A COMPLETE GUIDE TO PLANNING YOUR FIRST SOLO TRIP

Congrats! You have decided to take the plunge and traverse the big wide world on your own. Daunting as it may be, I can guarantee you will be thankful for the experience once you return home. No matter how extravagant or tame your journey may be, some major planning will be necessary for any solo adventure.

I consider myself as somewhat of an over-planner. I get all my ducks in a row before embarking on a journey overseas {or anywhere for that matter}. Some would argue against this take on travel, and urge the need for spontaneity. While I agree that being spontaneous while traveling is important, I also understand that throwing caution to the wind is nearly inevitable, as plans do not always go accordingly.

I have plenty of personal experience with this aspect of travel. For example, I completely forgot to book accommodation upon arrival into Dubrovnik, Croatia. I took the opportunity to be spontaneous and found a lovely hotel with conditions that I might have opted out of accepting, had I more time to conduct research and compare all my options.

Whatever your travel style, there are a number of things to {at least} consider before embarking on your effing awesome adventure.

  1. Location, location, location

First, you must decide where you plan to spread your wings {figuratively and those of an airplane}. If you are already committed to a dream location, skip this step and move right along. However, there are many factors to consider with choosing a location to travel alone. Are you satisfied spending time on by yourself? Island life might be something to consider. Would prefer to surround yourself with distractions? Perhaps try a metropolis like Tokyo or New York. Seeking solo adventure? New Zealand will do the trick.

Safety is also a factor to consider when choosing where to travel on your own. I recently dealt with this factor when planning my trip to Central America. I booked and cancelled three different trips, to three different locations, before settling on the two countries I visited. Do not scour the internet reading horror stories {which may discourage you from taking a trip anywhere these days}, but instead rely on trusted travel bloggers and individuals in similar situations like yourself, and consider their opinions.

My suggestions: The UK, New Zealand, Croatia, and Canada are all great countries to visit on a solo mission. There is something different to gain from each location and yet I felt safe a majority of the time {including sleeping in a car, in the middle of a parking lot on the South Island of New Zealand} wandering a majority of the countries alone.

  1. Visas and Vaccines

Depending on what country you plan on visiting, you will want to make sure you can get across the border hassle-free. This will also depend on where you are traveling from. International travel consists of many factors, but your rights {or lack of them} might be the most important.

As a United States citizen, I have many options when it comes to international travel. This is a right I admittedly took for granted. It was only after Donald Trump renegotiated American travel to Cuba in June {a destination I had been planning to visit later this year}, that I understood just how large of a role nationality plays when deciding where to travel. I mean, duh.

In some countries, like the UK, American’s are allowed to stay for a total of six months over any given twelve-month period. That is quite the vacay folks. There are also countries that only allow a US citizen to visit for a matter of days.

When it comes to applying for the actual visa, some countries, like Australia, require a visa but can be applied for within days {even hours} as I found out when I had to purchase mine minutes before boarding my flight to Brisbane. Alternatively, countries like Brazil require a specific visa that takes months to obtain, before a {general} American citizen can visit. Before you immigration officers bite my head off {I am sure they all read my blog…}, there are exceptions, special circumstances, etc. for every single country in the world.

Then there are the vaccines. Let’s keep it simple and go to the doctor, eh?

Moral of the story, prepare for the worst and hope for the best when it comes to obtaining the proper documentation to arrive in your travel country of choice.

  1. Book Your Accommodation

Now, some people would urge you to buy your plane ticket before booking any type of accommodation. However, I would disagree. Here is why. Most airlines have extremely strict cancelation policies. In addition, the airline ticket is, more often than not, the highest cost of any trip. Even with flight insurance, the only time you will get away with receiving a full refund from any flight is if you form a debilitating disease, the airline cancels the flight due to weather conditions, delays, etc., or you die. And you won’t be needing a refund then. Hotels, hostels, and AirBnb’s, however, have more flexibility when it comes to cancelation policies. Most give you up until a few weeks before you scheduled trip to cancel your accommodation {free of charge!}. If they do require you pay a fee, it usually will not cost you more than $15 US.

Since you are planning to travel alone, you may or may not want to meet fellow travelers along the way. Hostels are a great option for the latter. Most hostels will organize free walking tours, host happy hours and bar crawls, and provide an environment that makes it impossible to feel alone. Sometimes it can be hard to avoid meeting new people. I rarely stay anywhere but hostels on solo trips, but if you would prefer an alternative that still will not break the budget, AirBnb is a wonderful option. You can maintain privacy {and usually more comfortable sleeping quarters} while still immersing yourself in the culture. I stayed in a gorgeous AirBnb for a week in Barcelona and grew very fond of my hosts {both residents of Barcelona} who gave me many tips for exploring the city.

