Solo Travel Tips That Will Make Your Trip Amazing
Thinking of doing a first solo trip?
I was there once, it wasn’t easy…but it shouldn’t be that way for you.
I have put together this article or I would rather call it a mini guide book to help you to plan your trip and make it an amazing experience.
This guide book is divided into two parts:
- Before starting your trip: details about what you should do before traveling (how to pack, what to read, planning and etc.)
- While traveling: describes dangers and tips how to avoid it while you are on the road (transportation, meeting new people, behavior and etc.)
So lets dive into solo travel tips!
p.s. Even though it is written for solo travelers, most of the tips can be applied for any type or traveling.
Before starting your trip
There is always start and the end of the trip, and the journey starts from your home. In this part of the guide book you will learn planning tactics that will help to be organized and things people used to forget before they leave.
Research your destinations
Wherever you go, it does not matter if it is one week or 6 months, it is very important to spend some good amount of time reading and understanding about the place your going to visit.
For example before I visited India in 2010, I thought that the weather there is hot all year around, anywhere you go. With a bit of research I learned that most of the locations I was planning to visit were up in the mountains. I had to buy a good, warm jacket!
If you haven’t decided when you want to go yet, I’d suggest you look for biggest cities in “country name”.
Let me give you an example:
We are two friends who wants to visit Spain for the first time, but we know nothing about the country, besides the fact that Real Madrid and Barcelona are damn good soccer teams!
On Wikipedia article, we find out that Valencia, Madrid, Bilbao, Malaga, Barcelona and Seville are some of the biggest cities of Spain. We add these names randomly to the Google Maps and get this messed up map.
Not so useful, right?
But now since we have mapped out our locations on the map, it is easier to make routing changes according to our needs.
Lets say that our arrival city to Spain is Madrid, where we rent out a car and drive from there to visit all the locations.
In this perfectly looking routing, the driving distance dropped from 3.665km to 2,714km:
However 2.714km in on week would be a rat race for to visit all the cities with a very limited time for sight seeing. At this stage we would have to decided what places we would like to visit. Since we’re big fans of soccer, both us would love to spend some time in FC Barcelona’s stadium.
So we definitely go there. Because Bilbao isnot on the way to Barcelona, we decide to skip it and leave Seville and Malaga for our next trip.
We have no idea what to do in Valencia, but since we love to chill at the beach, the coastal drive would be fun to explore.
Since we have a draft of the places we want to visit, we can go into deeper research about each city and places around.
Make copies of your documents, tickets and etc.
You don’t have a scanner? Well, who does! Photo with your smartphone would be enough. The more important thing is to do not forget to print it out.
The first time I tried to travel with out any printed out document, I got in trouble. My phone got battery low, so I couldn’t check in for my flight.
I was lucky enough to have wireless charger, so within minutes I was able to access it.
Lesson learned: Always have printed copies of your documents, just in case.
Carry with you extra passport photos
It is very unlikely that you will need one, but the more undeveloped country you go to, more likely that you will be required to have one.
For example in India to purchase a sim-card you have to provide a passport copy and one photo.
Write down emergency numbers
There are three important phone numbers you must have with you: your country’s embassy number, emergency number (of the country you will be visiting) and the number of your VISA card provider in case if your card gets lost or stolen.
Backpack or suitcase
Choosing a backpack or suitcase has nothing to with how rich or poor you are. It’s a a question of being practical.
Lets define what is good for what:
- Backpack – For an adventurous trip. For a person who is fine to walk extra step with 10-15kg on his her/back.
- Suitcase – For more formal city sight-seeing, staying at one/few places or having a car to move around.
Have some doubts how to put your things in the backpack? I recommend you to check this infographic. For the suitcase packing tips, I recommend to read The Best Way to Pack a Suitcase: Five Methods Compared.
Schedules of public transportation
If you’re planning to travel wit out car. It is one of the most annoying things that you could experience is to try to figure out how to get from one location to another with a public transport.
By writing down schedule timing in your notebook, it will be less stressful when you have to purchase the ticket on the ground.
To get most current schedule information it is best to visit official website of the transportation companies.
Depending on the country, it might not have an option to browse it in English, but it is usually obvious where to type in or choose departure and arrival locations without knowing the language.
For a public city transport in bigger cities, you can use Google Maps Transit.
