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Traveling solo can be a rewarding, liberating experience

Are you filled with wanderlust, but sticking close to home because you lack a like-minded companion?

Solo travel is an extraordinary, accessible opportunity that can involve big or small adventures, easy or difficult as you choose.

You can do what you want, when you want, how you want, where you want. You pick your own pace, budget, itinerary and can always change your mind on a whim, never having to negotiate.

The experience can be liberating and thrilling, igniting a rewarding sense of accomplishment, and the detachment from your "real" life is often therapeutic.

I strike up conversations more easily when I'm solo, something I've done in dozens of countries across six continents. But not all destinations are right for solo travelers. Here are some tips.

* Visit walkable destinations connected by trains, buses, ferries and flights.

Getting around this way will be straightforward, prices will be per person, and you increase your odds of meeting others. I've found places outside the U.S. and Caribbean are sometimes more friendly to individuals, with reduced-fare single-person rooms.

* When dining alone, bring a book or journal. Eating at the bar may feel more comfortable than a table for one.

* Be respectful, inconspicuous and dress to blend in. Local fashion norms vary, but I typically wear jeans with subdued colors, dark shoes and subtle accessories so as not to attract undue attention.

* English has become the world's second language, but learning to say hello and thank you in the local tongue goes a long way.

* Traveling offseason can save a lot of money. One year in October, it was cheaper for me to spend a week in Costa Rica than to visit the Adirondacks.

* Be cautious but not paranoid. If there's a site that piques your interest, but it's out of the way or you have concerns about personal safety, take a day tour or hire a guide.

Independent female travelers may face harassment and other dangers, while men traveling alone may be targeted by scam artists and touts peddling illicit activities.

* Ignoring verbal aggressors -- whether beggars, vendors or passers-by -- is frequently the best defense, although in some cultures, like the markets in Istanbul, a simple "no, thank you" works better.

Intimidation and harassment are never fun; feel empowered by your ability to say no.

* Check guidebooks and consult with local tourist offices and hotel staff for advice on what to watch out for.

Take special care after dark, in dense crowds, and with likable strangers.

I try to do something new every trip. But if you feel as though you're taking a risk, have an exit strategy, inform the hotel staff of your whereabouts, or make sure you're in a place where you can shout out to others.

Gratifying solo travel comes from following your bliss. Don't let societal pressures rattle you.

Educate yourself so you know what you can, and cannot, do. Most of all, embrace the exciting possibilities before you.