Has the pandemic put a stop to all your travel plans? Don't let it —now might just be the perfect time for a domestic solo adventure.
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Woman travelling solo with her van and her surfboard by the Australian sea
Credit: Belinda Howell/Getty Images

There's something surreal about waking up in an unfamiliar place. It awakens something in you — an intense impetus to venture beyond your comfort zone. The never-satiated appetite for foreign flavors. The electrifying chaos of a kaleidoscopic city center. The somehow nostalgia-inducing sunset over a horizon you'd never before seen.

It's called wanderlust, and it's positively addictive. Especially when you go it alone. Traveling alone builds character, breaks down personal barriers, and can ultimately transform your way of thinking, behaving, and living. (See: This Woman Traveled Solo Across the U.S. By Train During the Pandemic — Here's What She Learned)

But, because there happens to be a global pandemic wreaking havoc, most people are restricted to the confines of their homes these days. Countries across the globe have closed their borders to travelers (especially those from the U.S.), and many locals are still locked up in quarantine while the world awaits the end of an era no one could have anticipated.

The COVID-19 crisis has taken an unprecedented toll on the travel industry, leaving tour agencies, hotels, and transportation companies without customers — never mind the small businesses that survive largely, if not solely, on tourism. Likewise, it's taken a toll on many people mentally, stripping those with the privilege to travel of the freedom to just go.

But while international travel might feel like a painfully distant, totally elusive dream, you can still quench your thirst for adventure domestically — and safely. In fact, despite the ongoing pandemic, many Americans are doing just that. The AAA forecasted that Americans would have taken 700 million trips this summer. While that number is down 15 percent in comparison to last year, "booking trends show that Americans are making travel plans, though cautiously and more spur of the moment."

So, although somewhat ironic, right now might actually be the time to embark on that epic solo journey you've always wanted to pursue but never brought yourself to plan. Let's be realistic: you have to socially distance yourself from others anyway and, if you're in the same boat as much of the nation's population, you're likely fun-employed (or at least no longer have an obligation to go to the office). So, is there really anything preventing you from packing your bags?

Now, I'm not saying you should go gallivanting around carelessly spreading the virus. Quite the opposite actually: there are ways to mindfully, safely, and domestically (because, again, travel bans) go at it alone. Here's how.

Take the necessary precautions.

First things first: Check with your local health authorities about getting a COVID-19 test before even entertaining the idea of traveling anywhere. (Yes, even if you're not showing symptoms.) Your state may have a shortage of tests, however, in which case you shouldn't waste resources. If you can't get a coronavirus test, you still have a moral obligation to keep others healthy. Isolating prior to your adventure can help solidify your health status so you don't spread the virus. And, while you're on the road, it's important to wear your mask, sanitize often, and follow local regulations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you answer these questions before taking your trip:

  • Is COVID-19 spreading where you're going?
  • Is COVID-19 spreading in your community?
  • Will you or those you're traveling with be within six feet of others during your trip?
  • Are you or those you're traveling with more likely to get very ill from COVID-19?
  • Do you live with someone who's more likely to get very sick?
  • Does the state or local government where you live—or at your destination—require you to stay home for 14 days after traveling? (More on that below.)
  • Are you sick? (If so, definitely stay home.)

Pick places wisely.

You'll want to pick a place to visit that's not drowning in a rising tide of COVID-19 cases. Sure, much of the country is hurting, but some states are better off than others. Just take a look at the CDC's COVID Data Tracker to keep abreast of the cases and deaths in each state. At the time of writing, Vermont, Wyoming, and Maine, for example, had far fewer cases than states such as California, Florida, and Texas.

Do your homework. Some states may require you to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival if you're crossing state borders, and some states are still very much locked up, which could leave you with very little to do.

In the same vein, while some states are encouraging tourists to visit high-traffic areas again (to boost local economies), you might want to consider visiting remote communities — they're often safer than others because they're remote. Just keep in mind, tourists can turn virus statistics around very fast, and some remote locations may have fewer healthcare resources to cope with large numbers of cases, so if you venture to a small town or island, be conscious of your transmission risk. The good news is that, if you decide on a more remote area, you'll likely be able to more easily practice social distancing.

Bottom line: Research, research, research, and use your best judgment to pick a place (and bookmark some of these other great solo travel destinations for post-pandemic).

Transport yourself.

Public transportation has always been a breeding ground for germs — long before the coronavirus came into play. Crowded buses, congested trains, and planes packed with people from all over the world are probably the last places you want to be during a pandemic. Not worried about potentially contracting COVID-19? Well, because you could technically be asymptomatic (meaning you're infected but don't show any symptoms), you still have to be mindful of spreading it to your peers and particularly the immunocompromised community. (If you do decide to fly, read What to Know About Air Travel During the Coronavirus Pandemic.)

