public transportation is essential. Finally, solo travellers need a place with friendly locals and approachable travellers they can socialize with!
Of course I haven’t been everywhere, so the following is a personal list of my top picks for solo travel, among the countries I have visited, ordered by continent (and not necessarily by preference).
Portugal is often forgotten by travellers to Europe, and this is a shame because not only does it offer some of the lowest prices in Western Europe, but the distances are short, and the locals are friendly. Despite its small size, Portugal offers enough variety to keep you occupied for months. As a bonus, food portions are large, and you can often order a “meia dose” (half portion) if you don’t have anyone to share with.
Slovenia is a tiny country, part of the ex-Yugoslavia, and was a delightful surprise when I first visited in 2003. Clean and green, with lakes, mountains, a small coast, and a pretty little capital (Ljubljana), it exudes a very good vibe which should make solo travellers feel comfortable.
Another piece of the ex-Yugoslavia, and right next to Slovenia, Croatia is another beautiful country with many attractions. Because of its long coast along the Adriatic, you can hop from island to island, and marvel at how clear the water is. You will also find its cities well endowed with history, and home to a great café culture. And because it is not as over-tramped as Prague or Paris, the locals tend to be friendlier.
Argentina is a large country with many different climatic zones and highlights. You can visit Buenos Aires to enjoy tango, beautiful people, European architecture, and rich food. You can tour the famous Iguazu Falls in the tropical north. You can go for nature hikes in the Lake District or Patagonia. And more. There is still a strong European influence in Argentina and it used to be a rich country, so you will not stand out as an obvious gringo.
Ecuador looks small on the map, but the Andes that split it down the middle make it feel much bigger when you’re travelling overland. Choose between mountain towns, the Amazon, or the Pacific beaches (as well as the Galapagos if you have the budget), or combine all the regions in an epic trip. You could also settle down in one place (most likely Quito or Cuenca) and study Spanish, as Ecuador is one of the best and cheapest country to do so.
Peru is now one of the most popular countries in South America, and safe to travel through (if you exercise normal caution). Accommodation is affordable, food is good, varied, and cheap, and its sights and attractions need no introduction. You will have plenty of other travellers to chat with, and like all Latinos, the locals are friendly and will praise your smallest effort to speak Spanish.
7. Costa Rica or Panama
These two countries are tropical eco-tourism destinations with both a Pacific and Caribbean coast. They are very affordable, although not a cheap as say, Guatemala or Honduras, but they are safer. A lot of North Americans have retired there already, so people who speak English are not too hard to find. Or you can spend a few weeks in Boquete (mountain town) and/or Bocas del Toro (Caribbean islands) and learn Spanish at the excellent Habla Ya school while staying with a local family.
Thailand is probably the most popular country is Southeast Asia. Despite its excellent infrastructure and its well organized tourist activities, the prices are still very low. Add to this glittery temples, some of the best beaches in the world, and the tasty cuisine, and you have a winner! The country has gone through some political turmoil recently (installing a military government last May) but this hasn’t had a major impact on tourists. From what I hear, it is still perfectly safe to travel there.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Cambodia of course is home to one of the top man-made sights in the world: the temples of Angkor. But it also has friendly outgoing locals, great food, and small prices. Inter-city buses are comfortable, and the local tuk-tuks (or moto-remorques as they call them) only charge a couple of dollars to take you around town. You will find many expats and “western-style” restaurants in the main cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. It’s all a lot more “civilized” than you may think.
10. New Zealand
OK, New Zealand is not exactly cheap, but it offers superb natural features, and you will feel right at home if you come from an English-speaking country (after you get used to the cute accent). Since it’s a first-world country, it’s safe, comfortable, and did I say beautiful? Even if you’re not a hostel person, you may want to try hosteling here: there are many nice ones where you can get your own private room. The fact that the NZ$ is still lower than the $US or even $CAD will also net you some savings.
Mexico would normally have made the cut, but I haven’t really researched the safety situation lately. I travelled there on my own several times between 2001 and 2008 without any problem.
If you want to stay within North America, I would recommend mid-size cities such as Portland, or San Francisco in the USA, and Victoria BC or Ottawa in Canada. They are easier to get around on transit, and generally have friendlier people than big cities. You can cut accommodation costs by staying in AirBnB rooms, or even stay for free by house-sitting.
Australia is also friendly to solo travellers, but their dollar has risen against the US and Canadian dollar lately, which means that the cost of everything feels higher. Distances are also very large. I you decide to go to Australia, I would suggest focusing on one region (maybe not Western Australia as it is the most expensive) and staying in AirBnB accommodation or doing house-sitting to cut accommodation costs.
Has this article been helpful? What other destination would you recommend to solo travellers?