Tips For Solo Travel
By Kameryn Clark | March 16th, 2020 | Pomelo Travel
Have you ever wanted to book a trip to a destination you’ve always dreamt of, but didn’t want to wait for someone to accompany you? Or perhaps you’re looking for an opportunity to gain more self-confidence and increase your independence? Traveling solo just might be calling your name! Picture yourself jumping on a plane, anxiously awaiting an epic solo adventure. You have nobody to report to and no one’s schedule to follow, just endless time to yourself and the freedom to explore a new place... on your own terms. Think of all the delicious new food to be tried, beautiful architecture to be seen, exotic beaches to be explored, and unique friendships to be made. To this day, some of my most cherished memories and beloved friendships were formed while traveling solo.
Because I want to share this experience with others, I’ve compiled a list of suggestions from my own experiences while traveling solo, and also reached out to other female solo travelers to get their perspective. Although this post was written with the female solo traveler in mind, these tips and safety precautions apply to everyone regardless of age, relationship status, or family ties. Here are some of the best tips I've gathered:
Do your research!
Before you hop on a flight, make sure you really look into where you are going. Get familiar and ask important questions, including: “What is public transportation like/how will I get around? What currency is used? What language is spoken? Where would be a safe place to stay? What do people typically wear; what are the cultural norms and what’s appropriate? Do I tip the servers, drivers, or other workers?” It’s important to have a basic idea before you arrive at your destination. Make sure you always check the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories before going international. Enrolling in the U.S. Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a great resource to receive alerts and be extra prepared for your safety. I highly recommend it! In addition, I like to make copies of my passport information and leave a copy with me (stored separately from my actual passport) and a copy at home with a person I trust. Writing down your rough itinerary and the contact information for the U.S. Embassy in each location, especially if you’re country-hopping.
Always have a backup plan.
It’s always a good idea to have a plan B, maybe even a plan C if things head south. For example, if you miss the train you were supposed to get on…now what? Is there a local bus route? Are taxis available? Always know your options and use your best judgment. It’s also a good idea to locate the nearest hospital in the area and know how to contact emergency services if needed. When navigating around countries, such as when riding in a taxi, I always like to plug in the destination I’m going to in my own Google Maps/navigation. That way you can track where you’re actually going as a back-up. Also, research your cell service plan and make sure you know how to get a SIM card if you need one for data in another country. In many countries SIM cards are easy to get at convenience stores or other similar places.
Less really is more. I’m not telling you to just bring the clothes on your back, but you also don’t need your whole closet. It depends on how long your trip is and where you’re headed, but it’s always nice to have less to haul around. I like to bring just a backpack or a carry-on, that way you don’t have to worry about checking bags and potentially not having your belongings if it gets lost. Keep in mind that you won’t have anyone with you to help watch your stuff, so do you really want to drag around an overstuffed backpack and 50lb. suitcase while you squeeze into a tiny bathroom stall? Having just a backpack is also nice to have both hands free if necessary. Sometimes you may have to wait to check-in to your hostel/hotel, and might become trapped without a place to store your bag - something to keep in mind if you wanted to go walk the city!
“Fake it ‘til you make it.”
I say this mostly for safety purposes. For instance, if you’re walking somewhere alone and don’t know exactly where you’re headed - pretend as if you do! If you get lost or confused, avoid scrambling with your phone/map. If you have to check your phone or map, stop inside a local coffee shop or safe place to check your directions, find your way, and then head back out to the street. It depends on where you are, but the point is to try and not draw extra attention to yourself and get out of the public eye. Walk with your shoulders back, head lifted and a confident demeanor! If a different language is spoken, try learning a few common and important words or phrases. Lastly, taxi drivers or vendors may charge more to tourists/travelers - something to be aware of and to try and avoid being ripped off. Ultimately, take precautions and stay safe.
Find lodging that fits your needs.
