Ideas for a Solo Traveler

A question from the advice “line”:

I have three weeks off this fall and a limited budget (under $2,000), and I would like to go away on vacation. I also would be traveling alone since I’m at that “I have a real job with benefits/vacation and all my friends work at coffee shops/are funemployed” stage of life. I would wait for someone to come with me, but I really don’t feel like wasting the vacation time I’ve worked really hard for, but I’ve also never really travelled alone and am daunted by it.

Any suggestions on where to go? Where is safe (I can’t even believe I need to write this) for a young single female traveller to go without worrying about getting harassed? Where will I get the most bang for my buck?

(Side note: I’ve been all over the Caribbean and while it is beautiful, I feel the only places I’d want to go back to are Bonaire or Dominica, both of which would cost me a pretty penny.)

Oh no, I hope this isn’t too late! But the Times recently ran a useful if breezy guide to solo winter travel, and this site had one earlier this year. And everyone has different suggestions for destinations, but personally I’ve had the best times in places where everyone speaks English. Which is maybe a little pathetic, and obviously not true for everyone. But I also love the darkness, and so enjoyed last minute-ish trips to Iceland in February, and Scotland in December (neither of which is particularly cold, by the way — both were generally a little warmer than NYC, weather-wise, when I visited).

What about America? If you’ve got less than $2K and want to stretch it out over three weeks, maybe try a few places you’ve wanted to see, and a couple you haven’t. Train travel can be fun. And these are obvious, but I’d recommend: New Orleans, San Francisco, Austin. Maybe renting apartments in different cities for three weeks? Vrbo and AirBnB are both awesome for saving money and having excellent, “authentic” experiences, for lack of a better word.

As far as safety goes, I think the useful if vague answer is that pretty much anywhere is good as long as you use common sense and take some basic precautions. I’m not a travel expert, but here’s a piece with some fairly intense tips for staying safe while traveling, including to practice yelling “help” before you leave, omg.

This might not have even begun to answer your question, though, so we turn to actual travel expert (and co-founder of the custom itinerary-planning site Fortnighter) Alexander Basek, who also happens to be wonderful and brilliant.

Says Alex:

Hi Solo in Seattle!

Welcome to the wonderful world of traveling alone! Bring a book. Or better yet, bring a Kindle. Or download an e-reader app for your phone and start a totally enjoyable series that you can read while eating alone during your three weeks on the road. (My personal recommendation is the His Dark Materials trilogy, but if you want something more travel-related, any of Paul Theroux’s nonfiction is great. He’s cranky and it’s good to have a companion, even a printed one, to remind you that travel is mostly interesting for the things that go wrong.)

If you’re interested in traveling domestically, let me recommend the great state of Texas. It’s the size of France, renting a car is not going to be that expensive, you can post up at aloft and Hyatt Place-type chains, and eat delicious foods along the way. And this isn’t a backward way of telling you to go to Austin. You’d find amazing food and cool places in Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and, well, let’s just pretend you won’t have time to make it to Dallas. You can also extend this in the other direction toward Albuquerque — Breaking Bad tourism ahoy, plus they have a couple brand new nifty hotels — and Santa Fe, if you’re feeling witchy.

My other suggestion is to go to that place that’s the same size as Texas — namely, France. Paris is Paris (wonderful), but you’ll get great value outside of the capital. Marseille is buzzy (a Mama Shelter, which is sort of the Ace Hotels of France, just opened there, and last I checked it was under $100 for an awesome room in the center of town in November), Nice is off-season and so less de trop than it might be otherwise, Bordeaux is highly underrated, Aix is great, and most everything is an easy train ride. And no one’s gonna give you shit. The French are just the best. Be game to eat and drink things and try the language (or better yet, have an opinion about Francois Hollande’s personal drama), and you’re in like Flynn.

At Fortnighter we get a lot of questions from women who want to travel solo but are concerned about it, and I don’t have any constraints about telling them where to go. Many of our contributors are women, and usually they’re traveling solo in places where I would be VERY stressed to go alone: Suriname, Egypt, Cuba. Traveling solo is interesting because nowhere and everywhere is safe; it’s kind of an existential question. Although it’s also really a question of how mindful you want to be — some places require you to have your wits about you in a way that others don’t. It’s not that they are unsafe, it’s just that ramifications of a mistake are greater in those kind of spots than they are in, say, Normal, Illinois. So it’s more about knowing your comfort level before choosing a destination.

Enjoy your trip!

Commenters: where to gooo?

Also, we’re trying to get Alex to help out more frequently with travel-related content (and to send more people to Fortnighter, which is great), so if you have any not-too-broad, not-too-specific (Goldilocks-ish?) travel questions, please send them thisaway. Thank you!