We could wax poetic about all the ways traveling alone can be beneficial, however, taking the plunge and traveling solo for the first time can be a daunting thing. Taking your debut solo trip is bound to unleash a series of emotions that range from sheer joy to touches of loneliness. Thankfully, there are some destinations that make traveling alone for the first time far easier than others. Whether they're cheap enough to handle on your own without breaking the bank, or simply have a hyper-social vibe, these are the world's best places for first-time solo travelers.
Without a doubt, Barcelona is a solo traveler’s wonderland. For starters, this city is user-friendly to anyone and everyone. In fact, it’s one of the most-visited cities in all of Europe (and the world), meaning that you are certainly not going to be the only stranger in town. In 2016 alone, the city pulled in over 30 million tourists, according to The Telegraph. While that means that the tourist infrastructure here is solid, it’s the city itself — from its residents to its architecture to its almost year-round mild weather — that makes it a true paradise for first-time solo travelers.
For starters, whether you want to get around on foot or by metro, the city is entirely navigable. You may get lost in the dizzying warren of alleys that make up the Ciutat Vella — the oldest quarters of the city — but that’s part of the charm. Days can be spent sipping coffee in the cafes found in any of the plazas in this part of town, or along the buzzing streets of the sprawling Eixample to the north. Alternatively, you can do like the locals do and tuck into an hours-long lunch complete with wine and beer.
Because so much of Barcelona’s magic lies in its bustling public life — in the tapas bars and nightclubs, the pastry shops, the narrow streets of the El Raval or El Born, and along the beach — it’s incredibly easy to meet locals and tourists alike. However, it’s also the perfect place to spend some me-time. With so many things to see and do, you won’t feel bored or lonely. From MACBA, the city’s cutting-edge contemporary museum, to Museu Picasso, there’s a major art collection in nearly every central neighborhood. And that’s saying nothing about Antoni Gaudi’s famous creations, which include the stunning La Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo, and La Pedrera. Additionally, when compared to cities like London and Paris, hotel rates in Barcelona are far more affordable for solo travelers and both food and drinks cost significantly less.
Barcelona Hotel Pick:
While some beach destinations may seem better geared toward families and honeymooners, there are plenty of fun-in-the-run destinations that are great for solo travelers as well. And that’s where Costa Rica comes in. Here, the beaches have stayed relatively free of the high-rise developments that have sprung up in other parts of the sun belt. That translates to a far more casual vibe in the bohemian beach towns up and down its west coast. So why is that a good thing for solo travelers? Because with traveler-packed beach bars, dramatic sunsets, amazing local coffee, and a communal, social vibe, it’s incredibly easy to connect with strangers.
For beach-seeking travelers who are on shorter trips, opt for towns like Jaco and Manuel Antonio, where Costa Rica’s lush jungles meet golden sand in particularly beautiful fashion. Manuel Antonio (also home to a major national park) is around three hours from San Jose, while Jaco — a surfer’s haven farther north on the coast — makes for a lively beach-bum escape and is less than two hours from San Jose by car. Sun-seekers who have more time and are feeling more adventurous can opt for stunning Santa Teresa or Tamarindo, in Guanacaste.
It’s not all beaches in Costa Rica, though, and an entirely distinct side of the country is on display around Arenal. Here, cloud forests, jungles, towering volcanoes, and stunning lakeside scenery are picture-perfect and prime for a little introspection (which is the point of any good solo journey, after all). But the lively backpacker-esque towns in the region are also hubs of social life, with casual bars and cafes where travelers from across the Americas and Europe mix and mingle, often trading travel tips or buddying up for long-haul ride-shares. This part of the country is also prime for adventure tourism, like zip-lining, and has its fair share of hot springs as well, providing a perfect mix of adrenaline and relaxation.
Costa Rica Hotel Pick:
While New York City isn’t exactly a bargain for any traveler — solo, couple, or otherwise — this is a city of over eight million people, almost all of whom might just consider themselves both wildly social and utterly independent at the same time. It’s the kind of place where locals rove in packs or post up alone at a restaurant without thinking twice. That wide spectrum of socially acceptable behavior alone might make this the ideal solo trip destination. When you add in the seemingly limitless number of things to see, do, taste, watch, and drink that are available in the city nearly 24/7, it’s hard to imagine finding yourself missing company.
