It was 2009. I had just graduated from college and was a few months shy of my 22nd birthday. I flew to San Diego, rented a car, and started driving north — all the way to Seattle. It was the first time I was ever on an adventure completely by myself.
I had traveled alone before, but always headed toward places where I knew I was going to meet people, like my study abroad semester in Dublin, or a birthright trip to Israel. But 2009 was the first time I bought a plane ticket with no plan, no hotels booked, and no one to talk to. And it turns out I ended up making a really great friend along that journey: Me.
Since then, I have traveled Southeast Asia, backpacked Mexico, explored vast stretches of Europe, and pockets of South America entirely alone. I can say with the utmost sincerity that solo travel, especially as a woman, is the best education I could have ever asked for, and recommending it for other women is the best advice I could possibly give.
As we’re living in a world of constant screen time, influencer culture, and a generation that is ravenous for travel, it seems the places that were once Meccas for solo travelers have been splattered with all-inclusive hotels, late-night lounges, and shopping malls.
Where can women travel to these days and still chase that sense of adventure? Here are eight rising destinations that solo women travelers should know for 2020.
For the last decade travelers have flocked to Tulum, and stopped. For years this was the end of the line. The holy grail of the Yucatán Peninsula. But what if I told you there was more?
Just a few hours south of Tulum, a straight shot down that same highway, leads travelers to one of the most beautiful places in all of Mexico: Laguna de Bacalar. Mexico’s second largest lake sits like a turquoise-colored jewel almost near the border of Belize.
Known as the “lake of seven colors” because of its changing colors throughout the day, Bacalar is one of Mexico’s best kept secrets (or, it was until the New York Times named it the “next Tulum”).
The fresh water, crystalline lake stretches nearly 40 miles from end to end and is peppered with boutique, eco resorts. Solo travelers will love Bacalar for its genuine off-the-beaten-path charm, affordability, and stunning natural beauty.
Where to stay: Rancho Encantado is a personal favorite, complete with a pool, hot tub, palapa-covered pavilion that stretches out into the lake, and a fabulous restaurant. Rates start at $164.
Getting there: There are regular buses to Bacalar from Playa del Carmen with ADO. Bus travel in Mexico is safe, comfortable, and cheap. The other option is to rent a car and drive from Cancun or Playa del Carmen. It’s about a 3-hour drive from Playa del Carmen and is a direct trip down Highway 307.
One of the most vibrant and dynamic Latin American capital cities, Santiago is absolutely explosive for solo travelers. There’s a never-ending list of things to do both in the city, as well as nearby.
Santiago showcases the diversity of Chile across its many neighborhoods, from sultry and eye-popping Bellavista, to the charming cafe culture in Barrio Italia — all with impressive views of the Andes looming in the distance. For foodies Santiago is a dream, as the gastronomy scene has transformed over the last few years.
Tip: Borago is one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Santiago is also an incredibly green city and perfect for biking or running. Parks to explore are Metropolitan Park, Araucano Park, Bicentenario Park, and Forestal Park. Solo travelers can meet people through La Bicicleta Verda, which are local city bike tours throughout the city.
Santiago is also within a short drive from some of Chile’s most prestigious wine regions, like Maipo Valley, Casablanca Valley, and Aconcagua Valley. And the city is replete with cultural options, from the Cultural Center of La Moneda to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights.
Where to stay: Sleek, chic, and sustainable, Eco Boutique Hotel Bidasoa is a family-run hotel that focuses on the environment. It’s known for using renewable energy, 100 percent ecological cleaning products, local produce, and electric car stations for guests. Rates start at $150.
Getting there: There are many nonstop flights from the U.S. to Santiago, with departures from New York, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston.
Backpacking through Europe is a rite of passage for any aspiring world wanderer, but long gone are the days of finding quiet corners of Western Europe to call your own. Eastern Europe is now hot on the rise as the new place to cut your teeth in solo travel.
