Lately I’ve been reflecting on the last 6 1/2 years of solo traveling around the world, and thinking about what the true best adventures were that I’d had on my own. With almost my entire life over that time devoted to wandering, there have been so many experiences that were enriching, mind-boggling, and sometimes world shifting.
We all travel for different reasons. Maybe it’s just to feel an adrenaline rush, to experience what Italian food actually tastes like in Italy, or to have a groundbreaking realization that changes the course of our entire lives.
The following are some of the most incredible experiences I’ve had as a solo female traveler, from the culinary to the boundary-pushing, the heart warming to the paradigm-shifting:
1. Hiking the Eight Day O Circuit in Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia
Patagonia is one of those places that, no matter how much you build it up in your mind, it will exceed expectations. The glacier-carved and capped mountains are so striking, and they seem to be situated just right to reflect the sunsets and sunrises. It’s all so dramatic that it leaves me speechless with every turn and bend in the trail. Though the whole region is incredible, it was the circuit in Torres del Paine that took me to the Southern Patagonian ice field, brought me to watch the sunrise illuminate the famous tower-shaped Torres peaks, and showed me that I’m capable of backpacking for eight solid days.
Sure it’s a challenge, but most worthwhile things in life are. This can be done from late November until early April most years. You can read more about how to do it here.
2. Solo Road Tripping through the American Southwest
Even after traveling all over the world, I’m convinced that the American Southwest has some of the most dramatic and varied landscape there is. From the incredible Rockies and the canyons carved by the Colorado River, to the vast deserts of Nevada and California and the deep orange of southern Utah, this is one of the best places in the world for outdoorsy types.
I took a solo camper van adventure here a couple of years ago and it still one of the best memories I have. Solo stargazing without anyone visible in any direction is humbling and yet so freeing. You can read more here about my itinerary and some of Utah’s best off the beaten path places to build a trip of your own.
3. Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland
It’s almost unfair how beautiful Iceland is. It’s the kind of place where you just stop pointing out waterfalls because there are so many. It’s also been rated the safest country in the world, and whether you go there completely on your own or join a tour, Iceland is awesome for first time solo female travelers.
I drove along the Ring Road (here’s my itinerary) in October and saw the northern lights three times! There’s really no way to describe them or substitute for seeing them yourself. Here are 6 other magical spots around the world where you can see the northern lights!
4. Scuba Diving in Raja Ampat, Western Papua, Indonesia
I remember exclaiming over and over while swimming in the little curves on deserted islands in Raja Ampat that I was ruined and that there could be no better nor more beautiful adventure than that. The diving was incredible, with massive schools of fish, manta rays, and sharks. But what I really loved about it was how beautiful and wild the islands were. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park minus the dinosaurs!
I joined a liveaboard dive boat that cruised through the area for 11 days, offering three dives per day. It was the perfect way to see it as a solo traveler. You can read more here.
5. Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Talk about humbling! In Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, you can join a guided tour and trek into the jungle to see the gorillas in their natural habitat. The severely endangered animals know that humans won’t hurt them, and tolerated us getting pretty close! Seeing the silverback gorilla and the little babies beating their chests to imitate him was even more incredible than I thought it could be, and I had really high expectations!
Even though the price tag is pretty astronomical at $600 for a permit, this is one of those experiences that you will never forget. It’s not super easy to do independently but I have directions on how to do so here. Alternatively, you can join a tour that takes care of the logistics for you, which you can also read about in the same post.
6. Hiking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal
The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal is quite similar to the Everest base camp trek in terms of length and altitude. However, it’s just a bit more beautiful and ever so slightly less popular. I started this trail solo but it’s so easy to meet people that I made friends immediately who I am still close with to this day.
The road keeps extending farther up the mountain which can shorten the trail significantly, but it’s typically a 14-day trail that could be made longer or shorter depending on if you add on Poon Hill and the Annapurna Sanctuary, which I did. It was the first time I had ever attempted a multi-day hike, and while tough, it was so rewarding to complete the trail and peaceful in those little mountain villages. It’s also made more accessible by being a teahouse trek, which means that you don’t need to carry any food or camping gear because there are restaurants and basic huts to sleep in all along the way. You can read more about how to do it independently here.
7. Driving the Road to Hana in Maui
The Road to Hana on Maui is famous for its 600+ turns and wealth of roadside attractions. There are so many waterfalls and black sand beaches along the way, not to mention a dreamy bamboo forest at the end. It is an absolute must-do when you’re on Maui, which is surprisingly awesome for solo female travelers!
Without having a navigator, knowing when to turn off can be a bit difficult on the Road to Hana, unless you have an app which tells you when to turn. I have the best stops and a link to the app on my Road to Hana Guide.
8. A 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat in Thailand
Talk about earth-shattering! If you feel called to try it, a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat absolutely will have a profound impact on you. For me, I became so much more aware of what I tend to fixate on and how my mind works. Meditation is a lifelong practice and 10 days is a huge undertaking for a first-timer, but it’s also a way to become master of your thoughts rather than unconsciously driven by them, as most humans are.
