Travel is as much about exploring one’s inner self as it is discovering new places, and after almost a year in quarantine, we’re all yearning (and deserving) of an adventure. Some of us have been logging countless hours of overtime taking care of an entire household; others have spent more moments alone than we could have ever fathomed. If you’re after a reset, a solo trip may be just what the doctor ordered.
No, we’re not talking about eating in Italy, praying in India, and finding love in Bali. With all due respect to those year-long, Eat, Pray, Love–inspired adventures, few of us have it in us to spend another year alone, turning inward, even if we are in some of the world’s most exciting destinations. After a year of doing everything ourselves at home, we’re focused on indulgence instead. And when borders reopen, we’re going to want to treat ourselves for making it through these trying times. This level of indulgence isn’t necessarily synonymous with decadence though; we’re talking about holing up at a five-star spa in the Caribbean, learning Spanish or maybe scuba diving, or visiting that faraway souk that’s been thumbnailed on a wanderlust-themed Pinterest board for the last three years—and doing so without apologizing for it.
Virtually every well-trodden destination can be customized for a solo trip, so consider the following as a quick reference guide when you start putting plans together for your foray sans friends and family. Some of these options are for as early as right now, if you’re looking for a solo escape that’s socially distanced; others on this list may be best for when things slowly start to open up. Whether it’s your first time out alone or you’re well versed at saying, “Table for one,” these top tips are guaranteed to ease the process of cherry-picking the perfect solo getaway.
The Solo Road Trip
Admittedly, most of the ideas below come with a when-the-pandemic’s-over caveat, but if you’re feeling like the walls have already closed in on you, it’s time to play the road trip card. Maybe you already hit the highway last summer when international travel opportunities were restricted, but a solo drive is a completely different journey.
Firstly, you can crank up your favorite tunes (and no one else’s) and sing along with abandon; second, you’ll want to string together your points of interest in a different manner, choosing short distances between legs since you’ll be the only one at the wheel. Whether you’re moving in a linear fashion with a rental car so you can fly home at the end or traveling in a loop, make sure that you save your most glamorous pit stop—think: spa or luxury enclave—until the end.
We highlighted a couple of trending road trips in our annual overview of where to go in 2021, but America’s top overland drives will always be its classics: the Pacific Coast Highway through California, a mash-up of mountains and desert through Colorado and Utah (pro tip: End in Vegas for some pampering), Florida’s Atlantic coast from historic St. Augustine down to the tropical Keys, and a tour of New England’s townships all the way up to Acadia National Park in Maine, which feels even more rugged and romantic in the off-season.
The Group Tour: Solo Together
First-time solo travelers should consider signing up for a group tour as a convenient way to see new places and chart one’s own course, without being entirely alone. Yes, you may be forfeiting much of the serendipity that solo travel affords, but having a built-in network of other travelers in the destination also means that you’ll have a safety net for protection against any pangs of loneliness as you navigate foreign lands.
Most companies specializing in group travel have learned to build choose-your-own-adventure moments into their itineraries, so you’ll never miss out on the activities that are particularly important to you. Whether that’s extra time at a museum, shopping, spa sessions, or even delighting in a no-phone, multicourse meal on your own, these together-but-alone experience address most safety concerns, while allowing for ample me-time.
Generally, group tours come in two varieties: They either focus on a particular destination, or they cater to a special interest or theme—and sometimes both, like a foodie tour of Vietnam. For location-specific travel, you’ll get the most value out of a group tour by selecting a second-tier destination (read: not a perennial favorite like France or Italy), where a guide opens doors to the destination rather than yokes you back from venturing out on your own. This is the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and explore places that rank high on your list of exotic escapes, like the carpet souks of Uzbekistan with SteppesTravel, the crumbling temples of the Egyptian Nile with Wild Frontiers, or seeing the orangutans of the primary forests in Borneo with Inside Asia Tours.
Small ship journeys, another subset of group travel, are worthy options if you’re into moving slower through a region or simply hate having to pick up and repack as you switch hotels every few days. Don’t be mistaken—we’re not talking about cruising; these holidays highlight destinations are otherwise off-limits to overland travelers and can be accessed only by luxury watercraft. Aqua Expeditions floats high-end vessels up the Amazon and Mekong Rivers; Peregrine Adventures takes tiny groups to unusual destinations like Cabo Verde and West Africa in style. Both Croatia and Turkey have scores of small “blue cruise” sailing ships geared toward groups of 12 or less, and there are dozens of boutique operators running sailboats through the Galapagos.
