Whilst I’m not a completely seasoned solo traveler yet, I’ve gone it alone a few times now and thought it might be useful to put together a post showing how I plan and prepare for these type of trips.
Disclaimer: I’m a serious planner by nature so this may be overkill but I do think solo adventures, particularly first ones, need a higher degree of planning than when you travel with others!
Choosing a destination
As with any trip, solo or not, obviously I start off by choosing a destination. I think that it takes a little more consideration when you’re a solo female traveller, particularly if you’re quite cautious like me.
When choosing a destination, I do some research on safety for solo travellers and females first of all. There are certain places I wouldn’t consider travelling to as a solo female and I do tend to look for destinations that are easy-ish to travel around. That said, I am going on a solo trip to China this year which is not supposed to be an easy country to travel round aha.
Deciding on type of travel
I wrote a post a while ago about the pros and cons of independent travel vs. group travel in SE Asia, you can check it out here.
When I’m travelling solo, I usually look at group tours in my chosen destination and decide whether to join one. Although independent travel has plenty of advantages, a group tour provides a bit of a security blanket for solo travellers.
Which type of travel I choose depends on the itinerary, price and quality of tours available. I tend to prefer to join group tours for long haul holidays; I feel like they’re just not worth it for city breaks, where you can join free walking tours etc. to be around other people.
Putting together an itinerary
If I’m travelling to a few different places within a country, I start off by researching where I’d like to go and then choose a few key ones, so that I can prioritise. For example, I did a little research on the main things to see/places to go in China and decided how much I could fit in to my trip. I tend to favour a slower pace of travel and don’t try to cram in too much, otherwise I feel that you don’t really experience a place.
I also look at how I’ll get from one place to another in the most efficient way possible. I tend to take internal flights when I’m travelling solo but this can get expensive. For me though, it’s worth it. I’d never take an overnight train alone as a female solo traveller, but that’s just me.
Looking at itineraries put together by tour companies like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel is a good way of getting a feel for where to go and the routes that are most efficient for you to take.
Again, I’d say this takes more consideration when going it alone. Hostels are a great choice as it’s likely there will be many other solo travellers and you’ll have a high chance of meeting other people.
I decided earlier this year that staying in dorms is not for me anymore, so I tend to look for private rooms in hostels, which offer the best of both worlds.
Be sure to check out plenty of reviews beforehand- the last thing you want is to be really disappointed with your accommodation, especially when you’re on your own.
Hostelworld is a great place to look for solo travellers.
As I already mentioned, I tend to lean towards taking internal flights when travelling alone. I book these in advance where I can, the same with trains and buses. I’d rather have everything sorted and be less likely to get stuck somewhere!
Again, I’ll do a lot of research on public transport and the best ways to get around. Clearly travelling privately is the most comfortable way when going overland but this isn’t always feasible for solo travellers due to cost.
I tend to look for alternatives that aren’t just cheap buses crammed with people. By searching the internet, I came across Cambodia Post VIP Vans a couple of years ago. Essentially, you book a ticket and travel from one place to another in a postal van (essentially a minibus), alongside the post. This was one of the best modes of transport I’ve used and it was really cheap. Full review by movetocambodia.com here.
In terms of travelling from the airport, I favour public transport, unless I’m arriving in the evening, when I”ll organise to be picked up beforehand by my accommodation if possible. Maybe I’ve seen too many scary films (looking at you, Taken) but I’d rather just spend more money and feel safe when arriving in a new place at night.
When I’m travelling solo, I tend to be a little less concerned about how much money I spend generally, not just on transport, as I’d rather be, or at least feel safe.
With day tours, I often book these in advance after reading reviews. If I can’t do this for whatever reason, I’ll usually try to find some reputable companies to book with once I’m on my trip.
Finding walking tours and joining these is a great way to get a feel for somewhere new. Even better, these are often free and based on tips. A quick google search before your trip will usually show you options, otherwise, hostels often run tours which you can join once there.
I’d definitely recommend joining at least one tour if you’re on a longer trip, as this is a great way to stave off loneliness and to meet new people. Even if it’s just for half a day, it’s worthwhile. Street food tours are always a great idea. Again, check out your options online before your trip.
Researching things to be aware of
I’m a worrier by nature and make sure to research possible dangers and things to be aware of beforehand. For example, before I visited Cambodia, I read that that drive by phone snatching was rife in Phnom Penh. Knowing that beforehand, I made sure that my phone was always away in my backpack or in my money belt under my clothes. I felt much safer and reduced the risk of being left without a phone.
Even if you don’t fancy scaring yourself by looking at potential dangers, it’s a good idea to research general information and customs in the place you’re visiting.
Having some local currency before you arrive somewhere is really useful and will help you to avoid terrible exchange rates at the airport. Unless it’s a closed currency, I’ll make sure I have plenty of cash to take with me.
That being said, I take precautions when carrying any substantial amount of cash, such as having this in a money belt under my clothes and trying to stay in accommodation where there is a safe for my belongings.
I also make sure I inform my bank of my travel plans, the last thing you want when travelling solo is for your cards to be blocked, leaving you without access to further funds.
Reading travel blogs and watching vlogs
This is great for any trip but I tend to look for online content written by people who have travelled those countries solo.
Blogs and vlogs are also a great place to find general solo travel tips, especially if it’s your first time. Pinterest is my number one way to find great blog content, followed by Twitter!
Some blogs I’d recommend for solo travel inspiration and tips are:
Getting personal recommendations
If your family, friends or even acquaintances have been to the place/s you’re going, ask for alllll the recommendations. They’re the best type, especially as these people will know what kind of things you like hopefully.
Even if you don’t know anyone personally, sending out a quick tweet will usually get you some good recommendations from your followers.
Learning some key phrases
Knowing a few key phrases in the local language is invaluable, especially if English isn’t spoken widely in the country you’re visiting.
I use Duolingo to pick up a few key phrases before I go on a trip and so far, it’s been pretty useful when I’m at my destination. The last thing you want is to be stuck unable to communicate when travelling solo.
Buying a guidebook
I buy a guidebook for all of my trips anyway, my bookshelves are filled with Lonely Planet books! But I think that carrying one comes in so useful when you’re alone, and not even just for the tips and recommendations.
It’s the perfect companion if you’re ever sat in alone in a bar or restaurant feeling slightly uncomfortable. Just whip the guide book out and do some reading, you’ll feel less awkward straight away.
Updating your friends or family
I think it’s really important to let somebody back home know what your general plans are and how often they should expect to hear from you, just in case.
My parents can worry a bit if I travel solo. Whilst I’m actually away, I try to reassure them by texting them regularly with photo updates about my trip. That way, I’m not checking in with them in a obvious way but they know I’m safe, and I can share the exciting things that I’m experiencing with them!
Before you head off, it’s probably worth thinking about how you’ll stay in touch with people. Look at local sim card options, that way you’ll be connected even if you don’t have wifi. Just remember to get your phone unlocked by your network before you go, I’ve made the mistake of not doing so before…
Getting comfortable with spending time alone
If you’re travelling solo and not as part of a group tour, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time alone. I’d recommend getting comfortable with spending time alone if you’re not used to that.
Before my first solo trip, I made a conscious effort to go on day trips and to restaurants on my own, to get used to being alone. It really helped to do so nearer to home, ready for my adventure around Cambodia and Vietnam.
Even after a few times, being alone, especially in restaurants can feel really awkward. Beverley at Pack Your Passport has written a super helpful post on dining solo; check out How to Eat in Restaurants Alone (And Actually Enjoy It) here.
Let me know if there’s anything else you do before a solo trip, I’d love to hear from you!