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The Best of 2023

Solo Travel: Alone Again, Naturally

Looking to spend time on your own in the great outdoors hiking, birdwatching or biking? Here are 4 places to consider.

By Laurie Bain Wilson

The Best of 2023

Through Dec 29, we're looking back at the 10 stories that most captivated our readers in 2023. The Next Avenue editorial team is pleased to highlight this as one of our most read stories of the year.

Solo travel has become very popular and most solo travel is done by women. Nature getaways are also trending — put them all together and you've got a winning solo female nature travel trifecta.

A herd of wild ponies on a beach. Next Avenue, Assateague Island, solo travel
Wild Chincoteague Ponies on Assateague Island, MD  |  Credit: Sara Cottle

But solo travel is not one size fits all. For some women, a solo trip to explore nature means visiting that place all alone and camping out. For other women, it might be defined as traveling without a usual squad of family or friends to enjoy nature by herself but to a place where she'll have some company around her, and possibly make friends she hasn't met yet.

And there's another scenario, where the traveler wants to run away from home for some ultra-pampering in a luxury resort surrounded by nature to spend the days out exploring trails and mountains and beaches and the nights with a massage, lobster dinner and glass of wine.

"One of my favorite vacations each year is to camp at Assateague Island where there is a large herd of wild horses."

The common denominator: deciding to get out there for self-care and to explore some of the most exquisite natural settings. Translation: a desire to see the country without waiting for others.

Assateague Island, Maryland/Virginia

Connie Spindler is 62 years old, divorced, has no children and typically travels solo. "One of my favorite vacations each year is to camp at Assateague Island where there is a large herd of wild horses," says Spindler."Since I no longer own a camper and I'm way past the desire to pitch a tent and rough it for a week, I rent a camper trailer or a tiny house on wheels from a business that delivers the trailer/tiny house to my reserved campsite. All I need to bring are linens, food, my bicycle, books and beach items." 

The shoulder season is Spindler's preferred time of year to visit Assateague Island. "I especially love early October when the days are still warm, the nights are perfect for a campfire and roasting marshmallows, the foliage is beginning to turn and the park is less than full as compared to mid-summer," she says.

Spindler enjoys photographing the wild horses that roam the island, including into the campsite area, as well as birdwatching (especially the shorebird population), cycling, hiking, gathering shells, attending park-led nature programs and watching the ocean waves on the beach.

"The birdwatching here is exceptional, especially the shorebirds," says Spindler. "There is a healthy population of Piping Plovers, and it is a joy to watch their seemingly choreographed dance with the incoming waves."

"My best tip is to introduce yourself to the camp hosts within your particular camping loop upon arrival."

Biking is a bonus. "The flat topography makes for very easy riding, and there are pathways parallel to the main roads to keep cyclists and motorized vehicles separated," says Spindler. "Biking is also an easy way to search for the wild horses that roam the park."

And then, there's kayaking in the Sinepuxent Bay (it merges with Chincoteague Bay.) There are several kayak rental companies, including Assateague Outfitters.

Solid advice for visiting Assateague: "My best tip is to introduce yourself to the camp hosts within your particular camping loop upon arrival," says Spindler. "These volunteers have a wealth of knowledge about the park, the general area, the wildlife and the services, programs and amenities available. Some of them are even handy with mechanical issues that may crop up. Kind of a park ranger/party-planner/Yelp/Trip-Advisor expert rolled into one!"


Plum Island, Massachusetts

Mother Nature blessed Massachusetts with many beauty marks — from the mountains in the Berkshires to the beaches on Cape Cod. Plum Island is lesser-known — it's off the beaten path, one hour north of Boston.

A seaside resort's view of the ocean and beach. Next Avenue, Assateague Island, solo travel
Plum Island's Blue—Inn on the Beach  |  Credit: Lark Hotels

The barrier island is an unpretentious 11-mile stretch of strands, sunrises and sunsets where heaven meets sea. And it's a favorite stopover for the 300-plus birds (purple martins, red-winged blackbirds) that migrate to Plum Island's Parker River Wildlife Refuge, a nearly 7,000-acre expanse of beach, dunes, salt marsh and maritime forest at the southern tip of Plum Island. You can walk, bike or drive through the refuge, ultimately ending up at Sandy Point State Reservation, where there's a stunner of a coastal beach.

