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Go It Alone – Places to Travel Solo

Go It Alone – Places to Travel Solo
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By Mary Jane Horton

I love traveling alone. When I embarked on a five-week grand tour of eastern Europe a couple of years ago, everyone had the same reaction: “You’re going alone?”  I had company on some legs of the trip, but mostly the answer was, “Yes, alone.” Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling with my husband and my kids, but it is different. When you’re alone, you only have to answer to yourself, you can zigzag and wander around a city to your heart’s delight. You can sit and rest when you want, you can keep walking as long and far as you like, you can shop (when others might not want to). In other words: You have total free will. And, when you feel alone and need some company, eat a meal in the city square and people watch – you will feel like you have lots of friends around.

Some cities and countries are better for this than others. Even I – intrepid traveler that I am – would not suggest traveling by yourself to certain countries that don’t take kindly to women on their own (if you are a woman, that is), deserted destinations, or the parts of cities that are known to be dangerous, but beyond that, the world is your oyster. Here are a few of the best solo-friendly places. Aside from these suggestions, a great resource for finding more is the Global Peace Index, www.visionofhumanity.org/redirect/page/contact/, which ranks nations for their peacefulness. And, let’s face it, peaceful nations equal easy travel.

Switzerland

The Swiss people are straightforward and welcoming and I can’t think of a country with more beautiful scenery that functions as well as this one. You can set your watch by the Swiss trains and never be a minute late. And speaking of trains, a Swiss Rail Pass (http://www.swiss-pass.ch/en/) is probably the best and most comfortable way to see this country. The lounge and restaurant cars are a great place to strike up a conversation with other travelers. Start in Zurich, a great combination of old and new. It is Switzerland’s banking capital, but also surprisingly trendy, with great restaurants and clubs that started popping up in the 1990s. Stay a few days, and then hop back on the train and ride through some beautiful landscape to Geneva, the center of world diplomacy. Lake Geneva on which the city sits is absolutely stunning and one of the largest lakes in Western Europe. The geography surrounding the lake is varied, with the Jura Mountains in the north, a hilly plain in the center and in the southwest the Alps. Take a train from Geneva, through Brigg to Zermatt. This is one of the quaintest and most beautiful cities in Switzerland, sitting in the shadow of the iconic Matterhorn. Stay a few days, and ski if it’s winter, hike if it’s summer and then hop on the Glacier Express for a ride of your lifetime. One of the most popular scenic trains in the world, the Glacier Express operates from Zermatt to St Moritz (or vice versa), although you could pick it up at any point in between. Known worldwide as the “world’s slowest express train,” it will take you through mountain landscapes, very deep gorges, 91 tunnels, and across 291 bridges in about seven hours. The highest geographical point of the trip comes when traveling over the Oberalp Pass, which reaches over 6600 feet above sea level. Some of the inclines are so steep that drinks are served in a special tilted glass to avoid spills. There is nothing like Swiss ingenuity and attention to detail.

Costa Rica

The concept of adventure travel was more or less born in Costa Rica, which is often referred to as the world’s happiest country. The country motto is Pura Vida, which means pure life. 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. And if you are traveling solo, want to get a feel for the country, but not move around too much the El Silencio Lodge & Spa (http://www.elsilenciolodge.com/), a member of the prestigious Relais and Chaâteux chain of hotels, is a great way to go (along with other similar retreats). This one is an inspired natural immersion retreat and a gateway to the charming highlands of Costa Rica’s central volcanic range. El Silencio is designed to help visitors explore the tropical forest via foot, horse, river raft, mountain bike or even zip-line. An “eco-concierge” is on hand to coordinate various jungle expeditions and to make recommendations based on visitors’ personal interests. When it’s time to unwind, the spa offers a range of treatments, from a simple massage to an hour in the mysterious Conical room, which is said to channel the healing powers of the lush jungle setting – and there’s a lovely open-air yoga studio available as well.

