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The Best Places To Travel Alone In The USA

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AnneLise Sorensen

12/9/2018

Traveling alone isn’t just empowering – it’s also, say many, more enriching. Without the buffer of a travel companion, there’s a heightened immediacy to experiencing new lands and cultures.

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In the US, take your pick of the solo adventures: you can trek through wilderness, eat your way around the world at gourmet international restaurants, and then ease into the night over jazz – sometimes all in the same 24-hour span.

From cities to national parks to arty enclaves, here are our pick of the best places to travel alone in the USA.

Calling all solo adventurists: Boulder is the perfect spot to park your hiking boots. Sitting in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, this is an outdoor town with plenty of year-round activities that you can take on solo, from skiing to cycling.

After dark, the fun continues, with a buzzing nightlife – check out the brew pubs of Pearl Street – and a diverse array of cheap international restaurants, where you can comfortably (and inexpensively) wine and dine alone.

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Key West isn’t just different from Florida – it’s different from the entire country. The southernmost point in the US, Key West is as famous for its sunny shores as for its offbeat, anything-goes, wild and playful side.

Solo travelers are enthusiastically welcome here, with all sorts of inclusive events, from open-air concerts to impromptu parades to dive beach bars where, after a few drinks, everyone knows your name.

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The San Francisco spirit can be summed up in two words: be yourself. This is a city that embraces solo travelers, with free summer concerts and festivals – dance on the grass at the lively Stern Grove Festival – to Bay Area Bike Share, which makes it easy and cheap to pedal around the city.

Plus, many of San Francisco’s restaurants have inviting bar seating for one. And, of course, there are the cable cars: hop on, hang on, and see the city with the wind in your hair.

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4. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Leave Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon to the hordes of summer family travelers. Instead, trek through America’s lesser-known pockets of wilderness like Hot Springs National Park, which is one of the smallest and oldest national parks in the US.

Make your base in the town of Hot Springs, which forms part of the park, and once you’ve hiked the trails, soak in a traditional bath at Buckstaff Baths.

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Looking up at Sedona’s famous red rocks as they glow under the setting sun is a memorable experience – and even more so when you’re alone. The area’s magnificent stillness is best enjoyed without any companion chatter.

When you’re ready to join others, there are plenty of ways to do so, such as the First Friday Art Walk (first Friday of the month), which circulates through the top galleries in town.

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Where better to travel solo than in one of the most famous singles’ cities in the country? Atlanta’s thriving nightlife includes many solo-friendly options, from trivia nights at the bars of East Atlanta to singles’ meet-and-greet events at the cocktail lounges of glitzy Buckhead. The city’s sights are also made for solo-exploring, including Piedmont Park and the High Museum of Art.

7. The college towns

Cheap, friendly, and festive: America’s student-thronged college towns – from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Lawrence, Kansas – are a gift for solo travelers. Time your visit with a game day – cheering along with thousands of face-painted fans at a college home football game is the ultimate slice of Americana. As is consuming beer, hot dogs, and more beer.

A perfect American itinerary? Travel from one coast to the other, stopping at college towns along the way – kick off the trip in leafy Cambridge, Massachusetts (Harvard University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and end in colorful Berkeley, California (University of California at Berkeley).

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Sometimes, the best solo experiences aren’t in America’s big cities, but in its small towns, like Beaufort, South Carolina (population circa 4000). This is a charming microcosm of the South – a vine-draped historic district, moody antebellum mansions, and a breezy seaside perch on Port Royal Island. Amiable and safe, Beaufort is ideal for solo meanderings, followed by a mint julep (or three) on a breezy porch.

In some cities, festivals are a special occasion. In Austin, they’re a way of life. The capital of Texas is a music town, with one of the greatest concert calendars in the country. The city’s tunes are matched by its BBQ – and its great outdoors, with a wide array of solo-friendly activities, from strolling sun-speckled parks to splashing in local swimming holes, like Barton Springs.

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If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. That famous quip about New York especially applies to solo travel in the city. Yes, New York is loud and bewildering, but it’s also where you’ll likely have the most memorable solo experiences in the country, whether walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, or curling up with a book under a tree in Central Park. Enjoy roaming the great halls of the Metropolitan Museum and sipping a cocktails under the stars on a rooftop bar.

11. The hiking trails

The famous naturalist John Muir once said: “in every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” And this is particularly true for solo hikers, where your only companion is nature itself, and any chatter comes from the birds. America is a boon for solo hikers, with well-maintained trails that fan out across the country.

