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February 23, 2015 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Where should I go as a solo female traveler?... with some specifics within

I've read through all the threads I could find here on solo-female-travel-destinations--but I figured I'd ask for my situation, given a few specifics.

I love traveling with friends, but I'm perpetually single while most of my friends are coupled or focused on settling down/saving. I've always heard that solo travel is worth it, so I figure I should take advantage of my relative youth and freedom and go find some adventure on my own this year.

Some parameters/details:
--willing to spend 3-4.5k
--6-8 days preferred
--late-20s, based out of LA
--I speak primarily English, but am conversational in mandarin
--I don't mind being alone, but even if I'm not directly interacting with people I like to be around people.
--I know one of the great things about traveling solo is meeting people but I'm a bit nervous about not having the energy to deal with hostel life (or what I imagine it to be)
--I love art, museums, eating, nature, hiking, exploring, and people watching (good opportunity to sketch interesting characters). Not that big on clubs/bar nightlife but open to it
--I've never done a solo trip, so someplace safe is a priority for this first outing
--I'm looking at April/May/June or August/September
--I'd prefer not to do southeast asia since I've already traveled there a few times, unless you can make a good argument for it

So far my frontrunner is Iceland, or maybe a longer stopover in Iceland with a few days in...Norway, or Copenhagen or something (though I don't know if that's possible with my budget). I know this would definitely not be my cheapest option, but it seems safe and beautiful and somehow appropriate for a first solitary trip. I want to keep an open mind about other options all suggestions are welcome! I'd love to hear from other solo travelers about their best trip.
posted by sprezzy to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I have been to Iceland on my own a couple of times as a 20-something female. I think it would be a great choice given the criteria you outline - absolutely safe, a bunch of small but interesting museums, very accessible amazing nature (and tons of organised tours if you don't want to drive yourself), lots of nice cafes and bars downtown where you can sit and do your people-watching. $3-4k should absolutely be enough money to stop somewhere else as well - IcelandAir does free stopovers in Reykjavik on the way to everywhere they fly, which will probably be your cheapest way to get there.

I think you will be fine in a hostel so long as you book yourself a private room - then you can choose to retreat to your room to read or sit in the common areas to do more people watching. I most recently stayed at the Bus Hostel and had a nice room to myself, and there are plenty of other options too.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:08 PM on February 23, 2015

Yes...Iceland! Iceland! Iceland! Except for that part where you say you like being around people. Nope, not many of those once you get out of Reykjavik.
posted by pravit at 4:19 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think maybe you're looking to go totally solo, but a friend of mine, 40, is currently on her 4th or 5th trip in Central America with G Adventures and (obviously) has loved them a lot. Small groups, most trips include excursions into non-tourist areas and some trips include short homestays with host families, along with volcano-climbing zip-lining beach-crawling kinds of things.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:25 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

How about a cruise?

It's inherently safe and there are tons of people you can interact with. If you go on Cruise Critic, you can be on a message board with folks before you head out, and they'll have a meet and greet on board.

Norwegian has one that starts in Copenhagen, and goes through the fjords.

What I think might make sense about it is that you get to see a lot of different places, but only unpack once. You feel safe because you have your own room, to your own self, and you can call anyone for anything at any hour. When you do excursions, you're with your ship mates which is comforting.

Cruises do skew older, so if you're looking to hob nob with other youngsters, that might not suit you. But you will meet a lot of interesting people. Another good point is that cruises are affordable.

You might have more of an authentic experience on a Scandinavian Tour. (The one with the Icehotel looks pretty fantastic!

I did a lot of solo traveling when I was your age and I loved it. I like the hostels, but they are basic and funky and I wouldn't want to do them now.

Just a rogue thought.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:26 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

When you say that you're not sure you'd like hostel life "the way you imagine it would be", can you you do imagine it would be? I'm a hostel expert, and want to know how to address this.

Otherwise - Iceland-to-Scandinavia may indeed be a good choice. Europe will generally be good in terms of "safe" so long as you have some basic urban smarts (i.e., you know how to stay safe in a city in general). Or, maybe Iceland-to-Amsterdam.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:26 PM on February 23, 2015

In my opinion, Iceland is more fun if you can rent a car (which is cheaper and ... I think... more fun? with multiple people). Everyone speaks English there, and there are art museums, nature, and hiking; it's also extremely safe, so it meets your requirements on that front. Food is interesting and very expensive. I don't know that Iceland is a great place to meet people; it's pretty sparsely populated and Reykjavik is pretty touristy during the months you are looking to visit.

