The best time to visit Shillong and Cherrapunji: Monsoon!

One part of India that I had not visited at all in my years of travelling, was the north-eastern states. I finally broke that jinx by visiting Meghalaya, the predominantly tribal state carved out of Assam in the 1970’s. After my wonderful trip to Meghalaya in the height of the rains, I am now convinced that the monsoon is the best time to visit Shillong and Cherrapunji, the two most important places to see in Meghalaya. It seemed right to be visiting the wettest place on earth, in the middle of the monsoon season! I’m now a huge fan of Meghalaya’s natural beauty,  and would love to share with you a little information about the places to visit in Shillong and Cherrapunji.

Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, is a busy little foothill town with the usual urban paraphernalia of shopping centres, cafes, schools, markets, even traffic jams. However, if you take the time, you will also find charming places of interest in Shillong that will show you what this town might have been like a few years ago before the spread of urbanisation. There are some very pretty churches in town, and a lake called Ward’s Lake where you can go for a stroll. The town also has a few very nice cafes that play great music, and I enjoyed chilling out at some of them. In the military cantonment area, you will also find a pretty waterfall called the Spread Eagle Falls.

Misty hills on the drive from Shillong to Cherrapunji

Outside Shillong, in the midst of nature, is where you will really see the true beauty of Meghalaya. “Meghalaya” means “abode of clouds” in Sanskrit; whoever coined the name must have visited during the monsoon! I found myself enveloped more than once in clouds of mist during the drive from Shillong to Cherrapunji and back. The distance from Shillong to Cherrapunji is only 50km but since it’s a hilly route the drive will take 2.5 to 3 hours one way. It is a really scenic route though, and you will enjoy the drive. Since there are limited options of hotels in Cherrapunji, most visitors cover Cherrapunji sightseeing in a day-trip from Shillong.

Aside from the fact that it was once the district with the highest recorded rainfall in the world (this position is now held by Mawsynram, also nearby), Cherrapunji or Sohra as it called locally, also offers amazing views of nature in all its grace. Places to visit in Cherrapunji include the Wah Kaba Falls, Dainthlen Falls, Eco Park, Nohkalikai Falls and the Seven Sisters Falls. I believe that the monsoon is the best time to visit Shillong and Cherrapunji because the highlight of this area – the waterfalls – are at their peak during the rains. The pictures do not do justice to the beauty that I was witness to.

 

Meghalaya also has a large number of limestone and sandstone caves; cavers from all over the world visit in order to explore them. One of the places to visit in Cherrapunji is Mawsmai, which has limestone caves that are open to tourists. The stalactites and stalagmites are indeed imposing to see. The world’s longest sandstone cave has also recently been discovered near here in Mawsynram.

Two other interesting places to see in Meghalaya are Mawlynnong and Dawki. You can either stay overnight at a homestay in Mawlynnong or take a day-trip from Shillong combining both places. Mawlynnong is known as the cleanest village in Asia, and after seeing the place I didn’t really doubt the title. From here you can easily get to the nearby Living Root Bridge in Riwai. Living root bridges are natural bridges found in a few places in Meghalaya and are one of the most important places to see in Cherrapunji and around. Locals would take the roots of Indian Rubber trees, and train and weave them into a mesh. They would then plaster the mesh with mud and stones to form a natural bridge, allowing people to cross over streams. Ingenious idea, and the bridges are still going strong. Be prepared for a hike up and down several steps though!

The Living root bridge near Mawlynnong

Dawki is about 100km from Shillong and you can easily combine a visit here with a Mawlynnong excursion. It offers scenic views of the Umngot river and the India-Bangladesh border. Outside the monsoon season, the river is very popular for boating. It is said that the water here is the clearest you will find anywhere in the country.

At Dawki overlooking Umgnot river and the India-Bangladesh border

 

Getting there:

Flights to Shillong are only available on Air India from Kolkata and tend to be very expensive. Instead, fly to Guwahati. Guwahati to Shillong is an easy 2-3 hour drive; you can either take a shared cab that will cost you around Rs. 300 per person and drop you at Police Bazaar, or hire a private taxi and have the comfort of stopping en route as you wish. I had hired a private cab for the duration of my trip.

Getting around Shillong and Cherrapunji:

Local cabs charge more or less flat fares for Shillong sightseeing and day-trips to Cherrapunji. A private cab would probably cost you Rs 1800-2000 for local sightseeing in Shillong, and Rs 2500-3000 for a day visit to Cherrapunji. Your hotel can also probably arrange transportation for you if you ask in advance.

Hotels in Shillong:

Shillong has hotels to suit nearly all budgets. However, I would recommend that you try and avoid staying in the Police Bazaar area unless you want to be stuck in traffic all day. It would be much better to stay in the Laitumkhrah area, which is what I did. One big plus of being there was that I was within walking distance of the famous Cafe Shillong! If budget allows, go for Ri Kyinjai which is a resort near Umiam lake and is considered one of the best hotels in Shillong. I was, unfortunately, on a more modest budget.

 

Meghalaya is a must-visit destination in India that offers natural beauty, offbeat experiences and an opportunity to get away from the concrete jungle. The people you meet here will, in general, be really warm and friendly, and you will feel welcome wherever you go. I know that I will be going back someday soon! If you’d like to learn more about the state, you should visit the official website of Meghalaya Tourism, it’s extremely detailed and helpful.

Visiting a green hilly destination during the rains makes it feel even more magical. I also believe that the monsoon is the best time to visit Shillong and Cherrapunji because unlike summer vacations when everything is over-run with tourists, this time there were relatively fewer crowds. Always a plus as far as I am concerned!

