“Sometimes, the best way to fully experience a place is alone,” says best-selling author Marcia DeSanctis, whose dazzling new book, A Hard Place to Leave: Stories from a Restless Life (Travelers’ Tales), celebrates the joys of travel—especially solo female travel. “There’s a restorative power of these stretches of time spent alone, immersed in some other landscape, lost in another language, absorbed in a new culture. Solitude leads me to a better version of myself.”
It’s exactly that sentiment that is fueling the growth in solo travel for women. According to experts, the past three years have seen a 230% increase in travel companies dedicated exclusively to women, and there’s been a 62% spike in volume for the search term “female solo travel.”
The book is a collection of essays that documents amazing trips in 18 different countries. But DeSanctis points out that a trip does not have to mean crossing seven time zones. “One of the essays takes place in the post-industrial city of Waterbury, Connecticut, about fifteen miles from my house,” says DeSanctis. “There are wonders everywhere, and it is so important to keep your eyes open to them, even close to home.”
Inspiring and beautifully written, A Hard Place to Leave is a must-read for any woman traveler—and a must-read for women in general. It will give you a renewed appreciation for how travel transforms you and inspire you to travel deeper. “No trip is ever just a trip—it is a way to detach from what is familiar (and sometimes, what is difficult) and find clarity and meaning,” says DeSanctis.
The book will also show you how travel can help you become the best version of yourself. “Women tend to spend their time taking care of other people, nurturing, building a home, being a daughter, friend or girlfriend, being incredibly present in all aspects of our lives and the lives of people we love,” says DeSanctis. “Solo travel is a very proactive gesture that declares: I am taking care of myself now. Very often, we are so needed and our time is so in-demand, that I find it liberating to be in a place where no one needs me—and I, in turn, need only myself.”
DeSanctis, who is also the author of The New York Times bestseller 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go, worked as a broadcast news producer for two decades and came to travel writing relatively late in life. “Travel writing found me by accident,” she says. “I wrote an essay about a woman I met thirty years ago in Moscow, and who haunted me, and I submitted it to the Best Women’s Travel Writing anthology. It was accepted and then it won an award, and suddenly I was a travel writer.” You’ll learn about the woman who changed DeSanctis’s life in A Hard Place to Leave, as well other remarkable people who she has met through her travels. “I have been around the world and seen so much human potential and so much ingenuity. In this sense, the world is quite unified,” she says. “From Senegal to Montana, Denmark to Peru, I have witnessed devotion and hard work, all in the name of sustainability and the future of humanity, especially of women and children, the sick, the marginalized, victimized, the poorest of the poor. We should all feel emboldened by this worldwide commitment to improving our lives, one project at a time.”
Read on for DeSanctis’s top tips and trips for solo female travel.
Solo Female Travel: Top Tips
Pack Smart: “I like paring down to the basics, and that does not just mean choosing three T-shirts out of the 20 I own to take away on a trip, it also means whittling life down to myself, my wits and my agency,” says DeSanctis. “Sometimes, I’m actually amazed at how self-sufficient I can be—I tend to forget. I like to wander invisibly through an unknown place and have grown attached to the independence and self-reliance this anonymity ushers in.”
Best Approach: “I have learned how to adapt as a traveler. In truth, I am much calmer when I travel, and have gotten more so lately. Plane travel is a beastly business these days, for the most part. The seats, once you finally reach them after hours of security, are so small, the food so paltry, the bathrooms so appalling,” says DeSanctis. “And yet, I do my thing and take it in stride. I have my essential oils, my blanket, my book and my lip balm, and I close my eyes and imagine how good my hotel bed will feel and how good the coffee will taste. It can be miserable, but you always arrive—in one happy, excited, rumpled, germy, dirty piece.”
How to Ask for Directions: “We tend to think that it’s scary to be alone. I disagree—when I’m alone, I really have my wits about me,” says DeSanctis. “And when I’m lost, I ask a woman for directions.”
Where to Stay: “I prefer hotels, rather than private residences—I like saying, ‘Good evening,’ to the person behind the desk,” says DeSanctis.
Top Travel Tip: “Always take notes when you travel,” says DeSanctis. “Keep napkins from restaurants, observe from the corner of your eye and write it down, pluck a flower and put it in your journal. Some of my stories have come directly from pages in my diary. You never know when you, too, might write a book about your travels and how they changed you.”
Solo Female Travel: 9 Best Places
Best Places for Solo Female Travel: Singapore
Singapore is imbued with both a fascinating history and the pixie dust of shining, glittering modernity. It is a breeze to navigate, safely, through its many distinct neighborhoods—Orchard Street, Chinatown, Little India. Seek out the best chicken rice in town at Maxwell Food Center, and wash it down with fresh watermelon juice. Singapore seems to have perfected the rooftop bar, and after a hike at the extraordinary Mount Faber Park, ascend Marina Bay Sands to its gorgeous CÉ LA VI, and toast the show-stopping view over gleaming skyscrapers, the Singapore Strait and the South China Sea.
Best Places for Solo Female Travel: Rishikesh, India
This northern city on the Ganges calls itself the “Yoga capital of the world,” and the river is lined with ashrams and all manner of spiritual retreat, including the Beatles’ Ashram, which the Fab Four made famous when they visited in 1968. But you need not be a yogini to immerse yourself in this vibrant, electrifying city. It’s totally walkable: three bridges span the river, and with each step, the vista changes and becomes somehow more extraordinary. Kiran Ugrajiya at Shri Sai Handicrafts makes gorgeous bags out of vintage textiles; the black lentil curry with finger millet bread at Jal Jalebi was the tastiest I ever ate, and outside of town, find comfort and repose at one of these two stunning resorts: Ananda in the Himalayas and Taj Rishikesh.
