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Five top destinations for solo travelers

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Kayaker in Rangitoto, Auckland, New Zealand (Photo: Tourism Auckland)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on June 11, 2007. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Antigua Guatemala, Australia, Belize, Boston, Chicago, Denver, destination, Jessica Labrencis, Latin America, New York City, New Zealand, Oaxaca, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Miguel de Allende, Seattle, solo travel, United Kingdom, United States, Washington, D.C..

With solo travel increasing in popularity, many travelers look at traveling alone as an exciting adventure rather than something to fear. When you're flying solo, especially if you haven't traveled on your own much, picking the right destination can help ensure a better trip. Male or female, it's crucial to feel safe, and it helps to choose a city or country with a well-established network for independent travelers. But some destinations, while not unsafe, aren't especially friendly to solo travelers: A pricey cruise or a honeymooners' resort come to mind.

To help you plan a good trip, I've compiled details about five standout destinations for solo travelers—places that are frequented by other solo travelers, offer inexpensive accommodations and (in some cases) in-country transportation, and have lots to see and do.

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New Zealand

"I almost did not want to board the plane to come back home after 38 days of traveling throughout New Zealand," says Claudia Cavazos, 28, of Houston, who returned from Down Under in January. "Anyone that goes there will instantly fall in love with the place. It's magical, beautiful, clean, friendly, and above all, easy to travel, especially for a solo female backpacker."

Cavazos' impressions of New Zealand are echoed whenever I speak with travelers who have visited the country. Kiwis are notoriously adventurous, friendly, and welcoming, which makes New Zealand a great place to visit alone. In addition to well-established bus and hostel networks, New Zealand has lots of outdoor activities that adventurous travelers can join in without being part of a group.

New Zealand has more than 350 hostels open to travelers of all ages. The country's hostels are inexpensive alternatives to hotels, with rates starting at about $10 per person per night. Accommodations range from dorm-style shared bunkrooms to private rooms with a separate bathroom. Most offer full kitchens, Internet access, and an in-house tour booking office. Best of all, hostels are great places to meet fellow travelers. The Youth Hostels Association of New Zealand, Budget Backpacker Hostels, and VIP Backpackers are three of the largest hostel networks. You can read firsthand reviews about hostels across New Zealand and make bookings through Hostelworld.com.

Camping is an even lower-cost option. "Other than the Milford Track, where staying in a hut is required, I used my tent on my other tramps," says Nils Bonde-Henriksen of Boston, who spent a month hiking and camping solo in New Zealand at age 51. "I was surprised at how few people actually opted for tents—almost everyone used the huts, I never saw more than three other tents when I camped, and I was always double the age of anyone else in a tent. That was actually perfect, since I wanted to prove that I could still do these things even if I was alone, and it was fun to be with a much younger crowd."

Several networks of hop-on-hop-off buses connect popular destinations in New Zealand, making it easy to get around. Bus ticket options range from year-long passes covering the entire country's bus network to shorter-term regional passes. Buses are geared towards independent travelers and backpackers, and you can expect to meet lots of solo and/or friendly travelers on these buses. Passes start at $67.

Departures are offered frequently, as often as every day, depending on the company. Drivers serve as tour guides, and can help you book accommodations and activities. Most buses will drop you off at your hotel or hostel and pick you up again when you're ready to leave. Kiwi Experience, Magic Travellers Network, and Stray Travel are three of the most popular bus networks. Cavazos used InterCity, which sells Flexi-Passes by blocks of hours starting at $123 for 15 hours. She suggests not to purchase passes that are too large because "you will always run into people at hostels trying to share costs of their rental car, or petrol costs if they give you a lift."

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