- Motorbiking in the Atlas Mountains. Photograph courtesy of Wheels of Morocco
The open road, the wind in your hair, the diary entries and sketches, the spontaneous conversations and flashes of uncomplicated romance in bars. That’s what travel should be, right? An escape from the expectations of others as much as place. And it is at its most real without company, or at least with only the company of strangers.
Mr Paul Theroux knows this well. The American travel writer has always followed three basic rules: “Travel on the ground. Travel alone when possible. Keep notes. That’s it.” He also travels without a phone, or any desire to be online, seeking human connectivity instead. In an age of Wi-Fi on planes, beaches and boats, getting away from it all – or even from some of it – can be tough.
But escape still awaits those with the freedom and the bravery to buy a ticket for one. And there are more of us. A survey carried out in 25 countries in 2015 showed that one in four of us travelled alone on our most recent trip, up from one in seven just two years earlier. Solo travel is no longer the preserve of teenage backpackers or lost souls, and the industry is adapting to demand. But where to go? Read on for our selection of eight journeys on five continents.
SINGAPORE TO BANGKOK, BY TRAIN
- Photograph courtesy of Belmond
You could zip across the Gulf of Thailand in a couple of hours by plane. But you would see a lot more – and in a lot more style – in three days, via the Eastern & Oriental Express. The luxury train service runs several times a month between Singapore and Bangkok, chugging up the west coast of the Malay Peninsula and into Thailand across countryside and coastline. Retro carriages are full of nods to the golden age of rail that inspired Mr Graham Greene and Ms Agatha Christie: glossy cherry and elm panelling, embroidered blinds in the cabin cars, which include single rooms, and a healthy supply of gin. Take your smartest clothes for dinner and retire to the bar car for a Singapore sling while the resident pianist plays. There are stops, too, at the River Kwai Bridge station and the grand Ubudiah Mosque at Kuala Kangsar, but you’ll yearn to be back on board, blank notepad in hand, for the final approach to Bangkok.
THE SARONIC ISLANDS, GREECE, BY BOAT
- Photograph by Mr Terry Harris/Alamy
When East Coast sailor-cum-bearded urbanite Mr Dayyan Armstrong saw a gap in the market for seaborne journeys for like-minded adventurers, he and his thirtysomething friends launched the Sailing Collective, a Brooklyn-based travel company and Instagram hashtag that now operates trips all over the world. Its seven-night Greek journeys start in Athens and explore the islands of the Saronic Gulf, including Hydra, Spetses and Aegina, aboard one of the collective’s elegant chartered yachts. They come with a captain and a chef, and single cabins are available, while groups of up to eight are carefully matched to ensure the conversation flows as freely as the ouzo on the islands’ famous pine-fringed beaches. Guests are treated as crew, taking part in navigation and sail setting, but laziness is permitted – and sailing experience is not compulsory.
ARGENTINA TO CHILE, ON HORSEBACK
- Photograph courtesy of Ride World Wide
In 1878, the British aristocrat, writer and explorer Lady Florence Dixie set off for Patagonia, documenting her experiences in her famous book Across Patagonia. “Nowhere is there an area of 100,000 square miles which you may gallop over, and where, whilst enjoying a healthy, bracing climate, you are safe from the persecutions of fevers, friends, savage tribes, obnoxious animals, telegrams, letters and every other nuisance,” she wrote. Almost 140 years later, not much has changed in the land to which Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fled in 1905 – it remains a fascinating wilderness. Discover the same open plains and Andean peaks on a 10-day horse ride from the Northern Patagonian Lake District into Chile, staying in a comfortable estancia and remote camps and cabins along the way. Just don’t take Lady Florence’s inspiration too far. She returned home with Affums, a wild jaguar. Alas, when it killed several deer in Windsor Great Park, it had to be dispatched to a zoo.