Best Places for Solo Female Travel: Reykjavik, Iceland
One reason it is so easy to explore solo in Iceland is that the island is so small, it tends to draw crowds in certain destinations as well: loneliness is never an issue, unless you seek out solitude. Reykjavik is such a sane, manageable city, and in the space of an hour, you can walk from the soaring Hallgrimskirkja, past the Old Port to the vibey Grandagardur quarter. Grab the best cinnamon rolls you have ever tasted at Brauð & Co. and incredible lamb or salmon at Tides, the chic, blonde-wood restaurant at Reykjavik’s new five-star Edition. Sky Lagoon, right in town, is the latest geothermal day spa. Clean and minimal, it overlooks the icy Atlantic, a reminder of Iceland’s island remoteness and stark beauty.
Best Places for Solo Female Travel: Marfa, Texas
It is a three-hour drive from the nearest airport in El Paso, but it passes quickly through the desert, and once you reach Prada Marfa in nearby Valentine, Texas, you are not far. Known for Donald Judd’s concrete art installations at The Chinati Foundation, which the famed sculptor founded, Marfa is not just an art destination. There is food, nature, incredible shopping, and those head-clearing skies. The Sentinel is perfect for breakfast over the newspaper of the same name, and pick up all you need at The Get Go, from Marvis toothpaste to locally roasted pecans. Grab the tastiest wood-fired pizza and heavenly sandwiches at Para Llevar. The nearby hiking in the Davis Mountains or at Hancock Hill in Alpine is perfect to cool off in the late afternoon (make sure you tell the park ranger that you are going it alone—they will actually thank you).
Best Places for Solo Female Travel: Krakow, Poland
Do you ever have that dream of waking up somewhere in Europe, amidst medieval towers and church bells pealing? It might actually be Krakow, the quintessentially elegant, cobblestoned city in Eastern Poland. You can walk forever, across the Vistula River, always using the twin spires of the Mariacki Basilica as your marker for the old city and Rynek Główny, where you can sip hot chocolate as thick as pudding at Café Noworolski. In Kasimierz, the former Jewish quarter that was the site of unspeakable human tragedy during the Holocaust, try the incredible—and incredibly cheap—Israeli restaurant, Hamsa. Two gorgeous hotels in town, H15 Palace and The Bonerowski Palace, are worth the splurge, and both have supremely chic restaurants with equally chic bars.
Best Places for Solo Female Travel: Ouro Preto, Brazil
About two hours from the international airport in Belo Horizonte, this pristine jewel of a town is astonishingly beautiful from every angle. Located in the hills of the state of Minas Gerais, its perfectly-preserved cathedrals gleam with 24-karat adornments, and bear the troubled history of Brazil’s Gold Rush and colonial past. The up-down cadence of the hilly streets make this city invigorating to explore. The town remains a world center of the gem trade, and you can pick up a locally mined loose imperial topaz or tourmaline at the central market or at Ita Gemas, a family-owned jeweler. Solar da Rosário, a hotel right in the center of town, has windows that open up to endless vistas, and a breakfast that includes about 12 different kinds of cake.
Best Places for Solo Female Travel: Cassis, France
Nine years ago, I was writing a book about France, and traveled all over the country, alone. It was strange to solo in the country most associated with romance, but also, in a way, perfect. One of my favorite places to cool my heels is the achingly beautiful Mediterranean village of Cassis, situated around a cluster of turquoise-watered coves, and dominated by the powerful sight of Cap Canaille. The twice-weekly Provençal market at Place Baragnon smells of figs and ripe berries, and is a colorful mélange of cuts of Spanish ham, locally made ceramics and striped foutas towels. Take a sweet boat ride through the chalky calanques, and end the day with a glass of home-grown rosé on the terrace at Hôtel Les Rôches Blanches. The light, the salty air—it really is a dream.
Best Places for Solo Female Travel: Rwanda
Rwanda was recently named the sixth safest country in the world for solo travelers, and the safest overall country in Africa. There is history, wildlife and an easygoing, welcoming vibe that is almost palpable, from the market at Kimironko in the capital of Kigali to the lushly glamorous bar at Bisate Lodge, near Volcanoes National Park. When you visit the storied mountain gorillas, park rangers will slot you into a small group with a guide (who will also gladly take your photo with the primates in the background). Rwanda also has world’s highest percentage of women in government of anywhere in world, and you might find yourself in conversation with one of them, at the outdoor Fusion restaurant at The Retreat in Kigali—Josh and Alissa Ruxin’s hotter-than-hot hotel and restaurant, with the most innovative and delicious menu in town.
Best Places for Solo Female Travel: Dublin, Ireland
This is the easiest and friendliest of cities, and it is loaded with atmosphere: grand architecture, pedestrian streets full of musicians (good ones, too) and dozens of museums and historical sights that should be on everyone’s wish-list: Trinity College Library, the Museum of Literature, the Book of Kells. There is a very particular feeling in Dublin, as a woman traveling alone, and can best be described as a combination of glamour, poetry and joy. If you have ever considered taking high tea, The Lord Mayor’s Lounge at the Shelbourne Hotel is without match—nibble Victoria sponge cake with raspberry icing and look across to St. Stephen’s Green. On nearby Grafton St, shop for Irish-made everything (cosmetics, linens, sweaters) at Avoca, the one place in Dublin that it would be a shame to overlook.