Best places to travel solo: Travelling alone to these 6 destinations
In search of solo travel ideas? Curious on how to travel by yourself?
So many questions were going through my head when I just booked a flight with a 13-hour layover in a city I’ve never been before. That was around 6 years ago, and during that time I’ve also never toured a city alone. There were so many “never beens” that this formerly sheltered scaredy-cat girl was contemplating at that moment. All I have to do is just to get up and go and justify that hundreds of dollars that I had paid. The stress over the amount of money I spent and figuring out what to do has prompted me to do some extensive research on that city, from how I get to and from the airport to all the popular sites and must-do activities that I can within that 13-hour time frame (less 2 hours before the next flight departure).
Fast forward to 2018, solo travel is my preferred method. I’d travel alone as much as possible. I get to know more about myself and connect with the place and the culture that goes with it. If you are an aspiring solo traveler and are still searching for destination ideas, I have compiled a list of the cities where I have ventured alone; places where it was me, myself, and I who planned the itinerary from start to finish. Please note that I am not including destinations where I crashed into a relative or a friend’s place.
This city holds a very special place in my heart, no matter what everyone else say. Remember I was mentioning about the “13-hour layover”? Yes, that city is London. This moment changed my perspective, personality, and my whole life! After that solo layover trip, I gained a lot of confidence in myself and courage to explore more things by wandering alone.
So how is London for solo travel? It currently sits at #1 on my solo travel recommendations list. I highly suggest visiting the English capital for first-time solo travelers, especially if you are coming from North America. English is the primary language in the UK. You will never experience language barriers here.
London is one of the cities I have been with the most reliable public transportation. You can choose to splurge on the famous black taxi cabs or save money with those iconic red double decker buses, or if you want to feel like a local, you can take the London Underground or “The Tube”. Hearing that “mind the gap” announcement when closing the train doors is music to my ears. Another great thing is that The Tube has a direct line to Heathrow Airport (via Piccadilly Line), so you won’t need to splurge on a private airport transfer, unless you decided to bring your whole walk-in closet for a one-week trip.
Along with New York City and Tokyo, London is classified as one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the world. I think you will be needing a 1-week stay in order to cover most of the must-see places and things to do. Also, this city has one of the most diverse population and can give New York a run for its money when it comes to diversity. This melting pot offers access to a plethora of cuisines from around the world, influenced by immigrants who chose to settle in London in search of a better life and greener pastures.
From New York to Barcelona, I have to switch planes at Dublin Airport, and I have approximately 11 hours. Instead of just staying inside, I decided to get out and explore the city. Dublin is also considered to be one of my most highly recommended for first-time solo travelers as they speak English and it is only less than 6 hours (direct flight) away from New York City. Usually the flights are red-eye/overnight, so make sure you have a glass of wine before the flight, another glass during the flight so you can sleep on the plane and wake up few moments before landing. (Hey! Wine worked for me though…)Unlike London, Madrid, or New York City, Dublin doesn’t have a subway nor a direct train line from the airport to Dublin City Center. However, they do have buses that are quite reliable and runs regularly. Out of the numerous bus services, I went with Aircoach bus services. It’s highly suggested to book online as you will save some money. Their coach buses also come with a free Wi-Fi, so for someone who is on a budget and will never ever consider paying a lot for roaming, this is very big of a deal for me.
Dublin is a very walkable city. You can get off at Grafton Street, and popular tourist spots such as St. Stephen’s Green and Trinity College are accessible by foot. Oh, by the way, when you’re visiting Trinity College, don’t forget to check out their famous library called The Long Room.
I always wanted to visit Spain and enamored with the beautiful buildings and architecture of Barcelona. The weather is super gorgeous during my stay (mid-September): it was still warm, and the skies are clear and blue. I was all smiles.
Public transportation is frequent and reliable in this Catalan city. Aside from buses and taxis, the most popular is the Barcelona Metro, which I believe has a stop near the famous tourist spot, such as Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. However, the metro stations are known for pickpocketer’s paradise, so be aware of your belongings while you’re there. There is also a direct train line from Barcelona Airport to the city center, but since I arrived in Barcelona at almost midnight, I opted to hire a private transfer from the airport to my hotel.
If you certify yourself as a “foodie”, then head to La Boqueria Market. If you are an art and architecture fanatic, then visit the famous places by Antoni Gaudi such as Sagrada Familia (which is still not finished), Park Guell, Casa Mila (I suggest going to the top for a spectacular view of the city), and Casa Batllo. Other places to check out in Barcelona include the Gothic Quarter, Camp Nou Stadium (you might see Messi or Neymar if you’re lucky!), or hang out at La Barceloneta beach.
