Must See, Experience
June 22, 2010 6:21 AM   Subscribe

I am an American woman in my late thirties who needs a sense of expectation for the future. What destination could I look forward to visiting and remembering long afterward? Is there an activity I've got to try while I'm there? I will be traveling solo, therefore safety conscious. Scope: domestic and worldwide. Not famous places would be particularly welcome.

The hypothetical plan would be one trip per year, up to three weeks per trip. Mentioning a country or general region is not as helpful to me as a particular base for exploration. Please offer just one suggestion. If someone has mentioned a place, favorite it and/or make a separate recommendation instead of repeating a thought shared by someone else. Thanks.
posted by woodway to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
I loved the Australian Outback. I climbed Ayers Rock. The view of thousands of miles of nothing but scrub took my breath away.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:25 AM on June 22, 2010

Best answer: I have been a few places travelling on my own that I would consider magical. I am about your age. The first was Australia. I went to a few places there, mostly cities: Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney. There is a road along the south coast called The Great Ocean Road that goes through some really interesting and [to an American] unfamiliar scenery. If you think you can get used to the driving on the other side of the road there, I'd strongly suggest renting a car and making the trip. It's remote enough that it's not mobbed with people and touristy enough that there are places to stay and safety is not an issue.

The second place was Alaska. I've taken two sorts of trips there, one is taking the ferry up from Bellingham Washington. It's not a fancy boat, it's quite literally a ferry but there are cabins that you can stay in or you can pitch a tent on deck [yes, seriously]. You can pack a lot of food and eat in the cafeteria and just sit and watch the wild country pass by, or read, or talk to other passengers. You can take a round trip up and back. You stop in a lot of smallish towns, some for a few hours, some just for a little bit. I also went to Anchorage. I was on a quick trip so did not get out of the city [which I have heard strongly recommended] but there are many destinations to go to from there and the city itself its pretty interesting. i live in a rural area so checking out other cities is interesting to me.

Both Alaska and Australia were otherworldy to me, having mostly lived in New England and in Seattle. I got to learn a lot about the history of the places, could still speak English to people so I didn't feel stressed but definitely felt that I'd been to someplace else.
posted by jessamyn at 6:28 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, I also loved Skara Brae on the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. I think it's the inspiration for the Flintsones.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:29 AM on June 22, 2010

I know you said not famous, but Machu Picchu is really fantastic. Amazing. You will remember it for the remainder of your life. And hiking the Inca Trail to get there is "an activity" that you should do while you're there. Together, the Trail and the site are amazing and unforgettable.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:36 AM on June 22, 2010

Dog sledding and winter camping in the Alaska. See the Arctic before it is gone.

Several iditarod racers run trips at the end of the season. An amazing experience.
Aliy Zirkle runs a great trip. She is an ivy league educated biologist, and her dogs are incredibly well cared for.
posted by Flood at 6:36 AM on June 22, 2010

What are your hobbies? I like cooking, for instance, so a lot of my travels involve researching, and enjoying, the food I meet along the road. Take something from you enjoy from your everyday life and use that as a base for exploration in your travels. (Other good examples: music, art, architecture, technology, horticulture, etc.)

If you enjoy food, India is your place. It's wild, insane, magical, delicious, and bizarre all wrapped into one vibrating ball about to explode. There are plenty of off-the-beaten-path places in India that are by no means famous, but still rich in culture and relatively unknown in the western world.
posted by nitsuj at 6:38 AM on June 22, 2010

Others have mentioned Australia but I will suggest a particular experience - swimming with the whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef off the coast of Western Australia.
posted by unlaced at 6:45 AM on June 22, 2010

If you have never left the country (have you?) I'd recommend going to see a lesser-developed country. India is life-changing for many people who want to see how life can be lived differently. Jaipur would make a good base. Even closer is Mexico City or Oaxaca. (I have less touristy recommendations for Mexico but Mexico is getting kind of dangerous these days)

I have a family friend in her 70s who has decided that this is the "travel phase" of her life. She goes to some exotic place every few months. In the past few years she has been to the Amazon, to Macchu Picchu, to Petra etc.

Her favorite place so far? Ma'loula in Syria. She loved the scenery and the food and Krak des Chevaliers
posted by vacapinta at 6:51 AM on June 22, 2010

Easy: East Africa. Do a safari in either Kenya or Tanzania. I lived there for several years and have trevelled extensively in Africa, Europe, S America and Asia. Lived there for two years, no other place like it on Earth.
posted by Dr.James.Orin.Incandenza at 6:56 AM on June 22, 2010

I don't recommend women traveling to India alone. Can you go on a trip sponsored by an alma mater or club?
posted by anniecat at 7:04 AM on June 22, 2010

Iceland took my breath away. It is my single most memorable trip, and I wish I could recapture how I felt there.
posted by punchtothehead at 7:12 AM on June 22, 2010

