These days, there’s a growing interest in solo travel. Traveling solo can empower you, gain you more confidence and open a new world of travel freedom for you.
Top 10 tips for planning your first solo trip
1. Dress for respect and to blend in
As a female traveling alone, I don’t like to stand out, call attention to myself as a tourist or attract unwanted male attention. Dressing to blend into the culture helps others feel more accepting of you as a foreign traveler, it is respectful of the cultural values and it says a lot about your economic and cultural background.
- Research the cultural etiquette and dress codes of the city/country you’re visiting.
- Respect the cultural differences.
- Avoid provocative clothing in conservative countries- it may come across as disrespectful, sexually loose, culturally inappropriate and you may encounter male harassment. Some cultures are sensitive about tattoos.
- Temples and religious buildings usually have a modest dress code for both, men and women. Wear the appropriate attire on your visits to these places.
- Avoid looking like a rich tourist. This can attract tourist scams and higher prices when you haggle. Sometimes, I like to go as far as “dressing down” (and more backpacker-ish), especially if I’m entering a country with a low economy.
2. Book in advance
While I am always prepared to wing my travel plans, I plan my itinerary, especially when it comes to arrivals. Arriving into a new city can feel disorienting. Just out of the airport you can encounter anything from touts, crowds, language barriers and cultural differences. Having booked your accommodations will make you feel safe, centered and grounded into a protective home base.
- Book your first couple of nights of accommodations.
- See if your hotel has a free airport pickup service.
- Always take down the phone number, address and directions of the hotel in the case your airport pickup service is not there or
3. Pack light
For solo travelers it’s best to travel light. Traveling light helps you manage your luggage and navigate crowds with ease, and it gives you freedom to use public transit (i.e. buses, overnight buses, trains) where luggage storage is limited. Traveling compact is also helpful when it comes to having to go to the bathroom (and not having anyone to watch your luggage)!
- Consider downsizing to carry-on luggage. I use a lightweight rolling carryon convertible backpack which gives me the option to use a rolling bag feature for times when I’m tired of carrying it as a backpack. Read my review here.
- Take only what you need. I look at all the things I want to take with me and then I try to cut it down to fit 3/4 full (or 1/4 of space in my bag). This also allows me space for collecting souvenirs.
Safety is of the upmost importance for solo travelers. You’ll need to utilize street smarts and take precautions as you won’t have others to watch your back.
- Most of us travel with gadgets like smartphones, laptops, iPads and cameras. Don’t flash them around but always keep them near to you.
- Leave valuables at home. If you feel like you’ll miss it if you lose it or it gets stolen then don’t take it.
- Make your valuables difficult to get to. Think of ways and travel gear that will help you make pickpocketing difficult. Every additional step to getting to your valuables lessens a pickpocket’s desire to steal from you.
- Read my post on ways to outsmart picketpocketing and theft.
- Always be aware of your environment. Watch my Safety Tips video
- U.S. Citizens can sign up for the Smart Traveler program with the U.S. Government.
- Traveling with a partner may seem ideal because you know there’s someone watching your back, keeping you and your valuables safe. However, that’s can also work against you if your partner does not match your travel style or budget.
- Travel insurance is always a good idea. I use World Nomads Travel Insurance. For U.S. citizens, it offers the most coverage at affordable rates.
5. Before you leave your hotel
It can be stressful if you’re rifling through maps and trying to figure directions out when you’re traveling.
- Before leaving your hotel/hostel, have all your maps, bus numbers and routes planned. Ask your front desk or the concierge for assistance. Have them take a pen or marker to your map and scribble bus numbers and routes.
- Google Map or Mapquest your directions. If I don’t have online internet capabilities I will screenshot my maps and keep it in my phone. If you don’t have a data plan to use Google Maps on the road, take a mobile snapshot of the map and directions.
- Having an unlocked smartphone (I have an unlocked iPhone 7 ) helps immensely these days. Google Maps can be indispensible, even if you’re walking. Whip it out and turn on the voice navigation features. An unlocked iPhone can also double as a wifi hotspot for other devices.
- Take the biz card of the hotel in the case you get lost and need to hail a taxi back.
- Download free metro map apps
6. Let friends & family know
Always let your loved ones know where you’ll be going as a safety precaution.
- Leave itinerary and a copy of your passport with family or friends so they can trace you.
- If you’re a US citizen, sign up with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which assists travelers in case of emergency.
- Check in on social media to let folks know where you’re at. Social media is ubiquitous and friends check in at places anywhere from airport to restaurants and parks. These days in extreme cases of “missing travelers” (like the Nepal earthquake), many friends and family where checking out their loved ones’ Facebook profiles to see where they last checked in to trace the last place they were before the earthquake hit.
Confidence matters when you travel alone.
- Fake it until you make it. The last thing you want pickpocket and thieves to see is a vulnerable and naive solo traveler. It could make you a target for scams and theft.
- Strike up conversations with others and ask locals for help. Some of it will come out of sheer survival instinct and you’ll need it to get around. Remember, most people want to help you. I’ve found locals more trustworthy than merchants and taxi drivers.
8. Exploring alone
While it might be scary to get lost, allow yourself to get a little lost. It’s part of the fun of travel.
- I like to explore streets and markets.
- Look for free walking and city tours.
- Strike up a conversation. I meet and make travel friends everywhere from a hostel, to restaurants and cafe, even on buses going from one city to another. Sometimes, this has led to shared transportation, tours and accommodations.
9. Have backup plans
All the fears and hypothetical worries you have about traveling alone, encourages us to formulate backup plans that might nip that scary idea in the butt.
- Take your hotel business card with you in the case you get lost and need to hire a taxi to bring you back.
- Keep copies of important documents like passports in different parts of your bag, as well as online in say, Google Docs.
- Take backup money and/or credit cards in the case your ATM card doesn’t work or your credit card gets flagged.
- I always have a backup plan with my family in case of the worst possible scenario. It lets them know of the steps they need to take, even in the case of death. Watch my video.
For whatever reason you’re choosing to take a solo trip. A smile is a universal language and shows people you’re friendly and welcoming.
What are your tips for planning your first solo trip? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
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