You might also like to read Top 7 Monsoon Getaways In India

 

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10 Best First Time Solo Travel Destinations

Do you dream of travelling the world but lack company and are not sure about travelling alone for the first time? Are you an aspiring solo traveller looking for information on the best first time solo travel destinations, especially for solo female travel? Then you must read this! Here are 10 female travel bloggers telling you about their own first solo trips, and why these places can be recommended as great first time solo travel destinations.

 

Suzy from Suzystories recommends: Melbourne, Australia

A Brit travelling to Australia for their first solo trip is not an original idea by any means, but I believe that the allure and popularity are for good reason. I chose to visit Melbourne as a starting point for my first solo trip that would then take me around the world because I knew it would bring me comfortably out of my comfort zone. As a friendly, not completely unfamiliar, and welcoming environment it made the ideal beginner destination for a first-time solo globetrotting adventure. Read on to discover why I consider Melbourne one of the best first time solo travel destinations.

Australia is a great place to begin a solo trip for a number of reasons; firstly, they speak English which makes communicating, getting around, and planning so much easier for a Brit (and it’s a commonly spoken language if it’s not your mother-tongue). It’s also an easy-going and tourist-friendly place, and there’s so much to see and do that regardless of your interests you’ll find the perfect place for you to visit.

The decision to visit this particular city was largely based on a lot of research, the recommendation from friends and family, and gut instinct. I’d heard great things about Melbourne and trusted it would have the same charismatic and quirky vibe to match my favourite city of Bristol in the UK, but also provide enough new experiences to begin soaking up a different country’s way of life. The street art adorning walls through the city certainly confirmed the former, and the cityscape views from the beach confirmed the latter!

Sights like the Great Ocean Road make Melbourne one of the best first time solo travel destinations

Things to do: Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better first-stop on a big trip going solo. I was able to tick off some pretty amazing experiences such as seeing koalas in the wild, witnessing the penguin parade of Phillip Island, driving the Great Ocean Road, and exploring the city’s famous arcades and laneways. One of my favourite things to do in Melbourne was to visit one of the many green open spaces that are scattered throughout the city. Kings Domain is a particularly great spot and offers a welcome bit of peace and quiet after lots of sightseeing. You can even go to the top of the Shrine of Remembrance for stunning views of the cityscape and park – it’s especially magical at sunset!

Although it’s a hugely popular destination, with so much choice of things to do each person’s experience is entirely unique. Outdoorsy folk might enjoy heading out of the city to tackle Kokoda Track Memorial Walk (otherwise known as 1,000 Steps), whereas art-lovers might be inspired by the National Gallery of Victoria and Australian Centre for the Moving Image overlooking the Yarra River. Or, if you’re like me, you might enjoy a bit of everything, and Melbourne certainly has that! And, if in those moments when you do miss home, there are lots of other like-minded travellers with a great sense of community who’ll certainly be able to offer advice and comfort.

Melbourne view from Shrine of Remembrance
Melbourne view from Shrine of Remembrance

If you’re looking to escape to the other side of the world, there’s nowhere better to start than Down Under. You can be assured that the notoriously chatty and vivacious Aussie characters are accurate stereotypes, so even travelling solo in Australia you’re never really alone. And, with Melbourne offering the perfect mix of edgy city life right alongside beaches, national parks, and dramatic coastal landscapes, you know that it’ll confirm your love for travel and fuel your desire to see more of the world.

You can follow Suzy on Twitter

 

Christine from And The Story Goes recommends: Los Angeles, U.S.A.

Los Angeles is one of the greatest first time solo travel destinations. The city has so much to offer in terms of museums, shopping, nature, and great weather throughout most of the year. There are always public events happening, so one can enjoy everything in the sunshine without ever actually feeling alone.

Moving around: Los Angeles is made up of multiple cities one wants to visit on a trip (like Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Los Angeles). Driving in Los Angeles can get hectic, parking is expensive, and a two-mile drive can take upwards of 30 minutes. So, ditch the rental car and buy a TAP card which can be used on all public transportation. In recent years, the Metro light rail has been expanding into every part of the city. The newest line takes you from Downtown to Santa Monica in 45 minutes.

Stay: Most people associate hostels with Europe, but there are several hostels within Los Angeles County as well. One just needs to decide if they want to be based in Santa Monica, Hollywood, or Downtown. Many of these hostels offer tours for their guests and private rooms at a fraction of the price as hotels. With Airbnb becoming outlawed in many parts of the city, hostels are one of the most affordable places to stay, especially if you are a solo traveller.

Ferris wheel at Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier

Things to do: For those wanting to meet others while they’re in Los Angeles, they can attend one of the daily free events in the city. Throughout the summer, the Twilight Concert Series offers concerts at Santa Monica Pier. On Halloween, there is a huge Halloween Party in West Hollywood. In the spring, there are city festivals every weekend. And throughout the year are pop-up outdoor movies of classics and cult favourites.

The worst part about solo travel is the cost since it isn’t split amongst multiple people. Luckily, Los Angeles is home to many world-class museums, some of which are free. The most popular is the Getty Center which houses not only the museum and breathtaking gardens but also the J. Paul Getty Trust, the world’s richest art institute, with an endowment of $6.9 billion USD. The newest art museum in LA is The Broad, conveniently located in Downtown. The museum houses 2,000 pieces of contemporary art; and while it is beneficial to reserve a timeslot beforehand, one can wait in a standby line for entry. If you visit the Broad, head next door to the Walt Disney Concert Hall; when there’s not a performance, they offer free self-guided tours to the public.

