Whether you're thinking of setting off on your very first solo travel adventure or are gearing up for your fifteenth, we've got some tips from the experts—four entrepreneurs who have made a living traveling around the world and writing about their experiences. Here, in our first-ever Solo Travel Panel, we'll discuss everything from how to meet other like-minded travelers to important safety tips and essential things to keep in mind when exploring a new destination on your own.
• Julia Dimon Founder of TravelJunkieJulia.com, Julia Dimon is an adventure travel writer and TV host who has been to more than 80 countries across all seven continents.
• Beth Whitman A world traveler for more than 25 years, Beth Whitman is the founder and editor of Wanderlust and Lipstick, a website dedicated to sharing stories, inspiration, and travel advice from experienced travelers.
• Christine Maxfield Founder and editor of CompassMag.com and the podcast producer of When In Roam: Conversations with Travel Writers, available on iTunes.
• Amanda Pressner Co-author of The Lost Girls, an epic tale of three friends who quit their hectic full-time jobs and traveled the world. Visit LostGirlsWorld.com for more information about their inspiring journey.
Which places would you recommend for first-time solo travelers?
Christine Maxfield: If you're traveling on a budget, I'd recommend visiting Southeast Asia first. Not only is it one of the cheapest regions in the world, but it's also a tropical paradise with a ton of historical sites and natural attractions to see, the people are friendly, and the food is tasty. What more could you ask for?
Julia Dimon: Southeast Asia is great for first-time solo travelers. Thailand in particular has a great tourist infrastructure, with tons of English speakers and locals who are accustomed to foreigners. The country is extremely diverse with hilltribes and elephant treks through jungles in the north, the wild cosmopolitan city of Bangkok, and beautiful beaches and crazy parties in the south. Food, activities, and domestic flights are very affordable and it's safe. It's a particularly great destination for young people since there are so many backpackers passing through Thailand.
Beth Whitman: That's a very personal decision. A destination like Asia might be very comfortable for me but might be really uncomfortable for someone else. Someone else might prefer England or even the Middle East (which wouldn't be as comfortable for me). The key is that for a first-time solo trip, you should be comfortable and confident because you're going to have a much more enjoyable (and likely safer) experience.
Amanda Pressner: I would recommend Peru or Argentina—there are tons of solo travelers who start out in Lima or Cuzco and move on through other parts of the South American continent. Check out Loki Hostels, which are large, clean, fun, and an amazing place to meet solo travelers, especially if you're not fresh out of school. I also love Australia and New Zealand for anyone traveling solo, as they're extremely safe and there's an amazing infrastructure for travel. So do Thailand and all of Southeast Asia really, but Bangkok is a really easy and inexpensive way to start your trip and meet other like-minded travelers. And, if your daily budget is a little higher (or you're older, and don't want a super-young crowd), you should check out any major city in Europe—Eurorail passes and a plethora of clean, safe lodging makes Europe a no-brainer for the solo traveler with a bit more money to spend.
What was your first solo travel experience like?
Beth Whitman: My first "real" solo trip was a three-month trip from New Jersey to California that I took in college (I took a semester off). Along the way, I stayed with friends and in youth hostels. In the youth hostels, I met people from all over the world and was hooked. I wanted to meet more travelers and also experience the destinations where these fascinating people came from.
With most travel deals based on double occupancy, the total price is often higher than what is advertised for single patrons. Here's how to avoid the extra charge.
Check out options from tour companies like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel that allow you to pair up with a same-sex roommate during your trip as a way to get around the pesky single supplement. Grand Circle Travel offers the same service for travelers ages 50 and up while Contiki offers a similar plan for 18-35 year olds.
While you'd normally have to worry about paying double (since cruise cabins are almost always based on double occupancy), Norwegian Cruise Lineshas another, more affordable option. On the Pride of America ship (based in Hawaii), Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway, and the soon-to-be-christened Norwegian Gateway (coming in February 2014), you'll get your own room and the chance to mingle with fellow solo cruisers in the Studio Lounge, all for less than the cost of your usual solo cruise ticket. From $1,099 per cabin; check NCL.com for pricing details based on your actual cruise dates.
What does it feel like to live in the Coolest Small Town in America? Ask the folks in Grand Marais, Minnesota, who earned the top spot in our 10th annual contest. Their town showed us the perfect blend of edgy, sweet, beautiful, and travel-worthy that adds up to “cool” in our book. Read on to stoke your wanderlust.