Make a budget plan
If you’re not millionaire it is crucial, not only to research your travel destination, but also to make a budget plan, which would give you an idea how much money you should have with you.
One of the greatest tools I’ve found so far, is Numbeo which provides cost of living information by cities.
It gives a good idea of how much would it costs to eat, use public transportation, prices of products at grocery stores and many other useful prices.
To make a visual budget plan, I recommend you to download Travel Budget Worksheet.
If you’re having hard time to save money for your trip, read: Easy Steps, How to Work Less And Travel More.
Prepare yourself to get lost
It doesn’t matter how much you plan and research your destinations, there is always higher risk that you will get lost, but if you follow these tips, you might avoid it happening.
Make your friends of family know about your itinerary
Before I leave, I always try to give an itinerary about my travel plan. If it is short trip, it is possible to have a detailed travel plan, but if you are planing to be away for a long period of time at least tell them your first week plan.
You don’t have to waste much time on it. It could be forwarded details about booked hotels, things you’re planning to see/or do and contacts of the people you’re planning to meet.
From my personal expierence, the first week of traveling is usually the most intense and unpredictable period of the trip. So by sharing your first week itinerary will make sure that nobody will start searching for you.
Try to learn local language
Who likes to learn a new language, each time you go to a new country?
Not me, but knowing some basics is very well taken by locals, also it helps a lot when a person you try to communicate with has zero knowledge in English (or your native language).
I have learned that taking with you phrase book is useless thing to do. Every time I buy it (for different country), it stays in my backpack almost untouched.
The more effective solution is to learn some words and sentences before you go abroad. My favorite language tools are Memorize and Duolingo. You can either use it online, or download it to your smartphone.
Check if you need vaccination
Get informed about what vaccines you need, before you see your doctor. Some of the vaccines are not required, but are blindly recommended by doctors. I it possible to find out about it on this page.
Don’t look like a tourist
When you start planning what to put to your luggage/ backpack think of a person that visits your own country.
How does he/ she dress up? What does him/ her makes stand out from the crowd?
Bright yellow rain coat will give you too much attention and for women using short skirt in India might be even dangerous.
As long as you stay in touristic place, things might be fine. But if you’re planning to go local, you should definitely think of what clothes would make you look least touristic.
Other thing that makes you look like a tourist is a big camera. I know, it is hard to hide it, but flash it all over the place when it is not in use
Get yourself first-aid kit and medicine
I personally take very littke with me: a box of plasters, small scissors, Acidophilus probiotic in case of food poisoning and Spirulina supplement which is rich in nutrients. I know, I am not taking this part too seriously as I should. For better tips on this matter, I recommend you to read How to Assemble the Perfect Travel First Aid Kit.
Download and test your apps before going abroad
If you are planning to use some apps on your phone, I suggest to download them and test it before you go abroad. Some apps requires to download additional files or register it before the first use.
If you don’t know what travel apps to download, check this list.
Get latest data, from the people who have been there
I used to love Lonely Planet books, but unfortunately their travel books gets outdated quickly.
The best solution to get latest tips are from the people who are traveling or recently returned from the destination that you’re planning to go to.
There are several travel related communities that you join, here are two of them that I highly recommend:
HashtagNomads (65$ life long access) community where digital nomads not only share they thoughts about various locations, but also organize meet-ups and offers free guidebooks.
Other option that I personally use a lot is Facebook’s hidden germ NOMADS – a life of cheap/free travel with over 110.000 members (and growing).
Both communities value the quality of the questions, so before you ask, read community rules and use search tab to see if your question has not been answered before.
General questions like What is the cheapest way website to buy a flight ticket? might be taken as an insult, but if you choose your questions wisely, you could get very valuable answers.
So you have researched your destination, wrote down the “must see” list and your documents are ready on the table. Now it is time to talk about the things you should know while you’re traveling.
Do not keep your money in one place
Best practice is to keep it in two different places, one is your regular wallet with a little amount of money, and other one kept hidden.
I personally prefer to use body belt rather than neck stash. There are two reasons for that. In emergency, it easier to access your cards, cash, passport and it is less visible, especially if you wear only a t-shirt.
Avoid using VISA card if possible
I know it is hard to get used to the cash if back home the only thing you know is your VISA card…I am one of those.
But when you go abroad, things might be very different.
In some countries your card might not be accepted or payment by card wouldn’t even be an option.