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall

For those wanting to get out into nature, it’s both safe and easy to do so. The popular hiking trails (Runyon Canyon, Griffith Observatory, and Temescal Canyon) are all favourite spots for locals and busy enough for a female to feel safe on when alone.

Eat: The best part about Los Angeles as a first time solo travel destination is the food. There is something for everyone and dining in the California sunshine cannot be beaten. Eating out can be hard for solo travellers, but at Grand Central Market, a large food court in Downtown, once you get your food, you’re bound to meet new people you as it’s communal seating.

I’m sure now that you’ve read about LA you will agree that it’s one of the best places to travel solo!

You can follow Christine on Pinterest

 

Megan from Red Around The World recommends: Costa Rica

I almost didn’t go to Costa Rica.  I didn’t know why I should go.  Then I came up with three reasons: coffee, sloths, and zip lining.  In case you’re wondering I didn’t see any sloths, but I did go zip lining and I did bring home my weight in coffee, so I still consider it successful.  I also just happened to love my week spent in the country.  My whole trip was two and a half months going from Mexico down to Panama.  I can confidently say that Costa Rica is one of the simplest first time solo travel destinations especially if you are based in North America.

Moving around: It can be a little annoying getting around the country on public transportation, as you’ll be doing a lot of backtracking to San Jose to change buses, but it’s super easy figuring out where to go and people are very helpful.

Costa Rica is great for first-time solo travellers because it’s so easy to get around.  It has a lot of good tourism infrastructure, probably the best in Central America or right behind Panama, making it even easier to navigate your way across the country.  English is pretty common and while some activities are a little pricey, you can balance that out with delicious local food and budget/backpacker-friendly hostels.

Things to do: You’ll most likely be starting in San Jose, which I might spend a day exploring, but I was there for the nature, so I left right away.  It does look like it has some cool things, though.  First I went up to Monteverde to see the cloud forest and to go zip lining.  Here I would recommend doing a night jungle tour the first night, then going to the cloud forest reserve to do some hiking the next morning and zip lining that afternoon.

Costa Rica is lush green

From there I went to the southeast and spent a few days biking around Puerto Viejo from beach to beach, even in the rain.  This is a little hippie backpacker town right on the coast.

That was all I was able to see, but some other must see things in Costa Rica would be Manuel Antonio National Park to look for wildlife, Corcovado National Park for a secluded nature getaway with, you guessed it, more wildlife.  Poas Volcano and Arenal Volcano are two other great places to go hiking.  If you are looking for a city getaway, Costa Rica isn’t it.  This is the place to get out and enjoy the wild that is the jungle.  So if you are looking for a solo trip with lots of nature and adventure, pick Costa Rica as your first time solo travel destination!

You can follow Megan on Facebook

 

Holly from Globeblogging recommends: New Zealand

Even if you were blessed with a travel-loving family, sooner or later the time will come that you are ready to spread your wings and venture out into the adventures of the world on your own and you’ll be shortlisting the ideal first time solo travel destinations.

New Zealand is the perfect choice to find your solo travel feet! Particularly for Australians. Flights are cheap, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump over the ocean, they speak our language and they really aren’t all that different from us. They do pronounce Wh as a Fa sound though, so don’t think that they’re swearing at you!

But even if you aren’t Australian, New Zealand offers an appealing blend of adventure, scenery and quiet relaxation. It’s rugged, volcanic landscape offers sights quite unlike anywhere else in the world, and it is a photography enthusiast’s dream. It’s incredibly easy to find your way around so no need for reservations over hiring a car and driving yourself.

Depending on what kind of solo trip you want, both the North and the South Island have their appeal. The South Island is best known for the skiing, glaciers and adventures in Queenstown, while the North is the place for spectacular volcanic parks, caves and the picturesque Bay of Islands. If you only have the time to do one it’s a tough choice, so try going through the travel brochure with a highlighter.

The museum at Rotorua

Things to do: My pick is the North Island, and Rotorua is not to be missed. Don’t be put off by the smelly reputation. It does smell quite strongly of sulfur but you get used to it quickly. Even just a walk around town offers plenty to see, including the local park and museum, but make sure to check out the following;

One for the adventurers, Kaituna Cascades run rafting and kayaking trips down the grade 5 rated Kaituna river. They provide all equipment and experienced guides, and transfers from your hotel are also available. There isn’t much that tops plunging over a seven-metre waterfall!

Immerse yourself in the traditional Maori culture with a trip out to the Tamaki Maori Village. You’ll get to see Maori huts and carvings, a traditional Maori warrior ceremony and dancing, before you sit down to enjoy a delicious Hangi – a feast slow-cooked on coals and buried underground. The food melts in your mouth.

You don’t need to organize a tour for Waimangu Volcanic Valley, just rock on up and pay your entrance fee and walk around the trails of the park. You’ll be amazed by the colourful geothermal landscapes you’ll find within. Wai o Tapu Thermal Wonderland might not sound all that different from the Waimangu Valley, and it is certainly in the same vein. The scenery is still spectacular and quite unique. It also features an active geyser and boiling mud. Hell’s Gate is yet another thermal park, but Hell’s Gate is also an exceptional day spa and offers cultural experiences. The massages are fabulous!

Skyline view NZ

The view from the top at Skyline is exceptional and the luge is a whole lot of fun! Take a cable car up the mountain and ride the luge back down again. You can also visit Te Wairoa. New Zealand’s version of Pompeii, the village was buried by the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera in one of New Zealand’s greatest natural disasters. Today it is the country’s most visited archaeological site.

