Where to go? What to do?
August 1, 2012 10:43 PM   Subscribe

My planned holiday to Europe in Sept/Oct has been postponed, and now I have three weeks to go..... somewhere. I'm female, early thirties and will be flying out of Sydney. I enjoy my own company and love to travel. Please suggest places to go and things to do that I will enjoy by myself. Preferences after the jump.

- The original trip was London/France/Barcelona, so not those. Not Germany, Austria, Switzerland, UK, Poland, New York, San Francisco Western Canada or Malaysia as I've done those.
- I'm not a massive fan of "14 countries in 14 days" tours. Would maybe consider a week long tour that goes to places I couldn't get to easily on public transport, but not for the whole time. Also, they seem like they'd be a bit weird to do by myself, as I find small talk exhausting.
- I have no interest in sitting on a beach doing nothing. Terribly dull and I sunburn easily.
- I enjoy urban centres, civilisation, museums, history, architecture and novelty. I like swing dancing, crafts and exploring by bike, on foot and by public transport.
- I'd prefer to keep the flights to less than 30hrs. I was considering Southern Spain/Morocco, but the flight lengths are terrible.
- I'd strongly prefer places I can explore by myself safely. I'm happy to wander the streets of Manhattan or Sydney at 2am, to give a comfort level approximation.
- If at all possible, I'd like to keep the amount of planning I have to do to a minimum. So, not too many moves. (I find chosing accomodation incredibly stressful. I also don't have much time and have found in the past that my month long jaunts through Europe have resulted in me achieving little other than planning in the weeks leading up to it.) This means that I probably need some sort of activity to do, as there aren't that many places that can keep a solo traveller happy for more than a few days.
- I don't mind a language gap, and will probably spend the time until leaving learning at least the basics if there is one. I speak German and was learning basic Spanish in preparation for Barcelona.

Places I have considered:

- Southern Spain/Morocco. It was getting very complicated (7 separate cities with train trips in between), and flights didn't work. I might do a similar trip with my parents in a few years.
- South America, maybe Colombia or Guatamala. I am considering doing a couple of weeks learning Spanish somewhere, and then a week doing something else. Bogota looked cool because of its cycling culture and (apparently) pleasant accent, but the safety aspect makes me hesitant. Also, I couldn't find anything I particularly wanted to do for the third week.
- Japan. Kyoto plus something? I've also got a friend who might be in South Korea around that time, but it's not confirmed yet.
- Istanbul. There's a Lindy swing dance exchange around that time, but the follows are waitlisted, so I might not be able to get in. Would be cool though, and I assume I could use up a week exploring the city. Need some other places to add on though.
- Trans-Siberian. I've always wanted to do this, but the visas look complicated, and I'm not sure I want to do it by myself.

So, any suggestions for itineraries or activities? YANMTA (you are not my travel agent), but the more details the better.
posted by kjs4 to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Thailand? Easy to get around, lots to see, you could pick just a few cities/towns and make those your base. Plenty to do even without the beach.
posted by lunasol at 11:05 PM on August 1, 2012

I'm female, early 60s, and have been traveling solo for 25+ years. Like you, I'm not much of a beach person, and I also enjoy urban centers, history, museums, architecture and novelty.

I see someone else just recommended Thailand, and that was going to be my first suggestion. Bangkok has a lot to see, and there are other cities well worth a visit; there's lots to do without ever hitting the beaches.

I had a wonderful time in South Korea, too. If you do go there, don't miss the packaged tour to the DMZ. I generally hate tour groups, but that day trip was amazing.
posted by jeri at 11:20 PM on August 1, 2012

Sarajevo. One of the best weeks I've ever had. Not too large to navigate, not like anywhere else in Europe, chock full of history and quirk.

Dubrovnik is the pearl of the Adriatic, but it will be full of tourists this time of year -- maybe Hvar? I've never been to the island, but it looked gorgeous from the ferry.