I'm looking at Ireland for this upcoming trip (I'm also a solo female) and maybe that would also fit your criteria? People speak English, it seems safe, there's certainly a literary and artistic canon to be explored, and ... pubs... which are excellent for people-watching if you're not into actively participating in nightlife! ... and Dublin!

Another city I would recommend is Amsterdam; maybe you can find a cheap flight there. Definitely meets all of your requirements, and is probably cheaper than Iceland.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 4:27 PM on February 23, 2015

I'd second Ireland - if you go in April you'll JUUUUUUST miss the "on season" with travel, but it sits right bang in the middle of the Gulf Stream so it'll be comfortably pleasant in terms of how warm it is. And yes, recommending Dublin - when people recommend pubs, also, don't worry about not being a big 'night club' person - a pub is more like a casual place to hang out rather than a "scene" kind of place. And some of the pubs have regular Irish music jam sessions, and sitting around while one of those is going on is fantastic. (The one time I went to one of those the place was so packed that the fiddle player couldn't get near the bar to order, and he stood on his table and shouted his order to the bartender - who stood up on the bar to hand it to him over everyone's head. And meanwhile the pipe and drum players were both still playing and ignoring the whole thing.)

Get out to some of the other places in Ireland too - I'll make an especial pitch for Kinsale, a lovely harbor town which is also kind of Foodie Central.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:32 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: EmpressCallipygos-- I have never stayed in a hostel before, but I imagine shared rooms with typically younger folks who might be noisy or super duper energetic all the time. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing and I'm sure my imagination is not entirely accurate, I'm just not sure what to expect because I'm not really an extrovert/big drinker/recreational drug user in any sense. Sorry if I'm painting with a really broad brush, and no offense to any hostel-goers!
posted by sprezzy at 4:37 PM on February 23, 2015

I went to Italy as a solo traveller. Definitely worth considering for the art and the museums. I'm sure hiking is also possible. Plan carefully though, as there are long lines to many of the popular places, and lines are particularly boring when you're travelling by yourself.
posted by kjs4 at 4:54 PM on February 23, 2015

Traveling alone is so, so worth it. Especially if you are a single woman. To me it felt so empowering to be essentially alone on the continent and dependent on myself and my resources if anything went wrong. (Which nothing did, thank goodness.)

I went to Belgium, the Netherlands, and Paris this past November by myself and I had a great time. I was in Europe about 10 days and spent about $4,000. I loved being able to set my own schedule, see what I wanted to see, eat anywhere that looked interesting, spend as long as I wanted shopping, and so on and so forth.

I stayed in real hotels, not hostels, even in Amsterdam and Paris. I agree with you that hostels sound unpleasant. If you do some research and are traveling in the off season you can find fairly inexpensive and comfortable rooms. My hotel room in Amsterdam had its own balcony, and my room in Paris had a a gorgeous Art Nouveau stained glass window, double bed and a private bath, which was bigger than my bathroom at home.

I didn't have any trouble feeling lonely or not finding people to meet or chat with. And there were always people around to be in a crowd with. I am also not a big nightlife person and I was in bed by about 10-11 every night.

Europe to me felt safe, even in places where I didn't speak the language. I speak some French, but no Dutch. (I'm a New Yorker, though, and I think I have fairly good city sense.) There are people on the street who want things from you, like to sign a petition for some reason. They usually respond to a firm "no" and a brisk walk away. I understand pickpockets are also an issue, but I was careful with my purse and I didn't have any problems.
posted by Lycaste at 4:54 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes to the shared rooms in hostels, but "not necessarily" to the rest.

Every hostel is different, but if you stick to the International Youth Hostel organization ones, people aren't necessarily allowed to have alcohol or drugs in the rooms, firstly. You may have some hyper people, but you may also have people that just wanna keep to themselves. And people of all ages - the last time I went to London people were closer to my age than yours; at one point the oldest person in my room was a 65-year-old woman from Gloucester.

