Hey, I know that going on your first solo trip can be nerve-wracking, from deciding to go, to planning, to actually going.
I was surprised to find, and I think this is a common experience, that the hardest part was making the decision to go. Once I was on the road, everything fell into place, I found my stride, and I enjoyed it so much that I laughed at how scared I’d previously been of the whole idea.
Traveling alone is a gift. You will be presented with daily opportunities to learn and grow, and you will become closer to yourself as a result.
Since it can be overwhelming deciding where to go first, I’ve compiled a list after 6 years of firsthand solo traveling experience with 10 destinations that I loved, and I know you will, too:
It should not come as a surprise that the Land of Smiles is first on the list – it’s the perfect spot to ‘test the water’. Thailand is affordable, easy to travel through, friendly, full of other travelers, and delicious. There are multiple daily flights from all over the world arriving in Bangkok, the country’s capital, sending new and seasoned backpackers, budget and luxury travelers, fresh grads and retirees, solo travelers (like you!) and tour groups on an epic journey around the country.
Just last year, 35 million people visited Thailand. What I am trying to say is, there’s something for everybody there!
I recommend beginning in Bangkok and learning how to fall in love with the city, or starting off in Chiang Mai up north. There are so many things to do around there, like cooking courses and temples, and playing with elephants ethically. Next, head south and go scuba diving around one of the many gorgeous islands, some of which are well known and some of which are lesser known, or even participate in a 10-day silent meditation retreat. If you end up loving your experience in Thailand, it is so easy to extend your journey and explore the surrounding countries by plane, train, or bus. For more check out:
Malaysia is often overlooked as a travel destination in favor of its neighbors and to me it’s mind-boggling! Malaysia is one of the most developed countries in Southeast Asia, making it perfect for easing yourself into a different environment before venturing to other more off-beat places in the region. As a multi-cultural country, the locals generally speak at least 2 languages, and English is usually one of them. I personally never had a problem with communication when traveling in Malaysia. In fact, a common language helped me have more local interaction in Malaysia, including participating in local events and being invited to local family celebrations.
Similar to Thailand, you can have all kinds of travel experiences in Malaysia, from cities, to small towns, to beaches, and to mountains. When it comes to meeting other travelers, it’s still pretty easy in Malaysia, as with all of Southeast Asia, though there are fewer tourists overall. I also think when it comes to islands, diving, and off the beaten path experiences, it’s hard to beat Malaysia, both peninsular and Borneo. So if you are hoping for an interesting cultural experience minus the language barrier on your first solo trip abroad, Malaysia could be the perfect choice.
Japan is one of the cleanest, safest, most polite, and most organized countries I’ve ever visited. It was also one of the most unique in terms of culture, food, and the delightful mastery of technology in everything from art museums to the bathrooms.
I should warn you that language will be a problem at some point. I got pretty confused at the train stations as some signs are only in Japanese, and since English isn’t commonly spoken, it was challenging at times communicating with some hotel staff and restaurant waiters. However, you can always rely on apps to navigate your way around, and use the classic “point and nod” method to order your food. All that said, people are so kind and friendly, the language barrier wasn’t stressful like it can be elsewhere. The transportation system is so widespread and punctual, you’ll never have to worry about getting from point A to point B.
If you are traveling solo for the first time, the idea of sleeping in a hostel room can be daunting. In Japan, you can opt for a capsule hotel, which is very similar to a hostel, except that your bed space is much more confined, and your personal space is respected. Eating alone is not only acceptable, but a norm in Japan, so it’s an awesome place to practice the art of dining alone as well, if that’s usually intimidating to you.
Iceland is gorgeous, an outdoorsy person’s dream, and it’s ranked as the safest country in the world several years running. This means that you (and your worried parents) can put your worries aside. Another thing you wouldn’t have to worry about is getting lost. Most travelers in Iceland drive the Golden Circle or Ring Road, and while I think it is perfect for a road trip with a buddy, it’s amazing solo, too. If you don’t feel like driving, the local public transportation system is great, too.
Additionally, Iceland is delightfully small and intimate. With such a small population, Iceland feels more like a big local neighborhood where everybody knows everybody and there’s so much trust that people don’t even lock their cars when they grocery shop. Almost everyone speaks English quite well, so there’s no language barrier, either.
The only drawback is that Iceland is pretty expensive. You can cut the costs down by staying in hostels and buying your own groceries. But I’d say that Iceland is absolutely worth it if you can afford it!