Cultural pursuits should be high on any solo traveler’s itinerary here. Museums are numerous, to say the least, and include immediately recognizable institutions like The Met, MoMA, Whitney, and Guggenheim. There’s also Broadway, where you can score day-of rush tickets for many of the major musicals by showing up early in the morning and queueing with other travelers and locals. Alternatively, head to the TKTS booths in Manhattan and Brooklyn to score discounted day-of tickets. If you’d prefer something even easier on the wallet, the galleries of Chelsea and Brooklyn, which show everything from major-name artists to the work of underground collectives, are free to enter for everyone.
Given its reputation in the world, New York is also the kind of place where you shouldn’t be afraid to do things that might make you uncomfortable back home. Why’s that? For starters, there are so many people in NYC that — as a tourist — you’re highly unlikely to ever see the same person twice (or ever again). This should ease any reservations you have about embarrassing yourself. Never been to a restaurant alone for dinner? Cozy up in a ramen bar or foodie joint on the Lower East Side and dip into the book you’ve been struggling to start (or finish). Haven’t danced by yourself before? Head to the neo-hippie nightclubs in Bushwick, where everyone is decked in homemade costumes and the pretenses are left at the door. It’s easy to get lost in New York, and that is — essentially — the point of traveling alone.
New York City Hotel Pick:
When it comes to easy-to-digest Southeast Asian getaways, Thailand has long been the region’s most famous destination. Yes, it’s a long flight from most points of departure, but there are numerous factors that make Thailand an ideal escape for travelers looking to go solo for the first time. One of the major reasons this destination is great for solo travelers is that your wallet will take a far smaller hit here than it would in Western Europe or the United States. Even on the Thai islands, where room rates are higher than you’ll find on the mainland, notoriously laid-back spots like Koh Tao, Koh Phi Phi, and Phuket have plenty of budget-friendly spots where you can score a room for $20 a night or less. And when it comes to food, Thailand’s world-famous street food often comes for little more than one or two dollars at most.
Thailand is also a breeze to navigate, thanks to its long history of rolling out the welcome mat for international tourists. The airports in Phuket, Krabi, and Koh Samui are all easily reachable by short and cheap budget flights from Bangkok. And you’ll find stunning scenery in any of those locations — from white sand and aquamarine water to jungle-clad mountains and photo-worthy karsts (the same kind of limestone cliffs found in places like Vietnam’s famous Ha Long Bay). The scene along Thailand’s beaches varies, and islands like Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao will require ferries to reach. If you’re looking for a party, then opt for Phuket’s Patong Beach or the full-moon parties of Koh Phangan. Krabi’s shoreline — including Railay, Ao Nang, and the Koh Yao — is more serene. Koh Tao is an escapist’s (and scuba diver’s) dream, with plenty of boho vibes, while Koh Samui offers a wide range of things to see and do (as well as beautiful beaches).
In any of these locations, you’re likely to find the perfect balance of socializing and seclusion, whether you want to post up on the rowdy beaches of Phuket or the calmer areas in Koh Tao. And if you really want to escape it all, there are a number of hotel options in these areas that aren’t even accessible by road, meaning that you’ll often be surrounded by little else than jungle, sea, and sky. That sounds about perfect for getting in touch with yourself, if you ask us.
Thailand Hotel Pick:
Lisbon is arguably the prettiest spot in Western Europe. Its numerous hills, cobblestone streets, colorful architecture, and booming arts scene all come together under one of the sunniest skies found on the continent. It’s also an incredibly approachable city that’s easy to handle on your own (even if you aren’t fluent in Portuguese). Part of that character comes from this city’s entirely walkable core — just keep in mind that you’ll be descending and climbing hills at almost every turn. But from the city’s magnificent public plazas — like Praca do Comercio and Praca da Figueira — to parks like Jardim do Principe Real and the city’s narrow lanes, there’s life to be found almost everywhere. If you want to start your day like a local, stop at one of the iconic kiosks for a coffee and pastry (or grab a beer at one for a sundowner).
Like many of the historic European capitals, Lisbon is the kind of place where you can and should get lost. It’s central, and most popular districts — Baixa, Chiado, Bairro Alto, Principe Real, and Alfama — are all packed together around the city’s main squares. In fact, as you wander in and out of the cafes, bookstores, boutiques, bars, and galleries of these neighborhoods, you’ll probably unwittingly have shifted from one district to the next — that’s how tightly woven it all is. A major perk of Lisbon is its street life: In every public square and at nearly every restaurant and cafe, you’ll find packs of people sipping wine or beer or coffee under what is frequently a bright blue sky.
