There’s just something about seeing the world. We lust for the wander. We thirst for adventure. Yet there’s so much that holds us back from striking out on the open road. Money, time, and a good travel companion are high on the list of excuses we use not to venture off into the unknown. The first two are hard to deny. We all have to work and time off is fleeting. Money, well, it’s always a struggle. But travel is now cheaper and, therefore, more accessible than ever before.
That last one is a little more of a conundrum. Do we really need to travel with someone? It’s looking more and more like that answer is “no” as solo travel skyrockets across the world. A big ol’ study done by The New York Times back in 2015 showed that solo travel has risen from 14 percent of all travel to a full quarter of the travel experience. Since then, traveling solo has only grown. Google notes an almost doubling in solo travel searches over the last three years. And, if that’s not enough to convince you solo travel is the new way to see the world, travel studies have shown 80 percent of millennial travelers were traveling solo this year alone.
Why? Well, studies of people who travel, in general, have shown a lot of benefits. We know travel makes you smarter, happier, healthier, and more empathetic. Traveling on your own amps all those benefits up. When you’re out there solo, you kind of have to make friends you’d otherwise likely avoid. Your phone isn’t a refuge. If you want to meet people, you have no choice but to look up. It’s thrilling, in a way.
This trend isn’t going away. The advent of social networking apps, augmented reality, cheap hotel and travel aggregators, and access to broader information as a whole means we’re more open to the whole travel experience. Travel companies are paying attention too. Back in the old days, you rarely found a cruise or tour operator that didn’t charge you a “single supplement” — which, let’s be honest, taxed you for traveling solo. Today, travel companies like Intrepid Travel and U by Uniworld specifically cater to young solo travelers who want a little adventure in the backcountry or luxury cruising in Europe, respectively.
We’d like to think that any time is the best time to hit the road. Yet, according to stats from the travel world, fall seems to the time when solo travel peaks. Hey! It’s fall right now. With that in mind, we thought we’d lay down three of our essential indy-trails. These are not so much hardcore adventures but more gateways to the world. The suggestions below will help you dip your toe in the warm waters of solo travel without having to plunge into the deep end. Happy travels!
AUSTRALIAN HOLIDAY: DARWIN
Australia is a great place for any American to start a solo trip. English is the main language spoken across the country, making that one less hurdle to overcome. Another great reason is Oz’s vastness. The continent ranges from temperate forests in Tasmania to arid deserts throughout the center to tropical rainforests on the Top End. There’s an amazing food, beer, cocktail, and wine scene in the major metropolitan centers. Then, there’s the Outback where you can truly get a little lost on a walk-about.
Your best bet is to fly into Sydney and hang in cafes and posh beaches while you kick your jet lag’s ass. Once you feel like you’ve seen the city, head to the Outback. Fly into Darwin, the capital of the iconic Top End. This is Australia at its most raw and wild. Take a tour of the backwaters and chase crocs. Run with wallabies. Fish for barramundi. Drink all the Great Northern beer (it’s very light, you can drink a lot). Finally, end your trip in the amazing Kakadu National Park among the red rock cliffs and idyllic waterfalls. It’ll be the adventure of a lifetime.
WHY HERE? There are plenty of great places to explore in Australia but “The Territory” — where this itinerary is centered — is so unpopulated that there’s a sort of easy communalism. Whether it’s stepping into a dive bar, leaping off a waterfall, or exploring Aboriginal rock paintings in a national park, you’re going to feel looked after by locals and the elderly RV travelers who vagabond endlessly around the region.
AND IF YOU WANT TO TRAVEL ON… Flights to Bali from Darwin hover around $400. It’s a short jaunt for a glimpse at Balinese culture, $2 massages, and some of the best surf on the planet.
CROSS EUROPE: LONDON-PARIS-AMSTERDAM-BERLIN
This one’s a classic. It’s also more affordable than ever. Airlines like Norwegian and Wowair have flights that’ll take you from the United States to Europe for under $200 each way. That’s crazy cheap.
Look, there’s not a lot about London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin that hasn’t already been said. These are iconic travel destinations. They’re also fairly easy to navigate with robust public transportation, universal WiFi, amazing food and drink scenes, and a real sense of connectivity. Tour guide groups like City Wonders make skipping lines at huge monuments and museums a cinch these days — saving you real time and money. Plus, you can easily get between these cities — either by cheap buses, super fast trains, or dirt cheap budget airlines.
You’re only a few mouse clicks away from being able to enjoy London’s cozy pubs, the thriving art community of Paris, Amsterdam’s coffee shops, and Berlin’s epic party scene. Use your travel apps, meet new friends, and come home with a new sense of the world.
WHY HERE? “Have you done Europe yet?” is literally the first question that backpackers ask one another. The answer is often “no” — with American travelers opting for locations where the dollar goes farther. But the hostel/budget/party/youth culture scene of Europe is not to be missed. Better than all of this: You’re likely to make friends for life, whether they be locals or other travelers.
AND IF YOU WANT TO TRAVEL ON… Just keep heading south. Austria. Italy. Croatia. There is a lot of Europe to visit.
PACIFIC COAST: SEATTLE-PORTLAND-SAN FRANCISCO-LOS ANGELES
Traveling doesn’t always mean going to the other side of the globe. Sometimes the best trips are in our own backyards. Case in point, the Pacific Coast. It’s hands-down one of the best trips you can take through the American West.
You have three main options — if you’re not walking Wild style that is.
One: Road trip. Fly into Seattle, rent a car (or buy one to resell later) and hit the 101 down the coast. You’ll have a chance to really dive into the Washington and Oregon coasts, Redwoods, and Highway One on your way down to La La Land.
Two: Jump aboard the Coast Starlight Amtrak train. The route will give you a chance to explore the Cascade mountains in Washington, Oregon, and California before hitting the Pacific Coast, south of the Bay Area. If you’re tighter on time and want to focus on the coast south of Pismo, this is a good choice. But be warned, it doesn’t trace the coast through Oregon and Northern Cali.
Third: Fly between major cities. Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are very well connected with multiple daily flights. If you want the trip without the all road, this will give you some highlights.
No matter how you end up traveling up or down the Pacific Coast, you’ll find amazing beaches, an abundance of diverse local foods, vast wine and beer countries, and some of the wildest nature in America. It’s, truly, a great American adventure.
WHY HERE? You’re starting in the beloved PNW, where aggressive friendliness is the freaking brand. People will be excited to meet you and, if you’re on a budget, the whole CouchSurfing industry seems to be centered on Seattle, Portland, and LA. More than that, you’ll be seeing your country, traveling one of its most famous routes, and exposing yourself to massive geographical diversity.
AND IF YOU WANT TO TRAVEL ON… We vote for you to head east. Motorbike it out to the desert. Then the American Southwest. Don’t stop until you’re ordering an Indian Taco on frybread in Navajo country.