Best Countries for Solo Travellers

Taking off on a journey alone? Have no fear. Here are the safest, friendliest countries for your solo adventure.

Original feature in Travel&Leisure


There are many travellers who claim that travelling alone is the best way to see the world. You deliberately travel solo, they say, because you want to experience the world without the influence of a friend or partner’s tastes, prejudices, or preferences. When you’re with a companion, it’s easy to focus on that person and forget about meeting other travellers. Travelling alone, you’re more likely to be on a voyage of self-discovery.

Solo travel can be delightfully self-indulgent. You can spend a day doing nothing but café hopping or lingering in a single museum. You can loll on a beach on the South China Sea or hire a guide to visit remote ruins. Indulge your classical music passion in one of Europe’s great concert halls or join a group of like-minded strangers for a Himalayan trek.

It’s your call. Solo travel is the ideal opportunity to try something new, like a surf camp in Central America, a bike trip in Southeast Asia, or a visit to a classic European spa town. Despite the dreaded (and often costly) single supplement, bona fide single accommodations are both affordable and available in many parts of the world.

Still, there are two concerns for many solo travellers. The first is safety: the simple fact is that there are countries that are statistically safer than others for travellers.

The second concern is a bit less tangible but just as critical: is the country you’ve chosen a happy place? Is it a country where you’ll be made to feel welcome, a nation where you can easily interact with the locals, where conversation flows easily even if you’re struggling with a new language? For truly rewarding solo travel, it’s crucial that you can connect with the culture and not feel like an outsider.

To find the answer to these two questions, we crunched the numbers from the Global Peace Index, which ranks 162 nations for their peacefulness, and the Happy Planet Index, which looks at environmental impact and human well-being in 151 countries to measure where people live long and happy lives.

The resulting 20 best destinations for solo travellers present an amazing mash-up of geography along with radically different cultures, languages, and customs. (Canada represents North America here, as the U.S. didn’t rank highly enough to make the cut.) Safety and happiness prevail in all of them, making any of them ideal for your next solo adventure.

No. 1 New Zealand

Safety Ranking: 4
Happiness Ranking: 24

In New Zealand, the lush setting of the Lord of the Rings films, travellers can look forward to adventures on glaciers, in rainforests, and on the peaks of the Southern Alps, not to mention bungee jumping, jet boating, and hiking on the legendary Milford Track. All while meeting some of the friendliest and most open-minded people in the world—a major plus for those going solo.

No. 2 Norway

Safety Ranking: 10
Happiness Ranking: 22

The best way for solo travellers to experience an expensive country that’s 1,000 miles long: aboard one of the Hurtigruten coastal steamers that sail up the coast of Norway, into the city of Bergen, and through some of the country’s most beautiful fjords, stopping at dozens of ports along the way. Or sign up with a local outfitter for a multiday trek along the fjords, with accommodations ranging from comfortable hotels to mountain huts. The northern lights are gratis.

No. 3 Switzerland

Safety Ranking: 5
Happiness Ranking: 30

Switzerland, a place known for people who mind their own business, is a natural choice for solo travellers. Equip yourself with good hiking boots and a Swiss Rail Pass—good for every train, tram, and lake steamer. You might start with a couple of days in stately, pedestrian-friendly Zurich and then head south to the shores of Lake Geneva for the bistros, nightlife, and museums of Montreux and Lausanne before carrying on to the Italian-speaking Ticino region.

No. 4 Costa Rica

Safety Ranking: 42
Happiness Ranking: 1

You could argue that the concept of adventure travel was born here in Costa Rica, a.k.a. the world’s happiest country. This Central American destination has been drawing Americans for decades to surf on the Pacific coast or join a rafting company for a day on the white water of the Reventazón or Pacuare rivers. If comfort is a priority, book one of the country’s storied adventure lodges and head out for day trips in the cloud forest.

No. 5 Austria

Safety Ranking: 3
Happiness Ranking: 42

Small and compact, Vienna is one of the easiest European cities to navigate as a solo traveller. Start with an abundance of concert halls, dozens of museums, and cafés where you are expected to linger, a tried-and-true Viennese tradition. Salzburg is even smaller but equally welcoming to singles. A superb rail network means that getting anywhere else in the country, from Innsbruck to Kitzbühel to Graz, is easy.

No. 6 Vietnam

Safety Ranking: 45
Happiness Ranking: 2

Street life is colorful and safe in Vietnam’s largest cities, whether you’re exploring Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City or heading for Hanoi’s massive Dong Xuan Market. Do tai chi with hundreds of others by Hoan Kiem lake before heading into the mountains of the Central Highlands, preferably on a trek with a local outfitter. Wind up with a stay on Phu Quoc Island for a taste of the classic Southeast Asian beach-bum lifestyle.

No. 7 Chile

Safety Ranking: 30
Happiness Ranking: 19

As a rule, Chileans tend to be friendly and welcoming, a plus for adventurous single travellers eager to explore this 3,000-mile-long country of deserts, mountains, and endless coastline. Whether you head north to the magical Atacama Desert or south to untrammeled Chiloé Island or Patagonia, save a little time for Santiago, safe and easy to navigate. You might well find yourself as a guest at a family asado, or Chilean barbecue—and becoming part of a local family may be the ultimate definition of a friendly country.

No. 8 Japan (equal)

Safety Ranking: 8
Happiness Ranking: 48

After a few days in the fascinating megalopolis of Tokyo, hop a bullet train ride past Mount Fuji to experience the contrasting tranquility of old Kyoto. Lodgings, from venerable ryokan inns to modern hotels, are designed with single travellers in mind. You can enjoy a communal hot spring bath, meditate in a Zen garden, and dine at the counter of a sushi restaurant—a classic favorite of solo travellers.

