Solo Travel: Choosing Where to Go
Find the Places that Make Your Heart Beat Faster
Life is too important for you to go where everyone else goes or where you went last
For maximum rewards, think carefully about possible travel destinations. Start by asking yourself
two questions: What kind of experiences do I really want? What do I hope to gain from this trip? Honest, thoughtful answers will make a big difference in
After that, close your eyes and conjure up names of places that make your heart beat faster.
Paris? Bora Bora? Bhutan? Make a list.
Next, spend some time with a world map. Read travel books and magazines. Rent travel videos.
Watch the Discovery Channel and National Geographic Explorer. Talk with friends and travel agents. Do as much or as little of this as you need to identify
a list of your hot spots.
After these preliminaries, youre ready to let five important factors influence your
One or many? First, do you want to go to just one place or would you rather
wander through several countries? If I have just a week or two, a tightly-focused trip might be best. Costs tend to be lower when you spend time in only one
place. On the other hand, a multi-country trip is like a buffet table loaded with a rich variety of dishes.
Safety. Most destinations are much less risky for travelers than media reports
suggest, but its still worth getting reliable information on what to expect. Go to travel websites and ask other travelers. Read and evaluate what
the State Department has to say. Skip some places until conflict quiets down. Sri Lanka is wonderful but I haven't been back for 15 years, and I wont
go until the Tamils and the Sinhalese finally lay down their weapons. On the other hand, visiting mountain gorillas on volcanic slopes in Rwanda is not to
be missed now that the Hutus, Tutsis, and poachers have stopped shooting at anything that moves.
Uncertainty. The third factor is your tolerance for uncertainty. In cultures
very different from our own there are times when you simply wont know whats happening or why or whats coming up. If that bothers you, you
might want to stick to Western-style cultures for a while and avoid Indiaone of my favorite destinationswhere absolutely nothing happens as planned.
Fitness. Whether its bicycling in New Zealand, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro,
or just visiting Egyptian tombs and temples, be honest with yourself about the physical fitness required. Forget how fit you were at 18or how fit you
could be if you worked out with a personal trainer for three months. What matters is how fit youll be when you get off the plane. On a bus in Tamil
Nadu in southern India I struck up a conversation with a matronly English woman who looked to be about 65 who had just completed a solo bike ride the entire
length of India. As Ben Franklin said, Travel is one way of lengthening life.
Speaking up. The final factor is language. Its natural to wonder whether
youll be able to communicate. I used to be a little concernedbut not anymore. For one thing, English is rapidly becoming a global language. Besides,
theres plenty of assistance available. Berlitz and many others who make it publish practical phrase books and pronunciation guides that make it a snap
to order meals, ask directions, rent a hotel room, or exchange money.
Of course the more language you know the richer the experience, so at least try to sit in
on an accelerated language class before you go. Even learning just a few phrases and a couple of dozen words will get you by anywhere. The so-called language
barrier is nothing more than a speed bump.
My advice is to forget about places where everybody goes or where you went last year. Make
the effort to identify the places that make your heart beat faster. Then go. Travel may never be more affordable than it is now, or more important to restoring
Americas damaged image in the world.