I book all of my accommodation through the following websites: Hostelworld.com, Booking.com, Airbnb.com

  1. Purchase Your Flights

Ugh, airplanes. On most days I agree with the saying, ‘It’s all about the journey, not arriving at your destination’. But on days that I am being hauled into the air via a contraption comparing in size to that of a skyscraper, I am less inclined. Flying is my biggest fear {ironic I know}. Even after dating a pilot, I still struggle with comprehending just how safe these flying objects are. Logically, I get it. However, my anxiety fights me on it with every mile.

To say this portion of my planning takes up an excessive amount of time is an understatement. I research safety records of airlines, pay more to avoid layovers, and try to pick windows of time during takeoff that the weather would normally be calm. Okay, so the last one is anything but ridiculous, but for someone who struggles with control issues, I let myself believe it helps. I have an entire post in the works dedicated entirely to dealing with a fear of flying.

Hopefully, unlike myself, the thought of flying does not make you manic, and this aspect of your planning will simply involve finding the best deal on the internet. The cheapest day to fly {according to sources} is Tuesday afternoon. Seven weeks out from your trip is when you will find the best deals according to Travel and Leisure. If you choose a flight with a layover {usually the cheaper option}, make sure you have a significant amount of time to get from your departure gate to your next boarding gate. Some airports are ginormous, and require taking a shuttle or bus to get from one terminal to another. You do not want to miss your connecting flight and delay your arrival to your final destination.

Finally, always check the baggage allowances of your airline. Whether you choose to bring three suitcases or a single duffle bag, make sure you will not be hit with unexpected charges upon check-in. Prior to purchasing my flight from New York to California {blog post coming soon!}, I discovered that United planned to charge me for a carry-on bag {boo, hiss}. As it was a quick trip home, I only brought a backpack that fit under my seat, but had I needed more space I would be SOL.

  1. Research Local Transportation

Now that you have the essential aspects of your trip planned, you will want to make sure you are prepared upon arrival. Most of the time you can use public transportation from the airport to arrive into whatever city center it is you are going. But sometimes, especially in underdeveloped countries, public transportation exists in the form of a school bus with chickens as fellow passengers.  To avoid potential safety concerns, especially if arriving after dark {not advised}, I suggest having a plan in place when you have touched down on international soil. I always do this, whether the country I am visiting considers itself safe for solo travelers, or not.

It is also helpful to gauge the price of traveling within the country you plan to visit. Sometimes getting from point A to point B may only be manageable via plane ride. Other times trains travel between cities on a regular basis. This should give you a good idea of how flexible you may be with traversing, or remaining more local. A great resource for this is Rome2Rio.com.

  1. Plan Activities {the fun stuff!}

Depending on where you travel to, you may want to lock in specific activities or excursions due to high demand and popularity. For example, the Anne Frank house tours in Amsterdam sells out weeks in advance. The same goes for Alcatraz Prison tours in San Francisco. On the other hand, tickets to ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower can be purchased day-of without much hassle. Similarly, a ride on the London Eye is an easy day-of activity. I suggest browsing your ‘must-do’ list and see if anything requires advance reservations.

Mapping out the actual itinerary of a trip is my absolute favorite step when it comes to planning.  I get lost in the hundreds of Google searches I preform, and {literally} spend entire weekends focused on this area of expertise. Fellow travel junkies will understand.

Easily the most authentic way to find local activities to partake in is to utilize travel blogs. Personal travel blogs are usually the most honest. You will likely find beautiful images, helpful guides, and non-sponsored opinions {most of the time}. It truly allows you to decide for yourself whether you want to invest you time {and usually money} into said activity.

  1. Start Packing

I say ‘start’ because we all know most of us will forget to pack a toothbrush until the very last minute. Packing does not really end until you chuck that suitcase on the conveyor belt at the airport, wave goodbye, and pray it greets you at your final destination {yes, I’ve purchased snow boots on my way to the airport in one instance}.

I have a ‘packing essentials’ list in the works, but as a rule of thumb, you cannot go wrong with solids {and neutrals}, travel sized toiletries {including a bold lipstick}, a comfortable pair of shoes {seriously}, and a converter {depending on what country you visit}.

In terms of a carry-on, it is always wise to pack an extra outfit {undies & all}, phone charger, toothbrush, deodorant, etc. You never know when your luggage is going to arrive fashionably late. I recently wrote about the 10 items I cannot live without on long haul flights, and many of the mentioned items above are included.

Once you have taken these steps, you will be on your way to a solid solo trip abroad. As far as the trip itself, the rest is up to you! I enjoy solo travel so much, that it is actually my preferred way to see the world these days. Anyone feel the same?

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