Planning your first solo trip and wondering where to start? Random fears and worst case scenarios intruding on your excitement? Well, you’ve come to the right place! This article will help sort you out and walk you through the entire process of planning your first solo trip with a good dose of humour and perspective -two things you don’t ever want to travel without.
Women have been exploring the world on their own for centuries, even to the furthest places and under the most treacherous conditions. It doesn’t mean you need to climb the highest mountain or hike through the desert on your first trip, but if they can do it, so can you. After 5 years and over a dozen solo trips to continents far and near, here are my top tips for planning your first international solo trip.
This can seem to be the most important and daunting decision in the entire trip-planning process. To simplify things, here are a few ways to approach this decision and spark your decision-making:
You could also, of course, just pick a destination on a whim and run with it. Knowing your reasons for travel gives you the conviction to go ahead with your plans without second-guessing them at every step. So much of solo travel is about trusting your choices, and trusting that they’re right for you. If you ask me, travel is another word for trust.
A good way to get your feet wet on international travel is to join an organized tour specifically for solo travelers, like The Solo Female Traveler Network’s Meetup Tours. You come alone, make like-minded friends, have opportunities to explore solo, but you always have us waiting for you and there to help. They are a perfect way to ease your first trip fears while still getting to explore a new place. You can’t help but leave with more confidence to go it totally alone next time.
“Travel light” is the overarching advice across travel blogs/forums/magazines, but it’s also perfectly okay to not cut down your luggage to the absolute bare minimum. If you feel the desire/need to bring more of your cherished possessions along for reasons best understood by you – do so. Know you can handle all your luggage yourself and are aware of luggage limits on your flights and other transport.
The sense of liberation that comes from being on your own in a strange new land is often coupled with that cautious awareness that you’re all you’ve got and you’re up for grabs. While the general perception seems to categorize some parts of the world as ‘safer’ and others more sketchy/dangerous, safety is never a guarantee anywhere and danger isn’t lurking on every corner either. Your best bet for staying out of trouble is keeping your wits about you and taking the same basic precautions you would in your home country. Avoid dark deserted streets, always look like you know where you’re going, never look lost, stay aware of your surroundings, you get the drift. Helps to remember that despite all appearances and news media, more things go right than wrong in the world every single day. More people want to help than harm, befriend than betray.
To avoid carrying wads of cash, sign up for travel debit/credit cards that don’t charge an international transaction fee. For example, Charles Schwab cards are popular among American travellers because they reimburse ATM transaction fees.
Have enough cash on hand to keep you afloat for a day, or until you get to your stay. Numbeo.com is a great resource to estimate local expenses around the world, as are so many travel blogs. Be sure to inform your bank of your travel plans, because banks often block your card the minute they see a “suspicious” login from a different country. A neat trick to prevent this kind of blocking is to use your card at the airport’s ATM to check your balance (not to withdraw cash). That way, the bank now has your new location on record and won’t block you when you try to withdraw money from there.
Skyscanner, Matrix Airfare Search, and Kayak are some of the best websites for great flight deals. An incognito browser, clearing cookies, and booking a few months in advance are good ways to score great flight deals. Also get the Hopper app on your phone to be able to enter destinations and dates and get updates for new price decreases.
Something you’d rather have and not need than need and not have. Even the most organized and experienced travellers run into unexpectable snafus on the road – such as losing passports, belongings, or falling ill – and insurance really saves the day in such scenarios. We have written a guide to go into more detail about how to choose the best travel insurance for you and some of the companies we have used and recommend.
A few useful phrases go a long way. Apps such as Memrise and DuoLingo are great to grasp some basics. My favorite language-learning method has to be the Pimsleur method (first lesson free on Youtube for over 60 languages), where you’re thrown into a conversation from the first lesson so you learn by anticipating and participating, rather than listening and repeating. Speaking the local language, no matter how broken your sentences may be, is also a sign of respect for the host country.
Maps.me, Google maps (download offline maps), Google Translate, TripIt (to manage your itinerary), XE currency (to convert currencies), Spotify (for music), American Red Cross First Aid app (for emergency first aid guidance). The location sharing features of Google Maps, Whatsapp and Life 365 are great for keeping your family/friends informed of your whereabouts. Remember to keep your phone in airplane mode to save battery.
Invest in a reliable and light-weight power bank. Especially if you plan to go hiking or to places with little electricity. A world travel adapter sorts out your electronic needs in any country. A wearable personal safety alarm is something I highly recommend.
Carry your own refillable water bottle instead of buying plastic bottles everywhere. This saves money and is a lot more earth-friendly than plastic. Apps such as Tap, Refill, GivemeTap, and websites such as refillmybottle.com show you the locations for water refills.
Your state of health determines the quality of your entire trip, more than any other factor. Apart from physical health, you’re going to need your emotional and mental health when you’re far away on your own in unfamiliar surroundings. Because wherever you go, there you are. Which can be a boon or a bane, depending on how much you enjoy your own company. This quote says it well – The only zen you find at the tops of mountains is the zen you bring.
Look up tourist scams common in your destination so that you are not another easy target. Wikitravel and travel blogs are great places to read about common scams to watch out for in your destination.
Food is an important consideration when planning your first international solo trip. Unlike some countries where you have your choice of different cuisine, most of the world is not like that. If you don’t like Thai food, then Thailand may not be the best place to go, at least for your first international trip. If you can’t get enough Italian food, then you will be in food heaven in Italy.
Dietary restrictions are also important, but very manageable most of the time. For vegans and vegetarians, Happy Cow is a useful app/website to find the nearest restaurants. Vitamin supplements and granola/ protein bars are also great for travel, where you know your food habits will not always be the healthiest.
There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Accuweather (app & website) has reliable weather predictions so you can plan your wardrobe accordingly. Thin thermals and layering work great for colder climates, rather than bulky jackets that take up a ton of space. Consider layering in destinations where the weather is less predictable and be ready to re-wear clothing more than you would at home, especially for longer trips.
Some books have a way of putting you in that traveller frame-of-mind before you even know where you’re headed. Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem and Beppe Severgnini’s La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind are two of my favourite travel books. There are many more of course, and reading a book based on your destination might be a great way of sensing the pulse of the place.
We hope after reading this guide, you have a better understanding of where to begin planning your first solo trip. Just remember there is no wrong answer. Planning travel is personal and exciting. It can feel overwhelming, but that’s why you have The Solo Female Traveler Network Facebook group for support. We have your back! Don’t forget to share your photos and keep us updated on your very first solo international trip!
A Yoga Teacher, Writer And Traveler On Her Way To Everywhere, Namita Kulkarni Writes About Her Inner And Outer Expeditions On Her Travel & Yoga Blog Radically Ever After. She Travels Solo Every Year To Explore New Corners Of The World And Is Grateful To Yoga For The Internal Explorations It Propels Her Into. Catch Her On Instagram @Radicallyeverafter