I promised myself I would write a blog entry about solo travel after my big Morocco / Spain / Portugal trip since it was on my mind as I was traveling.
Keep in mind these are just tidbits of advice and are extremely particular to me. Everyone has their flavor of traveling; I’m just presenting mine. I’m usually on a budget but willing to splurge a little on things that I value. I detest looking like a tourist but I will do some of the touristy things alongside the local sites.
Where do you want to go?
The first point I want to make is go to the place you want to go to. This may sound silly but I have to say it. It’s just you traveling (which is why I’m assuming you’re reading this) so why the heck would you go to a place that you don’t want to go to? And also ask yourself why you want to go there. Is it because you want the coolest Instagram photos for a couple days (mostly an unacceptable answer) or is it a place that you’ve heard a little about and are intrigued? I’d also recommend setting up a bucket list of places you want to go. As certain deals come about or vacations come around, pulling out those lists makes life a lot easier. If you’re looking for cheap flights (I haven’t paid over $550 for a solo round trip ticket in a couple years), I highly recommend Scott’s Cheap Flights. They also have a premium version that I personally think is worth signing up for because of the savings.
When planning your trip:
Look for circles
The easiest way to be able to cover a large area is to do a loop. For example, in Morocco, starting with the coastal cities and then coming inland makes an awesome little loop so you can land into and fly out of Marrakech. Doing linear paths work well too but backtracking feels less fun when you could spend time looking at more things. You can also look at multi-city fares that help take the burden off having to start and land in the same place.
Transit is your best friend
If you’re traveling in Europe, not taking a train is not really an option between cities. The tickets are usually significantly cheaper than taking a flight or a private vehicle. Train tickets are also easier to buy online. Buses work pretty well too but depending on the country, vary in safety levels. Try to book everything at least a couple weeks in advance but you might want to research to see if you can book on the spot as well.
I usually find cheap Airbnbs (around $30) that are a single private room. Airbnb hosts are also usually pretty awesome and will give you local tips and tricks that other people don’t know. Although I have a lot of friends that have done hostels, I like my privacy. You spend just as much (or not more) for a private room at a hostel. Also, as a slightly older traveler, I am not necessarily looking to meet people when I travel (but highly recommend it for those that are super sociable).
Don’t only research the touristy things you want to do (and pick what you want to do) but also the local sites. Is there a particular class you want to take or experience you want to have? Airbnb experiences works well for this (although definitely a little overpriced). For example, I took a cooking class in Marrakech that was expensive but was all inclusive of lunch and a tour of the market so definitely worth it for a solo traveler. Detour is also an amazing app that does audio guides that I LOVE. I have a thing for artist dens so I find the local artists and what they’re up to; usually leads me to much more such as a film festival or an art market. For example, I found a local art market that happens once a month in Sydney and found a resin workshop through it. Theatre shows are also a great activity (especially for solo travel). Broadway shows are everywhere (and might be cheaper depending on where you are going). Also make sure if there are tickets that need to be booked in advance, plan around them (Examples: restaurant reservations made for famous places in Japan, Alhambra tickets in Granada, etc).
If you’re traveling abroad, I highly recommend giving yourself an extra day in the first city you visit. Allowing the jet lag to pass will ensure you also get the most out of your vacation. I have also received a recommendation for jet lag pills I have yet to try.
Paying for Safety
There are times where you will realize that you will be paying more… for your safety (and sanity). For example, the drive from Seville to Lisbon is a couple of hours in a rental car. However, a flight is a lot easier so I’m not cruising on the road by myself in the middle of the night when my tire blows out. The flight ticket is a lot more expensive but worth it for my sanity.
As it gets closer…
Google Maps Zindabad (means live forever in Hindi)
I usually go through and drop pins in all the places I want to go (using different kinds of pins for the MUST SEE places). This way, when I get to the location, I can better plan out my days geographically. There’s not much point in planning our day by day until you get there. You should gave enough flexibility to change your plans. With that said, pin the things that are critical with a different label than those for fun.