The hostel itself may organize group outings which anyone can join in on, and that's the kind of thing that will draw off the "woo, party!" types - is if the hostel has a pub crawl on the roster of events. But the hostel may also coordinate walking tours, museum visits, day trips....and you can ignore all of those if you want.

It's a lot like a college dorm, in fact - even in the dorm-style rooms there's an emphasis on letting the people who want to chill out chill out, and then there are common rooms where you can do laundry, have a meal (and even a common kitchen where you can cook your own food, if you want), and usually a room with a bunch of computers for you to use for a by-the-hour paid fee.

In Europe, a lot of hostels also have private rooms available; I stayed in one in Florence, Italy when I was there and it was IDEAL - I got to use the common rooms, but my own bedroom was my own. It was more than the rock-bottom hostel dorm room rate, but not by that much.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:00 PM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Israel: It's not jut for Jews and Evangelicals anymore! Everyone speaks English, and there are opportunities for city life (Tel Aviv), beachy goodness (Eilat), archaeology and history (Jerusalem, Acco), and even an artist's colony (Tsfat). Hiking in forests, deserts, and in-between are all options given the diverse climate areas. It is a stunning country. World class museums abound, and lodging options are all over the place, from the janky hostels to a big network of AirBNBs to kibbutzes to mid-range and affordable hotels. Definitely the sort of place where you can have a base of operations and explore for the day. It's also the only place in the world I've traveled where I told shopkeepers I was a tourist and they lowered prices. YMMV, but they love tourists who don't have an angle and are just there to see the country.
posted by juniperesque at 5:05 PM on February 23, 2015

I've done a lot of solo traveling in Europe as a 30- (and now 40-) something female, and my experiences with hostels has been mixed. I've had some really, really great times in hostels, sharing rooms with interesting people who were fun to talk to and get to know, but still respectful of quiet times, and I've also stayed with people who were loud and annoying. My rule is that I read hostel reviews on or hostelworld pretty carefully -- usually, people will put in their reviews how "fun" places are, and that usually gives me a sense of how young- or loud-skewing a certain place is. I second the idea to get a private room if possible -- I've had some of my best hostel experiences that way.
posted by heurtebise at 6:03 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I stayed in two hostels in France.

The first was in the left bank in Paris. I was in a dorm with bunk beds. At around 11:30 at night one of the girls came in. I know because she reeked of horrible body odor. The kind that singes your nose hairs. I opened my purse to get a whiff of the perfumed hanky I kept in there (note, I slept with my purse.) I thought, "well, tomorrow she'll shower and change her clothes." I was wrong. She put the same clothes on and went back out in the world, presumably to knock buzzards off of shit wagons.

The second experience was in Dijon. They had a Foyer and they had private rooms, so I treated myself. It was a slice of heaven. I met some great folks in the lounge and we all went to explore the museum, castle, town and food. Had a ball! My room had two single beds and a private shower and sink, oddly the toilet was down the hall.

Great breakfast in both hostels. Note: I got scabies somewhere along the line.

I think hostels are a very specific thing for a very specific time in your life. If you suspect you won't like them, you probably won't.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:22 PM on February 23, 2015

One option I've done in Italy (not recently, but I'd do it again!) is that often at least one of the local convents runs something that's a small step up from a hostel - usually private rooms, very clean and well-kept, breakfast in the morning, but quieter and more laid back than a hostel might be.

The two I stayed at, they were great about pointing out interesting things we might not otherwise have seen, there were interesting people to talk to in the morning, but no one was very pushy about being social, and when I had a very early morning flight and was trying to figure out how to get to the airport, it was "Oh, X, who does our driving for us, just tell us when your flight is" and it was much easier than negotiating a taxi. (Somewhat cheaper, too, but the big plus was having someone who could do the 'the flight leaves at X time" stuff for me in Italian.)