So here's a novel idea: transport yourself. Pick a place in your state or somewhere nearby that you want to explore, and rent a car to get yourself there. Take it from someone who's been surviving the pandemic in a 1991 van utterly alone: Solo road trips are sort of epic. And, hey, like I always say, if it's not a good time, at least it's a good story.

Rent a private place.

I'm the first person to admit that solo travel doesn't really ever mean traveling alone. Throughout most of my own three-year solo expedition around the world thus far, I've been surrounded by like-minded travelers. While I've embarked on this adventure alone, I've met friends with whom I've journeyed along the way. And I've met many of them in shared accommodations such as hostels and campgrounds.

Unfortunately, living with strangers isn't really in the cards right now. Instead, you have the opportunity to really lean into the whole "solo" aspect and rent a place on your own. If you're going to have to spend the next however-long-this-thing-lasts isolating at home, you might as well get stay somewhere especially exciting — such as a sun-swathed surf shack in a tiny beach town, a charming barn house on a quiet farm, or a rustic cabin in the forested mountainside.

You can check out sites such as Booking, Priceline, or Kayak, but now's an especially great time to turn to sites like Vrbo or Airbnb. You can help put money in local pockets by renting a private place for yourself. You'd be surprised by how many Airbnb hosts are willing to negotiate price, both now and in other circumstances. It's worth sending a message to places of interest to see if there's any wiggle room with their rate before booking for the listed price. Because they need renters, many hosts are willing to help you out financially if it means securing your business.

Sure, paying to stay in a new place while paying rent or your mortgage isn't financially feasible for everyone, even if the host is willing to negotiate. If you're looking for something a bit easier on the wallet, check out camping and glamping experiences on HipCamp or Glamping Hub. Doesn't a yurt on a strawberry farm or a treehouse in the hills sound so much more exciting than your shoebox city apartment or same-old-same-old house in the 'burbs right now?

If you're feeling especially adventurous (or if quarantine has turned you into a wild person, as is the case for me), you might even consider renting a campervan to act as your transportation and your home on wheels. Through sites like Outdoorsy, you can rent people's campervans, RVs, trailers, and motorhomes. Again, this helps them and it helps you.

Choose solo activities.

Tours aren't quite a thing at the moment. But I've traveled some-70 countries and can count on one hand how many tours I've ever taken. Many of my favorite memories, in fact, are of the times I ventured totally alone, completely off the beaten path. Besides, the whole point of solo travel is to push yourself to do things on your own.

So choose activities you can safely do by yourself right now —everything from active outdoor sports such as hiking, surfing, and rock climbing to peaceful indoor activities such as unwinding with a good book and meditating. After all, when you're in a new place away from your daily distractions, you may have more motivation to do all of those activities you never get around to doing in "normal" life.

The United States has so many awe-inspiring corners to explore, from world-renowned national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite to scenic beaches along both coasts. And you don't need anyone to discover these marvels with you. Just be sure to take safety precautions when venturing out into the wilderness alone. You may want to keep someone abreast of your plans (your hiking trail or climbing spot, for example) and perhaps digitally share your location with them.

There are even safety satellite devices you can purchase, such as Spot 3 Satellite GPS Tracker (Buy It, $150 $99, amazon.com), to alert loved ones or aid in the event of an emergency. Spot allows you to send S.O.S. messages with your GPS position should things go awry, as well as to send status updates to friends and family that you're OK with prewritten messages. You can set a period of time for it to record your location, track your progress on Google Maps, mark waypoints, and more. Apps such as Silent Beacon or smartwatches such as the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music offer similar services, including alerting loved ones or emergency personnel and tracking your footsteps.

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Order takeout.

Trying local cuisine is, by far, one of the best bits about traveling. I'll never forget the first time I experienced an authentic coconut curry in Thailand or, for that matter, sheep testicles in Morocco. Even across the United States, you'll have varied gastronomic experiences — from pizza in New York to jambalaya in Louisiana and barbeque in Texas. (See: What to Know About Takeout and Delivery During COVID-19)

While some states are allowing restaurants and eateries to open with capacity restrictions (and many places are offering outdoor seating),  you can indulge under even tighter restrictions. Tons of food services will fetch local meals and deliver them directly to your door, so you never even have to step foot into a restaurant to ignite your taste buds. It's always those small mom-and-pop shops with the best homemade meals, too, so support small businesses during these tough times by ordering from them. (Calling them up directly or ordering through their websites can help out, too, rather than ordering through larger apps that take a percentage of the profit.)

The reality is that travel isn't what it once was. It's complicated. But if you follow government regulations and the aforementioned advice, you can get your adventure fix as safely as possible.