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is a land of fairy-tale spires and medieval architecture. A convergence of cultures over the past 1,000 years has left an indelible mark on the city, from Denmark and Sweden to Poland, Germany, and Russia.
Today Tallinn is a capital in its own right. Solo travelers will love it for its juxtaposition of old and new, where centuries-old streets are flanked with modern pubs and restaurants.
The medieval fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, yet an ever-evolving skyline shows that Tallinn is very much a European capital of the future. But there’s so much more to Tallinn than centuries-old charm. Cross the railway tracks to discover Telliskivi Creative City, humming with street art, craft beer, and boutiques.
Where to stay: Tallinn has its fair share of luxury five-star hotels, but solo travelers tend to be a bit more budget-minded. Fortunately, in Tallinn a little goes a long way. The von Stackelberg Hotel Tallinn, for example, is just steps from Toompea Castle and lives in a transformed 19th-century residence. There’s an onsite spa, a gorgeous breakfast at the Emmeline & OTTO restaurant, and a warmly lit courtyard where travelers can enjoy tapas and wine in the evening. The best part is that rates hover around $70 per night.
Getting there: While there are no direct flights to Tallinn from the U.S. just yet (a good indication of a rising destination), most of the major European carriers fly there with connections, like Lufthansa, British Airways, Turkish Airlines, KLM, Air France, Norwegian, and more.
The first time I visited Hanoi was on a solo adventure around Southeast Asia — another common region for young people seeking to fulfill a nomadic calling. But while most solo travelers are dancing under the full moon in Thailand or slogging back beers in Siem Reap, I was off to North Vietnam, a place Americans couldn’t even visit until the embargo was lifted in 1994.
Today Hanoi is a swirl for the senses, from sizzling street food to honking motorbikes, dizzying traffic that follows absolutely no pattern, historic palaces and temples, and a very vibrant atmosphere.
Grab a plastic stool at one of the many noodle shops and slurp into the most aromatic soups you’ve ever tasted. Stroll the architectural remnants of French and Chinese occupation. Or camp out at Beer Corner, a traveler institution that sits at the intersection of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen in the Old Quarter. For 25 cents you can grab a mug of Bia Hoi, or the light and local Vietnamese beer.
Where to stay: Essence Hanoi Hotel & Spa is clean, centrally located near the Hoan Kiem Lake, and is elegantly decorated. It’s at the center of the Old Quarter, which makes it perfect for exploring on foot. Rates start at $70 per night.
Getting there: There are no direct flights to Hanoi from the U.S., but there are many one-stop options, with connections in Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong, or Seoul, among others.
If you haven’t heard of Guyana before, you certainly will soon. That’s because JetBlue is gearing up to start nonstop flights from JFK to its capital, Georgetown.
Guyana is truly one of the best kept secrets of the Caribbean. Technically it’s a South American country, but its location on the Caribbean Sea gives it a vibe that is entirely islander, with deep threads of Nepal, India, China, and Africa woven into its fabric. While the country has been affected in the past by political instability, today it remains a safe place for solo travelers, especially ones who have a thirst for adventure.
Travel outside the Caribbean capital city for breathtaking wildlife, thick Amazonian jungle, plunging waterfalls, and phenomenal food. Most people speak English there, due to years as a British colony, so getting around couldn’t be easier.
Where to stay: If you’re traveling through Guyana then it’s going to be rainforest lodges and savanna ranches for you. Karanambu Lodge, for example, is a lovely ranch in the North Rupununi region, with activities like wildlife spotting, swimming in the river, and relaxing in the spacious huts. While in Georgetown the King’s Hotel & Residence is clean, safe, and centrally located. Suites have their own kitchens.
Getting there: There are direct flights from Miami and New York.
A few years ago it was all about colorful Cartagena, which splashed across the pages of travel magazines all over the country. But today it’s becoming more and more about Medellín, a mountain city with a brutal past.
