As solo travellers, we often tend to take shelter in the same tried and tested places. The ones that rank high on online lists of “safe countries for solo travel”, which have several hostels to choose from, where tourism has made it imperative for locals to speak English and where the presence of other travellers puts us in our comfort zone. Over my solo explorations in the past seven years though, I’ve found that such places often tend to stifle our adventurous spirit. The same spirit that originally made us want to go it alone.
Looking back, my most cherished solo travel memories were made in unusual, offbeat places – and while putting together this post, I’ve considered the following parameters:
- The locals aren’t saturated with tourism: Despite being an introvert, I found it relatively easy to have authentic interactions and make local friends in these places.
- There’s plenty to do alone, even on a budget: Although this is very subjective and based on personal preferences, these are places where I found plenty to do using public transport and on a moderate budget.
- A general feeling of safety: It’s important to keep our wits about us anywhere we go or live, but I never felt particularly unsafe in these places.
If you plan to travel solo but can’t decide where to go, consider my favorite (offbeat) solo travel destinations:
Julian Alps, Slovenia
Best solo travel destination for: Mountains and solitude
Although as solo travellers, we’re spoilt for choice in Europe, the one country that really stole my heart is Slovenia. Like every other traveller, I first landed up in Ljubljana – an artsy capital city with incredible vegan food (hello, Barberella Arkade Bistro) – and Lake Bled – a sore disappointment given how commercial it’s become. But further into the Slovenian Alps, I was captivated by the dreamy mountains and valleys, loved hiking and cycling by myself, and ended up staying with Slovenian hosts so friendly, they invited me for home-cooked meals and drove me to their favorite spots amid the stunning rivers and forests. That special connection was so strong that one week after I left Slovenia, I ended up changing my travel plans and coming back to spend the rest of my Europe trip there!
Solo travel recommendations for Slovenia:
- Getting around: Buses connect many parts of the Slovenian Alps to Ljubljana. I mostly hiked, cycled and got rides with my hosts in the mountains.
- Visa: Slovenia is part of the Schengen zone; see my tips on how to score a Schengen visa on an Indian passport.
- Stay: See all the Airbnbs I loved in Europe (I even slept in a wine barrel in Ljubljana!)
Hill country, Sri Lanka
Best solo travel destination for: First international solo trip; nature; vegan food
I think of Sri Lanka as a saner, smaller, less chaotic version of India – one that is as full of natural beauty yet feels safer and easier to manoeuvre. The capital city of Colombo always puts me in my comfort zone as I sink my feet into the wet shores of the Indian Ocean, feast at accidentally vegan-friendly restaurants and imagine a utopian future for India with lower population, clean streets and better infrastructure. And when I think of the countryside, I can’t stop dreaming of the lush green hills, the train rides along misty tea plantations and rice paddies, the curious locals who become friends with an ice-breaking smile, the forests with indigenous dwellers, wild elephants and big cats, and most of all, of steamed hoppers served with a curry simmered overnight with Sri Lankan spices. Can I go back already?
Solo travel recommendations for Sri Lanka:
- Getting there: Sri Lankan Airlines flies direct from multiple cities in India.
- Visa: Sri Lanka offers online ETA, which serves as the Sri Lanka tourist visa for Indians. See details here.
- Stay: For a luxurious stay, Cinnamon Hotels has branches in Colombo and Kandy. Check out my fav Airbnbs across Sri Lanka if you’re on a budget.
- Do: See my list of incredible ways to experience Sri Lanka.
Kumaon, Uttarakhand, India
Best solo travel destination for: Nature and the slow life
On some of my earliest solo explorations in India, the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand taught me so much about solo travel. In Peora and Nathuakhan, I learnt to hike alone, put my faith in nature and accept random acts of kindness from strangers. Walking across Himalayan villages in Kumaon, I learnt to embrace the slow life philosophy of locals – sometimes out of choice, sometimes out of circumstance. In Binsar, I learnt of the man-forest conflict and in Sarmoli, I grasped how a small group of committed women can transform their lives and those of many others.