One more reason that I avoid using it is a chance of a scam or an accidental overcharge that you might find out about when there is no way to get your money back anymore.
Do not leave your belongings unattended
It is kind of common sense, but sometimes it easy to forget about it, especially after long days of traveling.
It is not cool to use city map
There are two factors that could describe a typical tourist: big camera and huge map in its hands. I am not saying that you shouldn’t use a map at all.
If the map is big, try to fold it the way you would only see the part of the city that you’re exploring. But if you want to be completely blend in, I suggest you to download an app.
Recently, I started using Maps.Me which does a good job for walking directions. It provides a map with most essential information like restaurants, hotels, museums and other places of interest. While “current location” mode only works when you’re connected to the internet, it does a good job to find and tag locations on the map offline.
I have also tried native phone apps like Google Maps (Android) and iPhone Maps. In my personal experience Google Maps is very inaccurate for walking directions, but does good job for driving. Maps on iPhone seems to be working quite well both for walking and driving.
When visiting new city, be extra cautious
It is especially true for those who travel by train and bus. In many big cities surroundings of the stations are quite dangerous places to be.
If you arrive when it is already dark I recommend you to take a taxi, rather than reaching your hotel by foot (especially if it is long walk).
Give homeless people food, not money
On my first trip to China in 2007, I met very generous photographer Ryan Libre who instead of giving beggars money, offered dried fruit.
If you really want to help, the wisest thing you could do is to offer some food.
Those who are really in need, will appreciate your generosity.
Dangers at Internet café
If you’re in need to access internet, but haven’t got any access at your hotel or phone, then you might need to look for an internet café.
Always be extra cautious about what you type in at the public computers.
For a detailed guide how to make your virtual data safe I recommend to read Nomadic Matt’s The no-nonsense guide to data security for travelers.
Avoid consuming alcohol
If you want to avoid getting mugged or loosing some of your valuables, don’t do it. I mean it is fine to have a shot or a beer with your new “friends”, but keep a limit.
In some countries it is even forbidden to use alcohol.
Don’t be scared and smile! 🙂
If you’re lost or experiencing uncomfortable situation, hide your facial expressions of fear and smile.
It would not only reduce stress, but less likely that someone would have a chance to take advantage of you.
Respect the culture of the country you’re visiting
Things abroad will never be the same as back home. Try to adopt to the culture and customs of the country you’re visiting.
It will not only make locals happy, but also make your traveling less complicated.
Back up your files regularly, even daily
If you like taking many photos like me, you might know the feeling of loosing all pictures.
To avoid it, back up your files as regularly as possible. If you have a laptop it is easy to do so daily.
Other option would be USB flash drive. In the past I used to travel with external hard-disk, but since USB flash drives can go now up to 1TB (1000 gb), there is no reason to carry it with me anymore.
If you’re worried that your USB drive would get lost, there are some cloud storage services that you could use.
I will only mention, those that offer free storage:
I did not put DropBox on this list, because you have to do many extra things before you get the storage that they promise you.
Stand for yourself
If you feel mistreated, don’t just accept everything the way it is. It might sound easy thing to do at home, but when leaving one’s comfort zone, things might get easily out of control.
If you lack self of confidence and used to being a people pleaser, I recommend you to read You Are Enough: Speaking Up Without Blowing Up.
Give yourself a time before you trust someone
Not all friendly people are generous.
Don’t blindly believe in every person you meet. Only by spending a bit longer time with that person you can build a trust.
Some of them might be trying to rip you off or take advantage in any other way.
Write down your phone and PIN numbers
Even though it is somewhere written when you purchase the SIM card, it is best to have an extra copy written somewhere else. If you’ll lose your phone, you won’t be able to ask friends to call and check if you actually lost it or it is somewhere lost in your backpack. So, memorise it and call from a phone booth or use it as a reason to find new friends who will loan you their phone to find yours.
Saving it online, for example as an email draft with no explanations, or sending it to your friend on Facebook, would make sure that it stays safe forever.
Choosing hotel, hostel or whatever type of accommodation is not just to find a cheapest place to sleep. You want to feel safe, comfortable and have a chance to rest after long day of traveling. To do so, you have to spend some time on it.
Judge hotel/ hostel by reviews, not the photos or stars
Photos could be beautiful, but it is often misleading.
Uncomfortable bed, noisy street and many other things could only be described in the comments of past client reviews.