Germany is my favorite country in Europe. I liked it so much that I moved to Berlin for five years. I think that Berlin in particular is perfect for first-time solo female travelers – there are so many things that are perfect to do alone, such as visiting the galleries, joining an alternative street art tour, and shopping at the flea markets. When you’ve had enough of the artistic scene in Berlin, you can hop on a train and go to Spreewald, Stuttgart, and visit the castles in the rest of Baden-Wüttemberg, to enjoy the beautiful nature Germany has to offer.
The country is safe, navigation is a breeze, English is widely spoken, the locals are generally helpful – Germany just checks all of the boxes for first time solo travelers! I also really appreciate the cultural diversity, and for some reason, it is a place where I feel like I can be 100% my true self without being judged, and that could very well be what you are looking for in your trip.
An insider tip? Germany is perfect for fall. 🙂
6. New Zealand
If you are under the age of 30 and planning a working holiday, New Zealand may end up being the destination of your first solo trip abroad, and that’s perfect! Many people utilize this opportunity to explore the country on their days off or after finishing up work contracts, and with New Zealand being such an awesome country to do road trip in, I highly recommend gathering 3-4 people and renting a camper van to drive around both islands.
Even if you are not considering the working holiday opportunity, New Zealand is still awesome for first-time solo travelers, especially if you are comfortable driving long distances. You could take the buses and trains, which are generally convenient and inexpensive, but to get to off-beat places, a car is much more ideal. Navigation is fairly easy and the locals are incredibly friendly and helpful. Perhaps the best thing to do is to stay in a social hostel for your first couple of days in New Zealand and look for a road trip buddy – just because you set this trip off alone, it doesn’t mean that you need to be by yourself the entire trip!
Overall, New Zealand is perfect for any outdoorsy person – think stunning islands, blue dolphins, rugged glaciers, and gorgeous lakes, as well as various routes to hike through. The local friendliness, safety, and easy navigation are just the cherry on top. Practice with some short road trips and solo hikes at home, and when you are ready, New Zealand’s just a flight away.
To my non-American readers, if you are looking at the States for your first solo trip abroad, allow me to present you the home I grew up in – California! While each state has something to offer, and many places in the USA are perfect for solo travelers, I truly believe that California is the perfect state for first-time solo travelers.
Some of the best spots in California are San Francisco, Humboldt County, Orange County, and everything along the Pacific Coast Highway. I suggest beginning in San Francisco, as it’s a tourist favorite with ample public transport, high walkability, and its vibrant culture. There’s truly nowhere else like the Bay Area. If you want to head off the beaten path, Humboldt and Lost Coast are beautiful and laid back. There are also a bunch of road trip routes to choose from. My favorites are the Southwest as well as the Pacific Coast. Finally, if you want to see the last free place in America, head down to Slab City. There are just endless ways to enjoy California as a solo traveler!
Hawaii isn’t typically what comes to mind when most people think of a solo trip, but I was so pleasantly surprised when I was there, and genuinely think that it’s actually perfect for first-time solo travelers!
Thanks to its rich culture and tropical climate, Hawaii feels more like a country of its own, with so many things to do that are totally solo-friendly. You could do a solo road trip along the Road to Hana, do a solo exploration of Lanai, or join the Maui Surfer Girls camp, designed specifically for solo female travelers who are looking for a supportive group of women to take up a new sport with. It’s an experience that is both empowering and fun!
If your heart is set on South America for your first solo trip, I recommend Peru. This incredibly diverse country will expose you to a variety of experiences, cultures, and especially climates. The iconic spots such as Rainbow Mountain, Huacachina, the Peruvian Amazon, the Inca Trail, and many other hiking trails are absolutely gorgeous. I mean, they are all bucket list worthy items!
As most people visiting Peru end up visiting these spots, you will hardly be alone, and most tours are more than happy to welcome single supplements. Peru also has a vibrant backpacker scene so it’s really easy to meet others at hostels and on tours. My biggest piece of advice for you is that you learn a little Spanish. Don’t expect locals to know English.
Maybe Peru’s safety reputation isn’t as great as the other countries on the list, but really, all you need to do is to exercise the same precautions back home when you are in Peru. Here are 31 safety tips from 31 solo female travelers to get you started.
Want your first solo trip memories to be filled with wild elephants? Botswana’s the answer, as it has more wild elephants than anywhere else in Africa. In fact, Botswana is my favorite country for wildlife viewing out of all of the African countries I’ve traveled to so far. It is slightly more expensive than other countries in Africa, but it’s also one of the safest, and has decent roads and a great safari lodge system as well. It is also quite the perfect place to try out glamping, especially since the cost of basic dorms may not differ much from private accommodations.
These are the 10 destinations that I have personally traveled in and think that are perfect for first time solo travelers. If you have other destinations in mind, please share in the comments! Let’s help more people realize their dreams of a solo adventure – it truly is the best gift one can give to herself!