Once one of the bloodiest cities in the world thanks to Pablo Escobar and his cartel, today Medellín has new life, and more importantly, peace and freedom, breathed into it. Furthermore, it’s one of the safest places to travel in Colombia.
Numerous restoration projects have turned the city into a haven for art, cuisine, and wonderful people. Medellín is also fast on its way to becoming one of the top destinations for digital nomads, so you can rest assured that Wi-Fi connectivity is strong and you’ll be meeting young people from all over the world.
Where to stay: Design-forward and edgy, the Click Clack Hotel is a haven for young travelers in their 20s and 30s. Clean and sleek, with breakfast included, Click Clack Hotel Medellín is one of the best options for solo travelers there. It sits in the El Poblado district, which is known for its nightlife, food, and shopping.
Getting there: There are several nonstop flights to Medellín from the United States, with options from Miami, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Boston.
Forget Bali. Long gone are the days of Bali being under the radar (although, if you head to the north coast you’ll still uncover some secrets). Still, Indonesia is an archipelago of around 17,000 islands. Yes, 17,000. So when it comes to the next great hidden gem in the country, there are literally thousands to choose from. The question becomes, where to begin.
Sumatra is an incredible option for solo travel in Indonesia, especially if you’re seeking something a little more authentic and a little less Instagrammed. Lake Toba, located in North Sumatra, is a spectacular place to discover.
The volcanic crater lake is the largest in the world, surrounded by lush, emerald-colored peaks. Within the lake is Samosir, an island that is almost the same size as Singapore. The main village here is Tuk Tuk, a charming town that has undergone recent refurbishments as the number of travelers continues to climb.
Where to stay: Tuk Tuk is accustomed to travelers, but not quite on the same level as places like Bali. Still, there’s something for everyone, from five-star luxury to budget-friendly guesthouses. If you’re looking for clean, affordable, lakeside, and fun, then Reggae Guest House is a wonderful option. It comes complete with a restaurant, bar, and garden. Rates start at just $13.
Getting there: There are many one-stop flight options from the U.S., with origins in New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Washington, and San Francisco. Fly into Kualanamu International Airport, where there are numerous bus or taxi options to Lake Toba, which is about a 4-hour drive away.
It wasn’t so long ago that Bucharest was living in the dark days of tragedy. The Romanian Revolution in 1989 saw the execution of the Communist party in the country, and a world of opportunity and hope opened for Romania, with Bucharest at its center.
Today it’s a cultural capital, brimming with nightlife and creativity, a rich history that dates back to the Byzantine Empire, and an Old Town that is as historic as it is revitalized with bars and restaurants. Solo travelers love it because it’s safe, affordable, and English is widely spoken.
Bucharest is also a walker’s paradise, which makes it great for solo travelers to see and experience its maze of cobblestone streets, historic landmarks, and striking architecture. New Romanian cuisine is on the rise as well, as young chefs who’ve cut their teeth elsewhere are returning home to redefine the country’s kitchens.
And don’t forget to stop for a drink at one of the many outdoor garden bars, a beloved pastime among locals.
Where to stay: Modern in design, but historic in location, the Novotel Bucharest City Centre is an affordable, clean, and convenient hotel option. Standout amenities include an indoor pool and hammam, while the onsite wine bar makes it a great place to meet other travelers. Rates start at $60.
Getting there: There are no direct flights to Bucharest from the United States, however there are numerous connections from all over the rest of Europe, including flights on British Airways, Ryanair, KLM, Lufthansa, Air France, Turkish Airlines, and more.
Meagan Drillinger is a freelance travel writer who lives a life in two worlds: one is in New York City. The other is out of a suitcase. Since 2009 she has been writing full-time with her passport in her pocket and one foot out the door. Travel has changed her life in every single aspect, and has opened her world to so much more than collecting stamps. For her, there is no greater gift than the ability to inspire others to get on a plane and go. Visit her blog or Instagram.