So, you’ve decided to take the solo travel leap and are now planning a solo trip? This beginner’s guide is a practical tool to assist you in planning your first solo trip, including pre-travel logistics to navigating your destination like a pro. Let’s begin!
Planning a solo trip doesn’t have to be stressful or complicated. There are, however, a few pre-travel logistics to consider before even booking your trip. Don’t worry, once you get the hang of it, these things will just become second nature.
Ensure your passport is up to date and doesn’t expire for 6 months before you plan to travel internationally. Also make sure it has enough blank pages in it to accommodate new stamps and visas.
You will want to keep a digital copy of your passport handy or store a photocopy of it in your carry-on; in the worst-case scenario that it is stolen or lost, at least you will have a record of your identity and your passport number.
You may or may not need a visa depending on your citizenship and the country you are traveling to. You can often check this on your government’s travel website. If you do require a visa, you may need to apply for it in advance. Exceptions to this are if the visa is offered on arrival, meaning you can complete the visa application form and pay in person at immigration when entering the country. Again, this will depend on which country you are entering and your citizenship.
Considering how you will manage your finances is an important aspect of planning a solo trip. Some sources recommend calling your bank to let them know you will be using your debit card or credit card abroad, so they don’t activate identity theft protocol. In terms of how you will actually navigate your finances while traveling internationally in a new currency, there are a few options:
Travel agent vs. self-planned vs. organized tour
If you don’t have much experience traveling or creating a trip itinerary, or you don’t have the time to plan a trip, working with a travel agent can be extremely helpful. Agents can help you with everything from booking flights, to scheduling ground transfers, accommodation and tours — basically the whole package. They can also be extremely useful in sorting out issues in the event that something goes array while traveling, such as a flight being cancelled or delayed.
However, those on a tight budget or who desire more flexibility in their travel schedule may want to plan their own trip. There are a variety of budget airlines and fight search engines nowadays which can help you get to your destination cheaper, notify you of sales, or even explore all destinations across time according to cost.
Joining an organized tour specifically for solo travelers may be a good option if you are looking to get your feet wet on the road alone but would like the extra support. On The Solo Female Traveler Network’s Meetup Tours you are given the time to roam alone, but there is always someone waiting for you to come back. Logistics are taken care of and safety is less of a concern, so you can feel free to soak up the excitement with less worry. They are a good option for your very first trip to help teach you some solo travel skills. The downside is they are not as cost-effective or quite as adventurous as going it all on your own, but you leave with lots of new friends. Read more about where The Solo Female Traveler Network is going next and more about organized tours in general.
Once you have your flights booked, the next step in planning a solo trip is to decide where to stay. Generally speaking, you have three options: hotels, hostels or an Airbnb.
Hostels are budget-friendly and tend to be conveniently located in city centres near bus or train terminals. They usually have kitchen facilities and some of them even have an in-house bar! Staying at a hostel is a great way to meet other travellers and participate in group activities while traveling solo. The downsides are less privacy and the potential for noise or uncleanly shared environments. You can explore options on Hostelworld.com or hostelbookers.com.
Hotels may appear to be the more expensive option, but this really depends on your destination. In some areas of Asia and Africa, a basic hotel room can cost less than a bed in a dorm room. There are lots of great websites to explore your options, such as booking.com — just be sure to read the reviews to determine the accuracy of the listing. Sometimes booking a hotel directly on their website can be cheaper, so it might be worth-while to compare costs.
Airbnb has become a popular choice for travellers to find a home away from home while on the road. If you prefer to have your own kitchen or workspace while traveling, booking an apartment on Airbnb might be for you. You can also rent a room in someone’s home via Airbnb, meaning you will share space with the host. Just like with anything, check the reviews and trust your gut.
We all know that life is unpredictable so even the best-planned trip can go off the rails. Travel insurance covers not only travel expenses and your belongings (e.g. your flight is cancelled, or your luggage is stolen), but also your health (e.g. you need to be hospitalized or medically evacuated). The costs associated with seeking medical consultation and treatment abroad can be very minimal in some countries or astronomical in others. It is therefore always best to be prepared and purchase travel insurance.
