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Independent Travel

Solo Travel Adventures: 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 year.

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 your choices.

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, you’re ready to let five important factors influence your final choice.

  • 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 it’s 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 won’t 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 won’t know what’s happening or why or what’s coming up. If that bothers you, you might want to stick to Western-style cultures for a while and avoid India—one of my favorite destinations—where absolutely nothing happens as planned.
  • Fitness. Whether it’s 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 18—or how fit you could be if you worked out with a personal trainer for three months. What matters is how fit you’ll 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. It’s natural to wonder whether you’ll be able to communicate. I used to be a little concerned—but not anymore. For one thing, English is rapidly becoming a global language. Besides, there’s 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 America’s damaged image in the world.