Vietnam

While you could stay in one place in Costa Rica and get a feel for the country, you wouldn’t want to do that in Vietnam, which has become a safe and inviting tourist mecca in recent years. Here is what Ute Junker, a solo travel expert on Traveller.com has to say about traveling alone in Vietnam: “Vietnam ticks just about every box for solo travellers – it’s cheap, safe and there’s plenty to see and do. The scariest thing is the Saigon traffic, so once you have mastered the technique – just start walking at a regular pace and they will stop, promise – you will be fine.” Also, travel in Vietnam – because of its border restrictions – is all north and south. It’s a simple route, so you often bump into the same people as you are traveling. Some must-sees include:

  • Halong Bay, which is a beautiful natural wonder in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border. The Bay is dotted with 1,600 limestone islands and islets and covers an area of over 1,500 square miles. This extraordinary area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
  • Ho An Old Town, which was a major Southeast Asian trading post in the 16th and 17th centuries. The seaside town is basically a living museum featuring a unique mixture of East and West in the form of its old-town architecture. Among the heritage architecture stand Chinese temples, a Japanese-designed bridge, pagodas, wooden shop-houses, French- colonial houses and old canals. Though large-scale trading had long moved elsewhere Hoi An has been successful in preserving and restoring its charming roots and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in December 1999.
  • The Cu Chi Tunnels, in Ho Chi Minh City are basically a huge war museum offering visitors a sneak peak at the underground life of Viet Cong-era soldiers. Comprising more than 120km of tunnels, they were first started around 1948 when the Viet Cong were fighting the French. Nowadays, the restored tunnels are one of Vietnam’s top attractions and are especially popular with non-Vietnamese tourists.
  • Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, is one of the most important eco-regions of the Indo-Pacific, and is covered mostly with tropical rainforest. This area, the result of earth crust development 464 million years ago, is the oldest major karst (a landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum)formation in Asia. It also offers many significant geomorphic features including underground rivers, dendritic caves, dry caves, suspended caves and terraced caves. Many endangered animal species still roam the area including black bears, tigers and elephants. Composed of 300 caves and grottos, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park offers countless activities such as visiting caves and grottos by boat as well as mountain climbing and forest trekking. The park is huge and home to various interesting flora; many of which are hardly found elsewhere. This is a fine chance to learn more about rare and unusual species.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen, the biggest city in Denmark, is a solo traveler’s paradise. It is friendly, and active, there is a great deal to see, and everyone speaks English. If you stay in a cozy, boutique hotel, such as the spa-oriented Hotel Guldsmeden (http://guldsmedenhotels.com/Copenhagen/Our-Copenhagen-Hotels.aspx), where I stayed a few years ago, I can vouch for the fact that you will get great information about the city, wonderful food in the lobby restaurant, and a central location, near the emerging Meatpacking District, from which to explore the city. What Copenhagen really has going for it, besides its beautiful seaside location, is history, amazing architecture and good food. There are castles to roam with rooms and rooms of fantastic furniture and art and jewelry such as the Rosenborg Castle, a renaissance castle – once the summer residence of the king – in the middle of town. It certainly brings history alive. Nyhavn, or Old Harbor, which dates back to the 17th century has pastel painted buildings of yellow and blue and ships in the waterways. It is a great way to spend a day. And Copenhageners love their parks — It is even official municipal policy in Copenhagen that all citizens by the end of 2015 must be able to reach a park or beach on foot in less than 15 minutes. And, arriving as I did in the spring, just as the weather was getting warm, I saw that with my own eyes. There were people flocking to open spaces everywhere – in the middle of the city and by the water. The famous Tivoli Gardens, on which Disneyland was based, is also a pull – especially at night – with its glittering white lights, easy rides, and stands of food.

That is some of the old, but there is also plenty of new. There are places to look at iconic Danish design with its light wood and clean lines such as the Danish Museum of Art and Design. The Copenhagen Opera House, an expansive building along the water – one of the most modern opera houses in the world – built in 2005 is a marvel of design. And the Royal Library, known as the Black Diamond, is starling piece of architecture that just out of the ground, along the water just as its name suggests.

Finally, there is food. And Copenhagen does this right as well. In the last 10 years or so, the city has been taken over by New Nordic cuisine, or authentic cuisine, which emphasizes locally sourced foods that are not industrially grown with an emphasis on organic food whenever possible. Restaurants like Noma, which won the Best Restaurant in the World designation for several years, and Ralae and Manfred and Vin – both started by a Noma alum – bring this food to life with the freshest of vegetables, all from small nearby farms, and meat also from small ranches. All of the food is prepared with the ultimate care and really sets the city apart of others as a gourmet mecca.

 

 

 

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