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If pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is at the top of your agenda this year, booking a solo travel experience might be a good place to start. Friends weekends and romantic getaways are great—and often very necessary—but there’s something potentially life-changing about testing your own boundaries by exploring new places on your own.
“Solo travel makes you more outgoing. It requires you to engage with people you normally may not need to speak to and can open your mind to all different types,” says Dr. Magdalena Swierczewski, the founder of ExplorerMD. “You also learn more about yourself, as you have time to observe, reflect, and learn who you are and how you react to certain situations. Solo travel makes you feel strong.”
Where to start? If you’re planning to go abroad, Dr. Swierczewski suggests spending time researching areas of interest and familiarizing yourself with the culture and customs, specifically as they pertain to women, since safety should always be a first priority.
Still, solo travel doesn’t always mean hightailing it to faraway lands or planning a once-in-a-lifetime voyage.
“If you have the travel bug and want to [go] solo, a good way to start is short-distance domestic travel,” says Dr. Swierczewski. “You have the language down, which gives you more confidence, and after a few trips, you can graduate to international solo travel.” Plus, trips around the country can also be shorter—even if just a long weekend—making them ideal for those of us who can’t duck out of work for weeks on end.
Read on for eight cool, unexpected American destinations to consider this year.
This mid-Atlantic destination is often overlooked and ripe for entourage-free exploration. Art enthusiasts will love strolling through the NEON district, a mural-filled neighborhood where you can visit the Glass Wheel Studio, catch a comedy show, or attend an opera performance. Later, head to the cozy bar at Todd Jurich’s Bistro for drinks and some hand-harvested Eastern Shore oysters.
Nervous about undertaking the epicness of Alaska? Fear not. “Embarking on this kind of trip makes a woman stronger than she already is, but you have to have your head on your shoulders,” says Dr. Swierczewski. “Try to stick to well-known tours if that’s your thing, or get some recommendations from friends that are reliable,” she advises. One of your best bets? Pearson’s Pond Luxury Inn & Adventure Spa. This non-traditional getaway focuses on relaxation and restorative wellness in the state’s gorgeous outdoor terrain. You’ve got easy access to the city’s nearby Glacier’s Pond for canoeing or kayaking and trails for hiking and biking.
Finger Lakes, New York
Don’t miss this stunning region of upstate New York made up of 11 lakes and more than 120 wineries. First solo mission: Grab a spot aboard a boat with Water to Wine Tours. To stay, try Firelight Camps, which offers yoga and complimentary s’mores at nighttime bonfires (life’s all about balance, folks). Not into glamping? Try Belhurst Castle, which offers a hell-yes-it’s-complimentary wine tap built into a lobby wall. There’s also the cozy Inns of Aurora perched upon the gorgeous Cayuga Lake.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
If an unexpected seaside escape is your cup of tea, consider Bay St. Louis. Once ravaged by Katrina, this resilient town on the water has seriously artsy vibes. Boutique-hop through Old Town (quirky Smith & Lens gallery and The French Potager are musts) and then Vinyasa-flow your way through your #NewYearsGoals at Treehouse Yoga followed by a visit to Mockingbird Café for a cup of near-perfect coffee. If you can swing it, treat yourself to a restorative day at Spa at the Bay in Hollywood Casino Gulf Coast.
Cape Neddick, Maine
If lighthouses, coastal charm, and all the lobster sound appealing, check out this under-the-radar town in the Pine Tree State. Slink into the welcoming embrace of Cliff House, perched upon craggy cliffs where the Atlantic meets the shore; it has a newly renovated spa complete with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean. You’ll never know what characters you’ll meet at the s’mores pit or any of the other resort’s nightly activities.
Get lost at the Columbus Museum of Art before swinging by writer’s haven, Thurber House, where literary types can geek out over touring the historic former home of the New Yorker cartoonist James Thurber. Cap off your independent adventures with a night or two in Hocking Hills (about an hour’s drive), a peaceful countryside oasis with hiking trails, waterfalls, and ecotourism excursions like rappelling and zip-lining. We dare you to leave the swinging chair on the porch of your rustic log cabin at the Inn at Cedar Falls, though the inn’s spa hiding in the deep beauty of the woodlands may convince you.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
It’s hard to beat that exhilarating feeling of arriving in a new city, boots on the ground, liberated from any agenda but your own. But let’s be real—giant cities like New York or Los Angeles can be overwhelming when flying solo. Portsmouth, a colonial New England town, combines the best of the countryside with big-city amenities. Foodie? Portsmouth is on the culinary upswing, thanks to multiple James Beard semifinalists like Matt Louis (Moxy is a must) and Evan Mallet (you’ll be dreaming of Black Trumpet’s chickpea-dredged eggplant fries for months). And Portsmouth may be a small seaside community, but any craft beer fan will tell you Smuttynose Brewery is among the best with good reason. Go on a brewery tour or take a short drive to one of the state’s many microbreweries. Treat yourself to a night at Wentworth By The Sea and stroll the boardwalk at Hampton Beach.