I was just telling my husband that I thought visiting Egypt was amazing and you can do a cruise down the Nile that's relatively easy. While you're in that neck of the woods, you can also go to Jordan and check out Petra. Those two places would be very memorable.
posted by kat518 at 7:16 AM on June 22, 2010

For adventure combined with creature comforts and incredible beauty, go to the north-western tip of Scotland, off season, and stay at the Summer Isles hotel in Achiltibuie. For added adventurousness, go via public transport: I had to take, in succession, a post office van, an empty tourist bus and a schoolbus. If you have a car it'll feel safer, but you can see and do much much more. The scenery is wild, empty and beautiful. The sun sets over the Summer Isles across a misty sea every evening. You can go for long hikes in a truly remarkable environment, where the colour of the light changes every few minutes and you feel as though you're the only person around for miles, and when a storm hits you start wondering if you'll survive (you will). And you'll come back to one of the best restaurants in the country, run by a Michelin starred chef who stays here because he loves the beauty and the hikes. Watch the original Wicker Man before you leave.
posted by tavegyl at 7:17 AM on June 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

posted by gijsvs at 7:18 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Southeast Asia. No question. The people are friendly, the food is great, and the scenery is breathtaking. Plus, it's dirt cheap after the airfare.

I did Thailand alone as a woman and I never once felt unsafe or unwelcome. I'll never forget the improbable rocky islands off of the coast, or peering through the planks of a sea pier to see mud skippers walking around at low tide. Bangkok is also one of the most fascinating cities in Asia, and certainly one of my favorites.

I would also recommend Bali, especially if you can get to more remote parts of the island. I ate fruits that I'd never seen before.
posted by Alison at 7:23 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Grand Canyon. Hike to the bottom and camp overnight, raft in the river. Eat.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:08 AM on June 22, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for these suggestions; I look forward to more! You asked about my experience and interests. I am a sponge for learning eclectic things, whether through reading, talking with someone or going places. I like galleries, museums, concerts, people watching, eating somewhere I don't feel rushed or self-conscious about being alone. I like getting out in nature and gazing at landscape while I'm in motion, and not thinking.

My first passport took me on a high school trip to St Petersburg (then Leningrad) and Moscow during the last months of the USSR in 1991. I spent my junior year abroad in Exeter, UK and did some backpacking in Western Europe.

In 2003, after finishing an MPhil in the UK, I travelled by rail to Oban, took the ferry to Mull then cycled from Craignure to Fionnphort on a Sunday to visit Iona; I cycled back to Craignure the same day (insane). In 2004, I spent 10 days in Australia between quitting my job in DC and starting a PhD. I flew into Sydney, went on a day-long tour of rainforest near Cairns, spent a night on a boat near the Great Barrier Reef, gave a conference paper in Melbourne then did a little sightseeing in Tasmania. That was definitely too much in too little time. I headed from Australia to England, where I lived from 2004-08.

My best solo road trip in the US started with a flight to Seattle then a drive to San Luis Obispo and back, staying with friends on either end. Thanks again for your suggestions.
posted by woodway at 8:26 AM on June 22, 2010

2nding East Africa, and adding Rwanda. I took a trip there in 2004 and we went on a trek to see the Mountain Gorillas which are very close to extinction. It was intense, and really beautiful. It would, however, behoove you to hire an english speaking driver and guide for a trip like that.

The history is incredible and heartbreaking, but the beauty of the country and the people who live there make it something else entirely. I went with a group of women, so travel alone may be difficult and expensive. Memail me if you want more info.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 8:42 AM on June 22, 2010

While you're in the South Pacific:

Te Wahipounamu - Fiordlands National Park. If you love fjords like I do, this is a must see.

If you are looking for a great way to find amazing places you will like, I suggest this World Heritage Sites Tour online - it is simply one of my favorite things I've ever seen on the web. A stunningly beautiful site.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:45 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here are some of my most memorable travels:

Sarawak, Borneo: canoeing upriver and doing a homestay with the Iban headhunters. Spending a couple of nights with them, eating their food, hiking with them and seeing how they lived as families.

The Okavango Delta in Botswana: canoeing through the waters, seeing the amazing wildlife, visiting local communities, and spending a week in a luxurious eco-camp by the water.

India: a three-day camel trek through the Thar Desert, passing by nomadic villages, fantastic sunsets, cresting sand dunes to find an incredible tented camp set up by our porters with champagne and fire dancers waiting for us.

Antarctica: sledding down hills, scattering penguins along the way and jumping into the waters of Deception Bay, which are fed by underground hot springs, photographing whales, leopard seals, and countless species of penguins. Loved visiting scientists in remote outposts and getting to hear their stories about living such isolated lives.