Scenic New Zealand totally deserves to be right up there on the list of top first time solo travel destinations. What do you think?

You can follow Holly on Facebook

 

Neha from Travelbinocular recommends: Vienna, Austria

Although I have been calling Vienna home for the past 4 years, I am writing this guest piece from the eyes of a solo traveller. A little over 6 years ago I had the opportunity to visit Vienna as a solo traveller and little did I know, my destiny would bring me here for work.  I am certainly very happy it did. Vienna is a beautiful city, not just known for its cafe’s, cakes and museums, but for one of the best qualities of life. Vienna showcases a striking display of European Imperialist opulence, statues, sculptures and castles. The very air feels rich! I would any day recommend it among the top first time solo travel destinations, especially for women.

Stay: Areas around the main tourist attractions (Mariahilfer Strasse, Innere Stadt, Rathaus, Karlsplatz) are expensive but convenient. More affordable options can be found farther away from the city centre (close to subway stations).

Things to do: To get a better view of the city go for a ride on the Giant Ferris Wheel in Prater, at the Prater Amusement Park. If you appreciate modern art, visit Mumok. At Stephansplatz, visit one of Vienna’s most impressive landmarks, St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

The Opera House

At Schoenbrunn, visit the world’s oldest zoo and spend time walking around the Tiergarten Schoenbrunn and the magical grounds of the Schoenbrunn Palace. At Donauinsel, take a nice long walk around the river. Also visit the historic Ringstrasse.  There are many trams (1,71, D etc). which you can hop on and get a glimpse of Vienna’s most monumental buildings including Rathaus, Parliament, Opera House. Rathaus is one of my favourite buildings in Vienna to catch a glimpse at night. It’s truly breathtaking.

At UNO City you can visit inside UNO by taking their guided tour at specific times.  At the Tiergarten, Vienna’s wildest park, you can see deer and wild boar roam free! Don’t forget to visit Hoher Markt, Vienna’s oldest marketplace. You can also see the famous Anker Clock by Franz von Matsch here. Also unmissable are Graben and Kaernten, central streets in Vienna, great for the trendiest boutiques and cafes in town.

The Anker Clock

The Belvedere Palace and its garden is impressive and houses one of the most comprehensive collections of Austrian art. The Hofburg, also known as Court Castle, was the Imperial Palace for the Habsburgs. The oldest parts date back to the 13th century. The Museum Quartier is one of the largest cultural centres in the world with a mix of Baroque and modern architecture. Don’t miss the Vienna State Opera – It dates back to the mid-19th century, is world-famous and one of the busiest in the world. You can also visit Kirschenhain (trees given by Japan), Hainburger Weg or Stadtpark to see the cherry blossom in Vienna. If you are interested in wine, I recommend a visit to Kahlenburg where you can take a wine walking tour with a great view of Vienna.

 Moving around: For just 20 euros, the Vienna City Card gives you unlimited travel on the subway, bus and tram for 72 hours (with an additional 200 discounts for city use). The subway (U-Bahn) is extremely developed with 5 lines and 100 stations and is arguably the best public transport option. Ticket prices depend on city zones, time and number of rides.

Tip: the mobile app Qando provides detailed information about getting around in Vienna.

There’s lots to do and worth a visit in this beautiful, safe and clean city. It is definitely one of the best places to travel alone in Europe. If you’ve got any questions or thoughts, please let me know!

You can follow Neha on Pinterest

 

Matilda from The Travel Sisters recommends: Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang is one of my favourite places I have visited and is perfect to be included among first-time solo travel destinations.  Located in northern Laos and bordered by two rivers, Luang Prabang is one of the most charming, pretty and delightful cities in Southeast Asia, with friendly locals and a relaxed and laid-back vibe.  Dotted with beautiful architecture and Buddhist temples, the entire town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  While Luang Prabang is a great destination for travellers that want to chill out and relax at one of its many cafes, there is no shortage of fun activities for visitors.

Moving around:  Luang Prabang is small so it is safe, cheap and easy to explore on your own by foot –  I always felt safe walking around town alone even at night.

Things to do: There are plenty of affordable and nice hostels that are suitable for solo travellers and cheap and tasty street food so you don’t have to dine alone in restaurants if you don’t want to.  One of the best things to do in Luang Prabang is to take a tour or a hire a tuk-tuk to visit the nearby Kuang Si Falls, a beautiful spectacular multi-tier waterfall where you can take a dip in turquoise pools. I also recommend waking up early to eat local food at the morning market and see orange-robed monks emerge from their temples to walk around town collecting alms at dawn.

Luang Prabang Sunset

Other fun activities to do include temple hopping, taking a cooking classvolunteering to practice English with locals and joining a sunset cruise on the Mekong River.  You can also climb the stairs to the top of Mount Phoosi, a hill which is located in the centre of Luang Prabang, to view the sunrise or sunset and enjoy panoramic views of the town. In the evening, the main street has a night market, which is a great place to shop for clothes or souvenirs without much haggling or enjoy some local street food.  If you don’t like making plans, you don’t need to – you can just walk around town enjoying the riverfront and you will run into temples and other things to see without much effort. Luang Prabang is a popular destination for backpackers in Southeast Asia, so it is easy to meet other fellow travellers if you decide you want some company, but it does not feel too crowded or too touristy.

