March 16th, 2017
How many times have you found yourself debating your itinerary with fellow travelers instead of doing what you want? For me, it’s more than I care to count.
That’s why I’m a huge advocate for trips all by my lonesome. When traveling solo, you get to choose the time you want to begin, the time you want to end, the sites you want to see and everything in between. None of which requires any decision making between multiple people. In fact, it feels calming just writing about it!
Lately, I’ve discovered five fun-filled locales that are at the top of my 2017 travel list. And if you’re anything like me, I encourage you to pack your bags and venture off to any of these top-notch, reasonably priced destinations!
1. Portland, Oregon
Portland is rapidly becoming a popular destination for millennials as much as it is for baby boomers. The welcoming city is incredibly picturesque with a skyline that abuts the calming Willamette River. In my research, I’ve discovered that the City of Roses is one that’s extremely affordable and accommodating.
Hotel accommodations flood the downtown district, but this might not be the best option when forking over single occupancy pricing. If you want to be balling on a budget, Airbnb is likely to be the best choice for you. Scrolling through their mobile app, I found a fantastic cottage in North Portland for less than $300 for three nights. The best perk about this method of lodging is that there are no hidden fees or resort taxes. Also, you get great food, drink, and things to do recommendations from like-minded travelers.
Known for their amazingly affordable brunch menu, Screen Door is one of Portland’s most famous destinations for foodies. With specialties in Southern and Cajun dishes, this small café will leave you with a full belly while barely reducing your travel budget. Yelp Elite recommends the chicken and waffles. They also suggest going early on weekdays as the waitlist can get huge and you may be waiting for more than an hour (and in the rain no less).
An excellent candidate for dinner is Portland City Grill. Located downtown and 30 floors high, the restaurant boasts great views of the city and the Cascade Mountains. If you’re concerned about frugality during your trip, Portland City Grill also has an extensive happy hour menu featuring reduced price salmon cakes, sweet red crab and kung pao calamari.
Short on time and want to see as much of the city is possible? Grab a quick bite at one of Portland’s famous food truck parks. Portland is home to over 500 mobile restaurants, so you’ll have plenty of options to refuel before you take in your next destination.
As a self-proclaimed bibliophile, one standout stop on my list is Powell’s City of Books. Taking over an entire block within Portland’s Pearl District, this new and used bookstore is the world’s largest with an estimated one million titles. If you’re friends with Father Time, you may need his help for this place.
As previously stated, Portland is famously scenic. Dedicate a day of exploration by breaking out your Merrells and heading to Forest Park. It’s the largest urban park in the United States and has 30 miles of hiking trails. If you’re not a fan of hiking, but want to get some fresh air anyways, take a stroll to Mill Ends Park. It’s the smallest park in the country. Not only is it comical in size, but it also has me questioning what defines a park.
Portland public transit is the way to go. With their large bus, rail and streetcar system, you can get around easily and affordably for as little as $5 per day.
2. District of Columbia
What’s great about traveling solo is you can visit all the sites that interest you. Maybe your love for history draws you to the monuments. Or your passion for art steers you to the American Art Museum. Space enthusiasts will want to explore the National Air & Space Museum. No matter what piques your interest, there is something for everyone in DC.
Our Nation’s Capitol is notably expensive, but you can find some great rates for downtown apartments on Airbnb. Forego the “Entire Home” option and book a private room as a way to save extra pennies, such as this listing in Kalorama Triangle. Of course, more lofts and condos are available throughout the city to meet your needs and desires.
The most reviewed destination on Yelp, Founding Farmers DC, is known for its homestyle classics and Americana menu. If you’re looking for something simpler, the city is chockfull of local markets and popup shops that source local ingredients and foods. One of the city's more famous ones can be found mere blocks from the U.S. Capitol, Eastern Market
Because DC offers no shortage of things to see and do, a pair of supportive, well-cushioned walking shoes and comfortable clothing is a definite no-brainer. Whether you’re strolling the National Mall or crossing historical monuments, museums and government buildings off your list, a fresh pair of New Balance, Brooks or ASICS will help get you there. Of course, there are several Hop-On Hop-Off transit stops throughout the city to aid your feet, but they come at a price. I say keep your money and get your daily dose of fitness instead!
Of course, you didn’t travel to DC just to get a history lesson. There are plenty of other activities and incredible events to pass the time. In fact, there are dozens of attractions across categories that are free or nearly free. Whether you classify yourself as an outdoorsy type or an off-the-beaten-path wanderer, discover this list of 100 things to do!
Simply put: If you can avoid driving, do so. Public transit (whether on the Metrorail and Metrobus is reasonably affordable and highly encouraged. The tricky thing with DC, however, is the fares vary throughout the day due to peak times and popularity. But don’t let that discourage you. Download Lyft or Uber app as another cheap and viable alternative. In the end, all of these options are still cheaper than renting a car, and also allow you to live like a local!
3. Chicago, Illinois
I’m originally from Northern Wisconsin, and I had the incredible privilege of exploring Chicago several times throughout the year. The amazing lakefront view allows you to take in the majesty of Lake Michigan and its many waterfront and rooftop bars.
