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Attractions to See When Traveling By Yourself

by Heather C. Liston

Your first trip alone doesn't have to be as far away as India. Start slowly and before you know it, you'll be jetting around the world -- solo and loving it!

It's a funny fact of life that women who are used to taking care of everyone else sometimes get a little nervous when they're suddenly taking care of nobody but themselves. Even if you've planned family vacations for years, packing and driving and making reservations for husbands, children, and groups, your first solo trip can be a little daunting.

"Traveling alone for the first time can definitely provoke some anxiety," says Natalie Hurst, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City. "It challenges traditional roles and expectations, but breaking out of those stereotypes is very liberating. And once you've achieved success in an unfamiliar situation, you'll improve your self-esteem, and have more confidence to take on other projects as well."

"Traveling alone gives women practice in being independent, solving problems on their own," agrees Jeff Mitchell, Ph.D., a psychologist from Pennsylvania. "It is a lesson in self-reliance that can undo a lifetime of lessons in dependence."

Where do you go on your first solo trip, what do you do, is it safe, is it affordable? Actually, the first two questions are easy; the answer is: anything you want. This time, you don't have to explain yourself, you don't have to compromise, and you don't have to talk anybody else into anything. Always wanted to swim with dolphins, pray with monks, sunbathe in the nude? Fine. Go to the library, search the web, send away for information, and just do it. Answer questions later only if you feel like it.

"Going on a trip by yourself is an important step," says Dr. Hurst, "but planning it is also important. It forces you to examine your own wishes and desires and many women have spent years subverting those things to the wishes of others."

With regard to safety, keep in mind that basic common sense applies around the world. "You can be mugged in your own home town and you can be perfectly safe just about anywhere," says Bay Area travel agent Bob Ensten. "I don't think any place is more safe than any other, provided you do your research, follow local customs, and dress and behave appropriately."

If economy is necessary, do some research on the best free and inexpensive pleasures at your chosen destination, and then budget your discretionary money for whatever you value most. For example, Jay Ben-Lesser, author of A Foxy Old Woman's Guide to Traveling Alone, says, "I may sleep at the YMCA but have dinner in the fanciest restaurant in town."

Audrey Ross, a publicist from New York City, has different priorities: "Spend a little extra money and get yourself a nice room," she advises. Ross loved going to the theater every night during her week-long trip solo trip to London, but when she returned to her tiny, economical room in Piccadilly Circus each evening, she found it a bit depressing.

"If you're just getting used to being alone, it's worth getting yourself a nice setting so you look forward to coming home at night," she says.

If you would like to meet people, youth hostels are worth considering. In spite of their name, these inexpensive accommodations, located throughout the United States and Europe, actually have no age restrictions (except in Bavaria). They are clean, simple places to stay, in which you may share a room with one or more other travelers of the same gender. They also have common rooms where you can meet and chat with other travelers, and they often have message boards, brochure racks, and organized tours and activities.

A few more tips:

  • Arrange things so that it is your option when to have company and when not to. This means being self-sufficient: bring only as much luggage as you can carry yourself.

  • Wear clothes you like, that make you feel attractive and comfortable, but avoid anything provocative. Don't make yourself susceptible to unwanted attention.

  • Make sure your shoes can carry you comfortably for long distances if necessary. This way, it is your decision whether to accept a ride from a stranger, spend money on a taxi, or cut your hike short.

  • Go someplace where your own language is spoken. Challenging yourself to learn a new language by immersion might be interesting later . . . but when you're new at traveling alone, good, easy communication will make you safer and more comfortable.

And now, what are some good destinations for your big solo adventure? Here are a few suggestions:

BOSTON, Massachusetts

Boston is one of the world's great small cities: it offers the best of culture, history, and scenery in a relatively safe and accessible way. For an overview, you can start with a narrated city tour by riding the Beantown Trolley. A $20 ticket is good all day on the Trolley, so you can hop on and off on a whim. (Call 800-343-1328 for Beantown Trolley information.)

"It's a tough city for cars," says Rebecca Liston, a tour director based in Boston. "But people who walk here always love it." One of the best walks is the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail, which begins at Boston Common, the nation's oldest public park, and ends across the Charles River at the U.S.S. Constitution. Call the Boston National Historical Park at (617) 242-5642 for your Freedom Trail map.

One of the great cultural bargains is the series of free concerts by the Boston Pops, which take place on the Esplanade, along the Charles River, throughout the month of June.

LONDON, England

London may be the largest city in Europe, but it is still a favorite destination for Americans of all kinds, especially on their first trip abroad. The locals speak English-and most of the time you can even understand them. The city isn't cheap, but if you research Bed & Breakfasts, you can probably find reasonable, safe accommodations and some local color all in one. A discount ticket booth in Leicester Square offers reduced prices for the city's theatrical offerings. And many of the wonderful museums, including the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, have no admission fee.

Hiking alone can be a great pleasure, allowing you to experience true solitude, silence, and peace. You will, of course, be more free to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors if you take some reasonable safety precautions. Choose an area without grizzly bears, mountain lions, or other potentially dangerous animals. Tell somebody where you're going. If possible, speak with a park ranger or other employee and let them know your basic plan and estimated time of return. Promise that you will check in with them again upon your return. That way, if you don't come back within a reasonable time somebody will know where and when to start looking for you.


If you love the rugged outdoors, but don't want to be out of sight of other people, the High Peaks section of the Adirondacks offers a great adventure with minimal risks.

ADK Loj, located in North Elba, NY (eight miles from Lake Placid) offers a three-night mid-week special that includes a semi-private room with two delicious, home-cooked meals and a trail lunch each day for $144 per person. (Lots of other prices and packages are available, depending on what time of year you go, whether you're willing to sleep in a co-ed bunkroom, and other factors. Call (518) 523-3441 for rates and reservations.)

Using the Loj as a base, you can climb many of the Northeast's most beautiful mountains, including Mount Marcy, which is a 7.4-mile gradual hike up to 5,344 feet. It's an exhilarating, invigorating day hike, enough to satisfy the most avid of wilderness walkers. On the other hand, you're never really alone on this popular upward jaunt, and there are no sheer cliffs, deadly predators, or tidal waves to make it a life-threatening adventure. More moderate peaks abound as well, like the 2,876-foot Mount Jo, which offers spectacular views for modest effort.


A drive down (or up) the spectacular California coast offers both a brilliant panorama of scenic views from your car, and an astounding variety of possible stops. You could start, for example, in San Francisco, and travel south along Route 1.

Stop off in Monterey for a visit to the fabulous Monterey Bay Aquarium (831-648-4888) or to tour the sites made famous in the novels of John Steinbeck.

Other great stops include the Esalen Institute in Big Sur (831-667-3000) where you can get a massage and soak in natural hot springs, high above the crashing surf of the Pacific. Have a great meal at the nearby Nepenthe restaurant, where Kerouac used to hang out, or go for a hike in the Los Padres National Forest.

If you feel like splurging on this trip, rent a convertible --then just let your hair down and hit the road -- this trip's for you!