You can follow Matilda on Facebook

 

Rebecca from She Roams Solo recommends: Sydney, Australia

One of my favourite first time solo travel destinations would have to be Sydney. I’m biased, I grew up in Sydney. Yet the main reason I would recommend Sydney is because of the safety level. I never felt a high level of danger in Sydney, everyone speaks English and people are happy to help you when needed. Men will not harass you and catcalling is not the norm. On top of this, Australia is a very laid back country. We are a very friendly bunch, this means you won’t feel as awkward asking questions or trying to make friends when travelling alone for the first time.

 Meeting people: Stay in hostels; the YHA hostel in Central Sydney holds “Aussie BBQs” and other eventful nights. This makes for a great way to sit around and get to know other travellers. Meetup.com is a great resource is Sydney, you can join activities from hikes to pub crawls and you will certainly come away knowing someone new. However, if you wish to simply hang out alone, jump on a bus and head to the beach to relax, walk to Hyde Park and people watch or just simply walk around on your own.

Sydney's Harbour Bridge
Sydney’s Harbour Bridge

 Exploring: Get to know the different areas of Sydney. Australia is huge and so are her cities.  Once you have seen the main sections of Sydney CBD – The Opera House, Harbour Bridge (you should walk across it), the Botanical Gardens, etc… why not hop over to Manly on the ferry, check out Glebe markets on a Saturday and enjoy walking around the lively area, head down to Newtown for a coffee, check out some creative boutiques in Paddington or Surry Hills. I also advise walking over the Harbour Bridge and sitting under the bridge with a takeaway pizza from Pizza Rio whilst you stare out into the harbour. There’s even a bottle shop nearby if you want to try some of Australia’s fantastic wines or craft beers with your pizza. It’s a great way to see a different side of the Harbour Bridge and the beautiful harbour.

Day trips: One of my favourite day trips or even weekend getaways, depending on time is the south coast. Renting a car means you can drive The Grand Pacific drive, which is amazing! Stop in Kiama for ice creams and check out the blowhole or stop in hidden beaches around the Royal National Park. If you make it as far as Berry (A very cute Australia town), don’t miss the famous doughnut van or the creatively decorated pubs where you can try an emu burger. Another great one is the Blue Mountains, famous for beautiful hikes and nature. If you do get to the Blue Mountains, stopping at the famous pie shop Pie in the Sky is a must do.

Sydney beach

Other options for your first solo trip to Sydney include a train trip to Cabramatta for some of the best, cheapest Asian dishes and checking out museums to understand the short history of Australia even more. One of my favourites that isn’t so well known is the Susannah place museum which teaches you all about life living in “the rocks”, one of Sydney’s oldest areas and my favourite. And one of my favourite places is Coogee beach, where you can find large groups of travellers and locals alike having BBQs on the grassy area, listening to music and playing soccer… if you’re sick of spending the time by yourself, go strike up a conversation, before you know it, you have made friends for life.

You can follow Rebecca on Twitter

 

Shivani from The Wandering Core recommends: Paris, France

Paris was my first solo trip from Delhi, India. A dream trip for many, was more of paranoia for me. An introvert who never dreamt of travelling alone and that too to an international destination like Paris was daunting. Choosing Paris was a leap of faith which opened me up for my further travels. From the moment I landed in Paris to the day I came back, I remember every moment. Not only because it’s one of the world’s most travelled place, but also because of the warmth of the Parisians. Let me tell you how my story went, which will show you why I feel Paris is the best of all first-time solo travel destinations.

I landed at the CDG airport and headed towards immigration and found a spot for myself in the queue. I couldn’t help but notice that the airport staff were giving families with toddlers and elderly a priority. This gave me an impression that I will be safe here. Passing through all the formalities, I looked for the ticket counters for Paris metro. Coming to a country with no coins is a bad choice which I made. But once again, a travelling couple saw my struggle and helped me out there. Ideally, I hadn’t set foot in Paris city and I experienced these 2 amazing incidents. I found Parisians to be humble and helpful. Dragging my heavy suitcase, I saw a cop and asked him about the train for the city. Without saying a word to me, he said something in the walkie-talkie and waved me in the direction of the platform. While boarding the train, I noticed he had literally stopped the train for me as I saw the driver waiting for me. That was only the first day when I landed at the airport. Most of my days went by like this, meeting the most helpful people. Despite the language barrier, they won’t hesitate to help you out. Even the tourists are extremely considerate.

Travelling solo means no one to click your pictures and one can only rely on the kindness of strangers. The same happened to me but a touch of benevolence. I was trying to click a selfie from Trocadero with Eiffel Tower in the background. But obviously, I was craving for a picture more and being an introvert means I was too shy to ask anyone. It was then that another solo traveller came to me requesting a picture. I clicked hers and finally asked her to return the favour for me as well. She didn’t know English but still, she accepted. It was evening and my pictures turned out to be dark. With a little English she knew she asked me to turn on the flash for a better picture. I realised that’s Paris for solo travellers.

Things to do: Paris has something for every traveller. The history of WWII in Louvre Museum and Arc de Triomphe, the museums, the cafe culture and the cathedrals with intricate work. Paris will not disappoint anyone.

The Parisian culture, history and the food makes it a perfect place for travel. But it is the compassion of people, which stood out for me in Paris as the most important thing for solo travel. If given a chance I’ll grab the opportunity to travel solo here again.

You can follow Shivani on Facebook

 

Jamie from Crashed Culture recommends: Madrid, Spain

My first solo travel experience was in Madrid, Spain, and I couldn’t be happier with the choice! Especially as a woman, the idea of travelling alone can be a scary one. When I travelled in Madrid, I was surprised that I felt more comfortable walking around alone than I ever did in the US! While back home I would never walk around alone at night, Spaniards are up and out until sunrise the next day, so you needn’t worry about empty streets and the unknown. During my year in Madrid, I also did not have to deal with catcalling once!