Budapest. Budapest is what-if-a-city-were-a-Tom-Waits-song.
posted by samofidelis at 11:26 PM on August 1, 2012

Japan is a great place for a solo traveller with little or no planning, and bonus (if you care) Jetstar have incredibly cheap flights most of the time. We went about 18 months ago and spent three weeks there with about ten days between Osaka and Kyoto with an overnight to Hiroshima.

There was *plenty* to do between temples, aquariums, sumo might be on when you're over there, all kinds of stuff. Travelling was a snap and very pleasant (wish Sydney trainlines were so easy to understand), food was delicious, urban settings with decent night time options. I listened to some Pimsleur Japanese tapes prior to leaving and the smattering I picked up was super useful (fyi, Japanese people are very friendly and all do some degree of English in high school, so sans any Japanese you'll still be a-okay). Oh and it's crazy safe. Like crazy safe.

In the same vein, Korea or Hong Kong are also safe, nearby urban settings that stay open late (shopping at 10.30 on a weeknight in Mongkok is so fun! The Langham there was the fanciest accomdation I've ever stayed in, it was heavenly). Tonnes of street food, shopping, easy to take a ferry to Macau (fun, even if you don't like casinos, the inner city and the fortress is quite lovely) or a train into Shenzen etc. I love Honkers.

I've never been to Seoul, but I understand it's a similar vibe with a wide variety of stuff to do as well.
posted by smoke at 12:02 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far. Just to clarify, I'll be going from mid Sept - mid Oct, though exact dates are flexible.

samofidelis - Will Dubrovnik still be tourist crazy then?
lunasol/jeri - Thailand in September sounds like it might be a rainy and humid. Did you go during the wet or dry?
posted by kjs4 at 12:06 AM on August 2, 2012

Greece? A week or so in Athens and a week or so touring sites on the islands and hiking/ eating awesome seafood. Maybe finish with a visit to Cairo or Istanbul. Accommodation are easy as there is good tourist infrastructure with lots of clean cheap simple pensions you cam take on the spot, lots to do and see and the awesome walk up ferry system totally negates any need for planning for the island hopping portion.
posted by fshgrl at 1:22 AM on August 2, 2012

Best answer: This is a good time to do a cultural tour of Italy - Venice, Florence, Siena and Rome will all be much quieter than during the summer and it's not too onerous to travel between them. If you had a car, you could take in more rural sights of Umbria and Tuscany. Or head down to Naples, Capri and the Amalfi Coast. It is all doable by train between the larger towns but there are also busses.

If you didn't want to do three weeks in Italy then Slovenia is lovely (Bled is very picturesque, Ljubljana is laid back and Piran is pretty). The country is tiny, so getting places is very simple by car. Not done it by public transport but I don't think it is hard.

Similarly, Dubrovnik is not too far but more easily a flight or Ferry from Italy. I know you don't like beaches, but as an FYI the water down the Croation coast is simply stunning. Crystal clear, lots of lovely islands. They don't really do "beaches" either as it isn't a sandy coast so you time by the coast =! beach holiday.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:51 AM on August 2, 2012

Beijing. Just an utterly fascinating city with reams of things to do and see. China is far less daunting of a vacation destination than some might think.
posted by fso at 4:35 AM on August 2, 2012

China might fit the bill. I enjoyed southern China (Dali, Lijiang, Yangshuo), but for city stuff, you might like Beijing, with Hong Kong and Macau to round things out.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:38 AM on August 2, 2012

ks4j. -- its economy seems to be driven by tourists. That said, even during the peak travel time in the summer, I had a blast; it's just that you'll never escape the ubiquity of European tourists. The Dalmatian coast is gorgeous, and quite affordable -- lots of Italians come over on ferries or via Ljubljana.

When I was in Dubrovnik I kostly just wandered around and enjoyed the city. It wasn't a place where I felt I ought to do much; I just hung out.

It's great. You can also take a ferry (I think it was about four to five hours) up the coast and stop at Split. The city is built into Emperor Diocletian's retirement home. From there, it's a comfortable train ride to Zagreb, which was a very pretty town that I didn't have time so see, and have subsequently put on the list to return to.