When purchasing insurance, always read the fine print to see what you are or are not covered for and how you would be required to make a claim. Leave a copy of your insurance policy behind with a family or friend and keep an electronic copy of it in an easily accessible file in your email or on your phone.
Here is a very thorough guide on how to choose a plan and some top-rated insurance companies especially good for solo female travelers – The Solo Female Traveler’s Guide to Travel Insurance.
To determine if there are mandatory vaccinations required for entrance to the country you are traveling to, you may want to check the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel health website. For example, proof of receiving the yellow fever vaccine is required to enter East African countries and without your immunization card you may be denied entry. Conversely, there may be vaccines or tablets recommended for your destination, such as the rabies vaccination or antimalarial pills.
If you have a prescription medicine you need to take with you on your travels, speak to your pharmacist about getting it in bulk so you won’t run out while abroad. Also, it is important to ask for a prescription to keep with you as you may or may not need it during transit.
It is also important to consider whether your medication is legal in the destination you are arriving into. For example, some forms of narcotics are illegal in certain counties. You can check the status of your prescription medication at the CDC travel medicine website.
Airplane travel doesn’t have to be stressful or cumbersome with a little preparation. Make sure you check with your airline for their luggage requirements and fees, including the weight and size dimensions of both checked and carry-on baggage. No one wants to show up to the airport and have to pay an unexpected cost, so weigh your luggage once you are done packing (though be sure to leave some extra space for things you may want to bring home with you).
If you are flying out of a large airport, check the airport website for which terminal your airline departs from and the estimated wait times. Once you start to travel more, you will come to know which airports are notorious for being chaotic versus streamlined, but for now it can be really helpful to orient yourself online before arriving to the airport.
Checking in online can save stress while at the airport and also gives you the option to pick your seat on the aircraft (though often at an additional fee). Note that if you are stowing baggage, you will still need to drop your luggage off at the airline counter. Nowadays there are often electronic kiosks which print bag-tags, and a designated bag-drop line so you can avoid the check-in que all together.
If you are nervous about doing this, simply wait in the check-in line and give the staff your passport. However, if you plan to do this be sure to give yourself a full 3 hours before your international flight to accommodate for long lines.
Most airports are very strict on fluids, gels and aerosols over 100ml/100g and any objects which may appear to be a weapon. There is nothing more stressful than having items confiscated or your bag pulled apart by security agents. If you have personal care products in your carry-on luggage, ensure they are the proper size and inside a clear pouch or plastic bag. Reusable water bottles are fine but make sure they are empty when you pass through security.
You will also want to keep all valuables and travel documents in your carry-on. My rule of thumb is to pack my carry-on as if I know my stowed luggage will be lost or tampered with.
Navigating your new surroundings can be difficult when dealing with jetlag, culture shock and language barriers. While most hotels and hostels provide city maps and can offer you further advice, you might prefer to use a digital navigation strategy. Apps like maps.me offer offline solutions to navigate, simply requiring you to download the country map before you go off wifi. I usually do this at the airport before I fly to any new country. Conversely, getting a local SIM card once on the ground will ensure you never go offline and can readily use google maps, Uber or any local transit apps.
City walking tours or hiring a local guide can also be great ways to orient yourself to a new city by foot, and often serve as great opportunities to find local hot spots and hidden gems.
While solo female travel is generally very safe, it is still important to be proactive in any situation. It is therefore helpful to consider how you will take measures to protect yourself while traveling. First, check your government website for any travel advisories for your destination and register as a citizen abroad to get direct email notifications of any emerging events. Reading about your destination can also provide useful information on local crime rates or any popular scams to be aware of, as well as helpful tips like how local women typically dress.
More specific safety tips will vary based on the context of where you travel, but it is always SO important to trust your gut. If something or someone doesn’t feel right, trust your inner intuition to keep you safe.
Steph Is A Canadian Travel Writer And Founder Of The Award-Winning Solo Female Travel Blog The Pink Backpack. She Has Traveled To Over 50 Countries And 6 Continents, Most Recently Backpacking Solo Across Africa.