One of the highlights of a trip to Orcas Island is Mother Nature's glow-in-the-dark shows, best experienced after sunset by kayak.

The island has a handful of unique spots to eat. The early bird gets the worm at Mad Martha's Island Café, a hip, loved breakfast and lunch destination that's a seashell throw away from the shore and refuge.

The beauty of Plum Island for women traveling solo is that it is a nature and beach getaway, while also just a ten-minute drive (you can also walk or bike) to Newburyport — with galleries and restaurants and shops. Stop along the way at Bob Lobster, a seafood shack about a mile from the refuge on Plum Island Turnpike, for fried clams and steamed lobsters to eat outside on picnic tables with views of the Merrimack River and the iconic Pink House, which has celebrity status in this neck of the woods as an oft-photographed-and-painted landmark — also a sought-out perch for snowy owls, eagles and other birds.

The San Juan Islands, Washington

For some serious me time, solo travelers run to the wilderness of the San Juan Islands of Washington State, an archipelago of 100-plus islands, three of which are ferry-served — San Juan Island (with a lively marina at Friday Harbor), Orcas Island (the largest of the islands) and Lopez Island.

A person kayaking on a lake. Next Avenue, Assateague Island, solo travel
An overnight kayak trip by Outdoor Odysseys in Friday Harbor, WA  |  Credit: Maryland Office of Tourism

One of the highlights of a trip to Orcas Island is Mother Nature's glow-in-the-dark shows, best experienced after sunset by kayak. The sea has its own galaxy in the summer — best seen on moonless nights — called bioluminescence, when thousands upon millions of phytoplankton (microscopic organisms usually invisible to the naked eye) create a magical glow. You can dip your hand into the coolish waters of the Salish Sea and make patterns with your fingers.

On San Juan Island, there are guided multi-day "women on the water" kayaking trips from Outdoor Odysseys.

Tent up at Lakedale Resort. The resort also has canvas-sided glamping cabins, each with its own bathroom and shower, and a yurt village with private hot tubs. Lakedale also offers camping, cabins, a lodge, an Airstream trailer, a general store, lake swimming, fishing, paddle boats, rowboats, canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.

Glamping is also available at LEANTO on Orcas Island. The glamping site is in Moran State Park—5,000-plus acres of wilderness with five freshwater lakes for swims and 30 miles of hiking trails. Views from Mt. Constitution (the highest point in the islands) during sunrise yoga is a highlight.

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, aka as Red Rock Country, is a small city with a population of only 9,700, but is a huge force in natural beauty, thanks to towering red rock formations, canyons, ponderosa pines and those expansive skies that are unique to the Southwest.

Sedona is a small city with a population of only 9,700, but is a huge force in natural beauty.

There are 400-plus trails and two state parks, including Red Rock State Park — a 286-acre nature preserve flush with hiking, birdwatching and wildlife viewing opportunities. You can explore alone or solo travelers who are up to sharing one of these experiences with other like-minded travelers can always opt to join group hikes or dusty, back road Jeep tours.

Sedona is also celebrated for its spirituality and New Age thinking thanks, in part, to an abundance of vortices, first identified in the 1980s; places where the earth's energy is thought to be so powerful that visitors to them are said to experience healing and spiritual transformation. A vortex is described as a "cathedral without walls" or a "Stonehenge not yet assembled." Visit them on your own or with a guided tour. Yoga, meditation, aura readings and spa treatments are also popular in this neck of the woods.

There are many overnight options to experience Sedona. At the Ambiente Hotel, the line between indoor and outdoor is practically non-existent, thanks to 40 elevated private 'atriums' located on the border of the national forest — each provides a view of the expansive Brins Mesa mountain range and a necklace of ancient waterways that run throughout the property. 

Laurie Bain Wilson
Laurie Bain Wilson's work has appeared in Real Simple, Working Mother, OpenTable, Travel Channel, CNNTravel, Eat This, Chowhound, Parents, Salon, Wine Enthusiast, VinePair, New York Times and longtime correspondent at The Boston Globe. Read More
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