Are you new to travel or new to travelling solo? Here’s where you should go.
I get the following questions more than I realize:
Oneika, I’m new to travelling, and not sure of myself. What are some great destinations for me to cut my travel teeth on?
Oneika, I’m new to travelling solo, and a bit worried about it. What are some of the best destinations to hit up?
They are both legitimate questions and perhaps more alike than you would initially think. They both convey the degree of discomfort and lack of certainty that stem from a) trying something new and b) feeling vulnerable in a place far from home.
I get it and I’ve been there. After all, you spend your money and time to travel and want to have fun. You don’t want to be unduly stressed on your trip (though to be honest, a bit of travel anxiety is inevitable).
If you’re a travel newbie, you’re most likely worried about the intricacies of trip planning, getting around, and language barriers.
If you’re new to solo travel, you’re probably a bit nervous about safety, boredom, and cost (oh, that dreaded single supplement)!
Some places are not well-suited to new or solo travellers. For example, I loved Bolivia, but would only really recommend it to moderately experienced travellers, because, outside of the major cities, infrastructure and transportation are not great, and you need to be able to communicate in Spanish to get around efficiently. Getting sick from the altitude is also a common occurence in the area, and seeking medical attention or medication can be difficult (due to the factors I mentioned above).
Here’s a “not ideal for solo travel” example: I went to Mongolia by myself back in June, and while I had an excellent time, I realized that it’s not an ideal destination for someone travelling by themselves. Cost is a factor: tours are expensive, and most operators charge a flat day rate which stays the same regardless of how many people are on it. This means that you’ll pay way more if you’re on your own.
And while I didn’t feel safety to be a concern, sleeping all by yourself in a yurt in the middle of the barren Mongolian steppe, with no electricity or running water, can feel lonely and isolating after a few days.
Do you see what I mean now?
Tips for choosing a destination (as a solo traveller or newbie)
If you’re a newbie you should look for a place that:
- Is easy or uncomplicated to get around
- Has good tourist infrastructure or well-trodden tourist trail (big cities have a clear advantage in this)
If you’re rolling solo dolo (and anxious about it) you should identify places that:
- Have lots of things to do (helps keep boredom at bay)
- Are relatively safe
- Yield various opportunities to meet other locals or tourists
- Aren’t super expensive for a single traveller
My top 9 suggestions for travel newbies and solo travellers
I’ve laid the groundwork, now let’s cut to the chase. Here are my offerings for great places for new or new-to-going-solo travellers.
Europe: London and Paris
Great for newbies because: it’s super easy to navigate (street maps and clear signage are everywhere); the Tube and Metro take you most places you’d like to go; they are two of the most touristy cities ever so there are sightseeing tours galore, and at competitive prices. If you don’t speak French, never fear– most Parisians speak at least a bit of English (which I think we can all agree is a universal travel language, even if your native tongue is something else)… even though they may not want to. *wink*
Great for new solo travellers because: both cities are bustling with a million and one things to do. They are very touristy and have hopping nightlife (which provides opportunities to meet other like-minded people), so while you may be travelling solo, you’ll never be alone. Brits in particular are super friendly and pub and quiz night culture makes it easy to meet folks on the fly.
Africa: Cape Town
Great for newbies because: It’s super easy. Like Paris and London, CPT is a heavily touristed city. Tons of itineraries exist online and tours (like the visit to Robben Island) can be booked online in advance, making planning a breeze. Check out my two week South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia itinerary for more ideas on what to do and see.
Great for new solo travellers because: You’ll never get bored! From Bo Kaap, to Table Mountain, to Robben Island, to the V&A Waterfront, the city has loads to keep you occupied. Moreover, with the South African rand doing so poorly, travelling to South Africa is a real bargain whether or not you’re travelling solo. While safety is somewhat of a concern, sightseeing during the day, sticking to the beaten path, and remaining conscious of your surroundings reduce the risk of any foul play significantly.
Asia: Hong Kong and Thailand
Great for newbies because: Hong Kong is crazy easy to get around– signage is abundant and bilingual (its status as a former British colony means nearly everything is written in both English and Chinese). Communication is thus rarely an issue. The transport links are second to none: the subway (known as the MTR) is fast and ridiculously clean, taxis and buses are everywhere.
The kingdom of Thailand, by the same token, is geared to travellers: with a fifth of its GDP coming from tourism, making sure its visitors are comfortable is a huge priority. Does crafting an itinerary give you anxiety? Tour operators offering loads of options line the streets, so your only worry is whether to pay with cash or credit!
Great for new solo travellers because: both places are cheap cheap cheap (Thailand in particular)! Accommodation, tours, and the like are a steal compared to Europe. And in terms of eats, street food is king: a feast at a dai pai dong (open-air food stall) in HK or in a soi (side street) will run you less than $5 USD. Hong Kong is also exceptionally safe (and I tell you this from experience, I lived there for nearly 5 years). The community there is also very welcoming– plug in to a multitude of Hong Kong meetups on AsiaExpat.com or GeoExpat.com.
Latin America: Costa Rica
Great for newbies because: Like some of the others, a trip to Costa Rica is exceptionally easy to organize and execute because the whole country is built around tourism. The level of English is good, the infrastructure is amazing relative to other places in the region (I found the roads to be in tip top shape), there are numerous tours and other resources that you can procure online prior to going. Getting there is also easy if you’re flying from the U.S. or Canada as there are many direct flights into San Jose, the capital. In many hotels and restaurants you can use the U.S. dollar, which makes things even easier, and renting a car is a breeze.
Great for new solo travellers because: Costa Rica isn’t particularly cheap, but it is safer than many places in the region, which should give some piece of mind to the wary solo traveller worried for their safety. Costa Rica is also a popular destination for solo travellers so it’s not difficult to meet other people.
Middle East: Dubai
Great for newbies because: Dubai is a gateway into the Middle East. Getting there poses few challenges (many direct flights from major cities worldwide) and planning activities is relatively uncomplicated (type “Top things to do in Dubai” or “One week in Dubai” and you’ll be amazed at how many fully stacked itineraries pop up). If you can’t bother cobbling together the details yourself, a Viator of Big Bus tour can be booked online at the click of a fingertips.
Great for new solo travellers because: The social scene is popping. Don’t let the conservative religious aspect of the emirate fool you– Dubai is one of the most relaxed places in the Gulf. Its status as a travel hub and expat haven also bodes well for the nightlife: expect glitzy rooftop mixers and bottomless brunches (yes, you can find alcohol in hotel bars and restaurants with a liquor license) chock full of people looking for a good time.
North America: Toronto & New York City
Well, surely you didn’t think I would leave out my hometown of Toronto or my current base of New York City, did you?! Despite my loyalties, they are both fabulous cities for newbies and new solo travellers, for many of the reasons stated above. Both cities are laden with attractions sure to impress and occupy even the most jaded traveller, they are exceptionally easy to get around in transport-wise, are awesome for mingling (umm, I’m pretty sure New York City invented the rooftop mixer), and offer activities and accommodation of all levels of budget (Groupon is your friend). Canadians are renowned for their friendliness *bats eyelashes coyly* and New Yorkers are a pretty outgoing bunch also. You really couldn’t ask for more!
What do you think of my selections? Do you agree? Disagree? And have you been to any of these places as a new or new solo traveller? I’m curious!
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