Some of them (but not all) have curfews - it looks like this is the website you can find them through easily. You don't need to be Catholic, and there's no pressure to join in religious activities (though some of the art work may be). Some of them are gorgeous buildings with amazing views and locations.
posted by modernhypatia at 6:41 PM on February 23, 2015

I was going to say Iceland, but looks like you already beat me to it. I heart iceland so much.
posted by manderin at 6:43 PM on February 23, 2015

I did the Iceland ring road trip alone in early June a few years back, and I LOVED it, but honestly, it would be far better and safer with companions. I mean... crimewise, I was never worried in Iceland, and outside Reykjavik, the drivers were extremely safe and considerate, but I did some foolish things on my own. Hiking alone is not smart, hiking alone in the snow is even less smart. Driving in a whiteout snowstorm is amazing, but again, probably best not to be doing that alone. I mean, I chose to take those risks, and I turned out fine, but it could have been ugly if I'd say, twisted an ankle a mile or two into a nontrivial hike or slipped on ice, and not had someone to fetch help right away.

You could arrange to do outings with tour groups, but then you have to worry more about timing and keeping to a schedule. Or you could mostly hang around Reykjavik, but my super favorite parts (Myvatn for bubbling mud holes and hiking on steaming volcanoes in the north, and the glacier lagoon in the south) are too far for day trips.

Europe is less breathtaking when it comes to natural beauty, but hits many of your other points and is much safer to do on your own. Paris and Amsterdam are two of my favorite cities, both with fantastic food, museums, and people watching.

As for hostels, they're very hit or miss, and when it's a hit, you have a mediocre sleeping experience and good social connections. When it's a miss, well, you're grumpy and poorly rested for your all too short vacation. On your budget, I wouldn't risk it. A private room in a hostel with a quiet reputation would probably be fine, but otherwise I'd stick to hotels.
posted by ktkt at 6:53 PM on February 23, 2015

3rd Ireland (and/or Northern Ireland, gorgeous; I had a great time at the Cathedral Music festival in Belfast, and there's a lot else going on in terms of cultural stuff). I didn't go alone when I went, but I would in a heartbeat. Astoundingly beautiful, everywhere you look.

You could travel along the coast and check out the little villages; camp, if you want to, maybe at a working farm.

Warm, open people. That famous gift of the gab is for real, they make an art of talking, joking, and storytelling - you won't feel alone. 2nd EmpressCallipygos - the fiddling and singing in pubs is for real, too (this amazed me after a lifetime of exposure to Irish Pubs(TM) - it's a genuine and living thing, integrated with the culture; ordinary people just get up and sing because they feel like it, they let music move through them, unselfconsciously, and they know all the songs).

Aw, I want to go, now :)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:09 PM on February 23, 2015

If you are considering Europe - why not southern Europe. Just throwing out there - I've traveled through Spain several times as a single lady and it's been great every time! Amazing museums, terrific hiking, safe as safe can be. The hostels will differ in each place, but I've never found them to be too crazy. People have always been really respectful of other sleeping schedules etc and the big party places are sort of known for that. You may consider an AirBnB instead or couch surfing, just be sure to vet before you go.
posted by Toddles at 7:21 PM on February 23, 2015

Someone mentioned Israel which sounds rad. I was going to mention Jordan. I went as a young woman traveling alone though I met a group there. I really liked Jordan - the people were very nice and said repeatedly that they want more Americans to visit. Petra was incredible. Wadi Rum was beautiful in a stark way. We also went to a spa near the Dead Sea so I got to do my beach thing. I felt safe. I went to Egypt about a year later and really liked it but did not feel as safe as I felt in Jordan.
posted by kat518 at 8:13 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I asked a similar question last year:

I ended up doing Berlin-Prague-Munich, with daytrips to Neuschwanstein and Salzburg. It was amazing! A good friend joined me for the last leg of the trip. I felt pretty safe in all those places, though I didn't really stay out at night just in case. Luckily I was traveling at the time of year it didn't get dark until around 9:30pm.

I stayed in nice hotels that I got pretty good deals on and felt like it was worth it to have a lovely place to relax at the end of the day, plus there was the added security of staying somewhere with security and a front desk / concierge (more for my mother's peace of mind than mine; she freaked out at my solo travel plans) and I stayed within your budget range.
posted by raw sugar at 9:53 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Japan. Safe, fun, easy to get about, not sure if Mandarin helps with the understanding kanji but might at the least help you remember names of places, and you can easily hang out. I have travelled there as a solo female traveller more than once and had no problems whatsoever
posted by Megami at 4:20 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh man, if I was a solo traveler I'd go to Festival Number 6 in Portmeirion, Wales. Looks so completely great.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 6:12 AM on February 24, 2015

Here is the thing about hostels: when they were big in the sixties and seventies, the typical footloose independent traveler was a baby boomer, many of whom grew up in a bungalow in the suburbs with numerous siblings and who had shared a room all their lives. These days, your twentysomething traveler has probably had his or her own bedroom since age five or something, so private rooms are far more common than they used to be. Big barracks-like dorms are mostly thing of the past. It is rare to find a room larger than four or maybe six beds anywhere now.