At night, the city becomes even more alive, and the party frequently spills out into the streets. This sort of bohemian, carefree vibe can certainly lower the guard of even the most shy traveler, and helps make Lisbon one of the more friendly and easy-to-blend-in cities for a first-time solo traveler. And if nightlife isn’t your thing, have no fear, as there is plenty to keep you busy during the day. From sampling pasteis de nata at the city’s legendary pastry shops to touring its cutting-edge museums (like MAAT) or centuries-old historic sights, being bored and lonely here isn’t an option.
Lisbon Hotel Pick:
It’s big. It’s chaotic. It’s loud. And it’s not always the cleanest. But despite all of that, Mexico City is one of the best places to test the waters for solo travel. For starters, like Thailand, it’s a destination that makes it easy to get by on far less money than you’re used to spending as a tourist. Everything, from taxis to the metro to food, costs around a third of what you’ll find in comparable major cities in the rest of North America. Even better, the city’s legendary street food scene means eating alone never has to be an uncomfortable experience — you’ll be one of dozens of solo diners posted up at any of the city’s street stalls day or night. And you won’t spend more than a few dollars at most.
However, Mexico has its reputation, and depending on where you’re going in the country, those concerns may be justified. Many states and cities are struggling with high rates of violent crime that have prompted the United States and other governments to warn people from traveling to those areas. Mexico City, by and large, is safe for tourists. Of course, like any massive metropolis, it has its bad neighborhoods. But if you stick to the central districts like Roma, Condesa, Polanco, Juarez, and the Zona Rosa, you’re unlikely to ever encounter a problem.
Apprehensions aside, Mexico City is packed with almost too much to see and do. More than 150 museums are found here, including the National Museum of Anthropology, Palacio de Bellas Artes (which also serves as a working theater), Casa Azul (the former house and studio of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera), and the Museum of Memory and Tolerance. There’s also a ton of living history to explore, especially in the streets of the Centro — a stunningly preserved swath of colonial architecture that’s packed with shops, cafes, restaurants, street food, wholesalers, and more. For even more history, opt for a day trip out to the stunning pyramids of Teotihuacan and take your picture atop the Pyramid of the Sun.
If you’d prefer something a bit calmer, Roma and Condesa are leafy, upscale parts of town with trendy coffee shops and tons of international dining options. If you’re feeling even fancier, the luxury shops of Polanco can provide days of retail therapy. Need even more peace and quiet amid Mexico City’s humming streets? Spend your day meandering the quaint streets of Coyoacan or the Bosque de Chapultepec — essentially the city’s version of Central Park.
Mexico City Hotel Pick:
Friendly people? Check. Gorgeous landscapes? Check. Quaint guesthouses? Check. A lively social vibe? Check. Ireland is, in many ways, a solo traveler’s dream. While the country on the whole is far too large to tackle in any standard solo vacation, there’s something almost perfectly balanced about any trip here. That is, of course, provided you can handle the often gloomy and chilly weather. (Pro tip: head inside and grab a Guinness or Jameson to help stay warm.)
For starters, Dublin is a capital city that’s ablaze with all sorts of things to do. Plus, it’s packed with hotels ranging from humble guesthouses and hostels to historic luxury properties. While public transit here isn’t ideal, it’s easy enough to navigate most of Dublin’s popular neighborhoods on foot. Check out the pub scene in Temple Bar for your first taste of Irish bar culture (though it’s a bit rowdier here than elsewhere), but don’t forget to hit up the trendy cafes just north of the Liffey, around the picture-perfect Ha’Penny Bridge. One of the most appealing things about Dublin is that, compared to other Western European capitals, it’s quite small and easy to handle on your own.
Visiting Ireland’s other small cities and towns can be easily done by using the nation’s incredibly efficient rail system. A trip across the country to Galway only takes around three hours, and the vibe here has even more true-Irish appeal. In fact, Ireland’s western regions are home to iconic landscapes like the Cliffs of Moher, the Gap of Dunloe, and the Ring of Kerry. The towns throughout County Galway, County Clare, and County Kerry host an assortment of bars and pubs with live trad music and plenty of locals willing to trade information over a pint. Keep in mind that if you plan on exploring the small towns of Ireland’s west, you’ll need a rental car — and we’re warning you that the country’s roads aren’t for the faint-hearted.
Ireland Hotel Pick:
When traveling solo, you can explore a wide variety of experiences without having to worry about whether or not your travel companion will be interested in the same things. One of the best cities in the United States that offers an awesome array of activities is Portland, Oregon. While Portland certainly isn’t cheap — and hotel rates in the summer can be high — the cost of daily necessities here is lower than other major U.S. cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. You’re also likely to score reasonably priced vacation rentals in the city’s sprawling network of neighborhoods (which is better for mingling and living like the locals do).