I don’t think I could have enjoyed mere sightseeing in the Kumaon Himalayas. The terraced mountain farms, the pristine lakes, the scented pine forests and the lush valleys are stunning, no doubt. But it’s only when I learnt to club them with a slice of local living, that I truly fell in love.
Solo travel recommendations for Kumaon, Uttarakhand:
- Getting there: Take the Shatabdi from Delhi to Haldwani, and a shared taxi thereafter. You can also fly to Pantnagar but shared rides are harder to find there.
- Stay: All the homestays in my list of awe-inspiring hideouts to tune out of life and tune into the mountains in Uttarakhand.
- Transport: Shared taxis, state buses, hitchhiking. Ask your hosts for advice.
Also read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears
Best solo travel destination for: Experienced solo travellers; hiking; culture
Hiking alone in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador is definitely one of my most cherished solo travel memories – especially when I throw in my time with an indigenous Quichua family and the jaw-dropping beauty of the rugged Andean trails, forests, lakes, valleys, canyons and ridges. Despite spending a month slowly exploring the country – partly by myself, partly with a friend – I feel like I never really got my closure and can’t wait to go back someday.
Solo travel recommendations for Ecuador:
- Visa: Indian passport holders get visa-free access to Ecuador with a valid and used US visa.
- Stay: I loved staying at family-run Airbnbs across Ecuador, and at Black Sheep Inn in the Andes.
- Transport: Public buses connect most of the country.
- Learn Spanish: Speaking Spanish is essential to travel in Ecuador.
Best solo travel destination for: Nature and beaches – if you don’t mind being surrounded by lovestruck couples!
It’s one thing to read that Mauritius is popular with honeymoon couples, quite another to land on this beautiful island and constantly be badgered with questions of why you chose to travel there alone. But once I learnt to humour the questions, I fell in love with the many faces of the island – hiking in the rugged wilderness above Port Louis and in the Black River Gorges National Park, riding my bike along swaying sugarcane fields, chatting with Indo-Mauritian fishermen and farmers, revelling in the stunning sunrises and sunsets, checking out the craft beer and street food scene, sleeping on a rooftop under the stars, and snorkelling to explore the stunning underwater beauty of the Indian Ocean. I wouldn’t pick it as my first solo travel destination, but I’d certainly go when I’m ready for some sea, sand and solitude.
Solo travel recommendations for Mauritius:
- Visa: Mauritius offers visa on arrival for Indian passport holders.
- Stay: Check out my list of incredible eco-conscious accommodations in Mauritius – that are not honeymoon resorts 😉
- Adventure sports: See my self-crafted Mauritius adventure sports map!
- Getting around: Although renting a car is the only option for long distances, I was pretty happy covering short ones on my rented scooter and bicycle.
Also read: Solo Travel: To Go or Not To Go?
Best solo travel destination for: Experienced solo travellers; architecture; culture
As someone who can’t imagine staying offline for long periods of time, I didn’t know if I’d enjoy exploring Cuba solo. Turned out, the fascinating history, isolated culture, striking natural beauty and endearing locals made me forget all about the internet – even though it could be accessed in public parks! The best thing I did in La Habana (Havana) was sign up for a private “go with the flow” afternoon with Cuban Adventures and spend 3 hours with a young guide who grew up in Cuba – drinking daiquiri, catching a football game, learning about the Afro-Cuban religion, spotting incredible murals and sculptures as we wandered around the by-lanes of Havana and talked candidly about Cuba’s eventful history.
In an attempt at offbeat and meaningful travel, I also landed up volunteering briefly at a coral reef restoration project run by IOI Adventures in a remote village in Isla de la Juventud. Along with locals from the village and a fellow volunteer, I picked up plastic trash from the ocean floor, saw how corals were being regrown, patrolled a deserted beach for turtle hatching, snorkelled above stunning reefs and pledged to further cut out single-use plastic from my life.
Solo travel recommendations for Cuba:
- Visa: Indian passport holders can enter Cuba with a tourist card.