SAN JOSÉ TO THE CARIBBEAN SEA, OFF-ROAD
- Photograph courtesy of Nomad America
Costa Rica, a compact tropical playground of white water, Caribbean surf and lush jungle tied together by challenging roads, begs to be explored by 4×4. So fly to San José, rent a Jeep and drive roughly westwards until you hit the ocean. Go armed with a standard itinerary of hotels or – better still – a rooftop tent, a surfboard and a couple of fresh fish for the stove. Nomad America, based in San José, offers 4x4s from $55 a day, each equipped with on-board camping, showering, and a map of campsites (the surfboard is extra). Take in the hot springs and Hanging Bridges at the foot of the Arenal volcano and the birds of paradise at Palo Verde National Park on your way to the Guanacaste coast to surf and swim with turtles. Drop the car in Liberia, capital of the coastal province, and fly out from there. Or plan a more ambitious tour, taking in Panama and Nicaragua.
LOS ANGELES TO SAN DIEGO, BY BIKE
- Photograph by Mr Brad Sauber. Courtesy of Rapha
You’ve summited Mont Ventoux, conquered the Tourmalet and wound up the Stelvio Pass. Now look west for a while, away from the classic climbs of Europe, to the mountains of California. London cycle clothing brand Rapha runs a brilliant six-day randonnée, which starts with a ride out of Santa Monica along the Pacific Coast Highway. Then it’s up into the Hollywood Hills for almost 4,000m of climbing (not a trip for the occasional cyclist, this) to Pasadena. One big climb after the next follows, in a journey that covers almost 625 miles and more than 20,000 vertical metres. All American climbs include Mount Baldy and Mount Palomar. Huge ocean views and overnight stays in comfortable inns and resorts are included. Rapha also provides guiding and mechanical as well as moral support, and a massage each evening to get you limber for the next day on the road to San Diego.
SCOTLAND’S CASTLES, BY CAR
- Photograph by Mr Kenny Lam/VisitScotland
There are more castles dotted across the mountains, lowlands and rugged coastline of Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in Britain, perhaps the world. They are all within easy driving distance of each other, and offer ample opportunities for hikes along the way. You could visit all 300 or more with enough time on your side, or follow VisitScotland’s handy route around the best. It starts just down the coast from Aberdeen at the ruins of Dunnottar Castle, where Messrs William Wallace and Oliver Cromwell did battle. Follow the coast around Scotland’s right shoulder, via fairytale Crathes Castle to Jacobean Drum Castle. The second half of the trail, all of which can be covered in a week at a leisurely pace, dives deep into the Cairngorms and takes in the Georgian mansion Duff House along the way, as well as Balmoral, the Queen’s holiday home, parts of which are open to the public.
ÅLESUND TO GEIRANGER, NORWAY, BY KAYAK
- Photograph by Mr Tomasz Furmanek/Visit Norway
To enjoy the Norwegian fjords in all their glacial, glassy glory, immerse yourself in them by way of a kayak, the bicycle to the cruise ship’s bus. Away from the hum of engines and chorus of camera shutters, one of the world’s great wonders comes into sharper focus. There are dozens of guided kayak tours, but, for a real escape, consider going it alone. Kayak More Tomorrow runs a sea kayak outfitting service, including camping equipment and information about campsites, water and food resupplies and sea conditions. All of which leaves you free to navigate and paddle in solitude, perhaps undertaking the classic, week-long journey from Ålesund on the coast to Geiranger. The route cuts through the Sunnmøre Alps, via steep granite cliffs, peaceful villages and towering waterfalls. Return your gear at Geiranger, a historic village at the heart of the Geirangerfjord Unesco World Heritage Site.
SOUTHERN SPAIN TO THE SAHARA, BY MOTORBIKE
- Photograph courtesy of Wheels of Morocco
Too often in the modern age, we travel while still shackled to the pressures and din of daily life. True escapism comes on the back of a Royal Enfield Bullet, on a bike tour organised by British outfit Legendary Motorcycle Adventures. Launched last year by Mr Sam Pelly, the bearded photographer brother of London nightclub supremo Mr Guy Pelly, it puts rugged types on classic bikes and kits them out in Belstaff waxed jackets for loosely planned, back-to-basic tours. The 12-day Saharan trip starts with a descent from the Andalusian mountains to a ferry crossing to Morocco. Support follows in an old Range Rover with one-man tents on the roof. Wild camping, on-the-fly route-finding and campfire chat over a single malt combine with smart hotels and some of Morocco’s great sights: ancient medinas, high mountains, desert sunrises and – above all – the freedom of the open road.