One time wearing is not an option. Let me say that again: wearing an outfit just once is not the best use of your suitcase space. Pick articles of clothing that can be mixed and matched.
Make a packing list. This sounds silly but when I used to travel for work, it was the fastest way to get packed (and still is). Doesn’t have to be super precise but iterate on it and it will speed you up significantly.
Some recommended travel gear:
- Must: Nice toiletry bags! I actually did this by accident when I was in Chicago and saw them on sale at Nordstrom Rack. I just bought them (a large and small one) and it the best impulse purchase ever made. For long travels (and less stuff), I just take the big one and for weddings I usually have to pack the small one for makeup as well. I love them so much that the zipper broke on the larger one recently and I found a luggage repair shop and got it fixed. #wellworthit
- Must: A travel backpack
- Must: A duffel bag
- Must: Travel pillow. I love this one from Miniso because I can take the cover off and throw it in the washer.
- Must: No-Leak water bottle. I recommend Swell.
- Must (if you travel abroad): Adapter / converter
- Must: a good wallet (your cash and cards and coins)
- Must: Walking Shoes
- Optional: Compression cubes
- Optional: Eye mask
- Optional: Ear buds (ear wax)
- Optional: Carry bag
There are also so many options for awesome DIY travel kits. Here’s a great example from a friend:
I would recommend typing up your itinerary in one document (accommodation addresses, travel times, confirmation codes, etc). It really helps to solidify the travel plan and make sure you’re not missing any steps. I even created this quick chart for my last trip that I kept referencing when booking stuff.
Tripcase is also an awesome app I used while traveling for work that would do it all for me.
Other things to consider:
- Check if you need a visa and make sure your passport is valid at least 3 months.
- Travel insurance
- Printing everything out (itinerary and train tickets)
- Google maps (downloading everything offline)
- Having a copy of your passport on Google Drive along with your itinerary
- Call credit cards and tell them you’re traveling
- Having cash on hand
When you’re out and about:
Resting Bitch Face. Yes exactly what it sounds like but it comes pretty handy when warding off unwanted attention, especially in developing countries. Also research the culture you’re going into. For example, I covered my head and wore long sleeves quite a lot in Morocco because it is an Islamic country and it was easier to blend.
Pack your necessities for the day in a way where you have easiest access to the thing you’re using the most. For example, I would always keep my phone within arm’s reach in the front pocket of the purse (inside a zipper) because I pulled it out often enough for directions but didn’t put it in my jacket where it could fall out. I also only wear jackets with pockets and zipper while traveling so things are secure AND easily accessible.
Buy minimal stuff
The limit of taking small bags is that you can buy minimal things. I have found that helps me focus more on the experiences rather than the shopping. A super pro tip I’ve heard is to pack clothes that you know you’re going to discard so you can take back souvenirs instead. Another pro tip is to only unpack your belongings on the surfaces you know you’re going to check; aka don’t let your suitcase explore every place you go because you will lose things along the way.
If you order too much, give it to the homeless. I started doing this when I would travel for work and everything was expensed and I do it now when I travel for leisure. Pro tip here: I always research the food beforehand so I know what to try once I’m there. I don’t always go to a particular restaurant but I want to make sure that I’ve tried at least one sample of the food that is local.
Mental Health while traveling
A couple of points here I want to mention because solo travel can be difficult.
- Hold on to certain routines. They will be your grounding as the environment around you changes.
- All of the castles will start to look the same. So it’s perfectly fine if you decide to skip some of them.
- Talk to people. It’s important to have contact and conversation. There were some days where I went without talking to a soul.
- You can’t do everything. Figure out what lines you want to stand in.
- And yes, it does get lonely but it’s more about a personal journey and the internal dialogue you’re having with yourself that you have to structure. It is what you put into it. When I travel, about half my time is spent thinking about logistics of where to go and what to do next. The other half is reading and learning as much as possible about the place.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, everyone has their own flavor of travel and these are just some tips and tricks I’ve picked up on my journey 🙂
If you’re never been to a foreign developing country before, ask me about:
- Haggling advice
- Crossing the street – follow a local
- Drinking bottled water
- Have the right change