Madagascar: one of the strangest places I've ever been to, terrible tourism infrastructure, horrible food, less than memorable accommodations, but hiking to see lemurs in the wild, seeing those sacred baobab trees at sunset, the strange formations of tsingys, the very kind, warm people, the sheer STRANGENESS of the place captivated me.

That's just a handful of places I've visited and experienced (granted, I'm fortunate enough to work in the adventure travel industry) - there are far too many places in the world that I could recommend. But overall, I'd have to say that a recurring theme about my experiences are that the most memorable were those that involved interaction with local people.
posted by HeyAllie at 8:49 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I love jumping on the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Northern Ireland. The landscape is almost other-wordly. Jumping on the bridge felt like being on a trampoline.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:26 AM on June 22, 2010

The south Island of New Zealand I still remember very well. The base during that trip was my car, which I pretty much parked in a new place every time I needed to eat.

Make sure to plan some trekking as well. My favourites were the goat's pass and the Travers-Sabine circuit. The landscape is simply stunning and varies a lot in small areas.
posted by furisto at 9:34 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sri Lanka. Although not entirely without risk, most areas are considered quite safe for travel. I would recommend it over India for a single female traveller.

You'll find challenging hikes and climbs, amazing ruins and ancient palaces. Add some time at the beach, maybe some scuba or snorkeling and you have a good beginning. There's also elephants, temples, tea plantations and of course, the big city. (We were two 30ish females traveling together when I went).
posted by Cuke at 10:24 AM on June 22, 2010

Best answer: Seconding Ethiopia specifically and East Africa more generally.

In Ethiopia, three weeks would be perfect for flying into Addis Ababa, going north to Lalibela (rock hewn churches!), Bahir Dar (the Blue Nile Falls! hippos!), and Gondar (old castle!). Then you could go to southern Ethiopia and visit some of the reportedly amazing tribes down there, and check out some of the wildlife.

Along the way, drink the best coffee of your life and eat wonderful stews on delicious spongy injera (bread).

The people are generally warm and friendly, and Addis Ababa and the countryside are safe, even for women traveling alone. I went for about ten days just me (female) and my then three year old son, and we had a great trip.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:30 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't recommend women traveling to India alone. Can you go on a trip sponsored by an alma mater or club?

I disagree. I spent 2.5 months traveling through India alone at 29 and felt plenty safe. The pestering to buy something or go somewhere with someone is annoying but it isn't speciafically less safe for a woman. I can't give you a great suggestions without knowing more about you but I've been to around 50 countries alone and its been a blast. PM me if you want more inspiration as a woman traveling alone.
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:21 AM on June 22, 2010

Consider the Shikoku henro, in Japan. It takes 40+ days to walk the whole thing, but you can just do part of it, or do half now and the other half twenty years later and marvel at the changes, etc. (I know one dude in his 50s who goes out for a few weekends a year and does a couple of temples each time; it's not uncommon to split it up like that.)
posted by No-sword at 2:54 PM on June 22, 2010

Monument Valley
Savannah, Georgia
Machu Picchu
Portmeirion (Beautiful Italianate folly village on the mountainous coast of west Wales)
Redwood forests
posted by Deor at 9:10 AM on June 23, 2010

I don't recommend women traveling to India alone.

I also strongly disagree with this. Women do get harrassed in India, and it sucks, but unless you have a really low tolerance for that, it's not worth missing a whole country for. And it doesn't correlate with danger for women. I had some amazing experiences in India that happened only because I was a solo female traveler.

If you plan on becoming a regular world traveling, you absolutely must go to India. You just must. Maybe not on the first trip, though, as the sights, sounds, and culture can be quite overwhelming if you're not used to traveling in non-Western countries.
posted by lunasol at 11:23 AM on June 23, 2010

A few other places I'd recommend:

Guatemala. You can spend a week on Lago Atitlan, exploring the different villages around the stunning lake. If you're into yoga/meditation, there are a bunch of retreat centers. And then there's Tikal, the ancient Mayan ruins, which are amazing.

Ladakh. this is a region of the Indian Himalayans. The capital, Leh, is an idyllic green value populated by Tibetan Buddhists, surrounded by impossibly high, snow-capped peaks. To get there you take an incredibly scenic plane trip from Delhi or travel over the highest motorable road in the world.

Nepal. The Kathmandu Valley is an amazing collection of ancient towns and villages, with an incredible richness of culture, a product of Nepal's history as a crossroads between India, China and Central Asia. Kathmandu was also an incredibly fun town with a great mix of creative expats when I was there, but I fear that might have changed due to the now-waning insurgency. And then of course there's trekking in the Himalayas. Everest gets all the hype, but I did a trek in the Annapurnas and loved it.

Laos. Laos is less about big amazing sights and more about small things that will take your breath away. Beautiful hilltop temples, amazingly friendly, lovely people, devastatingly sad history, river trips by wooden boat through karst mountains, great food ... I loved Laos so much!
posted by lunasol at 11:33 AM on June 23, 2010

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