The retreat at Wat Suan Mokkh is no-frills and quite traditional, but if you want to know yourself on a much deeper level than you ever previously had, I encourage you to look into it. There are other, much more comfortable retreats out there that can cost upwards of hundreds of dollars, and there are many disciplines in the world as well. This is the first one I ever did and I do think it’s a bit tough, but for some people that yields the best results. You can read about my experience here.
9. Freediving with Humpback Whales in Tonga
To date, this is probably the most incredible animal encounter trip I’ve had. Imagine jumping into the water and seeing massive humpback whales twirling and swelling underneath you. There are no cages, no fences, and no cars between you and these majestic creatures. My first jump in, I cried. It was so beautiful and humbling. I saw singing whales, heat runs with a dozen whales swimming beneath me, and mothers and calves. We spent six days in the water doing nothing but swimming with whales. It was one of the most beautiful and spiritual weeks of my life.
Tonga is one of the few countries in the world that allows people to swim with whales. There are heavy regulations prohibiting more than a few swimmers in the water at a time, meaning that as the popularity grows, so does the demand for the limited spaces. If you’re dying to try it, there are a few spaces left with the new company that I went with. You can read about my experience here.
10. Dining at Tsurutokame in Tokyo
For my fellow food lovers out there (which is everyone, right?), a true kaiseki experience in Tokyo is a must-do! Kaiseki is the highest food tradition of Japanese cuisine and is more of an experience than simply a meal. The chefs prepare and present course after course of delicately handcrafted cuisine that they have quite literally dedicated their lives to perfecting. The reason why Tsurutokame is so noteworthy is their entirely female chef-led restaurant. It’s one of its kind in Tokyo where female chefs are still almost unheard of.
This is in the top three meals of my life, and they even adopted a completely vegan menu for me! You can read more about how to book here.
11. Marveling at the Rice Terraces in Yunnan, China
I don’t know about you, but Asian history just astounds me with how far back some of the still-functioning methods and traditions go. The rice terraces in Yunnan province, close to the border with Vietnam, perfectly illustrate this. These terraces are thousands of years old and when they fill in with water, they create a particularly stunning mirror for the sunset sky.
This part of the world is only beginning to open up to tourism, though the secret is out, which makes it a bit easier to access now for Western visitors. You can read more about my experience here.
12. Backcountry Backpacking in Alaska
If Torres del Paine was an introduction to backpacking, then venturing into Alaska is the next level up. I’ve done two 8-day backpacking trips in the Alaskan backcountry now and even though you’re almost guaranteed to get rained on, it can be cold, and the terrain is harsh, you can bank on spending most of your time completely unaware that human civilization even exists. I never knew how much I needed and craved that until I experienced it.
I saw plenty of elks, moose, and even a distant bear. Charting a course with a map and compass, this was truly one of the most adventurous experiences I’ve ever had. Though I would never recommend going out there alone, you can join hiking groups for an incredible, adventurous experience. I brought 12 girls on their first backpacking trip last summer and it was a blast! Stay tuned as we may offer another one in the future.
13. Seeing Kawah Ijen’s Blue Flames in Indonesia
Though word has gotten out and I know that this is a much more popular hike than when I did it six years ago, there is almost no parallel to seeing the incredible blue flames in East Java, Indonesia.
Begin the hike at 2-3am and hike in with the stars, see the flames, and head to the crater rim for sunrise. This one is definitely on the highlight reel of my life. Read more about how to do it here.
14. Kayaking with Beluga Whales in Manitoba, Canada
Imagine kayaking in the bay and feeling a little bump on the bottom of your kayak followed by a cheeky white Beluga face smiling at you from under the water. That’s what it’s like visiting Churchill, Manitoba in the summer when the beluga whales are hanging out and coming over to say hello. They’re so incredibly curious, any experience includes snorkeling with them, boating around them, and kayaking with them. If you’re lucky you may see some polar bears too! You can read more about that here.
15. Venturing into Parts Unknown in Mozambique
Finally, though your version of Mozambique could be anywhere, for me this was an adventure into a place that I had found out so little info about. I hadn’t read the best reviews for solo females traveling to Mozambique, and yet most of the experiences didn’t even seem to be first-hand accounts. I ended up having one of the most relaxed, enjoyable times of my life with new friends I’d met on the beach in Tofo, Mozambique, and I owe it all to being willing to go into the unknown after some unexpected news. Since then, a few solo female travelers have reached out to let me know that they ended up going after reading my posts and that they loved it too. You can read all about Mozambique here, but I encourage you to venture into places that seem totally new and exciting to you as well. You never know what you’ll find!
Although most of these are pretty adventurous activities, which may seem intimidating at first, I found that by getting out there I was a lot more adventurous than I ever thought. I was capable of trying things that a few years prior would have scared me off. That’s one of the gifts of solo traveling – it builds confidence in a way that nothing else can.
So whether you decide to do one of these adventures or something else entirely, I encourage you to give your adventurous side a chance and try something new.
So these are my favorite experiences, everyone is different. What have been your favorite solo traveling experiences abroad?