Learning a New Skill
The prospect of pursuing something new—a hobby, craft, or skill—became a palpable possibility at the start of the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders, that is until the foreverness of the crisis set in and we had to redirect our attention to surviving instead of thriving. A solo trip is the perfect opportunity to revisit the notion of adding a feather to one’s cap, whether that means improving your skills in the kitchen, getting certified as a wellness practitioner, or becoming conversational in a new language.
Forget the apps that have you learning new vocabulary words each day; the only real way to grasp a foreign language is to live it. There is a ton of language learning holidays—some as short as one week—that combine coursework with sightseeing and a built-in network of new friends in the classroom with whom to go exploring. Companies like CESA and Cactus have programs all over the world, and some hotels, like Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, offer on-site language programs to those who are interested in a side of verb conjugation between stints at the pool.
Ubud in Bali has, for centuries, been a center of healing. In recent years, the jungly village has been a beacon for international visitors eager not only to advance their understanding of yoga and other facets of wellness, but to become practitioners themselves. There is a handful of respected studios in the area, starting with Yoga Barn, the biggest in town, or go for something more tailor-made at Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. Of course, Bali isn’t the only epicenter of wellness worth exploring solo; India’s myriad ashram retreats may also do the trick, like Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry. Or spoil yourself rotten at Ananda in the Himalayas set on the former royal grounds of the local maharaja.
Beyond the gamut of intellectual pursuits, there’s a bevy of outdoor activities to help stretch your legs after a year of being tucked away at home. Surf camps line the coasts of Costa Rica, though travelers can also find wave-riding havens in diverse locales like Brazil, Hawaii, Mauritius, Portugal, and Norway.
It takes only three days to receive a PADI Open Water scuba certification, and there are hundreds of spots around the world to dip your toe into the vast realm below the waves. To fully immerse yourself in dive-centric destinations, put the following hubs at the top of your list: Koh Tao, Thailand; Cairns, Australia; and Utila, Honduras—all three have tons of dive schools and accommodation options from which to choose.
While culinary tours have become a mainstay of small group and solo travel, and one-off cooking classes the hallmark of many itineraries from Thailand to Tuscany, there is a bevy of multiday cooking vacations where guests can take home newfound talent and recipes while exploring a new destination. Ciao Andiamo has a lock on custom culinary trips throughout Italy, while Modern Adventure seeks to pair guests with noted figures in the culinary space in the destinations that most inspire them. Try Smiling Albino if your foodie interests lean toward Southeast Asian cuisine, and if Japanese food tops your list, InsideJapan Tours offers options to master everything from sushi to soba.
In the second half of 2020, when air carriers started offering international service back to most of the Caribbean islands, hotelier Karolin Troubetzkoy began to fantasize about returning to her property—Jade Mountain on Saint Lucia—not as the owner, but as a guest. Never mind the mandatory two-week quarantine on the island; she wasn’t planning to leave the grounds anyway, spending her days basking in her infinity pool and eating the latest produce foraged from the on-site gardens and fields. “And that’s when the singlemoon idea was born,” Troubetzkoy explains, “a package which simply allows the solo traveler to celebrate themselves.”
Troubetzkoy has long been a trendsetter in the Caribbean—Jade Mountain was the region’s first LEED-certified resort—and other hotels have been following suit, tailoring getaway packages to individuals rather than couples or groups both in an effort to stimulate occupancy and to dynamize their clientele. The singlemoon is for any solo traveler and opens up destinations that were otherwise once deemed solely for adventure travel or romantic getaways.
Traditionally, solo travel would require an expense dubbed as a “solo supplement” by those in the know. But after the decimation of the hospitality industry due to COVID, travel planners like Embark Beyond, Black Tomato, and Local Foreigner are brokering their hotel relationships to garner cut rates for soloists and weaponizing their honeymoon-planning skills to deliver on the “treat yourself” mantra.
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