Guide to the best destinations for solo travelers
There are many great reasons to travel by yourself, although many of us do it primarily because we can't find companions to join us on trips that last weeks or months or years. Since 2010 I've been running travel websites for a living and I've literally spent about six of those years traveling and living in places around the world. Solo travel chose me rather than the other way around, and somehow I'm an accidental expert on the subject.
Finding the best places to go as a solo traveler can be tricky at first. Other articles I've seen simply list places the author enjoys and recommends that you go solo for that reason alone. In the article below I describe many different types of places that can be good choices for solo travelers along with why. I think and hope that people will find it useful and at least give you some strategies for what to look for and what to avoid on solo trips.
What are solo travelers looking for?
Before I start discussing specific suggestions for solo traveler destinations it's important to figure out what our goals actually are with this. Most solo travelers prefer to go to places where they can easily meet other travelers or locals rather than feel isolated. It's always nice to have that option, even if you also enjoy keeping to yourself some of the time.
Another key factor is to choose places where solo travelers don't get punished with couples pricing. Those who have shopped for solo travel are familiar with resorts or tours where things are priced “per person, based on double occupancy,” and those are situations we want to avoid.
My recommendations below will be clustered into the following categories, which should help you find your best options in a hurry:
- Destinations with good hostel scenes
- Destinations with many free walking tours
- Destinations where you can speak with most locals
- Places where expats settle and making friends is easy
- Tours where singles are welcome or even dominate the group
- Places where singles can travel for half what a couple travels for
- Cruise ships with singles cabins and social programs
- Or places where you can be alone and feel great about it
Go to places with a good hostel scene, even if you aren't staying in one
If you are a young backpacker then this one will be obvious not long into your first big trip, but even if you are older or prefer hotel rooms or apartment rentals you can use the resources of a hostel scene to make friends. Every large city will have at least a few hostels, however that may not be enough as many newer hostels are little more than hotels with dorm beds and no social structure to speak of.
Even if you prefer a private room in a hostel or staying somewhere else completely, you can often blend in with the social scene if the place has a bar and/or an activities desk. Larger hostels are obviously better than smaller ones, so look for places with many dorms and hundreds of positive reviews.
My favorite chain for this is St. Christopher's Inn, which literally has a bar called Belushi's (for some reason) instead of a lobby at all of its locations around Europe. They've got 20 locations as of now and any of them can be a good hub for a solo traveler.
Cities with great hostel scenes
This underrated city has famously dominated the “best hostel” rankings for years and most things here are surprisingly cheap as well.
Better still, its location at the edge of Europe means you'll have a decent chance of making friends who are also going in your direction next.
In general Amsterdam tends to attract a lot of couples as well as groups who are coming to party. But it's also very popular with solo travelers and it's got some of the best hostels in Europe (including a St. Christopher's Inn with a great location).
The Bulldog chain of hostels are the most famous here and each is a good base to meet other solo wanderers.
This city has become almost too popular in recent years according to some, but it's popular for a reason. It's one of Europe's few big cities that has actual beaches and great weather most of the year.
Barcelona is also loaded with a great number of larger hostels with good locations that are good hubs for meeting others.
New York can actually seem like a cold city if you are there on your own and you don't know anyone, so it's helpful that it's got a large number of hostels, including the HI NYC Hostel, which is the country's largest and one of the most famous.
It attracts guests from all over the world as well as all over the US and Canada, so it's a great place to make friends to explore the Big Apple with.
Many cities have a small area with multiple hostels and some cheap restaurants popular with the guests, but Bangkok has an entire large district that some people refer to as a “backpacker ghetto.”
Khaosan Road feels like it was built for backpackers and even solo travelers. It's stuffed with hostels and bars and restaurants and street food vendors to the point that it feels like a nonstop party. It's also extremely close to the most famous temples and palaces, so it's a perfect location for solo travelers and sightseers in general.
Australians love to travel, especially in their youth, and so the country also has a huge network of “Backpackers” as they typically call hostels. This is a huge and busy city so solo travelers can easily feel lost, and staying in a hostel is your best bet for making friends.
Not only will you meet people from all over Europe, Asia, and North America, but you'll be rubbing elbows with quite a few actual Aussies as well.
You may not yet have heard of the adventure capital of New Zealand, which boasts wonderful scenery and activities in both summer and winter, but you are going to want to visit Queenstown when you come to New Zealand.
It's a small city and many people come in groups, so it's fortunate that they have enough centrally located hostels to help solo visitors find each other.