Croatia is pretty and sunny. It's more holiday-ish. Sarajevo is astonishing and different; it was amazing seeing the towers of the mosques among the Hapsburgy buildings. I mostly just ate myself silly and wandered the city, but there were a few museums as well.

All in all, I think Bosnia and Croatia are great. It seems odd to tell an Australian to fly to the antipodes to play at the seaside, but the coast really is sort of stupidly, absurdly pleasant. There was never any real heavy industry in Croatia and the water is astonishingly turquoise. The cities on the coast are built from white marble, and all the buildings have red roofs, and it's beautiful.

Ok: another suggestion, somewhere completely different: Chicago. It's the real gem in the US. Great museums; we invented having-cool-buildings-to-look-at; it's far, far cheaper than NYC Of SF (when I lived in Australia, those seemed the only cities people wanted to visit). Chicago is an incredibly livable city, and while that doesn't always translate to being a good tourist destination, it really does in this case. I live and work in Hyde Park, which is a beautiful university enclave in the otherwise neglected
South Side. Sometimes at lunch I wander over to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and ogle ancient Assyrian lion-man statues.

There's a reason that a lot of the US mefites seem to live here. NYC is great but you could ride your bike around inside my apartment, you know?

You're mostly interested in urban destinations, right? Otherwise I'd try sending you on a tour of some of America's national parks.
posted by samofidelis at 6:05 AM on August 2, 2012

I have traveled to a number of places mentioned. Some things to keep in mind:

- Southeast Asia is a great option (Thailand, Indonesia and or Malaysia). They are all safe and offer 3 very diverse cultures and races within short flights from each other). You will not get bored and likely, you will find it hard to leave.

- Japan & china : if you are white, or non-Asian, be prepared to feel incredibly "separated" from the people and society. Language, mannerisms and attitudes can make it daunting if you are alone even if you consider yourself a solo-traveler. These are countries that offer a tremendous experience though.

One way to decide:

Europe for its western grandeur and history.
SE Asia for the people and warmth.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:28 AM on August 2, 2012

If you do Japan, get the Japan Rail Pass and don't limit yourself to Kyoto. It's about $500AUD for two weeks of unlimited train travel. Japan is really easy to travel in and very interesting. You could do Kyoto, Tokyo, Nara, Osaka, and then maybe a more southern city like Fukuoka (I've never been; but Kyushu is supposed to be very beautiful in the fall) or Hiroshima (WWII history as well as older history on the nearby Miyajima island).

Seoul is also amazing. There are a lot of festivals there, so check out what kinds of cultural events are going on at the time you want to travel. It's a neat city to explore, and I felt fine travelling alone there.

In the same general area of the world, Taipei is also an interesting city with lots of different museums, history, architecture, and novelty. The National Palace Museum and the Taipei Fine Arts Museum are both excellent, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. I got around for a few days there with only "Thank you" and "I am lost" in Mandarin, though I did find that fewer people seemed to speak English than in Seoul or in Japan.

You could spend a week in Japan, a week in South Korea, and a week in Taiwan, or you could spend more time in two of the three. I don't think Australians need visas for any of them (Canadians don't). It's a good time of year for the region, because it won't be too crazy hot and humid. I've been to all three before, and could easily spend three weeks solid in any one of those three countries... there's more than enough to keep a solo traveller occupied. Local travel is pretty easy in all three, and there's lots to see in the urban areas as well as outside them, or in different cities. All three have plenty of urban areas to offer for sure. I think Taiwan is probably the cheapest, then South Korea, and in Japan expect to spend more than if you were travelling in Australia.