Trek a section of the Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, which extends from Maine to Georgia; embark on the 37-mile Teton Crest Trail in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park; or, follow in the footsteps of John Muir, on the John Muir Trail through the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. For solo-hiking safety tips, check the National Park Service.

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12. The open road

When it comes to solo travel, there’s nothing quite like taking the wheel and cruising the open road while singing as loudly (and badly) as you want. The USA is the quintessential road trip nation, with vast highways and freeways crisscrossing every state.

Try the famous Route 1 that traverses the length of California – don’t miss stunning Big Sur – to the mountain-flanked Seward Highway in Alaska to Highway 16 through Texas Hill Country, where you can refuel in towns like Bandera, the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World.”

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Guide to the Grenadines: an island for every traveler

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Barbados

Long the domain of savvy sailors and fly-in millionaires, the spectacular Grenadines also offer plenty for the independent traveler – you don’t need your own boat to fully explore the magnificent archipelago. Spanning the nations of St Vincent & the Grenadines and Grenada, the island chain offers a wide variety of authentic Caribbean experiences where nature is never far from the spotlight.

Features - Bequia_Grenadines_cs_web-e787d4af5900 A view of the bay at Port Elizabeth on Bequia © Westend61 / Getty Images

Bequia 

The most visited of the Grenadines and rightly so, beautiful Bequia is the quintessential slow-paced Caribbean island that really does have it all. Visitors can swim, dive or hike through dazzling natural beauty by day and then soak up the tropical atmosphere in the evening, sipping cocktails or tucking into a gourmet meal on a panoramic terrace.

Among its many draw cards are Princess Margaret Beach and Lower Bay, two wonderful stretches of sand backed by lush greenery, just a short hike from the capital Port Elizabeth.

As the second largest island in the chain, Bequia offers plenty of attractions for nature lovers. There are good drift dives along the leeward side of the north of the island while the remote hilly north of the island affords ample opportunity for exploration; climb some of the imposing forested peaks for fine views of St Vincent and other Grenadine islands.

Getting there: Visiting Bequia is a breeze thanks to its efficient regular fast ferry service linking it with Kingstown on St Vincent Island. SVG Air has flights from the airport on the south of the island to Kingstown, Barbados and St Lucia.

Mustique 

Best for: Kicking it with rock stars

Mysterious Mustique, home to rock stars and the uber wealthy, is the island that fomented the image of the Grenadines as playground for the rich and famous.

The private island has some of the priciest accommodations in the region – if you have the bank balance, you can crash at the Balinese themed villa built by David Bowie. But you don’t need to be rolling in it to visit – day trips on yachts from Bequia allow visitors to get a taste of Mustique’s manicured lawns and pure tropical perfection. Visitors can lie about on pristine beaches and take a drink at iconic Basil’s Bar overlooking the main harbor – you never know who might be at the next table.

Getting there: There are no public ferry services to Mustique. Travelers can visit on a day sailing cruise from Bequia; a recommended boat is the elegant Caribbean schooner Friendship Rose. Visitors with accommodation can find regular flights from Barbados, Kingstown, Grenada and Saint Lucia with Mustique Airways.

Tobago Cays 

Uninhabited and protected as a marine park, the gorgeous Tobago Cays are the highlight of any trip to the Grenadines. Surrounded by an impressive barrier reef, they offer some of the best snorkeling in all of the Caribbean with warm, shallow waters filled with hard corals that are alive with marine life, including a thriving population of marine turtles.

The beauty of the cays is no secret among travelers, but they rarely feel overrun thanks to their remote location and lack of development. A day trip here is a thoroughly relaxing experience with bouts of snorkeling, swimming and lazing on the sands interrupted only by freshly caught seafood meals.

Getting There: There is no public transportation to the Tobago Cays, but it’s possible to charter a small boat for a day trip from any one of the populated Grenadine islands; Mayreau is the cheapest departure point, followed by Union Island. To see the cays in style, book a sailing tour from Union Island on the pirate ship Scaramouche.

Features - Sailing, Tobago Cays, Saint Vincent, Caribbean The Tobago Cayes offer up crystal clear waters perfect for snorkeling © Norbert Eisele-Hein / Getty Images

Mayreau 

Best for: Relaxing beaches, bar hopping

Tiny Mayreau may not have a hospital, school or any police, but the glorious lack of development doesn’t stop the small population of locals from having a good time. Mayreau is famed locally for its hard partying. In fact, those that work on the boats swear that Mayreau’s weekly beer order far eclipses that of far larger neighbor Union Island.