Go to cities with a thriving scene for free walking tours
The global boom in “free” walking tours, which are actually tips-based walking tours, has also been a boon to solo travelers if they know what to look for. You can now find these free walking tours in almost every city you'd think of visiting, but solo travelers are best off seeking out cities that have a thriving scene of tours that often also include pub crawls and other evening activities.
Generally you'll find these in the largest and most popular cities, and they can be a great strategy to meet interesting people from all over, including couples and groups. I'm usually quite shy and struggle to make quick friends on the road, but on the 30 or so free walking tours I've done it seems like it's rare that I don't at least make a friend for the day. Again, look for walking tour companies that also run pub crawls because it's pretty much impossible to NOT make friends on those. And worst case scenario, you can always chat with the tour guide between stops.
Cities with thriving free walking tour scenes
The modern-day free walking tour was invented in Berlin in 2004, and to this day Berlin's are some of the most popular.
This is especially helpful because Berlin is a giant city that is quite spread out, so meeting other solo travelers isn't otherwise easy.
This is another wonderful and fascinating city that doesn't have an obvious social center for solo travelers, so the free walking tours can really come in handy.
The bar scene here is also pretty amazing with the “ruin pubs”, however it may be difficult meeting people in those places if you are there alone.
This backpacker heaven is more popular every year partly because of the amazing value you get and that it's a gorgeous and fun place to visit, but it can be tough for solo travelers because not many locals are fluent in English and the nightlife is somewhat spread out.
The free walking tours in the daytime are fantastic and the pub crawls in the evening are excellent for meeting other travelers.
Madrid is one of Europe's most notorious party cities, and it's got a lot going for it during the day as well, but unless you speak some Spanish you might feel a bit isolated here.
Fortunately Madrid also has a thriving free walking tour scene that also includes pub crawls and tapas explorations, which are all great ways of meeting other people from all over.
Go to places where most people speak English, and this list is not obvious at first
For the above situations I've mostly focused on great solo destinations to meet other travelers, but what if your preference is to meet and mingle with locals? Many solo travelers enjoy solo travel because being alone actually makes a traveler far more approachable so it's easier to befriend locals rather than other backpackers.
If you speak a language other than English then you've got at least a few more choices of places to go, and you probably already know where those are. But if you are the typical English-only speaker the list of places where you'll be able to communicate with others may not be so obvious.
Generally speaking, the fewer people who speak a language globally correlates with the likelihood that they'll also speak fluent English. For example, France and Spain are large countries with many former colonies that still speak their languages, so locals in those countries don't prioritize English. Yet a country like the Netherlands has almost zero Dutch speakers outside its borders, so they focus on English. Of course, many countries are former British colonies so English still has a good foothold there.
Cities where most people speak English
Mainland China is still a place where English is almost as rare as Mexican food, but since the British ran Hong Kong until 1996, it's still easy to strike up a conversation with almost anyone a tourist encounters and be understood.
Hong Kong is amazing in countless ways so it's also fortunate that solo travelers have an easier time of it because communication is quite easy.
Singapore used to be part of Malaysia and that means it was also part of the British Empire starting in the 1700s. In recent decades Singapore has boomed by becoming one of the world's most important trading ports and business cities, and English is widely spoken as a result.
Solo travelers may struggle to find cheap hostel beds, but cheap meals in hawker centers are abundant and ordering in English is the norm. By the way, nearby Kuala Lumpur has a similar story although with less recent growth, and it's another wonderful place where English is all you need to chat with anyone you meet.
Indonesia was actually a colony of the Dutch rather than the British, but you won't find many traces of that if you visit today. What you will find is a huge tourist industry that is dominated by the English language, partly because of its popularity among Australians.
In many popular Asian destinations you'll find that locals tend to know enough English to help their guests, but in Bali it's on another level and you can actually chat with almost anyone.
The colonial era was tough on many countries and India was among them. That said, the British roots put down here are still strong when it comes to the language, and English is widely spoken. Curiously, almost 100% of the signs and advertisements in India are written in English, so it feels like English is more widely understood than it really is.
Solo travelers will find it easy to get around and order at restaurants and chat with people in shops, which isn't true all over Asia. Goa actually has Portuguese colonial history, which makes its way into some of the food, although English is still the lingua franca for visitors.