Moving around: But, while feeling safe is incredibly important to first time solo travelers, this isn’t the only reason I’d recommend Madrid as one of the best first time solo travel destinations. Madrid is particularly well-known for how easy it is to travel both within the city and around the country as a whole. In fact, the city is famous for its metro system! If you’re under 26, you can get an abono, or a public transportation card, and travel unlimited trips throughout the city for the rock-bottom price of 10 euro a month. Can’t beat that price, especially in a decent public transportation system! The metro is (mostly) predictable, clean, safe, and runs until 2 AM, which makes for a natural curfew for those who don’t have a car and don’t want to pay for a taxi.

Outside of Madrid, public transportation may be a smidgen pricier, but it’s still incredibly affordable and convenient – you can find yourself a bus ride to most any city within the country for under 50 euros. And don’t worry, the buses are just as nice as the metro: clean, safe, and organized. It’s easy enough to hop online and purchase a ticket to almost anywhere in the country, show up at a bus station, and find an adventure!

Madrid

Things to do: While travelling in Madrid, there is lots and lots to see. There are glorious castles, extensive parks, artistic performances, gastronomic adventures…the list goes on and on. My favourite place is Parque del Buen Retiro, or Retiro Park. This is a huge, beautiful park that used to belong to royalty, but is now open to the public. Retiro Park is great for a stroll, bike ride, picnic, row (in front of the beautiful Monumento a Alfonso XII), and even to join the variety of clubs that meet there. I once took a free Flamenco class there – talk about a Madrileño experience!

Not far from Retiro is Puerta del Sol, which is another must-see. Puerta del Sol is the plaza where life meets – stores, restaurants, street performers, clubs, and everything in between. If you want to find something exciting to do, this is the place to go, for tourists and locals alike.

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My own first solo trip took me to the charming Scottish city of Edinburgh, from where I also took a three-day trip to the Highlands and to the Isle of Skye. I would definitely consider Edinburgh among the top first time solo travel destinations, especially for female solo travellers.

Things to do: You can spend a couple of days exploring Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town and the 18th century New Town. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Old Town especially is very atmospheric and charming, with stone buildings and narrow lanes called Wynds and Closes leading into enclosed residential courtyards and gardens. The Royal Mile in the Old Town – the cobblestoned street connecting the Castle with Holyrood Castle – is where a lot of the tourist footfalls happen. You’ll find a ton of souvenir stores and cafes here.

The Old and New towns are separated by a beautiful green stretch called Princes Street Gardens, a perfect spot for relaxing and people-watching. It also offers you great shots of the Edinburgh Castle. The Castle itself is supremely impressive and worth a half-day’s time and the investment into an audio-guide.

Edinburgh
Edinburgh – The National Gallery in the foreground

When you are done exploring the city, you can take day trips into the surrounding areas to explore distilleries, visit the nearby St Andrew’s Golf Course, explore the seaside town of North Berwick or the castle of Stirling, the possibilities are many.

Moving around:  Edinburgh’s Old Town is best seen on foot, it is compact and easily walkable. To explore farther areas, you can get a day pass for the local buses. Trains run from Waverley station to nearby towns and are also very convenient.

Stay:  Edinburgh is great for solo travellers thanks to the large number of hostels and BnB’s available here. My hostel was just a 5-minute walk away from the Mile and a 10-minute walk from the station, and being in a 4-bed dorm meant I was able to make friends to hang out with later!

I would also recommend Edinburgh among the easiest first time solo travel destinations because of the energy and vibe around it. People are very friendly, so if you are a solo traveller and want to talk to folks and make friends, you will have no trouble at all. There is a large variety of things to do, from culture to adventure, so it will suit all tastes. If you want to party, there are plenty of bars and clubs in the Old and New towns. The city also hosts internationally known festivals like Fringe and Hogmanay.

 

 

My heartfelt thanks to all my fellow travel bloggers for helping put together this list of recommendations of top first time solo travel destinations. To those of you who have read this far and have been dreaming of solo travel, hope this post has helped push those dreams a little further into planning stage! All the best for your solo travel planning!

 

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7 Popular Destinations for Solo Travel – 2017

You might remember an earlier post where I talked about why I travel solo. Solo travel is becoming increasingly common across the world. As a closing post for 2017, I have created a short list of some of the most popular destinations for solo travel this year. Read on to learn about the top 5 global and 2 Indian destinations that were popular among solo travellers in 2017.

 

Siem Reap

One of my personal favourites, this one. This small town in Cambodia offers a variety of things to see and do, the most famous being the fascinating temples of the Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom complexes. The people are gentle, friendly and very hospitable; you’ll never feel unsafe or lonely. With plenty of nightlife, good food and a variety of accommodation available for every budget, it isn’t surprising that Siem Reap consistently figures amongst popular destinations for solo travel.

Getting there: Siem Reap is connected by air with Phnom Penh as well as neighbouring countries like Thailand and Vietnam. You can also travel here by bus from Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

The picture below is from a solo trip there in 2014.

Angkor Thom temples

 

Tokyo

The Japanese capital makes a great base for a solo trip. Not only is it very safe and well-connected by local transport, but the Japanese culture itself is based on tremendous respect and politeness, therefore making Tokyo ideal and safe for solo travellers. From Tokyo you can make easy day trips to Kamakura, Odawara, Mt. Takao etc. The city and its surrounds are also highly instagrammable – cherry blossoms anyone?