One of my favorite parts about traveling is meeting new people. An amazing (and cheap) way to connect with others is by staying in hostels. I personally still keep in touch with people I’ve met from all over the world from staying in hostels! You may be pleasantly surprised how clean, safe and friendly most hostels can be. Research places at hostelworld.com, or booking.com and be sure to check out the reviews to get a better feel for it. Some hostels will have lockers, but might not provide locks so it’s a good idea to bring one along. Be sure to see how far you’re staying from local transportation, city centers, and other activities you may want to do. I also like to bring my own pillowcase for extra cleanliness. If you’re looking for something a little more private, staying in a hotel might be a better fit. However, most hostels do offer some single room options. Other accommodations include homestays, or even work/volunteer programs including housing, but it really depends on what you want out of the experience and where you’re headed.
Make your travel arrangements during the daytime.
Try to schedule flights, train rides, busses and other transportation options so that they arrive at your destination during the daytime! Just in case you get lost or have to make different arrangements, you won’t be stuck somewhere at night where places may be closed, and things could get a little sketchy.
Do NOT keep all of your money in one place.
It’s a good idea to keep your cash, debit card, and credit card separate. For example, keep some safely in your backpack or luggage, important cards and cash in your fanny pack/money belt, and so forth. This is important, just in case you lose something or if anything gets stolen, so that you then will have a backup. Having a good travel credit card with low transaction fees + good benefits might be something worth researching and investing in! Additionally, notifying your bank for when/where you will be traveling is essential to avoid any complications. I also recommend exchanging some cash for the local currency in whatever country you’re going to at the border or airport. The transaction fees are usually higher, but it’s smart to have cash on hand and readily available sooner rather than later. In some countries, it’s better to use cash to avoid multiple transaction fees.
Watch your bag at all times and don’t leave items unattended.
It’s always safe to keep your belongings close to you. Access to body bags, fanny packs, or slim money belts make it easy to keep your belongings together and in front of you. I personally love using a money belt because they are so small and can easily be tucked into your clothes kept close to you. NEVER leave your bag unattended or put your phone/money/passport in any back pockets or hang your bag carelessly over your shoulder. Any visible bag will draw attention to pickpockets. The more hidden, the better. Also, if you are taking a bus or taxi and the driver takes your bag to put under or in the trunk, stay outside and watch them put it in the vehicle. I’ve heard stories of people losing their bags because the driver “lost it” - always be extra aware.
Supporting local shops, cafes, or markets is an excellent way to get a feel for the area and support the local economy. You might even discover some insider tips and tricks for things to do off the well-worn path! I’ll never forget a time I went to a local coffee shop in a small town in Spain, and the owner was so excited to practice his English with me that he gave me free coffee and a meal, plus amazing tips for exploring the city outside of the usual tourist attractions.
Remember, you don’t have to always be alone.
If you wanted to get dinner with someone or make new friends, there are often meetups, or different types of classes, excursions, or other kinds of tours you can look for in the area. Your hostel or hotel receptionist will usually offer some great suggestions. For safety, try to avoid telling people you are traveling alone. You can always tell someone (especially if you’re getting bad vibes) that you’re meeting up or waiting for someone else, like your parents/friends//spouse, whatever makes you feel safer. Trust your gut and always be aware!
Dive into the culture, make new friends and learn as much as you can.
Seriously! Do it! One of my favorite parts about traveling is meeting people from different cultures and learning how they live life. You never know who you might meet and what you can learn. Maybe there’s a cooking class or a dance class you could go to. Museums and day tours are awesome educational opportunities to learn more about your surroundings and the people, especially alone.
Be willing to try new things!
You never know when you will be back to the place you’re visiting. So branch out, step out of your comfort zone, and just do the thing! The beauty of traveling solo is that you are in control of what you do with your time and what you want to try. Nobody else is there to persuade you otherwise. I personally love trying all the new foods and drinks when traveling. I like to ask the locals what they like and I’m almost always happy I did!
Remember, traveling on your own is completely what you make of it! Be open to the endless possibilities and experiences you could have while exploring solo. Be aware, stay safe, and most importantly… have fun! It doesn’t have to be scary, in fact, you may be overjoyed just by how generous and caring strangers are in a foreign place. Keep an open mind.
Think about how much you will grow as a person and the confidence you could gain from traveling alone. You never want to look back and think, “I wish I would’ve done that.” So, what are you waiting for?