Apart from bar hopping, there are plenty of other reasons to pay a visit. The island is part of the Tobago Cays marine park and boasts spectacular beaches. Long a secret amongst yachties in the know, Salt Whistle Bay on the northern tip of the island is one of the most perfect bays in the Grenadines: a full horseshoe-shaped crescent of brilliant white sand lined with coconut palms that looks almost too good to be true. It’s a fantastic place to swim.

The undeveloped nature of Mayreau means there are plenty of rarely visited smaller bays to discover, and the small size of the island means you’re never too far from home (or cold beers) once you tire of exploration.

Getting there: Some southern Grenadines ferry services, including the MV Barracuda, call at Mayreau on the Kingstown-Union Island run. Alternatively, a school boat runs between Clifton on Union Island and Mayreau every weekday morning and afternoon. There’s no airstrip on Mayreau.

Features - Caribbean, Antilles, Lesser Antilles, Grenadines, Mayreau, Twassante Bay, seaside cafe at beach Enjoy a seaside cocktail on Mayreau © Westend61 / Getty Images

Canouan 

Best for: Private beaches, snorkeling

A tale of two islands – Canouan is a peculiar place that, in some ways, shows the perils of tourism development. Once a normal Grenadine paradise, more than half of the island was sold off by the SVG government to private investors for a mega resort project leaving local residents bunched up in the village on the southern reaches of the isle without access to some of Canouan’s loveliest spots. Of course if you’re staying in the resort, you will enjoy access to absolutely stunning beaches with first class snorkeling and zero crowds.

While many of the nicest beaches are within the resort boundaries, there is also fine snorkeling and some lovely sands to the south and east of the village of Charlestown, although infrastructure on the island is limited for independent visitors.

Getting there: Canouan is accessible by ferry services running between Kingstown on St Vincent and Union Island (try the MV Barracuda or MV Gem Star). There are flights to Kingstown and Union Island – a five-minute hop over the channel – with SVG Air.

Union Island 

Best for: Kiteboarding, meeting locals

An outpost at the far southern end of the St Vincent Grenadines and across an international border, mountainous Union Island has traditionally been off the radar for many visitors but has recently been discovered by a new wave of adventurous independent travelers.

With a couple of laid back villages and no major resorts, it’s one of the best islands for visitors to mix it up with locals. The main street in Clifton is lined with little cafes and restaurants, and it’s a fun place to relax in the evening after sun-soaked adventures.

As a true Grenadine, Union is not without its share of astonishing natural beauty. Big Sand on the west side of the island is a wonderful crescent of powdery white fronted by brilliant turquoise sea and framed by jungle covered bluffs. The waters to the east of the airport runway on the north side of the island offer some of the best kiteboarding in the archipelago.

Getting there: Union is the last stop on the southern Grenadines ferry routes from Kingstown, and both the MV Gem Star and MV Barracuda spend the night here. The small local airport receives regular flights from Kingstown as well as less frequent services from Grenada, St Lucia and Barbados. Bookings can be made through SVG Air.

Features - Union Island, Clifton A fruit shop in Clifton, Union Island © Sylvain Sonnet / Getty Images

Carriacou 

Home to the Grenadines’ most vibrant carnival as well as one of its leading music festivals, Carriacou is the archipelago’s largest island and also its most cultured. Sure, it has the requisite first class beaches – Paradise Beach on the west side of the island very much lives up to its name, while secluded Anse La Roche is a delightful cove surrounded by bush with coral reefs just offshore – but there’s also plenty going on once the sun goes down.

Carnival in Carriacou is a raucous affair involving oil-covered bodies dancing in the street until the early hours. But Carriacou Carnival’s biggest claim to fame is the intriguing Pierrot or ‘Shakespeare Mas’, where pairs of costumed men recite verses from the bard and bash each other with sticks if they fluff their lines.

Other cultural showpieces include the Big Drum Dance – an ancestral dance performed on special occasions and accompanied by plenty of rum – and the Carriacou Maroon and String Band festival, a full on celebration of drumming, dancing and smoked foods.

Getting there: Carriacou is one of the easiest islands in the Grenadines to visit thanks to the regular fast ferry service run by Osprey Lines from St Georges on Grenada, which has good international air links.

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