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9 great destinations for newbie or solo travellers

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).

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On my first solo trip EVER, to Zacatecas, Mexico, in 2007

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).

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In Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

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.

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On my solo trip to Mongolia

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.

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My home for two nights

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*

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In London

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.

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La Tour Eiffel

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.

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In Bo Kaap

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.

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At Cape Point, the most south western corner of Africa

 

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.

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Central Hong Kong

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!

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The Royal Palace in Bangkok

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.

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Ziplining in Costa Rica’s Cloud Forest

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.

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San Jose, Costa Rica

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.

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In the camel market in Al Ain, a great day trip from Dubai

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!

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In front of the iconic Toronto sign at Nathan Philips Square

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Manhattan as seen from the ferry to DUMBO

 

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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9 great destinations for new or solo travellers

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    Art Travel Eat Repeat
    September 1, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    Great suggestions! Couldn’t agree more. And I’ve GOT to get myself over to Thailand, hopefully sooner rather than later.

  • Reply
    Lisa
    September 1, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    I agree, travelling around Paris is easy and fun, with others or by yourself! I studied French in Paris last year and spent 2 weeks with my family, then 4 weeks alone. I was part of a study abroad program with my university, but many times I was going places solo outside of class and meetings (I had a list of places that I wanted to visit, and I enjoyed it!). I mainly used French when travelling to improve my language proficiency etc., but like you said, there are signs everywhere and the RATP.fr transportation website was awesome! (especially if you aren’t too useful at using a map ;)) Type in where you are and where you want to go, and directions for RER, tram, or metro etc. are provided. The Paris metro is great as well! So easy to get around. I met some people who knew only a little English, but like I said, I mainly used French, so I didn’t use English that often. If I got a little lost or had a question about where I was going, I would just ask anyone on the street and many of the locals were helpful (*note: greet with “Bonjour Monsieur/Madame” at least – it’s more respectful & the French will like that you are at least trying to speak their language :), I even made a friend!

    My Mom is from NYC, so I of course have visited there and let me tell you, I LOVE LOVE LOVE NEW YORK CITY!! I miss it so much and would visit every year if I could, or eventually live there one day. It is very diverse from people to places, things to do, the food. The people are so interesting. It’s really a great place to see if you come to the U.S. – that’s what I tell every foreign tourist, that if you come to the U.S., please don’t leave without visiting NYC. I’ve been wanting to visit Canada for a long time now, so hopefully in my future travels, I can go there.

    Great article!

  • Reply
    Ann
    September 1, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    I haven’t traveled to all those cities but for the ones I have (Dubai, NYC, London), I concur. As for Costa Rica, which I’ve been to, I can’t say for sure if it’s ok for solo travelers. Yes for new travelers. I flew into Liberia and did a packaged tour with a friend. So my experience is different. I was surrounded by my tour crew so I felt safe and didn’t need to speak Spanish. I would think Spanish could be a language barrier. That’s what someone told me years ago though.

  • Reply
    Tiffany Arlene
    September 1, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    This post was right on time! I have been thinking about a solo trip but didn’t know where to start. It looks like London may be in my near future!

  • Reply
    Tiffany
    September 1, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    This post is right on time! I have been thinking about taking a solo trip, and London seems like a great first one!

  • Reply
    Latitude Unknown
    September 1, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    Great recommendations!! I just took a solo trip to Thailand, so I totally agree with your assessment! Costa Rica is on my bucket list, so I’ll have to consider it for my next solo trip.

  • Reply
    Rhonda
    September 1, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    Thank you so much for this timely article! My boyfriend and I have been planning a get away trip all year. Well, I’m now single but still want to travel but was unsure where to go alone. For my first solo trip I’m going to take baby steps and venture over to Canada. Bigger adventures are definitely in my future! Baby steps..

  • Reply
    Nailah
    September 2, 2016 at 1:32 am

    Great post, Oneika. I’ve been to 8 of your 9 suggestions, most times as a solo traveler. I’d also add Lisbon to that list – it was fairly affordable and easy to get around and they have some excellent hostels where it is easy to meet other travelers and enough English is spoken so you can make yourself understood. Keep up the excellent posts, Oneika!

  • Reply
    Nikki
    September 2, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    I really appreciate this post I’m in the process of planning my first solo trip and it had me overwhelmed .I think Toronto will be my first stop.

  • Reply
    Jules
    September 3, 2016 at 3:42 am

    One can always do the group tour thing if you are nervous about being completely on your own. You will definitely meet ppl and for sure will see the famous sites. Some tour groups will even pair you up with another solo traveller so you can bypass paying a single supplement. They are structured for lazy bones like myself and you do get free time to your own isht. Tour groups are a viable option for solo travellers who want to take baby steps.

  • Reply
    Omo and Eulanda
    September 5, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Would definitely add Lisbon to the list (and Porto for good measure too). Both are cheap, easy to navigate and full of loads of things to see and do and EAT!

  • Reply
    Dubai Beach Villas
    August 3, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    Lovely pictures! Great article and post. Glad to find your post. Thank you so much for sharing it. Wonderful trip!

  • Reply
    Jenny
    August 4, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    Love your blog Oneika💃 Interesting article awesome pics ! I’ve been to NYC & Canada way back in the 2000 but that was with my hubby & daughter, but did a solo return to Manhattan in July 2015 what a wonderful 5 days I spent there🎶 I did my novice solo trip to Milan in 2006 and then joined a tour to cover part of Europe with Paris and Rome being two of the cities included. I travelled via ferry from London to Calais to join the European tour.
    South Africa is my country of birth and born in the heart of Cape Town way back in 1951 I esteem it a privilege and proud to be part of my country irrespective of it’s few shady areas, having said that, where ever I travel I make sure that I avoid the grey and shady areas. The Bo-Kaap is rich with culture and friendly peeps. I love your pic there 🎸
    I’m leaving Thursday for the Caribbeans via a cruiseluner can’t wait 🍹🌴👣

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