While the weather isn’t always cooperative in Portland, if you’re feeling adventurous (and want to continue with the do-as-the-locals-do theme), rent a bike and start exploring. Portland’s downtown includes the Pearl District, which is packed with high-end boutiques and trendy minimalist coffee shops. Downtown is also home to exciting street food, which is a great way to save money, if you’re a solo traveler on a budget (head to the Alder Street food carts for a huge selection of international fare). You’ll also find the city’s iconic donut shops downtown as well as what is arguably Portland’s most famous store: Powell’s Books.
During the summer, many of the neighborhoods have nightly street fairs where local vendors come out to ply their artisanal, locally sourced wares. The mostly flat landscape makes getting around by bike fairly easy, though be prepared to cover some distance, as Portland is a sprawl. However, amazing green spaces, like Washington Park, are only a 15-minute ride west of the downtown area. There, you’ll find one of Portland’s most famous sights, the Portland Japanese Garden. If you’re really looking to get away from the city, though, rent a car and take day trips to Mount Hood or the Columbia River Gorge.
Portland Hotel Pick:
While Lisbon buzzes with big-city trappings, Portugal’s south coast brims with some of the most stunning beaches in all of Europe. The region — known as the Algarve — is massive, though, and not all of it is exactly prime territory for solo travelers. Hotel rates here are often lower than in other major coastal destinations in Europe, and in some parts, the social atmosphere is just right. You’ll want to steer clear of Albufeira and the towns along the central coast, as they’re packed with mobs of bachelor and bachelorette parties or families on budget holidays.
If you head to the Algarve’s western extremes, you’re in for a treat. Here, solo travelers can mull over the beauty of nature in solitude, meander through historic sights, or post up in traveler-packed bars and cafes to make new friends. With that in mind, the towns of Sagres and Lagos can easily be combined into one trip.
If the combination of stunning beaches, beautiful natural landscapes, and minimal development sounds like your idea of perfect solo escape, then opt to spend most of your time in Sagres. Here, the main street only has a few tourist restaurants and bars that come to life at night with travelers from across Europe. It’s the beaches in Sagres, though, that are the star of the show. Almost all of the area’s shorelines sit at the bottom of dramatic cliffs, and are far less crowded than the beaches found to the east. Here, the town’s boho surfer culture helps to make it a friendly place to unwind on your own.
For travelers who like just a touch of urban buzz alongside their pretty beaches, Lagos is the better option. Here, one of the Algarve’s most well-preserved historical centers is packed with traditional restaurants and pastry shops, cute boutiques, and backpacker bars. The latter especially make for great places to meet new people. There are also amazing beaches in Lagos, including Praia Dona Ana, though expect more crowds than in Sagres. In any case, having a rental car will come in handy — the two towns are only around 30 minutes from each other by road.
Sagres Hotel Pick:
There’s a lot about Southeast Asia that might put off a first-time solo traveler: The flights are long from most of the world, the cities can be chaotic, and the language barriers can sometimes make it a challenge to get around on your own. However, much like Thailand, Bali has been welcoming international travelers for decades (if not longer, now), and it’s an incredibly easy-to-explore place (with a little patience).
Where you want to visit as a solo traveler in Bali depends on your personality. If you’re looking to party it up with rowdy Australians and backpackers, head to Kuta. If you prefer a mix of trendy boutiques and fancier beach clubs, bed down in Seminyak. Seeking a communal, trendy, and boho vibe, opt for Canggu. If you’re in search of Bali’s cultural side, then Ubud and the jungle towns around it are where you should head. No matter which part of Bali you wind up visiting, though, you won’t be alone as a tourist. And, like the Thai islands, the combination of abundant sunshine, warm temperatures, island vibes, and cheap food and booze has a tendency to make everyone want to reach out and meet everyone else.
Although traffic can be horrible, the tourist racket is intense, and many of the beaches are crowded (and sometimes polluted), there are still plenty of corners of Bali that retain its stunning natural beauty and cultural heritage. The temples in central Bali, like Pura Tirta Empul, throng with Hindu devotees and tourists cleansing themselves in its holy waters, while Mount Batur is still prime territory for unreal sunrise views. The beaches along the Nusa Dua Peninsula in the south are also far less visited and in much better shape than those along the west coast. With hotel rates that look like a bargain even to the most budget-conscious traveler, and meals that can cost as little as two or three dollars, it’s hard to argue with Bali’s appeal for first-time solo travelers.
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