To get the whole idea if it is worth book the room, it is good to read both positive and negative reviews.
Lets look at this example:
Amba Hotel Marble Arch is ranked as the best 5 star hotel in London (according to Booking.com), but it only has 8.3 review score out of 10.
Why is that?
If you go to reviews section, you get the answer.
However it didn’t give us a reason for it.
If you scroll bit more down, you will find an options to get a list of reviews sorted by lower-higher ratings.
What you should be aware of is the date of the review. Some hotels might have been in bad shape last year, but have drastically improved this year.
For more relevant reviews you should sort it by newer to older, rather than highest-lowest score.
Because 10 of 10 score sounds too perfect to be true.
It is fine to stay at very cheap hotels, but stay cautious
Some hotels are cheap for a reason.
It might be located next to the train or bus station, airport or just dodgy neighbourhood which is famous for drug dealing or prostitution.
Once I took a risk to stay at the hostel in Red Light District in Frankfurt. Besides the fact that it was located in the shady area, the quality of hostel was beyond my expectations.
If you decide to stay at “dangerous” area as long as you’re not planning to wander alone during the night time, everything should be fine.
Besides cheap hostel, there’s also a possibility to find a local person to host you at his/her flat, read: How to Use Couchsurfing to Travel the World.
Make sure that you’re not charged twice
If you book online, make sure to read the rules of the payment. Some booking platforms charge you ahead, others partly and in some cases you only pay at the arrival.
Don’t leave your valuables in the room
It is a good feeling to finally reach your hotel room after long and exhausting travel, but don’t get too comfortable.
Even if it is your permanent temple, it might easily become a target of a robbery.
In general, I try to avoid leaving my camera, money, laptop and passport, but if I go out late at night I take a risk of keeping in at the hotel, by hiding it somewhere.
If you can’t find a good place. Try to cover it with your dirty (better if it’s even smelly!) clothes and hope that everything will still be at the same place when you return.
I wish we could teleport and skip this part of the trip. It is usually very time consuming, makes you tired and is rarely fun, but in most cases – unavoidable.
Is renting a car the right choice?
Depends on what you’re planning to do.
I rarely see solo travellers driving a car. It is way more common that several solo travellers rent out a car together. It is way more economic and more fun.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found any good interactive ride-sharing platform, but I’ve heard many successful stories from people who uses Couchsurfing to look for and share the ride.
If you have a Couchsurfing account, on the front page you will see the search bar, on default it is set to “Find Hosts”, but if you click on it, more choices will show up. After choosing “Find Discussions”, choose the location. It can either be city or country name.
When discussion board opens, you will find special section for ride share.
If you just want to go from place A to B without doing any sight-seeing, the better option would be BlaBlaCar where you can find local people who offers a ride for a low cost. The good thing about BlaBlaCar if you know your departure time long time in advance, you can create an email alert.
Besides that, it is very easy to use it. You can either share or look for a ride.
Bus or train dilemma
If you take short distance buses you should have with you some snack and avoid drinking any type of liquids, or you will end struggling to keep yourself from peeing your pants.
However, long distance buses usually have a toilet inside the bus or stops at various places where you can grab some snack or even eat a proper lunch…and of course do your toilette thing.
The train is often much more comfortable both for short and long-distance rides. It usually has a cabin with a coffee house, where you can have a pleasant lunch without worrying that you will get left behind.
From the perspective of overnight ride, train also wins over the bus. But since not all cities or even countries have train lines, the bus could be the only option you have.
The Planet D have published a good article about how to travel safe on overnight bus trip.
Because train culture between countries varies a lot, I couldn’t find any good article that gives general tips about it, however I came across a decent forum thread about how to prepare very long overnight train journey.
Find out how safe your airline company really is
If you have found some extremely cheap flight with an unknown airline, and worry about its quality or safety you can check AirlineRatings.com. It’s like a hotel review website for airlines! Some of them even includes photos of interior and offered meals.
Have in mind that when you browse the airlines, the first review you see is made by editorial team. If you want to read customer reviews there is a button See Passengers Reviews.
To come up with a good plan takes days or even weeks to finalize. Sometimes, even if you have an amazing plan, things change on the way and you have to adjust yourself to the situation. But, if you apply the tools and tips above, your first solo trip will be an amazing journey – just like an expert would do!