During my stay, I can easily find some who speaks English. However, in this region, they speak Catalan, not Spanish/Castillan (though a lot still speaks it here).
I consider the Madrid to be one of the most cosmopolitan cities I’ve been. As a city girl at heart, I can totally see myself living here (and hoping to meet a cute Spanish guy with a penchant for travel, art, and technology). Anyway, when it comes to public transportation, they do have a direct metro train from Madrid airport to city center, and their metro is one of the best I’ve ever been. Castillan/Spanish is the main language in this city, however, you will find many English speakers around the areas with many tourists.
As cosmopolitan and busy as this city can be, there is also a place I highly recommend for escaping the hustle and bustle and relax, called Retiro Park (Parque de Retiro). As for me, anything by the water is relaxing. In this park, you can rent a boat (if you are with some friends or family, or a loved one). Other popular sites are Museo Nacional del Prado, Plaza Mayor, Palacio Real, and Puerta del Sol, which for me is the “Times Square” of Madrid.
If there is one more thing that I highly recommend, it has to be the delicious churros con chocolate at Chocolateria de San Gines, which is considered to be an institution in the Spanish capital. I usually go here during breakfast, as I will need the sugar from the chocolate and the coffee for an action-packed sightseeing in this beautiful city.
I remember ending up booking a ticket to Lisbon because it was one of the cheapest at that point. All I can say is that the Portuguese capital is a nice surprise! I really enjoyed my stay. In my opinion, this city is so underrated and being overshadowed by the neighboring cities in Spain and France, but I hear that Lisbon is starting to gain some momentum recently.
I believe that Lisbon has so many things to be proud of that it can market to potential tourists. Let’s start with the gorgeous weather while I was there in mid-September. It was still warm and sunny with clear blue skies (my favorite weather as always). Take note that the Portuguese are so proud of their cuisine, naming their seafood the best in the world (and I agree!). Portugal was heavily involved in history, especially during the Age of Discovery, and has influenced various sights and architecture not only in Lisbon, but throughout Portugal as well. Also, don’t leave Lisbon without even trying the Pasteis de Nata at Pasteis de Belem.
There is a direct metro train from the airport to various stops in the city. Their train line is very simple, not as complex as New York City or London, which is actually a good thing. As a first-timer in Lisbon, I don’t want to get lost and miss a train stop due to confusion.
I’d say this city is different from the cities in this list. First of all, there is no direct train from the airport going to the city (though I heard that there is a public bus, not really sure). I decided to just book a private transfer from the airport for $25 for roundtrip, which is in fact, a bargain. Within that price range, you can only get a one-way shared transfer in some of the expensive European cities. Your US Dollar or Euros will be stretched tremendously due to favorable exchange rates.
Marrakech is perfect if you are an artsy person and/or an architecture junkie and would like something more exotic. Some of the highly recommended sites include the Marrakech Medina, Jemaa el Fna, Jardin Majorelle, Ben Yousef Madrasa, Saadian Tomb, and Bahia Palace. I swear you will be so mesmerized with the intricate designs, you will forget how your ex hurt you so bad.
While you’re based in Marrakech, you should consider a day trip or maybe even an overnight stay in Essaouira. This Moroccan seaside town is very laid back which is a stark contrast from the busy and chaotic Marrakech. I highly recommend trying their fresh seafood stalls by the wall entrance near the blue fishing boats.
If you want to experience more of the culture (and the chaos) then stay at a riad inside the Medina. A riad is basically a converted Moroccan residence house decorated Moroccan style. I stayed at Riad Palais des Princesses and it was superb. The breakfast is complimentary, and you will be greeted by a Moroccan mint tea welcome ceremony once you checked-in.
Despite the chaos and the unknowns, Marrakech will always be an interesting city for me. I will definitely be back and hoping to visit other Moroccan cities as well.
Solo travel has changed me – a lot! I learned to depend on myself, exude confidence, and be nimbler as a lot of times the unexpected will happen. And I am willing to go (solo of course!) to those where I haven’t been. I want to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, the canals of Amsterdam, the Pyramids of Egypt, the capped mountains of Turkey, the shrines of Japan, and of course…on the top of my bucket list…the beautiful city of Paris.
I believe that it takes thorough research and planning for a successful solo trip, wherever you go. You must find a method that will work for you, and always stick with that. In the meantime, I am slated to write posts in planning some solo travel, and even share my solo travel sample itineraries, depending on situations. I am very grateful to have these kinds of experiences and hoping for more adventures and discoveries on who I really am and what I really love in life.