Chicago is massive. Like really, really big. If you’re thinking about staying in a hotel, I encourage you to check out the neighboring suburbs and take the train into the city. Not only will you find some fabulous finds, but they will be half the price. I wholly recommend the towns of Itasca, Schaumburg and Naperville as a place to unwind from the hustle and bustle of the Windy City.
Portillo’s Hot Dogs, Giordano’s Pizza and Al’s Beef are popular food destinations for locals and tourists alike. All three have multiple locations, so if you happen to miss all of these, you explored the bottom side of a boulder and not the city.
If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, check out The Wiener’s Circle. This late night hot spot is notorious for its intimidating service and crude staff. I had the opportunity of experiencing this greasy spoon at 3 o’clock in the morning during my college days. It was traumatizing, yet enjoyable and fun. But definitely not for the faint of heart or easily offended.
Similar to Washington DC, Chicago also offers limitless attractions and experiences for locals and out-of-towners alike. The famous Navy Pier is one of them. With free views of Lake Michigan, this 50-acre playground of entertainment, museums, activities, restaurants and shops is the perfect place for some “you” time.
After the Navy Pier, walk a few blocks to The Museum Campus. Home to The Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry, the campus is not something to be missed.
Alas, at night, be sure to take a trip to The Second City. This is not your average comedy theater as it’s paved the way for many of the comedic elite we have grown to love and admire. Alan Alda, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Carell and Tina Fey all started out here. Tickets can be hard to come by, but luckily for you, you’ll only need one!
Once again, public transit is a viable option for most tourists. The train and bus system are great resources for getting through the city. The Chicago Transit Authority offers 1-day, 3-day and 7-day passes at value rates. If you’re thinking about using the train system, I’m notorious for getting on the wrong one. Don’t ask me for directions. Instead, you can find them here.
4. San José, Costa Rica
Who said you have to stay in the United States to travel solo? Surprisingly affordable Costa Rica is full of exotic, high adrenaline adventures. With plenty to do, this Central American hotspot might be the perfect vacay for you!
Notable hotels will fill the city streets. Hilton, Best Western and Days Inn all have taken claim in the area. If you’re looking for something more locally driven, popular lodging locations such as the Ilsa Verde Hotel or the Boutique Hotel Casa las Orquideas are viable options. But not to be outdone is the historic Hotel Grano de Oro, an upscale boutique-style hotel that has received rave reviews from tourists and popular travel sites alike.
But just like in the States, you can find amazing vacation rentals via Airbnb anywhere throughout the country. Sure, not all properties will have the same splendid views as the indulgent resorts mentioned above, but having a private swimming pool is a lovely alternative.
Trip Advisor enthusiasts love Chelles for it’s authentic Costa Rican flavor. Other highly rated grub spots include La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora, Café Rojo and La Muny Restaurante & Bar. But don’t let this scaled down list limit you from other eats in the area. Lonely Planet suggests you and your taste buds check out any (or all) of these eateries!
La Fortuna is a small district located in San Carlos, Costa Rica. What draws tourists to this area is the excellent view of the Arenal Volcano, among other incredible excursions. In fact, there are as many as 28 different tours available in this one area. From canyoning, river rafting and rappelling to ATV, mountain biking and horseback tours, there’s literally something for everyone.
Looking to explore the vast countryside rather than just one city? Venture east to Cahuita National Park. The National Park has several points of interest, but most notable are the amazing rainforests and breathtaking coral reefs. More than 500 species of fish inhabit the waters, where you’re likely to see light yellow brain, elkhorn, blue staghorn corals, sea fans and gorgonians. Snorkeling, however, is not allowed without a certified guide in order to protect the remaining coral.
Although traveling by bus is by far the best option for adventure seeking, it can be hard to manage for timing. If you don’t want to miss a beat, view the bus schedules and routes here. Driving can also be tricky as some roads could be difficult to navigate or are unmaintained. Taxis are another option. Most fares to get around by taxi will set you back $2 base fare and $2 per mile.
5. Denpasar, Bali
Countless listicles put Bali in the mix as one of the best places to travel solo. There will be no quarreling as to what to see and do in this beautiful city. You will have all the freedom to make the decision on your own. But this destination will come at a steeper price due to lodging costs and transcontinental flights.
Beachfront hotels are quite popular for newcomers of the area. The W Bali – Seminyak is consistently voted as one of the country’s best values. But if you’re looking for something less lucrative check out Harris Hotel Seminyak.
For real Indonesian food, Bali might not be the best option. It’s full of tourists, so most food has been catered to the demographic. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to score some local treats. Warong Legong and The Spicy Coconut are some of the top rated restaurants on the island. What makes them even better is that they’re some of the most affordable. Score!
Spend a day with monkeys at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. With over 700 monkeys on the property, you’ll learn about the primates and gain a deeper respect for these amazing creatures.
Hike to the Sekumpul Waterfalls. Some amazing and memorable excursions await with some of the most breathtaking hiking trails in the world. There is a discount for three or more people, so make some friends and talk them into taking a day away to lighten your costs. They will thank you.
Bali is pretty hectic for traffic. There are only three main roads on the island, but traffic can be invasive for your day-to-day plans. Think ahead and be proactive with your decisions. Taxis are your best option for travel. You can pay by the meter, or if you set it up in advance, you can pay a driver for the day.
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