The first time I travelled alone was to Amsterdam in my teens. It was a formative experience. I found myself exploring a city in a way I had never done before; without compromise. This, it turns out, is one of the reasons why a growing number of people are opting for a holiday alone.: According to the Association of British Travel Agents, solo travel has risen by a third since 2011. If you haven’t tried it, (and think you might like a holiday without an argument, for once) here are five suggestions for first-timers based on my own and others’ experiences.
Walk the Pacific Crest Trail
This epic 1,100-mile hike along the west coast of the US was popularised by Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 bestseller, Wild. She’s not the only person to have had a life-changing experience on the trail. Sophie Beaney hiked it alone in 2013 – or at least, she started alone. “I was staying at a house for walkers in San Diego where I met a fellow hiker – he was clipping his toenails,” she says. “The next day a group of us set off and we fell in to step, initially as friends, then we fell in love. He proposed at the Canadian border. A year later we got married.” Solo hiking remains a favourite activity for Beaney and she misses the trail every day. “It felt like a walking meditation,” she says. “No distractions, just you and your own thoughts – or irritating half threads of songs!”
India can be overwhelming as a newcomer, but remains a favourite for solo travellers because of the warmth and hospitality of so many of the people you encounter; you will never be short of someone with whom to strike up conversation. Personally, I love the Himachel Pradesh region – the cool mountains are a respite from the intensity of New Delhi. If you head to Dharamshala – residence of the Tibetan government in exile – you can find yourself among an incredibly diverse and spiritual community ranging from Buddhist monks to yogis. It was here eight years ago I first met a now close friend, who had been travelling solo around India. We went on a trek to a hippy camp in the mountains and I eventually left him sleeping in a cave (where he stayed for a week).
One ticket can get you unlimited rail travel across Europe and it’s the perfect way to explore the continent. It is particularly popular among younger travellers – many of whom do it solo. You will often find yourself running into the same people in hostels (or on trains) as you roll around. Many European cities have a different attitude towards spending time alone. Parisians often enjoy an espresso (or glass of wine) alone at the street-side bistros. In Berlin, it’s common to go clubbing solo – another experience that can change your perspective of spaces we usually associate with group activities.
I visited the Cuban capital, Havana, alone a few years ago and it was one of the liveliest holidays I’ve ever had. After a few days I had effortlessly collected a group of companions ranging from locals to other solo travellers (people travelling alone tend to gravitate towards each other). The city has an open, social attitude, and you find yourself picking up new friends at every turn – whether it’s hanging out on the street drinking coffee or Cristal (beer, not champagne!) or at night when the whole city seems to turn out for a party.
Immortalised by Alex Garland’s novel (and film adaptation) The Beach, Thailand will always be the first port of call for those exploring south-east Asia. Gap-yah full moon parties aside, the country is stunning, from the wild beaches on the Andaman Sea to the tranquil mountain city of Chiang Mai. If you are travelling solo and want to meet people, you can do so easily, but if you want to find solitude, nothing says “me time” like a week spent on a tropical island.