Getting there: All major airlines fly to Tokyo, usually into Narita airport. Tokyo is further connected with other towns by road and rail.

 

London

The British capital has always been a favourite for all kinds of travellers. While definitely not cheap on the pocket, the city is extremely easy to navigate (via Tube or on foot) and full of things to see and do. Apart from offering a rich collection of historic sights and major museums, London also acts as a base for trips to nearby places like Oxford, Windsor, Bath, Brighton, Stonehenge etc. The city also has a vibrant nightlife, with everything from clubs to theatre and everything in between. Travellers also like to try out some of the local foodie favourites and indulge in shopping while in London.

Getting there: London has two major airports with multiple flights from across the world.  You can also fly direct from India on airlines like British Airways, Jet Airways, Air India and Virgin Atlantic.

London
A cloudy morning in London

New York

I have yet to see a city with more energy than New York. It’s intense, it’s electric, it’s always busy and it’s one of the most popular destinations for solo travel across all age-groups and genders. From strolling in Central Park to walking the Brooklyn Bridge, from shopping at Macy’s to visiting the farmers’ market at Union Square, from museums to restaurants to Lady Liberty, there is so much to see and do that one visit doesn’t feel enough! Public transport is convenient, but I’ve found walking more convenient. While hotels in New York City are not exactly cheap, you can always try Couchsurfing or staying a little outside Manhattan if you want to stick to a lower budget.

Getting there: New York has multiple flight connections with the entire world through two major airports.  You can fly direct from India on airlines like Air India and United Airlines.

 

Barcelona

This Mediterranean city is known to be one of the friendliest places on earth, and ideal for solo travel. One of the biggest draws here is the fascinating architecture – 7 of the World Heritage Sites in the city are associated with Gaudi. The Catalan capital is also a haven for foodies, offering world-famous cuisine and friendly tapas bars to hang out in. You can also head out from the city to relax on Barceloneta beach, hike in Montserrat, visit Sitges, explore Gerona (GoT fans would know of this location!) and so on. Due to its laid-back feel, Barcelona is also a very popular destination for solo travel among students.

Getting there: Barcelona has an international airport with links to major airports across the world. There are also fast train connections with major European cities like Paris and Milan.

 

Puducherry

The small seaside town of Puducherry offers visitors a little bit of France in India. This former French colony, known internationally due to the Auroville community, offers a variety of things to do for every kind of traveller. Wandering through the French part of town (also called White Town) you will pass ancient churches and gaily painted homes constructed in a typical European style. There is a lot of French-influenced cuisine on offer, as well as the serenity of the Aurobindo Ashram. A lot of travellers visit Puducherry to visit Auroville and the Ashram and take a meditation course. The town is lately also becoming popular for adventure activities like scuba diving, surfing and canoeing.

Getting there: The best way to get here is to fly into Chennai and take a cab or bus to Puducherry. The drive along the coastal highway is extremely scenic.

Surfing
Photo by LECHAT Valentin on Unsplash

Kasol

This tiny hamlet by the Parvati river is often referred to as the Goa of the Hills. With its “hippie” vibe and chilled out ambience, Kasol is one of the most popular destinations for solo travel for young people. Visitors can stay in homestays or budget hotels, and indulge in activities like trekking, hiking, visiting neighbouring villages etc. There are a number of cafes and bakeries offering international cuisine (especially Israeli) apart from Indian food. Kasol is perfect for when you want to escape from the din of life in a typical Indian city.

Getting there: Kasol’s nearest airport Bhuntar (Kullu) is connected by air to Delhi. You can also take an overnight bus from Delhi to Bhuntar, and take a taxi to Kasol.

Are you planning any solo trips in 2018? If yes, I’d love to know where!

 

Some of the most popular solo travel destinations in the world

 

Things women travelling solo will hear

I wrote an earlier post about why I choose to often travel solo. Solo travel by women is getting increasingly common across the world. In India, while the number of women travelling solo are gradually growing, we still stand out sometimes as a bit of an oddity in the eyes of the more traditional thinkers. Hence, we also get to field a lot of curious queries. Here are some things that women travelling solo would often hear:

1. Aren’t you afraid of getting robbed or mugged or killed or something? Well, not exactly afraid, but one does exercise normal caution. Same as anyone else travelling with other people would. Depending on where I am, I might end my evening earlier than if I’d been with a group of people. But that’s just being practical, not afraid. Basic safety precautions are necessary not just for women travelling solo but for any traveller.

2. Don’t you have a husband? This usually happens when I am travelling within India, although I did face similar questions in Cambodia too. I guess they meant well. No, I don’t have a husband, and I am not going to let the absence of one imply that I cannot travel. Even if I were married, some of my travel might still be of the solo kind.

3. How does your family allow you to do this? Again, mostly heard this in India. My family, you will be happy to know, are very supportive and just glad that their daughter is independent and does things that make her happy. My mother follows my travel blog. Some amount of apprehension is normal I guess, and I ensure that I always stay in touch with them and leave my itinerary and other details with my sister.

 

 

Cambodia solo travel
A happy memory from a solo trip to Cambodia

 

4. Don’t you get lonely? Well, if it’s a long trip, sometimes you wish you had someone to talk to. But in this day of 24X7 connectivity, there is always a way to do that over Skype, Whatsapp or plain old phone calls. Most of the time though, I am really happy being by myself. Sometimes I meet up with other groups or even women travelling solo, and hang out for a bit. It can be interesting, and I would probably not have this opportunity if I was with family or a group of friends.