One of the many reasons why Dubai and Abu Dhabi are amazing places to visit is how welcoming they are for tourists in addition to guest workers from around the world. Since only about 10% of the population are actual Emiratis, the other 90% are from everywhere else and all of the signs are in English as well as in Arabic.
You won't meet many Emiratis if you aren't there doing business, but solo travelers can meet people from everywhere else and get by in 100% English.
All of the Nordic countries are amazingly strong with English, but Copenhagen and Stockholm are arguably the two jewels in the region that you are going to want to visit as a solo traveler.
Both cities are absolutely gorgeous and interesting as well, so it's just a nice bonus that everyone you meet speaks slightly better English than even those of us who don't have any available options.
Tucked away just south of Sicily and not far from Africa, Malta isn't on my people's radars even though it should be. This is yet another former British possession where English is still one of the dominant languages, especially for visitors.
Solo travelers will have an easy time chatting with locals and even encountering expats, many of whom work in the online gambling community.
While Jamaica is another Caribbean destination where English is widely spoken, I don't really think it's a good choice for solo travelers because it's so dominated by large chain hotels and package vacation. Belize on the other hand, is popular with independent travelers including solo visitors, especially on the islands of Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye.
Also unlike Jamaica, Belize gives you access to many great adventure opportunities and jungle villages and even the amazing Tikal ruins in nearby Guatemala.
Cities with large expat populations that are easy to plug into
Another strategy for a welcoming experience for solo travelers is to visit and perhaps even linger in towns with large populations of expats. Some cities seem to be eternally popular for foreigners to settle in, at least for a few months or years. A huge number of these foreigners are English speakers even if they aren't from an English-speaking country, so you can usually meet people from all over the world in these places.
In most cases there is a neighborhood or two where the expats hang out at bars or coffee shops, so it's often just a matter of finding it and you'll have the chance at being plugged into the whole social scene. With so many people always moving in and moving out, the expat communities are usually welcoming of newcomers, which isn't usually true of locals in those same places.
Places where expats settle and making friends is easy
Chiang Mai is Thailand's second city and the capital of the north. It's also the most famous expat hangout in the world in recent years because it offers a combination of warm weather and a shockingly low cost of living. I lived there for 3 months myself a few years back, and it seems to be almost a requirement if you want to be a travel blogger.
You can get a decent hotel room in Chiang Mai starting around US$10 per night, which is another reason many people stay quite a while.
Smaller and less popular among expats than Chiang Mai, Siem Reap exists as the staging area for visits to the amazing nearby Angkor Wat temple complex.
It's also weirdly cheap and very pleasant, so there is a steady stream of backpackers and quite a few expats that decide to stay much longer than they planned.
Germany's capital has been famously cheap for many decades now, which has helped it become a huge magnet for people from all over the world to settle down for a while.
In fact, it's become so “international” that locals complain that English has taken over and many shops, restaurants, and bars are run by people who don't even speak German. Finding expats in Berlin couldn't be easier.
Starting in the 1990s Prague was an even cheaper version of the Berlin scene described above.
It still attracts people from all over the world and it's far more photogenic than Berlin, but English hasn't quite taken over so you'll have to do some research to find the still-abundant expat communities.
Central America's largest and most modern city has been a big draw among expats, and particularly among those closing in on retirement age.
You probably won't find armies of backpacker-types here, but there are still plenty of English speakers who welcome newcomers.
In case you haven't been yet, Cusco is the town people stay in to launch trips to Machu Picchu, either by train or by hiking the Inca Trail.
Similar to Siem Reap, it's also a charming town so filled with visitors and expats most of the year that it's unusually friendly and easy to meet people if you are traveling solo.
Go to places with organized tours where singles are welcome
Solo travelers who have looked into booking an organized tour will already know that the deck is mostly stacked against them. Almost everything is organized for couples or at least two people traveling together and sharing hotel rooms. In most cases you will be asked to pay the infamous “single supplement,” which gets you a private hotel room but can also nearly double the total cost.
Fortunately, more and more tour companies are more solo-friendly, and particularly the small-group tour companies, where you can be assigned a rommmate or pay a reasonable charge for a private room. Traditional tour companies have usually aimed for groups of around 40 people because that is about how many can fit into a normal bus. But the small-group tour companies such as Contiki, Overseas Adventure Travel, and G Adventures mostly aim for groups of 8 to 20 and tend to skew young, so they are better for most solo travelers.
If you look around you can also find “singles tours” that are aimed at allowing guests to potentially meet a partner. You can find cruises as well as resort stays and traditional multi-stop tours.