I am on the road at least ten or twelve weeks a year and stay in hostels by preference; because I am a light sleeper anyway and also because my snoring is infrequent but epic, I tend to go for private rooms. I think I have had a shared room twice in the last decade and a half. Yes, private rooms are pricier than dorms, but the supply is large and more importantly, the hostelling associations that make up Hostelling International are not for profit. It makes me crazy when I read AskMes about someone trying to find a hotel room in $Big_City but agonizing that they can find nothing under $300 per night, when the hostel there -- a converted hotel with private rooms, ensuite washrooms, TV in the room, the whole hotel deal -- is $85 per night or something.

Of course, on the budget you describe, you can stay in mid-range hotels. But when you say, "I don't mind being alone, but even if I'm not directly interacting with people I like to be around people," that is 100% hostel territory. The final night I stayed in a hotel by choice when traveling was when I was suddenly seized with a wave of loneliness, realizing I was 3500 km from the nearest person I knew. I moved a few blocks to a hostel the next day and have never looked back.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:33 AM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

It is rare to find a room larger than four or maybe six beds anywhere now.

This may be true in some countries, but wasn't my experience at all while travelling in Europe last summer. Many hostels do have the option to stay in rooms of 6 beds or less, but most do still have cheaper/larger rooms.

For some data points, I stayed in low-to-mid-range hostels pricewise, rated above 75%, in frankfurt-amsterdam-berlin-budapest-prague-venice-slovenia-nice, and the beds per room were 18-2-12-8-4-3-8-6, in that order. I decided what room size to stay in mostly based on price - if it wasn't much more expensive to get a smaller room, I usually would. So most of the smaller room sizes I experienced were in hostels with larger room sizes available.

But, if booking through hostelworld or directly through the hostel website you should always be able to see how many beds are in the room you're booking, and see if it's worth paying more for a smaller room. Many do have single or double ("private") rooms available if that's more your style.
posted by randomnity at 9:57 AM on February 24, 2015

I traveled to Japan as a solo female some decade or so ago (jeez, maybe two?) and found it perfect -- super safe, easy to get around (all signs in Romanji as well as kanji or kana). People found it almost inconceivable that I was travelling alone ("Americans: pioneer spirit!" was my favorite comment), but I had a nice time both in solitude (mmmm, empty Buddhist temple!) and in low-level interactions. Most of the hostels where I stayed were virtually empty, but I saw rooms with just two futons, and the breakfast involved 20 tiny dishes even when it was just me -- there are also inexpensive Ryokan that are sort of like B&Bs, with a good immersive experience but more traditional hotel level of privacy. You could do a bunch of things in Tokyo and then take a day or two outing to more countryish places by train...
posted by acm at 10:49 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

This may be true in some countries, but wasn't my experience at all while travelling in Europe last summer. Many hostels do have the option to stay in rooms of 6 beds or less, but most do still have cheaper/larger rooms.

In the last couple of years I have been in hostels in Canada, USA, Mexico, the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. I stayed one night in an eighteen-bed dorm, but apart from that, six was the biggest I saw anywhere in maybe a hundred overnights.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:33 PM on February 24, 2015

Nthing what everyone is saying about hostels - read the reviews VERY carefully, and avoid dorm beds if you want to. If I were in your shoes, I'd be looking mostly at private rooms in hostels and AirBnB. On your budget, you could afford a hotel room, but why spend the money?

Seeing as lots of people are talking about Ireland, I'm gonna throw Scotland out there. Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities anywhere - amazing scenery and architecture, cool museums, friendly people, great whisky (if you're into that). I've also heard great things about the Highlands, although I've never been and I believe you might want a car if you really want to explore that region.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:06 AM on February 25, 2015

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