5. Would you like to go out tonight? Yep, happens a lot. A single woman travelling by herself will often attract invites of the sort. Entirely up to you to decide how to handle them. Most men will back off nicely once they know you’re not interested in a holiday fling. Unless you are?

6. How do you manage to finance your trips? Erm, the same way anybody else would. By working hard and saving money and forgoing some things in order to afford to travel. Why would it be any different for a woman?

7. Wow, that’s really a brave thing to do! Hmm, maybe the first time I travelled solo it was a brave decision, because I really was clueless. Now, not so much. Travel gives me joy, and how can you not do something that does that for you?

If you are reading this and have had similar experiences, do leave a comment! If you haven’t, leave a comment anyway!!

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A list of some of things said to women travelling solo

Travel solo

Why I travel solo

I travel solo quite often for various reasons. While an Indian woman travelling by herself for leisure still often elicits some surprise/shock/concern from others, I’ve never let that bother me. In fact I believe that solo travel has made me better in many ways. I travel solo at least once a year, more if possible.

This is what I believe happens, when you start to travel solo

  • After the initial discomfort of being all by yourself, you move on to being able to enjoy your own company and the pleasures of being the sole decision-maker for your holiday plans. Want to capture a sunrise? Go for it! Prefer to spend the morning lazing at a café instead of visiting a museum? Sure, whatever you like!
  • You become a lot more confident. Travel can bring along with it missed connections, lost belongings, budget issues, security concerns and lot of other things. Dealing with it all and still having a good trip teaches you that you are stronger and smarter than you think you are. You learn to trust your gut.
  • You start getting to know yourself better. With nobody else’s preferences to worry about, you can plan your trips just the way you want to. In the process you learn more and more about your own likes and dislikes and what makes you happy. You also figure out things like how good a communicator you are, what your travel style is, what are the things you have trouble dealing with, and so on.
  • Gradually your perspective on life begins to change. When you go out into the world, meeting and talking to people, learning about different places and cultures, you realise what is superficial and what really matters in life.
  • You learn that there are a lot of good people out there, and travelling alone does not necessarily mean not having folks to chat with. All you need is a willingness to smile and communicate.
  • You realise that your fears about travelling alone were mostly unfounded, and that you’ve ended up actually having a great time.

Maybe now you can see why I travel solo so often! If you have not tried solo travel yet, go ahead and give it a shot. Be sure to let me know about it!

Featured image by Yaoqi Lai on Unsplash

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This picture of a peaceful beach illustrates one of the reasons why I travel solo

 

 

Remembering my first solo trip: Scotland – Part One!

I love travelling solo. Why, you might ask. I have listed a few reasons here. This post though is about my first solo trip, which happened in the summer of 2010. I travelled to London, stayed with a friend for a couple of days and then took a week’s trip (alone) to Scotland. It turned out to be one of my most memorable trips ever.

How it began

Early on a June morning I took the morning train out of King’s Cross to Edinburgh. The journey takes about 4 hours, and the trains are very comfortable. The train was also a great way to see more of the countryside, which was truly beautiful. I realised that all the cliches I’d read about were true: rolling meadows, cows in peaceful pastures, picture-book cottages and houses with sloping shingled roofs.

Finally getting to Scotland was both exciting and scary. I didn’t know a single soul there, had never travelled alone this far from home, and had no idea what lay in store. So yeah, there were definitely some butterflies in my tummy as the train pulled into Waverley station. It was overcast and a drizzle started up almost immediately; luckily the hostel I had booked was just a 5 minute walk away.

Edinburgh the Medieval Beauty

My first evening in Edinburgh was also the day I fell in love with the city. Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town and the 18th century mostly Georgian New town are both World Heritage Sites, and one can spend days just exploring them. I stayed in the city for three days here and spent hours just walking everywhere.

On this first evening I was still too jet-lagged to do much, so I just took an exploratory walk up the Royal Mile.  The Royal Mile is a cobblestoned street connecting the Castle with the Holyrood Palace. It actually measures about a 100 yards more than a mile. The part of it closest to the castle is where you will find most of the souvenir shops, restaurants, T shirt sellers, and all the usual suspects. But it is still an interesting walk, with medieval buildings on both sides and dozens of narrow alleys (called Wynds or Closes) leading off from it. Go down any of these wynds and you never know what you might find. A part of the Mile is pedestrian-only.

Edinburgh solo trip image
Edinburgh – The National Gallery in the foreground

I also walked across Waverley bridge to the New Town side of things, and took a look at the Monument, the Royal Academy, the adjacent National Gallery, the Mound etc. Old Town and New Town used to be divided by the Nor Loch – the town’s water supply/sewage dump. This was eventually drained and converted into a beautiful green area called the Princes Street Gardens. It’s a great place to sit and people-watch. You also get great views of the Castle, and some decent ice cream!

By the time I finished my walk it was around 8pm, and it was still bright and sunny. To somebody used to night setting in by 7-7.30 pm in summer, it was strange at first to see dusk extending as late as 10pm here. It was a little disorienting, especially since all shops and cafes shut by 6pm.

My first day in Scotland turned out great. I managed the train connections safely, found myself in a beautiful city, and made friends with my hostel roommates, Amanda and Melissa. After three days exploring Edinburgh I continued into the Highlands and Skye. More on that, later! In the meantime, if you are planning to visit Edinburgh anytime soon, do check out this list of top things to do.

Getting there: Edinburgh is well connected by flight, train and National Express coach services