- Internet: Wifi cards are available for purchase at ETECSA (telecom) shops across the country, and wifi can be accessed at many public parks.
- Stay: I stayed at Casa Particulares (private homestays) across Cuba – some through Airbnb, some through local reference – and loved interacting with local families.
- Transport: Buses and shared taxis connect most places across Cuba; homestay hosts can arrange both with some advance notice.
Best solo travel destination for: Mature solo travellers; culture-seekers
I only spent a couple weeks in Odisha, quite nervous about exploring the state for the first time. But I quickly fell in love with everything – the local food (easy to veganise), the warm people, the stunning and diverse natural beauty and the intriguing tribal way of life. I did long journeys on state buses, took an overnight train, explored small villages on a bicycle, and felt safe in the company of those I met along the way.
I say Odisha is for experienced solo travellers though, because travel infrastructure is limited, the regular tourist circuit isn’t geared towards solo travel and it takes some ‘jugaad’ (think hitchhiking pillion on a motorbike) to get off the beaten path if you travel alone and don’t have a car. I’ll be writing a detailed post about my travels in Odisha soon!
Solo travel recommendations for Odisha:
- Stay: I enjoyed staying at Kila Dalijoda along the eastern ghats and Chandoori Sai in the Koraput region. And loved my time at Desia Ecolodge, where thanks to my host and now friend Bubu, I was able to experience the fascinating tribal culture of Koraput in an intimate and respectful way.
- Public transport: I got around by buses and trains, and although the quality is pretty much the same as the rest of India, I found the locals to be helpful and friendly, and didn’t feel unsafe.
Also read: How to Plan Your First Solo Trip
The United Kingdom
Best solo travel destination for: First solo trip; cities; hiking
Though not the most friendly on the wallet, England and Scotland are some of the easiest places to navigate without having to get familiar with a foreign language, with plenty to explore for offbeat travellers. I spent my days in Aberdeen and Edinburgh walking everywhere, checking out old churches, urban parks, edgy neighborhoods and hipster cafes. Renting a car or joining a group tour is necessary to explore much of the countryside, but I found that the Lake District was a beautiful exception – the town of Keswick is accessible by train and bus, and is a great base for incredible hikes in the surrounding Cumbrian Mountains.
Solo travel recommendations for the UK:
- Visa: Apply for a UK visa at VFS UK; the regular tourist visa takes atleast 14 working days, sometimes longer, so give yourself plenty of time.
- Stay: Find bed and breakfasts, and old country hotels across Britain, on booking.com. If you’re not signed up yet, register with my referral to get 10$ off your first stay.
Best solo travel destination for: Mature solo travellers; rugged beauty; cultural immersion
I’ve perhaps never been as nervous embarking on a solo adventure as I was boarding my flight to Guatemala – my first time in Central America. But those solo travel fears were soon dispelled in the quaint town of Antigua, in the home of a Mayan family in an obscure town where I learnt Spanish and by the stupendous beauty of Lake Atitlan. I’ve been so intrigued by what survives of the Mayan culture and so delighted by the basic staple food (beans, rice, plantains, cacao, avocados) that I’ve been back for long periods twice since. I recommend Guatemala for experienced solo travellers because you must learn some Spanish to get by, know when to trust your gut, and figure out the country once you go beyond the worn-out tourist trail.
Solo travel recommendations for Guatemala:
- Visa: Indian passport holders get visa-free access to Guatemala with a valid and used US visa.
- Stay: Check out my fav Airbnbs across Central America.
- Transport: The popular tourist spots in Guatemala are connected by shuttles, while other places are accessible by bus.
- Learn Spanish: Learning Spanish is a must while travelling in Guatemala; very few locals are able to understand English. I learnt Spanish at the pretty remote Bio Itza School in the village of San Jose, and then again from private Mayan tutor Rebeca along Lake Atitlan.
Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India
Best solo travel destination for: First solo trip; mountains; going off the grid; volunteering
The Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh is where my love affair with solo travel began. I still remember my first lonely night in a shabby room in Shimla with some clarity. I had no idea what I was doing, why I was travelling alone, what it was going lead to. But all those questions were dispelled as we drove along winding roads to arrive in one of the most spectacular and fascinating regions of India. Back in 2011, Spiti was a trip of firsts for me – volunteer traveling, hitch-hiking, sleeping under the Milky Way and learning about sustainable tourism. My time volunteering with Spiti Ecosphere impacted me so deeply that I decided to quit my corporate job soon after and began charting a different life for myself.
Solo travel recommendations for Spiti, Himachal Pradesh:
- Getting there: Take the overnight HPTDC Volvo bus from Delhi to Manali, spend a night or two to acclimatise, then take a shared taxi to Kaza.
- Traveling in Spiti: I highly recommend traveling with Spiti Ecosphere – their “life as a local” trip is one I want to try myself. You can also base yourself in Kaza for a while and volunteer with them.
- The “I Love Spiti” campaign: Last year, I partnered with Spiti Ecosphere and fellow volunteers to launch “I Love Spiti” – a campaign against plastic bottled water in Spiti. Consider volunteering in Spiti to take this campaign to the next level!
Best solo travel destination for: Experienced solo travellers; culture
Many countries in the Middle East are shrouded in controversy and oppression, and having heard horror stories from close friends, I’d probably avoid many of them, especially as a solo female traveller. Bahrain (and Oman and Jordan) are exceptions though – some of the more liberal, peaceful ones in the region. I didn’t travel solo in Jordan and I’m yet to explore Oman, but Bahrain has occupied a warm space in my heart since I travelled there a few years ago. Public transport is non-existent and taxis expensive, so I ended up hitch-hiking with the friendliest souls, hanging out in trendy shisha cafes, having heart-to-heart conversations with locals and even finding some surprising Indian connections.
Solo travel recommendations for Bahrain:
- Visa: Bahrain offers visa on arrival for Indian passport holders.
- Stay: I stayed at a hotel, but in retrospect, would choose an Airbnb or guesthouse in or close to the trendy Adliya neighborhood.
- Getting around: Getting around within Bahrain without a car is challenging. I managed with walking, hitch-hiking, being driven around with new friends and the rare taxi.
North Goa (interiors), India
Best solo travel destination for: First solo trip; vegan food
I’ve never been drawn to the beaches of Goa – often full of boisterous crowds, aggressive drug peddlers and underwhelming food. But the interiors of Goa have continued to delight me for years now, thanks to my earliest discoveries with my Goan hosts Raquel and Roberto. Theirs is not the Goa you read or hear about otherwise – no beaches, no loud parties, alcohol is not the centre of attraction. Theirs is a Goa of sleepy villages, pristine backwaters, lush paddies and the susegad (content) life. One that you have to experience yourself to believe.
Solo travel recommendations for Goa:
- Stay: Stay at Cancio’s House for an authentic Goan experience in the interiors of North Goa on a budget.
- Do: See my alternative travel guide to Goa, authentic Goan food to try and offbeat ways to experience Goa.
Best solo travel destination for: Nature; postcard villages; solitude
Ever since I got over my misconceptions of Germany on my first Euro trip (no, most Germans are not uptight and the beer’s fab but there’s so much more to the country), I’ve explored several parts of Germany – a lot of it solo. I love the wine traditions along the River Rhine, the Christmas Markets across the country, the forested countryside of Hessen, the waterways of Spreewald, the lost-in-time villages of Southwest Germany and the stellar beauty of the German Alps in Berchtesgaden National Park. Equally, I love the conscious living embraced by many locals, the long train journeys on the Deutsche Bahn (seriously, when will India catch up?) and the fact that I’m never thinking twice about my safety.
Solo travel recommendations for Germany:
- Getting there:Lufthansa offers direct flights from India to Munich and Frankfurt.
- Visa: Apply for a Schengen visa at VFS Germany in India.
- First time to Germany: See my tips to plan your first trip to Germany.