Go to places where solo travelers don't pay as much as a couple
Even if you aren't so concerned with the types of destinations mentioned above that lend themselves to solo travelers, you can obviously go anywhere in the world as a solo if you are willing to pay for it. One tricky thing with this is that in many destinations the hotel rooms are all designed and sold for two people, and staying on your own means paying almost twice as much.
Particularly in resort destinations like Hawaii and the Caribbean, the cost for a “single room” is almost exactly the price of a double room, making them far from ideal for adventurous solo travelers.
In my vast experience as a solo traveler I've found that Europe is actually awash with small “single” rooms that are always much cheaper than a double. The UK in particular stands out for this, and especially with their traditional bed and breakfasts. Those are usually an old house with a fairly central location and are run by families. The single rooms are small, of course, but at least they are also cheap and they almost always come with the filling “full English breakfast.”
Most of Asia is also cheap for solo travelers
Tokyo, Singapore, and Hong Kong stand out as some of the world's most expensive cities for hotels, but most of Asia is quite cheap compared to the rest of the world. You can get clean and modern hotel rooms in countries like Vietnam and Thailand starting at around US$10 per night, even in cities where hostel beds are US$5 per night. Needless to say, at those prices it's worth a splurge even for solo travelers because you get so much for your money, usually including breakfast.
Take a cruise on a ship with single cabins
Until about 2014, cruises were probably the most solo-hostile type of trip because ALL cabins were built for 2 or more people and solo travelers would literally have to pay double, including for food and drinks for two. But a few years ago Norwegian experimented with “studio” cabins on a few of their ships, and a new trend was born.
Not only are the cabins built to be very comfortable for one person, but they are in a special section of the ship that has its own lounge and activities director. I took one of these in 2015 from Miami to the Caribbean and I enjoyed it about a thousand times more than I was expecting. I went to a few of the parties for the single passengers and I enjoyed it, but I mostly hung out on my own and mingled with other travelers in the bars and lounges.
The Norwegian studio cabins are all “inside” meaning no ocean views, but more recently Holland America has introduced studio cabins on some ships that do have ocean views.
Royal Caribbean International has also joined the party and they offer a combination of studio cabins with “virtual” balconies (using projected images) as well as cabins with actual balconies.
So far it's only a few ships for each company so you don't have a huge choice of cruises or destinations, but at least we solo travelers do have some options and most likely more will be coming soon.
Go to a place where you can actually be alone and love it
Most of the solo travel destinations and suggestions above are based on solo travelers wanting other people to socialize with, but what if you REALLY just want to be alone? If you think about it, finding places where you aren't always surrounded by other people isn't easy unless you choose to travel in the deep off season with terrible weather.
One option is to visit national parks, and especially the less popular ones or in shoulder season. It's usually easy enough to avoid the crowds by choosing less popular hiking trails or staying in fringe camping areas, and you'll have all that nature to yourself for some brief periods of time.
My best by-yourself solo travel trip: Iceland's Ring Road
Even though Iceland has famously become much more popular in recent years, it's still one of the best places to go to be by yourself. A few years ago I decided to spend 9 days in Iceland on my way from Europe to the US, and that visit remains my single favorite travel experience of my life.
The Reykjavik area and elsewhere along the southern coast of Iceland are the most crowded parts of the island, although by most standards they still feel pretty empty. The key to being alone is to rent your own vehicle and drive the Ring Road, which more or less goes around the circumference of the island. It takes at least 6 days because some sections require slow speeds but also because the scenery is so breathtaking that you'll want to stop every 10 minutes.
I did it starting in late August (the end of the high season) and the main highway was so empty that I would frequently just stop my car in the travel lane and look around and take photos for several minutes before moving on. I would often go 30 minutes before I'd see another vehicle coming in the other direction, and sometimes hours before another vehicle would be seen in my direction.
You can be as alone as you want all day, even while visiting roadside parks and attractions (all of which are free, by the way), and then you can meet people at guesthouses at night if you like. Most of the accommodation around the Ring Road are family-run guest houses with small bedrooms along with shared bathrooms and shared kitchens. There aren't many restaurants in Iceland so most people buy groceries at the supermarket and prepare something at the guesthouse.
I wrote the article above to describe my trip and help other people do it as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Iceland wasn't cheap then and it's only become more expensive, and renting a car in northern Europe is never cheap. But it's absolutely worth it and I can't recommend it enough for solo travelers wanting some time on their own.