No. 8 Sweden (equal)

Safety Ranking: 11
Happiness Ranking: 45

It’s easy to be a solo traveller in Stockholm, a compact city surrounded by the waters of the archipelago. Sea kayaking? Check. A day exploring the city’s parks by bike? Easy enough. There are outdoor cafés, the artistic treasures of the Moderna Museet, and stellar shopping for design here in the country that gave us Ikea. City life aside, the quintessential Swedish experience is outdoors, lakeside or trekking in the far north, both easily done with an outfitter.

No. 10 Indonesia

Safety Ranking: 54
Happiness Ranking: 5

Let’s see, temples, yoga on the beach, and cheap food, lodging, and massages. Then add an international roster of backpackers, hedonists, and spiritual seekers. It must be Bali, the single most popular destination for Western solo travellers in Indonesia. If you prefer someplace less touristy, take a 25-minute flight to Lombok, an island off the coast of Bali that feels like travelling back in time to 1970s Indonesia.

No. 11 Germany

Safety Ranking: 17
Happiness Ranking: 43

Too many choices can be a good thing, and that’s what you’ll encounter in Germany, one of Europe’s friendliest countries. You can hang out in Berlin—the café, gallery, and nightclub-filled epicenter of hipster Europe—and never want for company. But sooner or later, you’ll be tempted to explore other parts of this underrated country, using Germany’s well-regarded rail network. Head to the art hub of Düsseldorf, the beer gardens of Munich, or the restored city of Dresden.

No. 12 Argentina

Safety Ranking: 43
Happiness Ranking: 18

Café culture and a European vibe are reasons that solo travellers flock to Buenos Aires, where tango salons stay open late. But life outside of the city of Evita can be equally fascinating, whether you fancy the wine region of Mendoza, the starkly beautiful landscapes around Salta, or horse rides with gauchos.

No. 13 Canada (equal)

Safety Ranking: 7
Happiness Ranking: 58

As a solo traveller visiting the world’s second largest country, you should set your sights on its cities—like Vancouver, tucked between mountains and water, with fantastic Asian cuisine and the sublime green space of Stanley Park. Or Montreal, for its thriving café and bar scene and distinctly French flair. Smaller redoubts like Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital can be especially welcoming; it’s a thrumming university town that also happens to be great for sea kayaking.

No. 13 Finland (equal)

Safety Ranking: 6
Happiness Ranking: 59

Plan your visit for the sunshine-filled long days of summer and get oriented in Helsinki, walkable, easygoing, and filled with design stores and museums. The Esplanade is an area filled with outdoor cafés and a market. Sociability begins here and continues in saunas, which are found all over the city and the country. Day trips by train are a breeze, whether you’re bound for the seaside towns of Hanko or Lohja, or the arts-filled town of Espoo.

No. 13 Laos (equal)

Safety Ranking: 38
Happiness Ranking: 27

Laos has something of a cult-like status among single travellers. Like Vietnam, Laos was a war-ravaged place that has emerged as a peaceful haven. Unlike Vietnam, it has managed to retain much of its original culture and to preserve its environment, among the most pristine in Southeast Asia. Highlights include a classic riverboat trip down the Mekong, a visit to the royal city of Luang Prabang, and hanging out with an international cadre of travellers in the capital of Vientiane.

No. 16 Panama

Safety Ranking: 57
Happiness Ranking: 9

Adventure travel is a prime reason for solo travellers to visit this Central American country, from whitewater rafting on the Chiriquí and Chiriquí Viejo rivers to ziplining through the tropical treetops. Then there’s the growing surfing culture, especially in Bocas del Toro, where the Caribbean vibe, intense nightlife, and beach culture are tempting for young singles. Be sure to catch the obligatory view of ships transiting the Panama Canal—and to explore Panama City’s atmospheric Casco Antiguo (Old Town)—before or after your time on the coast.

No. 17 Netherlands

Safety Ranking: 20
Happiness Ranking: 55

Take liberal social policies, the original bike culture, and cities and towns crisscrossed with canals, and you’ve got the solo traveller’s Disneyland known as the Netherlands. The Dutch are among the most laid-back and accepting people in Europe. You can get wonderfully lost in the tiny streets of Amsterdam for a week, though you’d do well to venture out to see smaller cities like Utrecht or the art capital of Maastricht.

No. 18 Ireland

Safety Ranking: 13
Happiness Ranking: 67

Blame it on the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, but the famous Irish devil-may-care friendliness is a lot more subdued these days. Statistics aside, whether you’re in a thatch-roofed pub in County Clare or walking down Grafton Street in Dublin on a literary walking tour in this UNESCO City of Literature, you will still feel welcome. With a vast network of bed & breakfasts, where to stay as a solo is easy.

No. 19 Iceland

Safety Ranking: 1
Happiness Ranking: 80

The safest country on the list ranks 80th for happiness? Blame some of the highest taxes in the world and long winters. Even so, it’s an easy country for single travellers to feel comfortable in. The capital city of Reykjavik makes a fine base for excursions to swim outdoors at the Blue Lagoon or to ride Icelandic horses across some of the most rugged terrain on earth.

No. 20 United Kingdom

Safety Ranking: 47
Happiness Ranking: 39

The land of Shakespeare has long been a welcoming place for single American travellers, especially those with an Anglophile bent. You can typically enjoy theater—and everything else—sans lost-in-translation issues. (If only Londoners would do something about those sky-high prices, from the cost of a Tube ticket to a hotel stay.) Historic cities like York and Cambridge, as well as the countryside destinations, are a haven for solo travellers.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s