I have a female friend who did the Trans-Siberian by herself. She enjoyed it and was safe, but she definitely had some iiiinteresting experiences. She does speak fluent Russian, and from the stories she told, that probably was helpful to her in having a good experience. But it is a doable thing for a young woman alone.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:22 AM on August 2, 2012

I strongly second (third?) Japan. Its perfect for you requirements because its super-safe, you can get by without fluent Japanese because everyone is so helpful and friendly (and for me that was part of the fun). Its full of amazing cities with tons to do and see, especially cultural monuments and museums. The public transport is great. You can stay in a western-style hotel in the city, or a traditional place outside the city if you like. If you dont want to get stressed out with moving around so much, you could limit yourself to two or three cities - Tokyo, Kyoto (temples, temples, temples and a daytrip to Nara) and maybe Osaka too. Take the train between cities, its fantastic. Walk around the cities. Eat awesome, delicious food everywhere. You could fly in to Tokyo, and fly out again from Osaka.
posted by Joh at 10:07 AM on August 2, 2012

An advantage to Japan if you are uncomfortable with securing lodging are the presence of a number of chain hotels that are safe, clean, and reasonably priced and appear at all of the major Shinkansen stops. They aren't typically where you would want to stay for the entirety of your time in a city (a little more on the outskirts usually), but they are there and super convenient if you decide to be spontaneous. Also, yeah, n-thing that its safe, and pretty fun as a solo traveller, very public transit/bike/foot friendly. With the JR Rail pass its pretty easy to set up shop in the big cities and do day trips to wherever, and travel around wherever you please. I hear that a lot of AU flights to Japan go through HK, so you might be able to conveniently plan for some time there in addition to the Seoul possibility if you didn't want three weeks in one country.

The Russian visas are definitely a bit tricky, I have some friends/colleagues who have had issues for no apparent reason (Americans, however, not sure how this changes for you) in the last few years. The take home message from them was to me was to use one of the visa facilitator companies if at all possible because the extra cost is worth it. I think that for the Trans-Siberian Trip (or, Trans Mongolian which always sounded fun to me) you might have to plan out all of your stops/tickets before you buy the tickets? Because it's not open ended, and the russian visa wants to know where you're travelling? So that might require some planning?

If you do South America, I've always wanted to do the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu - I think thats ~ 5 days. Not very urban, I'll grant you, but it could be a nice change of pace. Santiago is also supposed to be beautiful and have a pretty lively/fun city (and safe).

Morocco is absolutely fantastic - if the flights are too long, what about breaking it up a bit? You could do one to Cape Town, hang out there for a week, up to Marakesh, another week, and then over to Istanbul, and finally back to the AU. This may or may not be a terrible idea depending on how you deal with jetlag, but would be a neat way to see 3 great cities with plenty of time to have some day trips/country side exploration around them, although you we get to know the big cities better than the country as whole which could be a bad thing depending on your travel preferences.
posted by McSwaggers at 12:43 PM on August 2, 2012

Answering your question: I've been in Thailand three times. The first was in April; the second in February and March; the third was in February. You make a good point; your timeframe may not be the best for visiting Thailand. Maybe save that for another trip.

I was afraid much of Europe would be outside your 30-hour timeframe, but it seems you can get to Rome in about 24 hours. It's a pretty good time of year for Rome, and it's a wonderful city for the things that interest you. And of course other delightful Italian cities aren't that far away.

@fso has me wanting to go to Beijing - it's on my personal wish list - and it sounds like Sept/Oct would be good for that.
posted by jeri at 4:25 PM on August 2, 2012

Response by poster: And I'm going to Italy! Great idea MuffinMan. I love Europe, but am often overwhelmed by All The Places, that are Only A Train Trip Away. But Italy is surrounded by places I've already been/about to go to. (Don't remind me about the Dalmation coast, I'm pretending it's not there.)

Flights look decent. I'm thinking a week in Rome, as well as Florence and maybe Pompei or Venice or Verona. I found a four day knitting retreat not far from Rome that I've already booked!! (I realised that one of the things I miss terribly when travelling by myself is good conversation, but I'm a bit of an introvert, and whilst I often do end up meeting nice people, three weeks without anything definite was worrying me. Now I've got some good geeky knitting chat in the middle, I'm feeling much happier.)

Thanks for all the suggestions. My personal wishlist is now noticeably longer. (Does it ever get shorter??)
posted by kjs4 at 8:38 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ah, well for future reference, the weather's not too wet in Thailand in September. Usually just a downpour in the afternoons. But have fun in Italy!
posted by lunasol at 1:24 PM on August 3, 2012

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